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.