Tuesday Travel Tip: What's a cruise cabin guarantee and will it save you money?
If you're new to cruise vacations, you may wonder about cruise fares that are labeled "cruise cabin guarantee." What does that mean, and can booking a guaranteed cabin save you money or help convince the upgrade fairy to visit you? Let's find out.
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Cruise cabin types and categories
Let's start with the basics. When you look at cruise fares, you'll see that they can vary widely for the same itinerary. The price differential is due to the cabin type you select. An interior stateroom with no windows will generally be much cheaper than a similar cabin with a balcony or one of the ship's top suites.
Related: The 5 best cabin locations on any cruise ship
On a cruise ship deck plan, and cruise fare rate list, categories are usually denoted by short alphanumeric sequences, like 1A or 10. Each type of cabin can have multiple categories within it. For example, aboard Celebrity Apex, you can pick an Inside Stateroom in categories 9, 10, 11 or 12. What's the difference? Location on the ship. Each category may align with aft, midship or forward or even a specific deck.
Cruise fares within the same cabin type but different category vary in price. When I booked a voyage aboard Celebrity Apex, I noticed that Sky Suites that weren't obstructed by the Magic Carpet cost more than those that were. (The Magic Carpet is an innovative multiuse "elevator" that sits on the outside of the ship. It makes boarding a tender a breeze and turns into a bar or restaurant when not needed at the water level.)
Related: 21 tips and tricks that will make your first cruise go smoothly
Booking a "guarantee"
When you decide to go on a cruise, you not only decide what category cabin to book but you pick the exact cabin on the ship that you want. If you want a balcony cabin, you book that category and pick a cabin number from the deck plan. If you want an inside room, you book that cabin category and then pick the one that best suits you.
But, many major cruise lines like Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line let you book what's called a "cruise cabin guarantee." Even luxury line Seabourn sells guarantee cabin fares. You book the cabin type you want, such as a balcony, but you don't pick a category or a room number.
Related: 8 cabin locations on cruise ships that you definitely should avoid
What are the benefits?
Travelers book guarantee fares because the pricing is often -- but not always -- advantageous. On some cruise lines, guarantees are usually the cheapest fare option in the room type you've selected. On other lines, there's no price difference between the lowest category in your room type and the guarantee. The only "savings" you'll net is if you're upgraded to the next cabin category. We'll talk about that in a second.
You are guaranteed to get at least the type of cabin you booked, but you have no control over which room.
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There's a secondary benefit of booking a guarantee cabin beyond the cost savings. If the cruise line sells out of your cabin type, it will move you up to the next available category.
So, if you were going to pick the cheapest inside stateroom anyway and don't care about its location, why not book the guarantee? You might be bumped up to a better category within that cabin type if all the cheapest ones are booked and paid for.
And, if all rooms in the cabin type you selected sell out, there's a chance you could be moved from your original cabin type to a higher one. Just be realistic, you're not going to get the ship's top suite if you booked an inside cabin. And, some cruise lines have rules about which categories you can move from and to. But, you get the general idea. Worst case scenario: You get exactly what you booked -- and hopefully you got it at a discount.
Related: The best cruise lines for solo travelers
Are there any downsides?
Yes. The perfect cruise ship cabin is in the eye of the beholder and every traveler has different criteria to define perfection. Not all cabins -- even within the same type and category -- are created equal.
Some cabins can be noisy if they're near the anchor, the tender platform or under the pool deck or night club, for instance. The balconies of some cabins may get sooty if they are in the path of the fallout from the cruise ship funnel.
If you are super picky about any one aspect of your cruise cabin, don't book a guarantee and instead pick exactly the cabin type, category and room location you want. Every cruise ship has a deck plan that you can study, and you can pick your exact cabin number during the booking process.
Related: What’s the difference between a cruise ship concierge and butler?
The guarantee gamble might not be a good idea for families or friends traveling together that need very specific bed arrangements. If your family needs a specific family-friendly cabin, book that and don't mess with a guarantee to save a few bucks.
One last thing to note when you book a guarantee cabin: You usually won't know your exact cabin number until one to three weeks before embarkation. If you can't take that kind of suspense, don't book a guarantee cabin!
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