The "Secret" Cabin Bidding Process Most Cruisers Don't Know About
It hasn't made front page news, but multiple cruise lines are now giving passengers the opportunity to bid on cabin upgrades. While the process isn’t actually a “secret,” so few people seem to know about it that it might as well be.
What is it?
When a cruise is a month or two away from sailing, cruise lines will start offering passengers the opportunity to upgrade from their cabin category to a category or two higher. Previously, these upgrade offers (often referred to as the “upgrade fairy” among hardcore cruisers) would come as a surprise and with no additional cost.
Now, several cruise lines have introduced a cabin “bidding” process instead, where travelers are given the chance to bid against each other for an upgrade. This monetized upgrade process obviously benefits the lines, but it does give cruisers a bit more power in the upgrade process rather than relying on lady luck, though it does come at a cost.
Which lines offer it?
Norwegian Cruise Line led the charge for stateroom bidding, introducing the program in 2017. Shortly after in 2018, Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean followed suit. And in May 2019, MSC Cruises announced they will be launching a similar program.
How do I do it?
Unfortunately, there is no foolproof way to ensure that you will receive an upgrade bid email. The higher-end cabins may have already sold out, and even if there are some available, certain cruisers may not be eligible. If there are cabins available for an upgrade, you will receive an email with a link to a list of cabin categories you are eligible to bid on, and a slider that lets you choose the amount you’d like to bid. The slider also may include suggested bid amounts, or be color-coordinated to indicate whether your bid is a strong one or not.
For the lowest minimum bids required and the best chance for an upgrade, submit your bid request as soon as possible when you receive the email. The closer to the sail date, the higher the minimum bids go and the more the acceptance rate depends on what everyone else is bidding.
Tip: Be sure to check the normal price of those cabins (or have your travel agent do it for you) since you don’t want to bid more than the original price. Sometimes, the minimum bid is actually higher than the upgrade cost.
Is it done at the time of booking, or later?
There is no set time frame for when you may get the email, but it will be after you’ve already made final payment and as close in as several days prior to cruise departure. Even if higher categories are sold out, you may still get the offer in case there are no shows at the pier.
How does it work if I've booked through a travel agent?
It’s the same process regardless of how you book your cruise. Be sure your travel agent includes your email address in the reservation so you will receive the email directly. Otherwise, it will go to your travel agent.
Tip: This is one way to tell how good your travel agent is — do they call to tell you about the email and/or forward it to you? If so, you have a great agent who is looking out for you!
Can I actually save money?
The short answer is yes, absolutely. The long answer is that “saving money” is kind of relative in this instance. Did you book the cruise including potential bidding costs in your budget, knowing that if the opportunity came along you would try for it? In that case, you definitely saved some money. If you had no idea about the program but got stars in your eyes when you saw the possibility of upgrading for cheaper than actually booking that category and go bid-crazy, next thing you know you might be out another thousand dollars that you weren’t planning on spending. In that case, you are technically saving money for that category (if you don’t bid above the upgrade cost!), but you aren’t if you didn’t actually feel the need to stay in that category beforehand.
That being said, whether you’re saving money also depends on the promotional offers that were in place when you booked, along with the current cost of that cabin at the time you’re bidding. For example, if you booked a balcony and at the time of booking a suite was $1,500 more per person, and you can now bid for the same suite category at $500 per person, you might consider that a good deal if you want to stay in a suite.
Tip: Keep in mind that whatever amount you bid is per person. So say you are traveling as a couple and bid $300. If it’s accepted, you’ll be paying $600 total for the upgrade. Also remember that if there are any promotions running or extra amenities that only come with certain cabin categories, you may not receive them if you’re booking that cabin through bidding.
When will I find out if my bid was accepted?
You will be notified via email if your bid was accepted. It could be accepted the same day you bid, or you could be waiting to find out up until a few days before the cruise. In the email, typically your new cabin will already be assigned to you and you can log into your account with the cruise line to reprint your boarding passes. While it’s extremely uncommon, we’ve actually heard of someone who was notified once they were already onboard the ship that their bid was accepted because the person who had initially reserved the cabin was a no-show at the pier.
What are some possible disadvantages?
The biggest disadvantage to the bidding program is that you have no control over the location of your new stateroom if you win the bid. Say you booked an interior in your ideal spot, but bid on a balcony and won just to find out it’s far away from the amenities most important to you and right below the ship’s nightclub. Depending on how easily you can get around and how well you sleep, that could spell a very exhausting and unhappy cruise. When you win a bid, you can’t change your mind. You’re immediately assigned the new stateroom and you have no control over the location.
One last thing to keep in mind: it’s surprisingly easy to accidentally bid higher than that category was selling for in the first place. Be sure to check the current price of the category you have the opportunity to bid on, so you don’t get gamble-happy and pay the cruise line more than they were asking! Believe it or not, this actually happens. If you had wanted to pay that price, you would have booked that category to begin with.