The Secret Trick to Getting a Cruise Upgrade for Less

How to bid on a bigger, better cruise cabin for a fraction of the cost.

A suite on Uniworld Boutique River Cruises' 'Bon Voyage' river cruise vessel

Upgrade your cozy cabin to a sprawling suite on Uniworld Boutique River Cruises’ Bon Voyage vessel, which sails the rivers of France.

Photo by Benny Elena Lynn/Uniworld Boutique River Cruises

Who doesn’t like getting more for less? For avid travelers, that’s especially true for travel upgrades.

Not that long ago, upgrades on cruises were a matter of loyalty and luck. However, an increasing number of cruise lines now offer guests the chance to bid on superior unsold cabins at a lower rate (much like how airlines auction off business and first-class seats at a discount). It’s a scheme that allows the cruise company to earn additional money (and free up some of the easier-to-sell lower-priced cabins) while giving travelers a chance to enjoy upgraded accommodations for a below-the-shelf price.

Here’s what you need to know about bidding for discounted cruise cabin upgrades.

How does the cruise upgrade bidding process work?

While the various cruise lines have different names for their bidding programs (like Level Upgrade, RoyalUp, and MoveUp), they all operate the same, as they’re all managed by a company called Plusgrade (the same bidding company that airlines use).

In the weeks and months leading up to a sailing (usually before the final payment deadline), cruise lines may send guests an email notification inviting them to bid for an upgrade. However, if they don’t receive an email, cruisers can go directly to the upgrade bidding page on the cruise line’s website and input their reservation number to get the ball rolling.

The exclusive sundeck on the Retreat area on Celebrity Cruises, with plenty of seating and red-and-white decor

Upgraded cruise cabins may come with other added perks—for instance, if you book into the Retreat on Celebrity ships, the suites include access to a private restaurant, lounge, and sundeck.

Ryan Wicks/Celebrity Cruises

Usually, the cruise line will have short descriptions and photos of the room upgrades available, and you can bid on as many categories of rooms as you want—don’t worry, you can only win once. From there, you’ll be asked to provide your credit card information. If your bid is accepted, the funds will automatically be withdrawn.

Once you’ve submitted your bid, keep an eye on your email for any updates from the cruise line. It might come right away, or it may not come until the day of departure. Most cruise lines allow you to modify or withdraw your bid within a specified timeframe before the bidding window closes (which varies by company), but you can’t change your mind after the bid has been accepted.

There’s usually a minimum bid the company will accept, so unfortunately you can’t offer five bucks and get an upgrade. Remember, bidding for an upgrade is essentially a gamble. While many passengers have successfully secured upgrades at a fraction of the retail price, there’s no guarantee that your bid will be accepted. If your bid is unsuccessful, you’ll still be accommodated in the cabin you originally booked.

How much does it cost to bid on a cruise upgrade?

There’s no magic number that will score you an upgrade—it all depends on what other people bid.

When placing your bid, consider factors such as the current availability of higher-tier cabins (the more available, the better your chances), the popularity of your sailing date, and the likelihood of other passengers bidding for upgrades. Typically, even bidding slightly more than the minimum can greatly increase your chances.

While you want to be competitive, avoid bidding more than the upgraded cabin is worth to you. It’s important to note that if you’re not careful, you could end up bidding more than the room originally sold for, so be sure to check the current price of that category before placing a bid.

Cruise lines that offer upgrade auctions

Most of the cruise companies that offer bid-to-upgrade programs are larger brands, including:

Click the links above to see each cruise line’s complete bidding program and policies.

Bailey Berg is a freelance travel writer and editor, who covers breaking news, trends, tips, transportation, sustainability, the outdoors, and more. She was formerly the associate travel news editor at Afar. Her work can also be found in the New York Times, the Washington Post, National Geographic, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, the Points Guy, Atlas Obscura, Vice, Thrillist, Men’s Journal, Architectural Digest, Forbes, Lonely Planet, and beyond.
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