Complimentary Upgrades – The Good, The Bad, The Confusion
Written by: Kuki
But, I don’t believe anyone, including the cruise lines, have any accurate, real, explanation for when, who, why, and what reason complimentary upgrades are given to passengers.
The easiest and simplest upgrade situation to understand is when the various cruise lines run sales which include a free upgrade at the time of booking. This is a tool often used by the cruise lines. Rather than lower the price of cabins, they do so in a manner that makes it appear that besides the “already low price” they offer, they are willing to give you a bonus by giving you something for nothing.
And, it is true, there is some value to those upgrades. There’s also a bit of a catch.
In recent years the cruise lines have added many more categories to their cabins; subdividing identically sized and laid out cabins which are only differentiated by their location on the ship. And most often the upgrades they offer at time of booking are changes within a cabin type (I.E. inside to inside, ocean view to ocean view, balcony to balcony). The flaw is it’s the cruise lines who’ve determined that one location is more attractive (and therefore more costly) to their customers. It is possible the passenger will prefer the less costly cabin location.
In many cases the lowest price available to sail a ship is booking a ROS (run of the ship) guarantee. This allows the cruise line to place you in any cabin on the ship, dependent entirely on their choices for their inventory management.
This may be the very best way to book your cruise if all you want to do is be assured you’ll be sailing on that ship. On occasion this method can result in very significant upgrades, which leave the customers delighted. However one should most reasonably expect to be placed in a cabin in the lowest one third of cabin categories available.
There’s a bit of a myth on the topic of upgrades when travel agents may say, or imply, that their customers always get free upgrades because of their contacts at the cruise line, or the amount of volume they do with a cruise line.
I believe working with a travel agent is the most important thing someone considering going on a cruise can do to help insure smooth sailing. Some travel agents do have key relationships with various cruise lines, but no agent is going to guarantee each and every customer a free upgrade (unless it’s being offered by the cruise line). That said, there are travel agents who will go to bat for their clients with their contacts at the cruise line to request an upgrade. To think they will do that for every client is naïve. They may do so for their most loyal and frequent customers, but even then it is only a request.
Every ship that sails, prior to departure is supplied with a list from their home office, listing all those passengers who have been designated VIPs. It could be their most very frequent passengers, or celebrities, or media and press, and lowly writers from CruiseMates.com. Making the cruise line’s VIP lists can often also mean put to the front of the line if upgrades are available.
I’ve had my own theory, totally unresearched and unproven, that often complimentary upgrades are handed out to first time cruisers with the particular cruise line. I understand that seems to defy logic, as one would think the frequent customers should be rewarded first. However, if you’re a regular but not super frequent customer, I think they kind of assume you’re loyal to their brand already, and are more likely to make the attempt to impress the first time cruiser on that line, to attempt to turn them into a repeat customer.
So, holding to my theory, when filling in your online registration for your first cruise with a cruise line, where it asks you if you have sailed other cruise lines, and how many times, exaggerate your previous cruise experiences on other lines, using big numbers. And if you’re offered a great free upgrade, let me know.
Amidst all the confusion on the upgrade topic, there is some logical business management that exists in the process as well.
- The cruise lines want to fill as many cabins as they can on a ship, and want to get as much revenue as possible from the sale of those cabins.
As a sailing date approaches their yield management programs will show them if certain categories are selling better than others. If a category is overly popular and inventory becomes limited, it is possible they’ll upgrade those already booked in that category, to create space to meet demand. Of course, the people requesting that category could be offered the upgrade for the same price of the lower category, but that doesn’t seem a common occurrence. The reason – if they lowered the price, they would face demand for price reductions from those already booked.
Now, I do believe, that in those situations, where they are upgrading someone to create space, they will choose to upgrade the people in the lower category who paid the highest price. Like airline seats it’s often difficult to find a group of passengers on a ship who paid the same price for the same category cabin, even with today’s “flat pricing” policies in place.
The latest twist to the upgrade game is cruise line phone calls to offer low priced upgrades (to up sell the customer). Rather than release the “Upgrade Fairy” to pick and choose which passengers to reward with an upgrade, they will call passengers or their travel agents, and offer rather significant upgrades, at a lower price than what they would have paid if they had booked that cabin originally.
The cruiser’s biggest dream is that they arrive at the pier and are informed they have been chosen for a free upgrade to the largest Penthouse Suite on the ship. I’m not going to say that it has never happened, but I think that while we always keep hope alive, it’s not likely that it’s going to happen.
I’ve had several cruise lines tell me that on occasion their top suites do indeed sail empty. Especially true in the case of ships with side by side suites. They hesitate to put someone in that empty suite, who in casual conversation on the adjoining balconies, will end up telling the suite passenger who paid full fare, that they’d been upgraded after only paying for a cabin next to the boiler. They make one low revenue passenger incredibly happy, and make a “high roller” guest a tad upset.
It can never hurt to request complimentary upgrades. I don’t recommend you rely entirely on what I’ve opined about in this article, because it’s all so complicated, it’s possible none of what I wrote may be true.
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Posted: January 11th, 2011 under Kuki.