It sure is nice to have a balcony stateroom on a cruise. You gotta love those mesmerizing ocean swells, the warm sea breeze, those beautiful island vistas on the horizon, the occasional seagull flying by, and the soothing sound of the surf.
But balcony cabins on cruises can also be very expensive. Splurging on a veranda stateroom can be difficult to justify for those who are traveling on a budget. That’s why we’ve deeply investigated the many different ways of how to get a free balcony cabin upgrade on a cruise ship.
As we’ve taken many cruises all around the world during the past five years, we’ve been quite successful with these tactics to score a free balcony upgrade. So we’re now revealing all our tips in this post to show what works to actually achieve a free upgrade to a cruise cabin after purchase.
In the earlier days of cruising, it was fairly commonplace to be able to walk onto a ship and ask Guest Relations if there were any free room upgrades on the cruise. Often you would actually get a positive response and be immediately switched to a coveted balcony cabin, with an upgraded room free of charge. Unfortunately, in today’s world of cruising, free cruise cabin upgrades when walking onto the ship have become nearly impossible to finagle.
But we’re here to show you that cruise cabin upgrades are absolutely is possible. In fact, we’re living proof as we managed to score a free balcony upgrade in about half the cruises we take!
We’ve gotten cruise cabin upgrades to balcony staterooms that were five times the cost of the little interior cabin we booked, for absolutely free! It doesn’t always work, as we’ve been denied upgrades a fair share of instances too. Yet having been successful in scoring free balcony upgrades on about 50% of the many cruises we’ve taken – that’s pretty good odds.
So here’s how to get a free balcony upgrade on a cruise!
Understand: Why It’s Difficult to Get a Free Cruise Cabin Upgrade
Before we go into all the details of our tips to get a free balcony cabin upgrade, first understand what’s going on behind the scenes to make getting a free cruise upgrade so difficult to accomplish.
Cruise lines are aggressively and strategically pricing their itineraries in attempts to fill every single cabin. Cruise lines are particularly interested in filling those higher margin balcony staterooms. Inventory of staterooms on cruises is closely monitored and now sophisticated financial algorithms are utilized to adjust prices to lure passengers.
This is all done in a grand attempt to fill the ships to capacity. Often cruise lines are successful in filling their ships. As a result, sometimes there simply is no available balcony rooms to offer when the cruise ship is sailing away. So in many instances, these balcony staterooms may be completely occupied. Hence a cabin upgrade on a cruise is simply not possible, whether free or paid.
Also, the cruise lines have gotten wise to passengers desires of upgrading their stateroom for free. So if there are some balcony rooms available, and you inquire after boarding, you’ll likely be offered that balcony upgrade for an upcharge, not as a complimentary stateroom upgrade.
If there are any balcony staterooms still available in the weeks before embarking, many cruise lines will try to entice guests with special balcony upgrade deals that you can buy at discounted rates after you’ve already purchased a lesser stateroom. It’s a big attempt by the cruise lines to fill those balcony staterooms before you even step foot on the boat.
Often such discounted balcony offers are very good deals, in which you should definitely consider if selected those cabin upgrades. For example, Celebrity Cruises has a Reduced Rate Upgrade Program in which select future cruisers are offered a last-minute stateroom upgrade within 45 days prior to the sailing, notified by email.
Norwegian Cruise Line has a similar program. On a recent sailing on the NCL Bliss, Norwegian tried to tempt us with their Upgrade Advantage Program, offering a cabin upgrade from our cheap interior room to a nice balcony stateroom for as little as $75 per person. That’s an attractive upgrade offer!
Reduced rates for a cruise cabin upgrade can be a very nice proposition, particularly so for balcony staterooms. But those reduced rates are still not free, which is what we’re here to discuss.
Although free balcony upgrades on a cruise have become nearly as elusive spotting a mermaid during your voyage, it is still a very possible reality. So in this post, we’ll reveal our proven tactics to show how to get these cruise cabin upgrades, even after purchase.
Just realize that although all of these strategies will most certainly increase your chances of scoring a free balcony upgrade, it is still very far from being guaranteed.
Our biggest piece of advice is this: be sure that you’ll be comfortable with whatever cabin class you book on your cruise. Then go ahead and use some of these tactics in order to attempt scoring that free balcony upgrade.
1) Get a Free Balcony Upgrade Promotion and How to Find Them
Occasionally cruise lines will run special promotions on particular ships, itineraries, and/or destinations offering balcony staterooms at the same price as an outside or inside cabin. You can attempt to sift out these deals throughout the year but they can be common during “Wave Season” (around February – April) when cruise lines tend to be most aggressive with pricing and promotions.
Most commonly you’ll see one-category stateroom upgrades. This means you can book an ocean view stateroom for the price of an inside cabin, or book a balcony for the price of an ocean view. When such a promotion is coupled with an additional perk like a drink package, free gratuities, or a generous onboard credit – these can be fantastic deals to take advantage of.
Other times you can find inside cabins, outside cabins, and balcony staterooms all at the exact same price. Of course, you choose the balcony! This is another way cruise lines use promotions to offer free balcony upgrades.
So how exactly do you find these balcony upgrade promotions?
If you happen to know a really good travel agent who specializes in cruises, they may already be aware of free room upgrade promotions right off the top of their head.
But cruise room upgrade promotions do change frequently and can often be complicated. Free upgrades on cruises often contain lots of asterisks since certain deals only apply to certain ships, dates, itineraries, etc. So you may just want to take a gander at exactly what each lines’ current promotions are. Each major cruise line has a web page that is dedicated to listing their deals, potentially including free balcony stateroom upgrades.
Here are links to all of the major cruise lines’ promotion pages to check if they are currently offering any free balcony upgrade promotions:
- Carnival Cruise Line cruise deals
- Celebrity Cruises cruise deals
- Disney Cruise Line special offers
- Holland America Line cruise deals
- Norwegian Cruise Line cruise deals
- Princess Cruise Line cruise deals
- Royal Caribbean cruise deals
2) Monitor Price Drops After Purchase to Get a Free Balcony Upgrade
Even after purchasing a cruise, always be sure to continue monitoring that cruise’s prices. Unlike airline tickets, if the price of the cruise drops, you can actually make changes to (or even cancel) your booking to upgrade your cruise cabin if there are price changes that are in your favor.
For example, let’s say you were booking a 7-day Caribbean Cruise in which inside cabins were running $600 per person and balcony staterooms were $1,000 per person. So you book the inside cabin because you don’t want to shell out the extra cash ($800 extra for the cabin) just to have a balcony.
Now, keep watching those prices. If the price of a balcony stateroom was to suddenly drop to $600, then call your booking agent immediately! If you make this phone call before the final payment date, you should be able to switch to that balcony completely free!
Instances like this happen more often than you may realize. The cruise lines themselves will NOT notify you of these price drops. So it’s completely up to you to be vigilant of price fluctuations after purchasing your cruise cabin.
It is important to note that free balcony upgrades using this method are only available if making the switch prior to the cruise’s cancelation period, which tends to be around 60-90 days prior to embarkation date, but varies by cruise line and itinerary.
Yet even if you notice the room prices change after the cancelation period, it is still absolutely worth calling your booking agent to inquire about. There’s a decent chance you still may be able to lock in that free balcony upgrade. It’s simply not a sure thing like it is prior to the cancelation date.
Another consideration is if the price of a balcony stateroom drops to within a reasonable range in which you are willing to pay the difference.
Continuing with the earlier example, let’s say those balcony staterooms dropped from $1,000 to a price of $700, which is now only $100 more than the $600 you initially paid for your inside cabin. In this case, you can usually pay that difference – $100 per person – and secure a balcony stateroom. Sure, it’s not free but it may be worth the extra $100 per person. Often the cruise line may even permit you to make such changes after the cancelation period. So if you notice an instance like this, call your booking agent to inquire about the possibility.
You can check your cruise’s prices regularly to stay abreast of pricing drops. After booking a cruise, I recommend bookmarking a pricing page and then take 10 seconds each day to monitor it for any price changes. Alternatively, you can also consider cruise price monitoring services for a fee, which will alert you when prices change. Try cruisefish.com for $0.99. Or download the Ship Mate Cruise App, where you can set up a price alert for free.
3) Use Credit Card Points To Get a Free Balcony Upgrade on a Cruise
There are so many great travel reward credit cards out there in which you can use points towards travel. And while it can be difficult and time-consuming to rack up enough points to pay for an entire cruise, it can be relatively quick and easy to accumulate enough points/miles to apply them towards the difference between your inside/outside cabin and a balcony stateroom.
Allow me to explain exactly how we did just that.
One of our favorite credit cards is the Capital One Venture Card in which you get 2% cash back on all purchases that you can then use towards any travel expenses, including cruise-related expenses.
After booking a transatlantic cruise on the Celebrity Eclipse, which was an inside cabin, we had noticed that the price between an inside and a balcony had dropped to only a $200 difference.
So we called our booking agent to make this change to a balcony stateroom, which came with the $200 charge that we paid for with using our Venture Card. We then simply erased that charge off of our statement using 20,000 points we had accumulated just from everyday spending. This gave us a balcony upgrade at absolutely no cost to us.
We again successfully used this technique more recently on our Norwegian Star cruise in which we had booked an inside cabin. The price for an outside cabin later dropped to a mere $40 more than the price of the inside we booked. So, again, we paid that meager difference but then used our points to refund that amount, essentially giving us a free cruise cabin upgrade from an inside to an outside stateroom.
This is perhaps the best surefire way to achieve a free balcony upgrade on a cruise and guarantee it, rather than rely on luck or chance.
Important Note: it only makes sense financially to accumulate credit card points to apply towards cruises if you are able to pay off your balance in full every month. Otherwise, this tactic is not for you, as the high interest rates you’ll be incurring will far exceed the 2% cash back benefit.
4) Wait Until After the First Port to Ask for a Free Cruise Cabin Upgrade
As already discussed, it is nearly impossible these days to walk onto a cruise ship and get a free cruise cabin upgrade by inquiring with Guest Services after boarding the ship. But there is a simple strategy you can do to increase your odds of getting an affirmative response from Guest Relations.
Simply wait until after leaving the first port or call before asking for a free room upgrade.
Instead of being one of the hundreds of passengers queuing up at Guest Relations on the first day to inquire about a free balcony upgrade, just be patient. You must understand that the guest relations desk is extremely busy on the first day every cruise and won’t have time to cater to your desires of free cruise cabin upgrades.
Even more importantly, cruises actually don’t really know their exact occupancy until after the first port of call. This is because of:
- possible no-shows and
- passengers who unexpectedly disembark early.
At embarkation, there are often prospective cruise passengers with delayed flights, illness, and other unfortunate circumstances who didn’t make it on the ship before it set sail. Sometimes these unlucky vacationers will try to fly to the ship’s first port to join the cruise. Or they may have decided to just abandon the cruise completely.
But the ship won’t know what those prospective passengers ultimately chose to do until after leaving the first port. So their empty room will be held for them, in the instance they were able to get a flight to join the ship at the first port.
Meanwhile, there may be other passengers who got on the cruise but had to disembark the ship at the first port due to medical issues, family emergencies, or other personal reasons.
These aforementioned circumstances all make for available staterooms that were not available on Day 1 of the cruise. So just wait until after leaving the first port of call before asking Guest Services if there are any free cabin upgrades on the cruise that are available.
By waiting, there will be no line to wait in and your chances of actually scoring that balcony stateroom upgrade will be greatly improved. And because a day or two of the cruise has already ticked by, you likely won’t be charged for the cabin upgrade as you would on Day 1.
Whenever we inquire about a free cabin upgrade on a cruise, we always wait until after the first port.
And it works. We’ve been successful with it three times now. Most recently, on the brand new Norwegian Bliss, we spent the first few nights in our small, inexpensive interior cabin. Then after we departed the beautiful Azore Islands, we simply asked Guest Relations if it would be possible to switch to a balcony cabin. Without any hesitation, he happily fulfilled our request and immediately showed us to our big new veranda stateroom located midship! No charge, no questions asked.
This method is still far from a sure thing, but it doesn’t hurt much to take five minutes out of your day to ask about this possibility. You may even get to sail away from that first port in your upgraded balcony stateroom!
5) Why Book a “Guaranteed Stateroom” on a Cruise
Booking a guaranteed stateroom is a gamble. But it’s a gamble in which the cruiser has everything to gain and nothing to lose. When booking a guaranteed stateroom on a cruise you are “guaranteed” a room within the cabin designation you booked: inside, outside, balcony, or suite. By booking these staterooms you get the absolute lowest price and you could end up in a very convenient position on the ship.
Or you may find yourself in a less desirable cabin location somewhere up in the bow of the ship. Either way, you’ll definitely be paying the lowest price. And since your specific cabin has not been assigned, there’s a small yet realistic chance of getting bumped up to a higher category. It’s happened to us!
During a Panama Canal Cruise on the Celebrity Infinity, we booked a cheap last-minute inside guaranteed cabin. We were instead assigned a big beautiful veranda stateroom on the Penthouse level. Really!
But this didn’t just happen to us. We spoke to a few other lucky cruisers on this voyage that reported the exact same circumstance.
It’s our theory that this is a pricing strategy in which cruise lines use to fill the ship without publically lowering the value of their balcony staterooms. So go ahead and book that inside guaranteed room and you could get lucky. You can’t get any lower than an inside cabin, so you only stand to gain in this situation.
To try to seek out situations like this, look for cruises that have inside or outside guaranteed staterooms available but show no inventory of assigned rooms within those particular categories. This likely means that all of the those interior and porthole rooms have been assigned, which means you may actually get an upgrade when it comes to assigning your specific cabin. It can be a time-consuming task to sleuth out by clicking through several cruise listings and pretending to go through the purchase process in order to see their inventory of cabins. But your thorough detective work may pay-off in the form of a free balcony upgrade.
However, if going this route, just be sure that you are still comfortable with the stateroom category you book because it is still not a sure thing that you’ll get the free balcony upgrade. An upgrade may go to someone else in an assigned cabin, then you’ll be assigned to the cabin who received the upgrade. But don’t lose hope. It is absolutely possible and we’re living proof of that.
6) Complain If You Have a Legitimate Reason
If you have a legitimate complaint, particularly with your cabin, it doesn’t hurt to see how the cruise may be able to help make up for the issue.
During a Carnival cruise, we had friends who unbeknownst to them were assigned a stateroom adjacent to the ship’s lively nightclub. After the DJ provided for a few sleepless nights on the fun ship, the customers kindly addressed the issue with Guest Relations. To help compensate for their misfortune, Guest Relations actually gave them a free cruise cabin upgrade to a suite with a balcony, that was far away from the thumping nightclub. Undoubtedly, they slept better.
Note: we do not condone or recommend coming up with false complaints to try to better your cruise stateroom situation. We were once at the Guest Relations desk and overheard a crabby lady who was making a huge stink about a little bit of dust on the top of her phone and some other very petty issues. It felt like she was trying to find complaints in order to get some sort of compensation for free. She was grasping at straws and being very rude about it. Don’t be that person.
But if you do have a genuine issue, be sure to address the problem. You could get a free upgrade to a balcony.
7) Celebrate Something!
Are you cruising as part of a honeymoon, anniversary, birthday or something else special? Sometimes there’s a place for you to mention this when filling out the online check-in forms. Or perhaps just work it into conversation with a crewmember. They’re always looking for ways to make passengers happy.
We’ve gotten some choice tables in the main dining room using this method, but never a free balcony upgrade on a cruise. Yet it’s not completely unheard of and you’ve got nothin’ to lose. So go ahead put on that party hat – celebrate that special occasion and be sure to let the entire ship know! 😉
8) Apply Onboard Credit Towards a Balcony Upgrade
Many cruises and itineraries have been quite generous lately in offering substantial sums of onboard credits during promotional cruise sales. Unfortunately, you cannot use that onboard credit to apply towards an upgrade before you set sail. But once you’re on the ship, onboard credit is fair game to use on a stateroom upgrade.
So if you have a large sum of onboard credit that you may not spend during your cruise, it’s worthwhile to inquire with guest relations how much a balcony upgrade would cost. Be clear in letting Guest Relations personnel know you’re willing to pay for the cruise cabin upgrade, even though you’ll ultimately be applying your free onboard credit to do so.
If there are balcony staterooms available, this upgrade while already on the ship will often come at a reduced cost than what the difference was before the sailing. And now onboard the ship, your onboard credit absolutely can be applied to this upgrade. So if the cost of the balcony upgrade can be covered by your onboard credit, then go for it! You will have just gone a roundabout way at nabbing a free balcony upgrade!
If you don’t have enough onboard credit to apply towards an upgrade, you can consider booking another cruise while on the ship in which they’ll usually reward you with onboard credit for your current cruise. Just book a cruise at a date far enough out and you can always change it to something else later without penalty. So if you really want that free balcony upgrade and you’re planning to cruise with the same line again, this is a great workaround to make it happen.
9) Increase Your Odds of a Free Cruise Cabin Upgrade
You’ll still need to add a bit of luck, to achieve a free cruise cabin upgrade. But there are a few factors you can look for when booking a cruise which may increase your chances of actually landing the elusive balcony upgrade.
- Book an outside cabin – You may have a greater chance of getting a free balcony upgrade on a cruise by booking an outside cabin. Going from an interior stateroom to a balcony is a double upgrade. If balcony upgrades are available, chances are that outside staterooms will be considered for an upgrade before an interior cabin. Plus, if you really want to have a balcony that bad, ensuring that you’ll at least have a porthole is a decent consolation.
- Book unpopular itineraries & dates: Less attractive dates for cruising will likely have a higher number of unoccupied balcony staterooms, which will certainly increase your chances. Book cruises when kids are in school and a week or two before or after major holidays. Also, oft-snubbed routes like repositioning cruises, which contain a higher number of sea days, tend to have a much higher chance of getting the upgrade. The low price of the repositioning cruise itself is often an indication that there are many unsold rooms still available. We’ve been most successful with free balcony upgrades on repositioning cruises. (Read more about repo cruises here: How To Score a Repositioning Cruise Deal for Less Than $50 per Day.)
- Book a ship with more balconies – Many of the newest megaships are going balcony crazy with a very high percentage of balcony staterooms. These ships with higher balcony ratios simply have a greater number of balconies to fill. Hence a balcony upgrade can be more likely.
- Be loyal – Loyalty tends to pay off in dividends when cruising. If a certain of category staterooms is full, a cruise line may just decide to reward some of their more frequent passengers rather than a complete newbie. While we certainly wouldn’t recommend being loyal to a cruise line for this reason, it could be helpful to know that you may be at the top of the pecking order. Also, always be sure to join the cruise line’s loyalty program even if it’s your first time. It costs nothing.
10) Get Lucky!
With it comes to cruise cabin upgrades, sometimes you just need some luck on your side.
Once, a few days into a Royal Caribbean transatlantic cruise, we received a phone call notifying us that there was an electrical repair that needed to be made to the lighting of our inside stateroom. For the trouble of asking us to change rooms, they reassigned us to a complimentary balcony stateroom. We almost couldn’t believe it. We had just got completely lucky and scored a free balcony upgrade without even trying!
Every once in a while, luck may just be on your side for a free balcony upgrade on a cruise. Don’t count on this to happen, but know that strange instances like a repair issue are possible. Are you feeling lucky?
Recap: How to Get a Free Balcony Upgrade on a Cruise
The free cruise upgrade tips we’ve listed have worked for us or we’ve witnessed first hand. So give them a try. With a little effort combined with a fair amount of luck, you may be sailing away with the wind in your face on a beautiful veranda stateroom. Keep an eye out for dolphins!
We wish you the best of luck in your search for a free cruise cabin upgrade and hope one of these methods may work out to get you out of that small inside cabin and into that sought-after balcony stateroom.
If it’s worked for you or you have your own tips to get a free balcony upgrade on a cruise, do let us know in the comments below.
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Publishing note: this article on How to Get a Free Balcony Upgrade on a Cruise was originally written November 2015 and last updated July 2018.