Should you use a cruise travel agent or book things yourself? Why do people use cruise travel agents? Why doesn’t everyone book things themselves online?
Find out if a cruise travel agent is right for you in this review.
Cruise travel agent vs. booking agent
There is a big difference between booking agents and travel agents. Travel agents are specialists who are experienced travelers. You benefit from their experience because they know what it’s like to be in a partially-obscured stateroom or bad spots for cabin locations.
Booking agents run large websites that let you search fares from various carriers. Then you book through them. They do not offer the guidance and experience of a travel agent. And, unfortunately, their prices are identical to the prices on the cruise line’s website.
Cruise booking agents
Booking agents are a dime a dozen on the internet. Some examples of booking agents are sites like Costco Travel, AAA, Expedia, or Cruises.com. They do a large volume of sales and sometimes offer perks like onboard credit or gift cards. Unfortunately, many charge service fees like $75 per person per booking.
They merely facilitate the purchase of travel arrangements. Booking agents are convenient because you can book on their website anytime. However, they’re no faster or easier than the cruise line’s website. Plus, they are also notorious for selling lousy travel insurance.
They don’t provide much, if any, guidance in choosing what’s right for you.
Typically, it’s difficult to reach a person for help. They’re even more difficult to contact during a problematic time, like when the US canceled cruises to Cuba and during the pandemic. Often, you’ll wait hours on hold trying to talk to a person. If you’re lucky you get one. If you’re unlucky, the system hangs up after a few hours.
Cruise travel agents
Most travel agents are solopreneurs. They are couples or small local offices. They cater to the experience and creating a relationship with the customer. Commonly, you will find individuals or couples working with franchise travel agencies like Dream Cruises. Others are 100% independent.
If you are new to cruising, they can help guide you in planning a successful and rewarding cruise, as well as give you realistic tips about traveling because they have been there and done that. They can:
- Suggest the right cruise line, ship, and itinerary based on your interests and style.
- Tell you the best location on the ship for a cabin and which areas to avoid.
- Help you get the most value from your room (like an obstructed view vs interior room for the same price).
Above all, many travelers prefer working with a cruise travel agent because they save you time. They deal with the bookings and making any changes. Also, they know the quirks and characteristics of each cruise line and how to work with them efficiently. Every time you call the cruise line to check on a price change or ask questions, it takes 20-30 minutes. The travel agent can do all of this with their system, so you can save yourself a lot of time.
A few other services to expect from your cruise travel agent:
- They continually search for lowest rates for you – they know about cruise sales before the cruise line launches the promotion
- Keep in touch with you about cruise sales, promotions, give you vacation ideas, travel tips, and more.
- Help you get free upgrades
- Arranges your airfare
- Helps you pick excursions and hotels
- Give you perks like onboard credit or champaign in room
- Help you with travel insurance claims
Usually, it is easy to contact the travel agent by phone, email, text, or chat. However, their business hours may be more limited than booking agents.
Looking for help from an experienced cruise travel agent is not just for beginners. As a matter of fact, even veteran cruisers use travel agents to book their trips. They know what their customer likes and will take care of the details. In the meantime, all you have to do is hand over a credit card.
How much does a cruise travel agent cost?
Some cruise travel agents charge fees to work with them. You might see a $100-$250 per person service fee that is non-refundable. Some agents charge this so that “lookie-loos” don’t waste the agent’s time investigating trips and never booking.
Usually, the travel agent’s price will be the same as if you booked directly with the travel provider.
A right agent won’t charge you a service fee over the trip cost to work with them. If your cruise travel agent charges you a fee to cancel (beyond what the cruise line charges) that’s a bad sign.
During the pandemic, some travelers complained their travel agency received refunds from cruise lines and airlines but issued the customer credit.
How does a cruise travel agent get paid?
They receive a commission from the cruise line, airline, hotel, travel insurance, and excursions. Cruise lines typically pay 10%. Their most significant commissions come from excursions and travel insurance.
Keep that last bit of information in mind. Cruise lines also make tremendous profits from their overpriced excursions and low-benefit, high-cost travel insurance programs.
How do you find a good cruise travel agent?
The best way to find a reputable cruise travel agent is word of mouth. Ask friends, family, and acquaintances who worked with cruise travel agents.
Call the local chamber of commerce and ask for referrals. Someone who lives in your area and can provide you with catalogs.
Super Mario lives on Royal Caribbean ships year-round. In a YouTube interview, he discussed how he books his trips.
Although he often makes the initial deposit on board the ship two years in advance, he has a local travel agent manage everything. She has his credit card number and pays the cruise line when final payments come due. The cruise travel agent does all the behind-the-scenes work to make sure each of his voyages goes smoothly. He says it’s his secret weapon. The travel agent removes a lot of “busy work” managing travel plans, so your time is free to pursue other activities.