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What Happens If a Cruise Gets Oversold?

Last updated on February 4th, 2024 at 10:44 am

Just days before a scheduled departure, cruises have been cancelled due to being oversold and dream vacations have been ruined. Let's look at the potential implications for passengers when a cruise is oversold.
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Cruise vacations are popular among travelers who want to explore the world while enjoying luxurious amenities. The vast majority of the time, all goes well but what happens when a cruise gets oversold? 

This scenario can be a nightmare for both passengers and cruise lines. When a cruise is oversold, it means that there are more passengers than available cabins.

This can lead to a range of issues, including cancellation of your cruise and the huge disappointment associated with shattered plans.

woman looking at her phone with a shocked look on her face while packing her suitcase

What is an Oversold Cruise?

Most of us are familiar with airlines overbooking flights, in anticipation that not all passengers will show for their flight.

In a good majority of cases, if a passenger is bumped from an oversold flight, there is another flight departing in the next few hours. The airlines will ask for volunteers to stay behind and the volunteer also receives compensation.

An overbooked cruise is a completely different scenario. There are no stand-by cruises leaving in the intervening hours to take the overflow.

An oversold cruise is a situation where a cruise line sells more cabins than are actually available on a particular sailing.

This can happen due to a variety of reasons, such as a sudden increase in demand for the particular cruise, technical glitches in the booking system, or the deliberate selling of passage to more guests than the ship can accommodate.

While this is a fairly rare occurrence, it can still happen. If you read the fine print of your cruise contract, you will find that a cruise line has the right to involuntarily bump anyone for any reason.

Twice this year so far, Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Sea’s had an “unexpected inventory error” and had oversold the ship in both April and May. Wonder of the Seas was oversold three times in six months from December 22, 2022 to March 2023.

Some Celebrity Millennium passengers received an email  alerting them that  their reservation had been cancelled. The cruises, set to sail to Japan this fall and spring of 2024, had experienced, just like sister line Royal Caribbean, an unexpected inventory error.

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Even though Zach the Traveling Man loves Celebrity, he had his Japan cruise cancelled.  This type of cancellation had happened to Zack before, and that time he was able to “lift and shift”, which means that the reservation was applied to another ship and cruise date.

However, this time Zach had already booked his non-refundable airline flight, so Zach was not a happy Traveling Man. Zach’s tip here was to purchase trip insurance, which he, unfortunately, had not.

A sad looking boy and man sitting on a couch holding tickets and passports in hand and a suitcase stands in front of them.

What happens when a cruise is oversold?

When a cruise is oversold, it means that there are more passengers with confirmed reservations than the ship can accommodate. This can happen due to inventory errors, technical issues, or human error.

However, overselling can lead to disappointment and frustration for travelers who have booked their cruise vacation well in advance and is a really bad move for the cruise line.

Cruise Line’s Responsibility

When a cruise is oversold, the cruise line should find a way to accommodate all the passengers who have booked their trip. This can be a challenging task, as it involves finding alternative arrangements for the passengers who may have already made travel plans, booked flights, or taken time off from work.

To deal with the situation, the cruise line may offer several options to the affected passengers. Some of the options that the cruise line may offer include:

  • Upgrade: One option the cruise line may offer is to upgrade the passenger’s cabin to a higher category. This is usually done at no extra cost to the passenger and is a way for the cruise line to compensate for the inconvenience caused by the oversold situation.
  • Rebooking: If the passenger is unable or unwilling to accept the upgrade, the cruise line may offer to rebook the passenger on a different sailing or a different ship. This option is usually offered at no extra cost to the passenger, and the cruise line may also provide compensation for any additional expenses incurred due to the change in plans.
  • Refund: In some cases, the cruise line may offer a full refund to the passenger, along with any additional compensation for the inconvenience caused by the oversold situation.

Woman pulling a suitcase with a cruise ship in the background

Refund and Compensation

If a cruise is oversold, the cruise line is responsible for finding a solution for the affected passengers. The first option is usually to offer a full refund or a discount on a future cruise.

In some cases, passengers may be offered onboard credit or other incentives to compensate for the inconvenience. Passengers who are bumped from their sailing due to overselling are entitled to compensation under the law, and the amount of compensation varies depending on the circumstances.

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Rebooking and Upgrades

Another option for passengers who are affected by overselling is to rebook on a different sailing. Cruise lines may offer to rebook passengers on a similar itinerary or a different sailing at no additional cost.

In some cases, passengers may be offered an upgrade to a higher category cabin or stateroom as compensation for the inconvenience. Travel agents can also assist passengers in rebooking their cruise vacation.

Passengers who are affected by overselling should be aware of their options and negotiate with the cruise line to find a solution that meets their needs. It is important to read the terms and conditions of the cruise line’s contract carefully, as it may include provisions related to overselling and rebooking.

Passengers who are bumped from their sailing due to overselling are entitled to compensation under the law. Passengers should be aware of their options and negotiate with the cruise line to find a solution that meets their needs.

How to Avoid Getting Bumped from a Cruise

When it comes to cruising, getting bumped from a trip is the last thing anyone wants to experience. However, it does happen, and it can be a frustrating and disappointing experience.

Here are some tips to help avoid getting bumped from a cruise:

Book Early

One of the best ways to avoid getting bumped from a cruise is to book early. The earlier you book, the more likely you are to secure your spot on the ship.

Cruise lines may oversell their ships, assuming that some passengers will cancel their reservations. By booking early, you can ensure that you have a spot on the ship, and you won’t be one of the passengers who gets bumped.

A couple standing on the shore looking out toward a cruise ship docked across the bay.

Be Flexible

If you’re willing to be flexible with your travel dates, you can increase your chances of avoiding getting bumped from a cruise.

Some dates are more popular than others, and if you’re willing to travel during a less popular time, you may have a better chance of securing a spot on the ship.

Additionally, if you’re willing to be flexible with your cabin choice, you may be able to secure a spot on the ship even if your preferred cabin type is sold out.

Join a Cruise Line Loyalty Program

Many cruise lines have loyalty programs that offer perks and benefits to frequent cruisers. One of the benefits of these programs is that members may have priority when it comes to booking cruises.

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For example, members may be able to book cruises before they are available to the general public. This can increase your chances of securing a spot on the ship and avoiding getting bumped.

Consider a Guaranteed Cabin

Some cruise lines offer guaranteed cabins, which means that you don’t get to choose your cabin location or number. Instead, you are guaranteed a cabin within a certain category.

While this may seem risky, it can actually increase your chances of avoiding getting bumped. Cruise lines often oversell their ships, assuming that some passengers will cancel their reservations.

If you book a guaranteed cabin, you are more likely to be accommodated on the ship, even if your preferred cabin type is sold out.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, overselling a cruise is not an uncommon practice in the cruise industry. Cruise lines often oversell to ensure that they fill every cabin on the ship, maximizing their profits.

However, overselling can lead to a variety of issues for both the cruise line and the passengers. Passengers who are bumped from their cruise due to overselling can face significant inconvenience and expense.

They may have to cancel their vacation plans, make alternative arrangements, and incur additional costs. Cruise lines that oversell can face reputational damage and legal issues if they do not handle the situation appropriately.

It is important for passengers to understand their rights and the cruise line’s policies regarding overselling. Most cruise lines have policies in place that outline how they handle overselling, including offering compensation and alternative arrangements.

Passengers should also consider purchasing travel insurance to protect themselves in the event of an oversold cruise.

That being said, Zach, who we mentioned earlier, did not receive a whole lot of help from the cruise line when he called about his cancelled Japan cruise.

This is where travel insurance can be a handy thing to have. While it may cost  you a few hundred, it can save you thousands in flight and lodging expenses if a cancellation happens to you.

This page contains affiliate links for which we may receive financial compensation when a purchase has been made through one of our affiliate partners.

 

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About Jonathon Hyjek

Jonathon is the tech guy behind CruiseportAdvisor.com. When he's not stuck in front of his computer, Jonathon enjoys travel & cruising (even after being on a cruise ship that caught fire - a story for another day!)

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