Cruising is one of the most cost-effective vacations out there, and most travelers are becoming more and more aware of that fact. But few vacationers—even some of the most seasoned cruisers out there—remain unfamiliar with a way to make their cruise vacation even more cost effective. When booking a cruise vacation, very few customers are even aware of the option of a guarantee, what it means, and perhaps most importantly, how it can save them money.
In a typical cruise-booking scenario, a reservation agent for the cruise line (or hopefully better yet, your travel agent) will be able to actually tell you which cabins are available from a list of cabins in a particular category, then ask you to choose one. That cabin will then be yours for the duration of the cruise. Most people pick a cabin upon booking because cabin assignment allows for perks like grouping rooms together (if you're traveling with friends or relatives) or figuring out in advance the fastest route to the midnight ice cream buffet.
If you opt not to assign your cabin, your booking becomes a guaranteed booking, or guarantee for short. A guaranteed booking will not allow you to choose your exact room. Instead, what the cruise line is doing is guaranteeing that you'll be assinged a cabin a particular category of stateroom, or possibly a higher category. Actual staterooms are assigned at the time the tickets are printed (usually about 30 days prior to sailing) and at that time, if there aren't any rooms left in your guaranteed category, you'll be assigned a room in the next one up.
A typical stateroom guarantee reservation, for example, might be for Category C. In a regular reservation, not only would you reserve a Category C stateroom, but you will be asked to pick the exact stateroom you want. Upon ticketing, you'll get that particular stateroom, no matter what. However, in a guarantee reservation, you might have booked for Category C, but actually end up with an upgrade to Category B, all for no extra cost than the reservation in which the specific Category C cabin was assigned!
The main downside to guarantee bookings are that you don't know where your exact room location will be? There are distinct and potentially important benefits to knowing where your room is. Most cruisers are aware that the best cabins are on a middle floor in the center of the ship. Rooms at the bow or stern tend to experience more movement and are often noisier. When you book a specific room, you know where it will be. When you book a guarantee, however, you're at the mercy of the cruise line. You may end up with a better cabin category, but that could mean a slightly bigger room at the bow or stern, an ultimately less preferable cabin to most people.
The price difference, however, can be substantial. It's not uncommon to see a multiple hundred-dollar difference between a guarantee and a regular reservation. Guarantee reservations benefits the cruise line because they allow for more flexibility for assigning cabins to customers who want specific rooms. As a guarantee, you're getting a discount for being flexible and accomodating.
Before booking as a guarantee, though, ask yourself a few important questions. First, what level of stateroom at minimum am I comfortable with? Second, is seasickness a major concern? If so, a room on the bow or stern could be very problematic. And last, just how important is peace of mind in knowing where the room is?