Three days ago, I booked a short cruise to Cuba. I am travelling in July on the Norwegian Sky, and I will sail alone. As a result, I booked an inexpensive ocean view guarantee cabin. That means I will have some natural light, but a small cabin and no control over its location. That is fine for solo cruising. Yesterday, however, I got an email from NCL (Norwegian Cruise Line) offering me the chance to upgrade to a larger room. The Norwegian Upgrade Advantage program sets a minimum bid price, and then you say how much you would be willing to pay for a larger room. The program has some distinct advantages and disadvantages.
NCL does not, in theory, offer every passenger the opportunity to upgrade. However, I received the offer two days after booking despite never having sailed before with Norwegian. Looking online, it is clear that there are a number of unsold cabins on my cruise. Still, I was a little surprised to get the offer.
The email said the minimum bid was $50 per person for a balcony, $400 for a penthouse suite, and $750 for an owner’s suite. There are no Haven cabins on this ship, and you can only bid up two categories. That means those originally booked in an inside stateroom could only bid up to a balcony. However, there are a couple of important caveats. First, the price is per person for two people in the cabin. That means that I would have to pay for a two person upgrade despite cruising solo. That means that the prices above double. The good news, however, is that there is no additional charge for the third and fourth passengers in a room. Also, there is no guarantee of having your bid accepted. If it is accepted, you have no control over which cabin you are assigned in the relevant category. The shot below is what I got after logging in.
I followed the link from my email, looked at the options, and logged out without bidding. Earlier today, I logged in to my cruise without thinking about the upgrade. That also took me to this screen. I inferred from this that NCL is working aggressively to maximize revenue by getting folks into bigger cabins. I decided to investigate whether the prices on offer would have represented an actual discount.
As of today, a balcony cabin costs $1260 more on this cruise than I paid for my oceanview guarantee. The minimum bid for an upgrade was $50 per person. The slider indicated that this would be considered a “poor” bid. A “fair” bid would be $105, a “good” bid $170, a “strong” bid $240, and an “excellent” bid would be $275. The maximum bid was $300 per person. At $600 for the cabin, that is a considerable discount from purchasing the cabin upfront. Still, there is no guarantee of getting the cabin. I also wouldn’t be able to control where the cabin is located. I placed a bid of $115 per person, which means it would cost $230 if accepted.
How does it all work?
NCL reserves the right to accept or reject the offer until two days before the cruise. I suspect that almost all upgrade decisions are made at that point, because this lets Norwegian actually sell as many cabins as possible. I can modify or rescind my offer at any point before it is accepted. However, once Norwegian accepts it they will charge my credit card and the offer is not refundable.
I also had the opportunity to bid on suites. This was a tougher call for me, because I just don’t need the extra space. However, I have been known to stay in suites on Royal Caribbean or at nice hotels like the Bellagio. What can I say? It is a thing I do. I also don’t have any status on NCL, and a suite would give me priority embarkation, priority tenders, priority debarkation, and some other goodies I would like. The minimum bid on an Owner’s Suite was $750 per person, so I passed on that. A fair bid was $1010, good was $1300, strong was $1600, excellent was $1820, and max was $2000. All of those prices are per person. I cannot say how steep that discount is, because there are no longer any of these cabins for sale.
NCL also accepted upgrade bids on penthouse suites. This is a lower cabin category than the owner’s suites, but still very nice. Interestingly, there were separate bids on front-facing, aft-facing, and side-facing penthouse suites. For each, the minimum bid was $400 per person. A fair bid was $585, good was $790, strong was $1000, excellent was $1140, and max was $1250 per person. The price difference between my fair and booking a penthouse as $4160 for the cabin, so even at the max bid this would be a significant discount.
I made a half-hearted bid on penthouse suites. I bid $405 per person for a forward-facing penthouse, and I bid $415 for a side or aft-facing room. The forward facing cabin was worth a little less to me since you automatically have 20 knots of wind in your face when the ship is at sea. I will certainly be delighted if I get a sharply discounted suite upgrade, but I think I would actually prefer the cheaper upgrade to the suite. That assumes, of course, that I score any upgrade at all. Unfortunately, there is a significant amount of uncertainty involved when you place a bid.
What don’t we know about the Norwegian Upgrade Advantage program?
NCL keeps a number of details about their program secret. For example, they do not disclose how they select who receives the offers. They do say that if you bid on multiple upgrades, only one will be accepted. However, they do not say how they would choose which bid they would accept if each bid was a winner in its own category. They also do not say how the original price paid for the cruise factors into the required bid. So, on balance, there is a degree of uncertainty here. I certainly wouldn’t use this program if I knew in advance that I wanted or needed a bigger room. However, NCL’s upgrade program does offer some distinct advantages. They also clearly explain the terms. I’m also delighted to accept my original cabin for the price I already paid.
If you have some flexibility in your plans and are happy travelling in the cheaper cabin for which you actually paid, watch your email for an upgrade offer. Post in the comments if you have any questions, and I will do my best to answer them.
UPDATE 27 May 2018–check for regular price drops It may be worth your time to rather than waiting to see if your upgrade clears.
UPDATE 30 June 2018— Find out how the bid turned out.