Most people think that they get the best prices by bypassing the travel agent and booking directly with the cruise line. In fact, the opposite is true. Cruise lines (and other travel suppliers such as tour operators, bus lines, railroads, etc.) prefer that you book through your independent agent. This way they keep their payroll down in several areas such as their reservations and customer service departments.
Next time you see an ad for a cruise look carefully. The ad will likely give you a toll-free number to call them directly but also suggest that you call your travel agent. Some won’t even bother to give you their own phone number but instead just tell you to consult your travel professional. That’s how much they DON’T want you to book with them directly.
In fact, they prefer it so much that they will provide the travel agents with customer discounts and incentives that you won’t get by booking direct. Your agent will get you the same price (or possibly even better) for the cruise, but likely be able to get you other valuable perks like on-board credit to use for anything else on board the ship (spa services, store purchases, beverages, even shore excursions, and more).
The first time Lyn and I used a travel agent to book our cruise is an interesting story. Thinking that the best available price would be directly from the cruise line, we had already booked our cruise directly with the line and weeks later saw an ad (by a travel agency) for a better price on the same exact cruise. When we called the number in the ad and told the agent we had already booked the cruise, he told us it was no problem, put us on hold while he made a call to the cruise line, and immediately took over the booking with their blessing.
So not only did we get the better price, but the travel agent got us an upgraded stateroom, a $200 on-board credit from the cruise line, plus another $75 on-board credit that was arranged by the travel agency. And when we first arrived in our stateroom there was a chilled bottle of Champagne and a tray of beautiful chocolate-covered strawberries with a lovely note, compliments of our travel agent, Marc. Very classy!
Not only will you likely get a better deal by going through a travel agent, but by using a cruise ‘specialist’ it’s likely you will get an even better deal. Cruise specialists are likely to have gone through many hours of special training given by the individual cruise lines which makes them, among other things, more intimately aware of the ships and their itineraries. Cruise lines offer exclusive, special deals through their network of cruise specialists.
And let’s not forget that a cruise specialist offers you something that no amount of savings can compete with. As an example, with their experience and expertise they can help make sure that you and the ship are a good fit. Some ships are better for families with kids while others tend to be quieter and more relaxing. Some ships attract more hard-core party-people while others lend themselves toward those who enjoy formal dining and dancing.
Lyn and I had enjoyed a shore excursion in Mexico and were back at the port doing a little souvenir shopping before boarding our ship when we noticed that one of the open-air bars seemed to have a wild party going on. It was filled with mostly young people in their twenties to forties, many dressed in biker gear (leather vests, bandannas, etc.). The music was thumping and the beer was flowing. These people certainly weren’t on our ship as we would have definitely noticed them. Instead, they were from the only other cruise ship in port that day. As soon as we noticed the brand, we understood.
You see, that brand is well known in the industry for marketing to partyers by having rock bands on-board instead of Jamaican steel drum bands, and arranging on-shore raves in certain ports. While that type of cruise is just great for those who are into it, it would probably not be much fun for other demographics. That’s an extreme example but it emphasizes my point. Choosing the right ship and itinerary is important, more so than saving a few bucks. The right travel specialist can make the difference between having a nice time and having the time of your life.