It always amazes me when I’m in the market or elsewhere around town and run in to a lifelong friend who tells me, “I just got back from a cruise”. As the owner of a travel agency you’d think they wouldn’t want me to know about their trip, since they didn’t book it with me.
I always continue a conversation like this with the question, “Did you use a travel agent to book your trip so you’d get the best value?” Quite often the response indicates that the vacationers booked their cruise directly with the cruise line.
When you need legal advice, you call an attorney. When you need your taxes done, you send them to your CPA. When you are ill, you go to the doctor. So it only makes sense that you go to a travel agent when you need help planning a vacation.
Many times a loyal client who has booked with me for years calls, and almost as a parishioner talks with his priest or pastor, says, “I have a confession to make. I decided to book my last cruise online. I’m sorry and I will never do it again. It was a good lesson for me to understand why I’ve always relied on you in the past. Let me tell you what happened…” From there they go on to tell me their particular story of what went wrong on their vacation.
Why is it recommended that people use a travel agent? Perhaps the following comments will help.
Cost. Perhaps the biggest misconception I see among the general public is the thought, “If I book directly through the cruise line, they won’t have to pay the agent and they will pass the savings on to me.” Think about that for a moment. Do you think a travel consultant would sell a cruise line that undercuts their prices? Of course not! Cruise lines depend on travel agents to fill their ships. So they give travel agencies tools to help them sell more cruises! In many cases the rate given to the consumer will be the same through the cruise line as it is through the travel agent. But in my fifteen years in the business I’ve never seen a cruise line undercut the price I have provided for a client.
Added Benefits. Even if a travel agent is only able to get you the same price as the cruise line, in most (but not all) cases he or she will be able to get added benefits. An agent with years of experience may know ways to get a rate even lower than that shown by the cruise line via a discount or upgrade. He or she may be able to provide a gift such as a shipboard credit, a bottle of wine or some other amenity. That said, consumers should not expect their agent to get an added amenity on every cruise or vacation.
Price Adjustments. We always encourage our clients to book their cruise as early as possible. Ideally, we recommend that people hold their cabins as soon as the sailing is announced for sale. In a normal economy, the best rates and best cabin location selection are offered at this time. As the ships fill up, the cruise lines raise the rates. Does it happen sometimes that rates go down as the cruise date gets closer? Of course this happens. It is normally the exception rather than the rule. Many agencies, like ours, check the rates for our clients regularly. If the fares have been reduced prior to the final payment date, we make sure our clients’ invoices are adjusted. (NOTE: After the final payment date, most cruise lines have policies wherein those who are already booked cannot have their rates adjusted.)
Time. Some people may have nothing better to do than to spend hours researching the Internet with the goal to save a few dollars. Sometimes they are able to do so. Often there is a catch. But those who trust their travel consultant know that they will do the work to get the best deal for their clients without wasting time scouring the Internet.
Added Savings. When booking a cruise there are so many other cost factors involved. And inexperienced consumer can make a lot of mistakes that can be prevented through the help of an experienced travel professional. What are the resources for a pre-cruise hotel stay? Are there other options besides the shore excursions offered by the cruise lines? Do we have to use cruise line air? Why do we need travel insurance? These are just a few of the many questions your travel agent can answer for you. One example that comes to mind was a client who was going on a luxury cruise in Europe. They wanted business class air and initially signed up for this through the cruise line. The agent used one of his other resources and found them business class air for less money…enough money for them to spend two nights in a luxury hotel in Istanbul before they boarded their ship.
Experience. Perhaps this is the most valuable feature of using a veteran travel agent. Those who search for a cruise to a certain destination and only look at the price may be headed for an unpleasant experience. An experienced agent will help clients find the cruise line that is right for them based on their needs, tastes and expectations. Just like there are two-star and five-star hotels, there are budget and luxury cruise lines. Just like there are hotel rooms that are next to the ice machine and traffic noise, there are cabins on cruise ships that may be less desirable than others.
An experienced travel agent should be able to find the right cabin on the right cruise line to the right destination, all at the right price for his or her client. There is so much more value and savings to using an experienced travel consultant than simply having them use their knowledge to get the best rate.