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Did You Really Get A Cabin Upgrade?

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By Dave Beers (CruiseReviews Editor) – So you just booked your first cruise and they are giving you a two category upgrade!  You got a great deal, right?  Well maybe not.  Indeed, it is likely you were lured by a lofty and largely meaningless sales gimmick.

I have long been bothered by the misuse and misunderstanding of the word “upgrade”.  It rarely means what it implies, yet too many cruisers go through various stages of rapture when told they received an upgrade.  Someone receives an e-mail from the cruise line which touts special savings with upgrades and people will take the hook and book.  They either fail to read the fine print, or even bother to look at the cabin category descriptions.

“Book a category 6A and automatically get upgraded to a category 6C”.  Sounds nice doesn’t it?  But what is it really? In most cases, that upgrade is merely a move to an identical cabin on a different deck.  Using Carnival as an example, getting an upgrade can mean booking a 6A cabin on the Riviera Deck of the Fantasy and being moved to a 6C cabin directly above you on the Main Deck.  But the cabins are internally identical.  185 square feet.  Same beds.  Same bathroom.  Same everything except for the category assignment.  Oh, but they do charge more for the 6C so therein lays the shell game aspect of the upgrade.  The cruise line can look you straight in the eye and say you were upgraded to a more expensive cabin.

The prospective cruiser who thinks they can book an inside cabin and will be immediately upgraded to a balcony cabin is dreaming.  Those you encounter on a ship who brag that they get huge upgrades all the time, and in fact they were upgraded from an inside cabin to an owners suite this time, are lying and need to go back to their inside cabin and rethink their lives.

The typical upgrade is going to remain within basic categories and will rarely be a genuine upgrade.  Standard inside cabin to another standard inside cabin, standard balcony cabin to another standard balcony cabin, etc.  One of the forum moderators calls it being “updecked”, and that in many cases is a more accurate description although you can also be “downdecked” too since some ships  have more expensive categories spread all over the place.  You see, there is a reason why cruise lines have so many categories.  The more of something you have, the more likely it will confuse.  Not to pick on Carnival, but recently they changed many of their cabin category names, and split previous categories up into more categories.  Princess, NCL, and Royal Caribbean are also infamous for their seemingly endless categories.  The Caribbean Princess has 35 cabin categories.  The new Norwegian Epic has 38.  The Oasis Of The Seas has 37.

A true upgrade to me means going to a cabin which offers something you don’t have in your original cabin.  Gaining more space.  Getting a balcony.  Getting a bathtub.  Those are upgrades.  And, they do happen.  All cruise lines have tightened up on upgrades over the past couple of years, and they often require approval from a surprisingly high level of management.

The best chances of getting a real upgrade are to either be a high end member of the cruise line loyalty club, or to book a cabin category guarantee.  I know a person who had done close to 40 cruises with Royal Caribbean before he finally got upgraded.  In his case he was moved from a standard balcony cabin to a Grand Suite.  Pretty nice upgrade.  But then, look at all the money he’d spent with the cruise line over the years.

Those who book a guarantee will get at least the category they booked, but do have a better chance of moving to truly better category.  Another option is the “upsell”, which seems to be more frequently used by NCL than other lines.  With the upsell, you are offered a nicer cabin for an extra fee.  This can often be far less than if you booked the better cabin outright, and thus an upsell is often a good deal.

My advice to those who booked a specific cabin category, with an assigned cabin number, is to not get fixated on getting an upgrade.  It likely isn’t going to happen or be meaningful.  It is wise to remember that cruise lines do things for monetary reasons and are not in business to be philanthropic.  If they were, I wouldn’t own stock in them.

I don’t play the upgrade game.  I pick a specific cabin, by number, and book it.  If the cruise line approaches me about moving, I’ll entertain their proposal if it truly offers me something worthwhile.  Otherwise, I prefer to stay put.

Do you like playing the upgrade game, or is picking a specific cabin and sticking with it your approach?

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Comment from Paul Motter
Time August 9, 2010 at 1:51 am

So true – just another gimmick. Very well put, Dave. This one, however, does actually look like an upgrade. (even if it isn’t.)

An “upgrade” to a higher deck is really a “downgrade” for people who get seasick, because lower decks are more stable – if you happen to hit high water (which is rare).

But it is an upgrade in the sense that you are with the people who paid more (but arguably only because they are easily fooled). The cabins are still identical.

At least it is better than the brochures they print that advertise half-off brochure price and list the brochure price AND the sale price in the brochure.

I mean if it is in the brochure it is the price. It’s a sale when it is less-then what they print as the price you pay in brochure.

Comment from Dave Beers
Time August 9, 2010 at 7:39 am

Ah yes, the half-off “2 for 1” sales ploy. I know the brochures you are referring to and they are ridiculous. It seems to be popular with premium cruise lines to use that approach.

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