Should you Book Direct or Use a Cruise Travel Agent?
You’ve decided to take a cruise. Unfortunately, there’s more to it than that. Many people ask “should I use a travel agent to book a cruise?” and there is a simple answer to this question – YES. Choosing a good cruise travel agent could be one of the best decisions you make when booking your next cruise.
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? Maybe an adventure on an Expedition ship? 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 cruise 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 travel agent to make my booking or do it myself online?
This in-depth article, covers 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 not long ago that using a travel agent to book any travel was the only game in town. Anyone can book anything online, but is that the best way? Here are why we believe it is always 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 specialising in cruising, will give you access to experienced staff with extensive knowledge who can help you choose the right cruise and stateroom. They will be able to take care of all your specific requests. If they sound vague or cold, ditch them and find a company that is passionate about winning your business.
Better Communications & Technolgy
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 called your “Cruise Concierge”, ‘Cruise Consultant”, or “Cruise Connoisseur”.
Sophisticated agents will make all your reservation information available online and readily accessed 24/7 — no more reams of paper to contend with and so much kinder to the planet.
As well as an intelligent Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, these agents will also have intelligent 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 simple. 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 can even hold staterooms for a few days, so you can double-check everything before parting with your money!
Ship Visits, Inspections and Reviews
The best Cruise Travel Agents gain valuable insights into ships during regular ship visits and ‘educational’ trips with the cruise lines. They will publish their trip reports on their websites and social media so you can gain first-hand knowledge of their insider experience.
You can use their extensive knowledge to ensure they book 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 these specialist cruise agents provide helpful, unbiased reviews, inspection reports, blogs and informational videos on their websites and via their social media channels.
Adding Value and Keeping You Up to Date
The best agents also keep up to date with policy changes made by the cruise lines. Such things include smoking restrictions, covid rules, cruise gratuities and Drinks Packages, which help avoid surprises when you embark on your cruise. They can also advise on the Dress Code and the number of Formal evenings planned for your chosen cruise voyage. If you have stock or shares in a particular cruise line, they will also apply for your shareholder benefits.
More importantly, the travel agents with a real focus on cruising 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 unique offerings direct to your inbox via email. Signing up for these offers or newsletters is particularly good for last-minute and cancellation cruise offers.
Related: Cruise Line Shareholder Benefits
Groups and Travel Agent Rates
Some Cruise Travel Agents are able to negotiate special pricing with the cruise lines if they 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 free places for your group rather than the agent taking the “Free” cabins as extra profit or freebies for their staff.
Top cruise travel agents 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 the captain.
Tailor Made Cruises
For total peace of mind and reduce the stress and worry of making numerous arrangements, why not pass this on 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 Cruise 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 and Money
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 builds a profile of your interests and preferences and will match your hobbies 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.
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 cold business transaction.
- Make sure your money is protected either through financial protection schemes offered by your agent, through travel insurance or at the very least pay by credit card as this may offer some protection.
- We use a local specialist cruise agency called Deluxe Cruises UK who really understands what Ultra-Luxury Cruising is all about. Do your research well, and you will not be disappointed. If you want suggestions on who to use, just drop us a line and we will do our best to help.
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
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 cruise travel agent 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.