What Happens to Cruise Ship Cabins That Don’t Get Sold?

For any number of reasons, a cruise line may have cabins that they didn't sell. And, like airlines and hotels, they would rather get something than nothing. This means you can find big discounts if you're willing to do a bit of legwork. Here's where to start.

Know when the countdown starts

Because cruise cabins can be booked by simply making an initial deposit, cruise lines tend to see a significant number of cancellations once the sail date approaches and the final deposit is due—usually, around 90 days before the sailing, explains Colleen McDaniel, editor-in-chief of Cruise Critic.

Sixty days is the magic number for deals. “Typically, if cruise lines can’t sell out their cabins within 60 days of departure, they will start to drop pricing or offer promotions such as free drinks. A good example is Carnival’s weekly Pack & Go Sale,” says Kameish Stanley, vice president of marketing for SmartCruiser.

Understand the process

The first step cruise lines tend to employ is to redistribute currently booked guests. Rather than steeply discount higher-level cabins (like suites), they’ll first offer cabin upgrades to existing guests at a discounted rate. “The goal in doing that is to then free up the less expensive cabins so they can cut price on those even more,” says McDaniel. These 13 insider secrets will also help you get the best deal on a cruise.

Don’t celebrate too quickly

If they still have inventory available, cruise lines will begin to drop fares, but typically these discounts are for “guarantee” cabins meaning you don’t get to pick your cabin, rather it’s assigned prior to cruise departure and you could be anywhere on the ship, points out Caleb McElveen, a specialist with Cruiseline.com. If you are flexible and don’t mind the possibility of spending a week in a windowless cabin, these types of promotions can offer big cost savings, he says.

Get on email lists

Many times, cruise lines will offer those slashed fares to those on their mailing lists or to partner agencies. So if you’re looking for significantly discounted cruise fare—and have the means to book less than three months out—sign up for emails from your cruise line or travel agency of choice then keep an eye out for those special deals. If you’re not in the loop, there are some things cruise lines will leave it up to you to discover.

Be on the lookout for price alerts

CruiseCritic’s Price Alerts feature can also be helpful. If you know a specific sailing—or even more general information like where you’d like to go or when you’d like to leave—you can sign up for alerts to see when your selection drops in price, so you’re able to act quickly to take advantage of slashed fares.

Use a website like vacationstogo.com to do a general search of pricing to find the unsold cabins across cruise lines, suggests Deb Pfeifer, author of Cruising with Confidence: How to be a First Time Cruiser Without Looking like One, who has snagged unsold cabins at a greatly reduced price.

Stay on top of the news

“The ban on American travel to Cuba has had a cascade effect within the cruise industry. Many travelers canceled planned cruises to Cuba once they learned of the decision, even though they may have still been eligible to travel. While some travelers re-booked on a different cruise, many did not. This has led to a high number of available rooms, with a corresponding drop in price,” says Denise Bialek, director of Priceline Cruises.

Many cruise lines remade their itineraries, choosing to visit different Caribbean islands other than Cuba. They’re competing to fill those cruises, and that benefits travelers. If you visit Priceline, you can find cruise deals that are hundreds of dollars less expensive than they might normally be, alongside benefits such as free prepaid gratuities and beverage and other onboard credits.

Says Bialek, “The Cuba travel ban was certainly an unexpected disruption, but it has created a market where cruises, particularly Caribbean cruises, are less expensive than they’ve been in years.”

Don’t go it alone

“Work with a travel agent. The best deals aren’t always published online, and some fares require having a travel agent who can access them or call the cruise line directly and inquiring about them,” says Pfeifer. Travel agents have all kinds of insider knowledge that can help even seasoned travelers save big.

Be persistent and flexible

Check prices again and again. “It is difficult to find the unsold cabins at the absolute lowest prices without investing the time to do the checking. As someone who cruises multiple times a year, I find I have to check prices every single day to find the best deals,” says Pfeifer.

Have some wiggle room in your travel schedule. “Be flexible with your travel dates. In my experience, the best deals come at about 30 days out from the sail date,” says Pfeifer.

Remember patience isn’t always a virtue

Sometimes, it doesn’t pay to be patient. You need to bust a move. So it is with catching deals. “Keep in mind that fares can change multiple times a day, so be sure to pounce on any good deals you see,” says McElveen. You may be able to find deals for last-minute cruises this summer.

Be mindful of the drawbacks of last-minute deals

If you don’t live within driving distance of your port of call, you’ll have to book airfare and a hotel room, which can be expensive to purchase at the last minute. You don’t want to lose all your net gains by paying more in other areas of your trip. Ready to set sail? Find out what to pack for your cruise—and what to leave at home.

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