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Cruise Feature Article
Booking Guarantees

By
Maryann Novajosky

In a couple of different on-line media in recent weeks, I've read posts from a few people who booked cruises on a "guarantee" basis and have been dissatisfied with the actual cabin and/or category they've been assigned.

First, for readers who may not be familiar with the term "guarantee" and how it relates to booking a cruise, let me explain.

When you book a "guarantee" with a cruise line, you are not assigned a specific cabin category or specific cabin at the time of booking. Depending on the cruise line, you'll receive your actual cabin assignment a few weeks before your departure, or at the time you check in for your cruise. Neither you nor your travel agent has control over what specific cabin you'll be assigned or it's location (deck, midship, aft, forward, etc.). Some cruise lines offer a "run of ship guarantee" (with no specific category noted); others offer "category guarantees". With a "run of ship guarantee", all the cruise line is offering is a cabin somewhere on the ship, in any category they choose. With a "category guarantee", you'll receive no less than the category you paid for, but may receive a cabin assignment in a higher category at no additional charge.

Why do cruise lines offer such "guarantees"? Traditionally, the minimum and maximum cabin categories sell out first. By offering "guarantees", the cruise line has the flexibility of "relocating" someone from a lower-priced category to a higher one, thereby selling far more attractively priced lower fares than they could if all sales were done with a specific cabin assignment. They may only have a handful of minimum priced cabins available on the ship, but guarantees allow them to sell many more cabins at that low fare, getting a sale they might not otherwise get if only the higher fare cabins were available.

What are the advantages of a "guarantee" to the consumer? With "run of ship" guarantees, which are usually offered on a cruise only basis (you must buy your own independent airfare), the rate is usually lower than any other rate offered. With "category guarantees", the rate may not be lower than that offered if you booked a cabin assignment, but the potential advantage is that you'll be upgraded to a higher category at no additional cost to you.

What are the disadvantages of a "guarantee" to the consumer? Well, basically, an upgrade is not always an upgrade even if you're assigned a cabin in a higher category than you booked. I know this sounds a bit like double-talk so I'll use an example. Say, you booked a guarantee in Category 1, and all the cabins in this category are located midship. Midship is a preferred location for many cruisers. Along comes your cabin assignment, and you've been assigned a cabin in Category 5, a four-category upgrade which has a higher dollar value than what you paid for. However, your cabin is located all the way forward, or all the way aft, or under the disco -- certainly not considered "prime" locations. Although you may have saved $$$$, your upgrade may have less value to YOU because of its location.

 

Many people book inside cabin guarantees, hoping to be assigned their much-preferred outside cabin. They've sailed with XYZ Cruise Line numerous times and figure that "counts" for something. However, the demand for outside cabins is far exceeding the supply lately (in fact, we're seeing far more promotional offers for inside cabins only these days, especially from Royal Caribbean and Princess) so no matter now many prior cruises you took with XYZ Cruise Line, if they can sell an outside cabin at a higher rate than you paid for your "guarantee", profit wins out over "rewarding" your loyalty to the line.

For example, Royal Caribbean offers "cruise only guarantees", called "booking Category Z" (yes, folks, it really is called Category Z). With this booking, RCCL promises no less than Category Q (minimum cabin), up to Category F (maximum standard outside cabin). If you've booked one of these for sailings during the next couple of months, don't get your hopes up that you'll be assigned an outside cabin. Why? Simple supply and demand.

The live computer link I have with Royal Caribbean easily allows me to search, week by week, to see which categories are available. I did so in January for the Grandeur of the Seas, Majesty of the Seas, Monarch of the Seas, and the Splendour of the Seas. My findings:

Grandeur: The first sailing with any standard outside cabin availability is April 12th. Two cabins left in Category I.

Majesty: The first sailing with any standard outside cabin availability is March 16th. One cabin left in Catetory I.

Monarch: The first sailing with any standard outside cabin availability is March 30th. All total, about a dozen standard outside cabins are available.

Splendour: You'll have to wait for March 15th. There's one outside cabin left on that sailing.

The "stats" with the other "majors" (Princess, Carnival, Hollland America, etc.) are pretty much the same for the next couple of months. Decent availability on inside cabins, nothing or only a few outside cabins. So if you've booked an "inside cabin guarantee", your odds of getting assigned an outside cabin aren't great. Better than winning the lottery maybe but perhaps not much better.

Sorry for the long lecture and "editorializing" but I can sum up the "guarantee" situation in a couple of closing sentences.

Booking a "guarantee" is a crap shoot. If you don't care where your cabin is located on the ship, go for it. If you have ANY preference at all, and won't be happy with whatever cabin you're assigned by the cruise line, save yourself potential disappointment and book the specific cabin category and location you'll be happy with.


Maryann Novajosky is a CLIA Master Cruise Counselor, the Editor/Publisher of the Cruise.Vacation.Station bi-weekly newsletter, has been active for years on Prodigy's Afloat Message Board and is currently the Royal Caribbean Section Leader for the CompuServe Cruise Forum. She owns Free Spririt Cruises & Tours in Rahway, New Jersey, is a former NACOA board member and can be reached for questions or comment at 1-800-728-6729 or email to: WTRW38A@prodigy.com.


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