Cruising is a great way to explore unbelievable destinations around the globe, sailing the seas aboard a super-sized ocean liner. Cruises offer five-course meals, Broadway-style entertainment and days filled with as much – or as little – planned activities as you’d like … not to mention the opportunity to visit some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.  

But, how do you level up a vacation that already checks all the boxes? With an upgrade, of course.

Upgrades can include everything from drink packages to onshore excursions, but the crème de la crème of cruise upgrades is the balcony stateroom.

While free upgrades are hard to come by, there are many ways to increase your odds or hack your way to the coveted balcony stateroom at minimal cost to you.

Game the system

Cruise ships often sail at capacity, which can make it difficult to score an upgrade. Sailing during the off-season, on older ships or to less popular destinations increases the odds of the ship having available rooms for passenger upgrades.

Continuing to monitor price changes after booking also can help you nab a free or low-cost upgrade. How? Prices can fluctuate rapidly as cruise lines try to account for customer demand, so you very well may see the price of that balcony stateroom drop suddenly. If it reaches a comparable price to your current cabin before final payment, quickly contact your booking agent to switch to the balcony room at the discounted rate. Keep in mind your cruise line’s cancelation period as this change can’t be made once you enter that timeframe.

Take a risk

Sometimes you must be willing to gamble to win big. When you book a guarantee cabin, you’re assured a cabin in your category, but, if all the rooms in that category are filled, you very well may receive a free upgrade.

If that didn’t work, a simple request for an upgrade at Guest Services or Guest Relations could fetch you a big, balcony-sized reward. Just be sure to time your request right. While the service desk will be swarmed with inquiries on the first day, if you wait until after sail away or after first port, you may increase your odds of a positive response to your request.

Maximize your rewards

All cruise lines offer rewards programs for loyal sailors. Admittedly, it may take a few cruises to get a supersized upgrade like a balcony stateroom; however, just enrolling in a rewards program entitles you to special offers and promotions after your first sailing.

The same is true for your everyday credit card rewards programs. Research your credit card’s points program or cash-back policy; many offer travel-related redemption opportunities. And, if your loyalty lies with one cruise line, carrying its specific credit card will present additional opportunities for discounts, stateroom upgrades and onboard credit.   

While the thrill of scoring a free upgrade can be exciting, sometimes paying for an upgrade is the best way to guarantee that coveted balcony stateroom. No matter your cruising accommodations, one thing is for certain – you’re sure to have a blast setting sail.