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Book direct or use a Cruise travel agent?

Book direct or use a Cruise travel agent?
September 28th, 2012 3:55 pm     A+ | a-
Should you book direct with the Cruise Line or use a Travel Agent to handle the booking?  This question gets asked a lot on the cruise discussion boards.  Here are some things to consider:
 
The advantages of booking with a cruise travel agency:
 
1.  Group rates.  Cruise travel agencies are able to block out groups of cabins on many sailings.  This allows them to offer discounted pricing that is lower than the standard rate.  The Cruise Line will give the agency "points" for each group booking.  The points can then be used by the agency to add special perks for those bookings.  This can include onboard credit, free photos, wine in cabin, etc...
 
2.  Secret sales.  Cruise travel agencies sometimes will be given "secret" sales.  Cruise Lines know that many customers price watch.  In order to fill ships and avoid booked customers calling to rebook at lower prices, they will sometimes offer top secret sales to Cruise travel agencies to fill the staterooms.  Cruise travel agencies usually aren't allowed to advertise these promotions in print, but they can approach their own customers directly with the deals.
 
3.  Experience of agent.  When you call a Cruise Line directly you sometimes do not receive accurate information.  This is because Cruise Lines will sometimes hire many people at low wages to work in the call center, but don't always provide the best training.  Many of those working in these centers have never been on a ship.  On the flip side, Cruise travel agencies tend to provide much more detailed training programs to their agents.  For example, Cruises Inc. and Cruise One require a week long training course for all new agents as well as touring of at least 3 different ships.  Many Cruise travel agents also become CLIA certified.  This means that they have taken additional cruise courses provided by the Cruise Lines International Association and have sailed on at least 2 different cruise ships. 
 
4.  Control.  You retain total control over your booking and you have an agent to take care of your needs.   If you want to make a change, the agent will handle it for you.  You don't have to wait on the phone for a hour to deal directly with the Cruise Line.  Just send your agent a email and they will take care of it for you.   In fact, when the Cruise Lines call center is closed your agent can still handle many of the changes you may have directly through online access to the Cruise Line database.   For those who like to book their own spa appointments, shore excursions, specialty dining, etc...  the Cruise Line provides online tools for you to do that regardless of which agency you booked with.
 
5.  Broader scope.  A Cruise travel agency doesn't represent just one Cruise Line, but many.  Therefore, the agency can help make comparisons for you from one Cruise Line to another.  This opens the door to more possibilities as you are shopping around for a cruise. 
 
6.  Looking out for your interest.  A Cruise travel agency will make sure that you have all the proper documents for your cruise.  They will take the time to walk you through what you need to know before boarding.  They will follow up with you after the cruise to make sure that everything went okay.  If you should have a emergency on your cruise, they will also be there to help make arrangements for you to fly home.
 
There are a lot of benefits to using a Cruise travel agency to help you with your bookings, but not all agencies are equal.  When deciding on the best Cruise travel agency to work with consider the following elements:
 
1.  Will they charge a fee for booking with them?  Will they charge a fee for changes?  This fee will be in addition to what you would pay if you booked directly with a Cruise Line.  The Cruise Line is already paying the agency 10 to 20% commission for the booking, and therefore the best agencies are the ones that won't charge extra fees for handling your booking.
 
2.  Are they CLIA certified?  (Look for the sample image to the right)  Work with agents that have cruised before and have been certified by the CLIA.  This means that they are more involved with selling cruises and want to exceed in the industry.
 
3.  Can you reach them anytime?  Be sure to work with an agency that is open on weekends.   If you are working directly with a particular agent, find out who their back up is and how to reach them. 
 
4.  How long have they been in business?   The longer the agency has been in business the more experienced and invested they are. 
 
The bottom line is that if you utilize a Cruise travel agency to handle your booking you will have a better chance of a successful cruise.

Steve Millay, ACC
23 Comments:
FlaLawDog
#1
October 24th, 2012 5:53 am
I dont know how all cruise lines work thier bookings so this may be good advice and the 'Broader Scope' argument is very valid if you aren't sticking with one cruise line like I do. But, more to express my satisfaction with my cruise line agent than to disagree with the article, I want to say that I have used the same agent with Carnival for four years and he is simply terrific. He is knowledgeable, gets me the best deals (I've compared his prices with travel agencies and they were never lower), and calls me when he can get me a discount on an already-made booking. Maybe my experience is not typical but it's a different view of this issue. I don't imagine they'd let me give his name and phone number here but he's really great!
tamom
#2
November 20th, 2012 6:40 pm
I also worked with a specific person at Carnival; however, I quit because my local agent was able to get me free parking $70 value in Galveston, so it netted out less. She was also able to get me specialty dining and spa treatments on a Royal Caribbean cruise I went on in March. To me it is what I spend (or dont spend) at the end of the trip with everything added up that shows the true cost. I do agree the prices are very similar especially with Carnival.
Beth Smith
#3
November 28th, 2012 3:04 pm
As a travel agent I can tell you those who book Carnival are not the type of client we are seeking. So thank you for booking directly with Carnival. Keeping up with every small discount given is very time consuming and most travel agents would rather have Carnival do that work.
John
#4
January 4th, 2013 9:21 pm
I used a travel agent for several of my cruises, and received good advice from them. The last cruise I booked was through a travel agent and I was not impressed. She input some incorrect information about some of the passengers in our group and because we booked through a travel agent we couldn’t change simple information online—we had to call our travel agent. Additionally she told one of our members it would okay to fly into Orlando at 1:30 pm for a cruise leaving out of Port Canaveral the same day. Luckily our friend made it to the cruise just in time—we were doing the muster drill getting ready for departure. A number of things could’ve happened to delay her arrival into Orlando. I feel I am much more qualified to give cruise advice to my friends and family because I not only enjoy cruises, but also go on at least one every year and fly often enough to be familiar with airline policies and delays. In my opinion some travel agents are out of touch with traveling altogether and provide outdated and sometime erroneous advice. Travel agents should be required to travel by and cruise with various cruise lines on a regular basis to maintain certain levels of certification—in my opinion. Beth, it appears you only care about making money as a travel agent, and not about your customers. I only know you from your last post, but you are the type of travel agent I avoid. I don’t care what cruise line, airline, or type of trip—I’m always going to do my best to provide someone the best experience and help them save some of their hard earned money. Maybe Carnival Corporation & PLC needs to reevaluate your worthiness and other travel agents with your way of thinking for all of their cruise lines.
Bill
#5
January 19th, 2013 7:35 am
John Travel Agents especially the ones that take the extra time to become CLIA certified are professionals. Yes, we are just like any other profession and we have some very good and some not so good agents. I suggest you find one agent and stick with that agent. You will build up a relationship and the agent will have a better understanding of your wants and needs so they can serve you better. We like most agents know our regular customers and advise them when there are promotions that fit them. Rather than searching for possible customers to fit the promotions.
Most travel agents spend a large number of hours each year taking courses to upgrade and update their knowledge of the every changing products. Just about every cruise line has their own training programs available to travel agents. These programs consist of online training, seminars at sea, required passing grades on test, etc. You may want to ask your agent what cruise line certificates they have. The more knowledge we have, the better we can serve our clients, and more successful we will be.
Looking forward to meeting you on a cruise someday.

George
#6
January 22nd, 2013 5:07 pm
Just wanted to put my two cents worth in. Just finished my 3rd cruise, booked through a travel agent. I value her opinion, used her for my last 2 cruises. I booked direct with Carnival on my first cruise. Beth Smith, I would never use you as my travel agent. Even though I sail on NCL and Carnival, my money is green. I simply do not deal with *agents like you. My travel agent is now handling an upcoming cruise with Oceania for me. BTW, she is also handling my Oct vacation to a Sandals Resort. For a simple minded travel agent who does not mind dealing with the "Carnival" types, she is getting some really good business from me. So you go ahead and keep your nose stuck up your ass, in the meantime us "Carnival cruisers" will make a lot of TA's happy. I cruise twice a year, and take at least 1 land based vacation a year, all handled by my lowly TA, who does take my Carnival bookings with a smile.
I get updates on a regular basis, additional perks and deals not normally received by dealing directly with the cruise line. For instance, I had a bon voyage package and chocolate covered strawberries in my stateroom on my last cruise. I did not order it, however, my TA took care of me. She also tipped me off about a couple of shore excursions that were a lot cheaper than the ones through the ship lines.
One thing, go ahead and spend the few extra dollars for a guaranteed cabin. Get the one you want, not wait and hope the cruise line gives you the one you want. Sometimes you win, most times you lose. After all, what is $30 or $50 when compared to being happy? With my TA, I don't have to worry about that.

*This phrase was edited by cruisedeckplans.com
BRUISIN FOR A CRUISIN!
#7
January 24th, 2013 5:31 pm
Gee George!!! Don't sugar coat it!!! (lol)

I have just booked my 21st cruise with Carnival using My personal cruise consultant. You people can go right ahead and look down your noses at Carnival! That just makes it less crowded for folks like George and Me!!! The 2 times I used a travel agent with our Church group, he had everyone convinced they got "SUCH A DEAL!!!" But when it came down to the nitty gritty, I could have booked it for 200 bucks Less!!! But all they talked about was the $100 dollar room credit!!
Christina
#8
February 3rd, 2013 7:49 pm
To George and the other person who responded afterwards; I apologize from all the Agents who are here for our clients (whether we agree or not) with fulfilling their 'wish list'. These are your vacations not ours & we are here to give advice & assist you from beginning, during & when you return. People like that other Agent are looking for their bottom line and want to be 'babied' by the cruiselines who do. Look...there's a cruise line (product) for everyone and it's our jobs to make sure you get what you want not what we'd like you to have (well...we do try to upsell...LOL!). I sell my share of Carnival as well as Disney, Princess, Holland America & Royal Caribbean. Again, I apologize on behalf of all the Agents who do not 'discriminate'!
Alice
#9
March 17th, 2013 8:49 pm
My best friend is a travel agent & I know she goes that extra mile (sometimes 2 miles) to make sure her customers are happy & satisfied! There are always 2 sides to everything though... so what I would share with ALL of you who are on the fence of who or where to book your cruise with, just remember that Travel Agents (especially those that work for Brand Name companies) work on commission! They also have quotas to make, including how many calls they take versus how many sales they make. So when you're pricing around for that "perfect cruise at the lowest possible price" BE HONEST with the people you're talking to. If you're just pricing around, then tell them you're pricing around. And don't tell them you'll call back tomorrow & book with them, then call someone else in the same company & book with another agent! That's like going to a restaurant where the waitress has been remarkable but you decide to tip the busboy... great travel agents, like my friend, don't deserve that sort of treatment! Find someone you like & stick with them because I know from experience that they will surely take care of YOU 24-7! Just my 2 cents worth.
Steve Potvin
#10
May 31st, 2013 3:54 pm
For those who want someone else to plan their vacations I guess an agent is OK. I've cruised Royal Caribbean 5 time and find everything I want on line and do it myself. When I do have a question an Royal Caribbean agent is only a phone call away and they have always been knowledgeable and helpful.

On my last cruise I used Princess and started out with an agent. As soon as I discovered how my hands were tied by using an agent, certain sections of the Princess web site were not even open to me, I immediately dropped the agent and did it my self on line.

For the less expensive lines maybe you can get discounts from the agent but with the higher end cruise lines there aren't many discounts to work with and I prefer doing it myself.
Catherine
#11
July 15th, 2013 9:48 am
There are cruise lines that have diminished the commission that travel agents make including Carnival which is the most notorious. Many agents are not snobs insofar as it is just not great working for litle or no pay. So we tend to focus in areas that pay us more and with cruise lines who value travel agents. I book Carnival and do not feel anything negative about the quality of their service (Just the dependability of their ships right now.) Carnival is now trying to appeal to agents in the wake of their problems.

Understand there is a strong sentiment against Carnival because they have acted snobbish -- they realy felt they did not need agents and worked hard to circumvent our ability to sell -- and now they do need us according to the latest press release from Carnival. Bob Dickenson is back and one of his goals is to rebuild the brand and relationship with the travel agent community. I hope he can.

Renaissance Cruise Line was a cruise line who felt they could do it all themselves and avoid a travel agent. They went out of business because of it.

An experienced agent and one who will work for you and not a cruise line has your interests more in mind and can find ways to add a value to your cruise that you will not get from a cruise line. For the most part we are highly skilled and experienced travel experts. We are not a call center rep who is trained to force sell. But know that many call center reps have never stepped foot on a ship.

Most of my business is upscale so I disagree with the comment about higher end cruising not offering discounts. On a recent Oceania cruise I saved my clients $1200 per person because we had taken out group space. If you booked directly with Oceania you would have paid $2400 more. We have relationships with cruise lines because of the business we give them and they in turn will give travel agents incentives to work with that you will not get by talking to a reservation agent. We also make it easy for our clients to make changes or get into their bookings by a special link we provide them. However I will point out that the block on customers being able to modify their booking is really for their own protection as they might change something that will actually affect their fare. Some special fares are not combinable with some modifications.
Pamela
#12
May 5th, 2014 2:41 pm
In defense of Beth, I too am a travel agent with many, many years of experience.

No, Bill, Beth is not about "just making the money" I for one agree with her to a point. I have spent endless hours booking Carnival and other "mass market" cruise lines just to receive $30 to $50 dollar commission. Not to mention the countless hours redoing work because the client did not realize they needed a passport to travel outside the U.S, or this is a great one when asked what their legal name is says "buzzy" when asked the 2nd time if this is legal name they confirm YES, only to be called back 2 weeks before the cruise stating "oh I did not know you meant my name birth name that is on my passport" or this one, "I gave you the wrong birthday for MY child and we want to add another person and no I don't know their birthday"

I can't tell you the crazy things people say and do and the countless hours we have spent as travel agents cleaning up mistakes made by our clients only to receive $50.00.

So yes, I tend to go with the higher end clientele that are seasoned travelers, that know what is required of them and that spend a good deal of money on a cruise. I agree leave the $500.00 per person clientele to the cruise lines. They have no problem spending hours making numerous changes to a reservation, explaining that food is included and no their room will not be below water level because they get paid by the hour and not commission only.
anotherreason
#13
May 5th, 2014 2:49 pm
Travel Agents also have special phone numbers for the Cruise Lines that they can call. These phones are staffed by higher experienced agents and therefore Travel Agents are not only able to get quick responses, they get BETTER responses and services for their clients.
Rick
#14
September 17th, 2014 6:15 pm
First, let me say up front, I am not a TA, have I ever been one nor expect to be one in the future. I also am not now, have ever been nor expect to be an employee of any cruise line. I am a retired IT worker and plan to stay that way. That being said; I have completed 14 cruises since 2001, and am currently booked on 3 more. Of the 17 cruises I have booked over the years, five cruises (including one currently booked) were booked through a TA. The rest I booked directly with a cruise line. Of the 14 completed, I have only had issues with three. Of those, one was our fault; we left a bag at the pier upon debarking. Of the other two, one was booked through a TA and one directly with the cruise line, both issues involved a specific crew member on-board the ship and none had anything to do with how the cruise was booked. I also believe I got the best deal available for the cruises I have book regardless of method.

What I do not understand about the postings related to this blog article, "Book direct or use a Cruise travel agent?" is why no one appears to have even noticed or questioned that it appears to be a blatant commercial for Cruise travel agencies, similar to what you see for Ford, Ram or GMC trunks on TV all the time. It is not a discussion of the pros and cons of the subject. It only presents the advantages of using a Cruise travel agency and provides several tips on what to look for in a 'good' Cruise travel agency. The only references I see concerning booking directly with the cruise line call centers is a comparison between Cruise travel agency personnel who are presented as highly trained and well sailed; compared to the cruise line call centers with an insinuation that they may be staffed with poorly trained personnel who may have never been on a cruise ship. The article then ends with the inevitable assumption that if you don't book with a Cruise travel agency you will probably be disappointed.

I intend no offense to the TA's out there that have learned their business through actually doing it every day for years. However, I have found, over the last 45 plus years, that just because a person has a piece of paper saying they have completed some courses and passed some tests; it doesn't mean they know what they are doing. I don't consider someone who has just toured three ships and taken a week long training class; or even gone on to take a couple cruises and seminars or classes and passing a test following them; a Subject Matter Expert, just because they have a piece of paper and know how to get on a ship. I have been there, done that in the IT industry. I have completed so many job specific and IT industry related seminars and training courses (both resident and online) over the years resulting in a piece of paper saying that I successfully completed the training, I can't count them all. Many would look impressive hanging on a wall to the uninitiated; and with the exception of a rare few, most are not worth much. Most of the classes and seminars seemed to just teach you how to pass the test.

The reason I started booking directly with the cruise lines in the first place was my TA told me she was retiring and I was in the process of trying to find a new TA. In doing so I attended a large travel show in Ohio and ran across "Cruising Experts" from a several different travel agencies that were both contradicting each other about cruising and telling me things I knew were wrong; and I had only completed three cruises at that point.
NJCOP
#15
February 21st, 2015 1:09 pm
You tell her George. Any TA that says Carnival people go book direct should not be in this biz. I give all my clients - whether a three day cruise or world cruise - Carnival or Crystal - the same respect and caring service.
williebegoode
#16
February 14th, 2016 12:00 am
On our first cruise we booked on our own. On our next cruise, we booked with an agent. After we had already booked the cruise with our agent, we learned that the prices had dropped and contacted our agent. She saved us an additional $1,000 by contracting the cruise company and getting us the lower rate. From now on, I\'ll keep booking with the same agency. (She also helped us get the best cabin--especially since we had no idea of what the \"best\" cabin would be.)
Bill
#17
August 24th, 2016 9:27 pm
Would like to find a new carnival personal vacation planner. Ours left a few years ago (Ingrid Daniels). The one carnival gave me isn\\\'t worth anything, no up dates called 3 times and even emailed her no response. Does any one have a great carnival cruise planner. I am in FL. Thanks
Lynn Price
#18
September 19th, 2016 11:03 am
I am not soliciting new business and will not even accept it. I just had to respond to this old post because nothing has changed. I have been a full time travel consultant (note the term) for 40 years. I am not just a "cruise agent" I am not a "travel agent". I am a full time travel consultant. Sound snooty?

When I started in this business it took a year befor the small agency owners allowed me to book more than a simple airline ticket, hotel and car booking. When I was able to book Bermuda or Ireland packages I felt really smart.

The industry has changed over the years with a focus on "niche". Many people jumped on this and found that the cruise industry seemed like a good "niche". Unfortunately many of the cruise only agents (both working with a cruise lines or with an agency) have no idea about the small details.

It is not always about price. It is about asking the right questions to insure that your clients expectations are met. Can we save them money if we sell the airline tickets and hotels separately from what the cruise lines is offering? Did we insure that the client has a passport that is valid for at least 6 months and if a visa is required, Do online check in if they can not or do not want to. Follow up..follow up..follow up.

Many times I am able to save hundreds of dollars or upgrade to a better category for less money or get shipboard credits. At the very least my pricing will be the same as the cruise lines, but I am here to fight for my clients and check and double check.

If you are booking a cruise that is next to zero commission to an agent (I once made 19 dollars commission on a Princess 500 per person special cruise and spent about 30 dollars plus time in expences) appreciate that a good agent has your best interests at heart. You might even want to offer them a 50 per person fee for all the work they do.

Also..If you are purchasing trip insurance from a vendor directly you are not covered if they go bankrupt. You really need someone who works for you and not the cruise lines.

Regardless....Keep traveling....It is good for the spirit.
Roger
#19
September 22nd, 2016 5:42 pm
I have been using the same Carnival Cruise Agent for a couple years. Does great for booking and lining up with friends at dining and rooms, but is does not follow-up on upgrades that become available or last minute cruises available at good prices. We are ready to go at a moments notice, located in Florida. We would love to find a aggressive working travel agent with Carnival or general. Some people we met on the cruise say their agent calls them with upgrades from inside cabin all the way to a suite with no extra charge when rooms were not all filled.

Any one that can give us some inside info on a good agent please let us know. We would be forever grateful.
Elwood Henry
#20
September 24th, 2016 11:42 am
Msg to Bill looking for a Carnival Vacation planner.
We have used Eric Rosen for over 10 years and he is the Greatest.
We are getting to do our 35th cruise with carnival nd have 3 more booked.
Give him a call:
Eric D. Rosen
Personal Vacation Planner | Carnival Cruise Line
3655 NW 87th Avenue | Miami, FL 33178 

Elwood

Best of luck.
Elwood Henry
#21
September 24th, 2016 1:59 pm
Carnival Vacation Planner Eric Rosen contact info is:

Personal Vacation Planner | Carnival Cruise Line
3655 NW 87th Avenue | Miami, FL 33178 
p: 800.819.3902 Ext. 82883 | email: erosen@carnival.com
Jay M.
#22
October 4th, 2016 9:11 am
We are sailing on our 50th cruise this October. 28 days on princess and we use Robert with Princess Cruise Lines, and have used him for the past 18 cruises. Can not be happier! Use a TA or a personal consultant. It is up to you to make the connection work for you. We used a TA with AAA for years and we were very happy, but she retired.
Jim
#23
June 2nd, 2017 3:35 pm
Have been on a few cruises (18) using 4 different ship lines. Half we used a TA and half direct with line. I found no advantage when using either. However, i would love to find a TA who takes the time and interest to contact me when a really good deal comes available. But, most seem too busy with current busy to offer that assistance and i understand they work on commission.


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