Book Direct or Use a Travel Agent?
You’ve decided to take a cruise. Unfortunately, there’s more to it than that. There are several important decisions you need to make. Where would you like to go? What type of ship should you choose; Boutique Ship or Mega-Ship? Ocean Cruise or River Cruise? Do you want to Fly to an overseas location to pick up your cruise? The list goes on.
No wonder people feel confused and unsure as to what to do next. So what are your options? Some folks start by doing online research or use recommendations but whether you’re new to cruising, or a seasoned traveller looking for something different we highly recommend getting advice from one of a growing number of independent cruise travel agents.
We cruise a lot and some of the most frequently asked questions we get asked when someone is looking to book a cruise include the following:
- Should I use a travel agent to book my cruise?
- Surely dealing directly with the cruise company is better for me?
- What’s the best way to book a cruise?
- Should I use a cruise agent to make my booking or do it myself online?
In this article, we will cover all the reasons why we believe booking through a cruise travel agent is the best solution. There is a widely held belief that travel agents are a thing of the past, although it was no long ago that using a travel agent to book any travel was the only game in town. In fact, nowadays anyone can book anything online, but is that the best way? Here are our reasons why we believe it is best to book with an agent.
Personalized experience using a Cruise Travel Agent
If you choose the right agent, they will have access to vast numbers of cruise line offerings and will not only be able to scour the whole market to find your perfect cruise; they can also save you time and money into the bargain. On top of this, they will often know of the latest deals available through their prefered cruise lines.
They can also add exclusive perks, such as flowers in your stateroom, onboard spending money, cabin upgrades or a bottle of bubbly on arrival. In addition to these fun extras, agents can also arrange personalized travel details for your cruise like specific dining requirements like vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free.
HIGHER LEVELS OF CUSTOMER SERVICE
Perhaps one of the most important reasons for using a cruise specialist is the high level of customer service you will receive that you will not get when using an online service or even a non-focused travel agent. The right cruise travel agent will be able to answer all of your questions and guide you through essential steps.
The right travel agent, especially one who specializes in cruising, will give you access to experienced staff with extensive knowledge who can help you choose the right cruise and stateroom.
BETTER COMMUNICATIONS & TECHNOLOGY
Most travel agents can be reached easily seven days a week through a phone call, email, text message, WhatsApp or Social Media.
The better cruise agents will allocate a dedicated person to manage your account, which helps them understand your requirements and help build a long term relationship. These dedicated contacts are often known as your “Cruise Concierge”.
These agents will also have sophisticated computer systems with access to flights, hotels and other cruise add-ons to help provide you with a stress-free booking. These booking engines make booking a cruise, flights, hotels and addons simplicity itself. They also link to all the major cruise line booking systems and can instantly advise on the availability of particular staterooms or suites. Some agents are even able to hold staterooms for a few days so that you can double-check everything before parting with your money!
SHIP VISITS AND REVIEWS
Good Cruise Travel agents gain valuable insights into ships during regular ships visits and ‘educational’ trips with the cruise lines. You can take advantage of the extensive knowledge they have to ensure you end up booking the right cruise for you. If there is a particular ship you would like to see and it visits a close port to where you live, some agents can arrange for you to visit and even have lunch on board. Many of the specialist cruise agents provide usefull, unbiased reviews, blogs and informational videos on their web sites.
KEEPING UP TO DATE
The best agents also keep up to date with policy changes made by the cruise lines. Such things include smoking restrictions, cruise gratuities and Drinks Packages, which helps avoid surprises when you embark on your cruise. They can also advise on Dress Code and the number of Formal evenings planned for your chosen cruise voyage.
More importantly, the best travel agents are kept fully informed about the latest offers from the cruise lines. Many of these agents offer the ability to sign up to receive offers and special offerings direct to your inbox via email. This is particularly good for last minute offers and cancellation cruise offers.
GROUPS AND TRAVEL AGENTS RATES
Some agents negotiate special pricing with the cruise lines and undertake to book a certain number of cabins or staterooms on a particular voyage. In return for this commitment by the agent, the cruise line rewards them by giving them ‘agent rates’ or free cabins, which the agent can sell or use themselves.
Examples of these ‘bonuses’ to the agent are 1-in-8 (i.e. The agent gets one 1 Free Cabin for eight cabins sold). If you are travelling in a large party with family or friends, it is always worth asking if the agent has special group pricing and ask for the free places for your group.
The very top cruise travel agents quite often organize hosted cruises with a particular theme or destination experience. Examples of this are the Monaco Grand Prix, Food and Wine Extravaganzas and small group adventures to places like Antarctica or the Galapagos. Hosted by a seasoned travel agent, these cruises are an excellent way to pick up tips from a professional. Your host can often arrange for you to dine with the ship’s officers or even the captain.
TAILOR MADE CRUISES
For total peace of mind and reduce the stress and worry of making numerous arrangements, why not pass this to an expert and let them build a bespoke and unique package for you. A cruise specialist travel agent will look after everything from transfers, flights, hotel stays and even arrange some shore excursions to ensure your vacation is smooth and effortless.
The Cost of Using a Travel Agent
There is a view that using a travel agent to book a cruise will cost you more than booking directly with the cruise line. In reality, the opposite is the case. There is no surcharge when using an agent, and in most cases, their prices will be better than booking with the cruise line direct.
The reason for this is that the cruise lines need travel agents to sell the bulk of their cruises as they could not handle all booking themselves directly. The cruise agent will receive a percentage of the fare as a commission, but that doesn’t affect the price you get charged but funded by the cruise line. Commission earned is based on from the cruise element of the fare with things like port charges, flights etc. excluded.
Save Time with the Right CRUISE AGENCY
Using a specialist cruise travel agency can save you a lot of time and money. If you explain to your agent exactly what you are looking for, they will do all the work and provide you will personalized quotations to meet your needs. The right agent will match your hobbies, interests, and even the celebration of a special occasion to find your perfect cruise.
The best cruise agents may suggest a unique itinerary which you would never have spotted. It’s so easy to watch one of the many TV programs about cruising or get drawn into a commercial promising a particular cruise line being the best fit for you and then potentially miss the perfect cruise with another cruise line.
The Good Stuff
- Better Pricing
- Wider Choice of cruises
- Perks from the Agent
- Expertise with multiple cruise lines
- Save Time
- Emergency Hotline numbers
The Not so Good
- If you like to do it all yourself, you may feel a loss of control
- Can sometimes be slower to react to problems
How to Choose the Best Cruise Travel Agency
There are so many cruise travel agents and cruise specialists after your booking; the trick is being able to find the best ones. Some of the essential qualities to look for before you book include:
- Check that the agent is a member of CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association). ie a CLIA Travel Agent. CLIA is the governing body of the cruise industry.
- Multiple cruise line offerings. If your cruise agent only promotes or has knowledge of one cruise line, all of their recommendations will be with that line. Even if another cruise line is a better option, you may end up with a dud.
- Getting to know you. Any cruise travel agent can ask a series of questions and book you on a cheap seven-day cruise around the Med. Always try to find an agent who asks about your family, your interests, hobbies etc. Every cruise line has a particular speciality and a travel agent who takes the time to get to know you will find that perfect vacation. You want your cruise travel agent to feel like a friend, not someone who wants to make a business transaction.
- We use a local specialist cruise agency called Deluxe Cruises UK who really understand what cruising is about. Do your research well and you will not be disappointed. Just recently a new cruise agency called Expectations Cruises has launched its brand spanking new website and want it to be the best, most useful, easy-to-use cruise travel agency site on the internet. As such, it is looking for cruisers to test the website and give feedback, so they’ve come up with an interesting offer. In return for your help, Expectations Cruises is offering generous discounts to About Luxury Cruising readers for a few minutes of your time. Simply email your comments, ideas, suggestions and feedback to email@example.com together with your name and contact details and mention ‘About Luxury Cruising’.
FAQ’s – Frequently Asked Questions
IF I BOOK DIRECTLY WITH THE CRUISE LINE, WILL I GET A BETTER DEAL?
Cruise lines generally expect all travel agents to chargee the same price, for a particular cruise, unless the agent has groups or agent pricing. The cruise lines’ internal sales teams have to abide by the same rules. The aim is to avoid heavy discounting and price wars. Cruise lines depend on travel agents to advertise, sell cruises and process bookings. On this basis, they certainly don’t want to undercut the agencies with whom they work.
SHOULD I USE A TRAVEL AGENT TO BOOK A CRUISE?
The real answer is Yes. It would be best if you used a travel agent for booking your cruise as they have so much added value.
WHEN YOU SHOULD BOOK YOUR CRUISE ON YOUR OWN
If you are happy to do everything yourself and hate the idea of someone else doing what you think you could do yourself, then going it alone may be for you!
While travel agents have access to perks that the average cruiser does not have, some still prefer to book directly through the cruise lines and do all the planning on their own.
Choosing to use a travel agent for a cruise can take some time, but once you find a good one, stay with them as they develop their relationship with you. If they don’t perform, dump them and look for another.
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