[Updated 6/27/2020] If you experienced a recent COVID-related cancellation during the 2020 pandemic, you might be cursing the cruise lines, airlines, or resorts out of an abundance of frustration in obtaining refunds or credits. If you booked your own trip, unfortunately you’re on your own. Now imagine if you had booked with a travel professional. He or she would have expertly borne the frustration and aggravation of dealing with the travel providers so you wouldn’t have to. Travel agents may have more effective contacts and avenues at their disposal, making refunds more timely and with less hassle.
As a cruise specialist, one of the questions I hear most is “why should I book with a travel agent, when I can simply book directly on the web with the cruise line?” Great question. Purchasing a cruise should be a personal experience. All cruises are not alike, and the best cruise experience is one where the cruise ship and itinerary are matched to the client with his or her personality and interests in mind. So while booking directly on the cruise line’s website may appear to be an easy process, do you really have all the facts to make an informed decision to book that cruise? When it’s safe to cruise again, you’ll want to know about health and safety precautions, the safer travel destinations, and the best ways to get there. Following are ten compelling reasons why you should book with an experienced travel agent. Note, these recommendations are directed to cruise travelers, but can be applied in any travel situation.
1. You’re a first-time cruiser. You have always wanted to take a cruise, but simply don’t know where to begin. You’re befuddled by the all the choices: small ship, big ship, inside cabin, outside cabin, early dining, late dining, anytime dining and all the other variables that make up a cruise vacation. No wonder you’re in a tizzy. An agent that specializes specifically in ocean and river cruising will help you sort through a sea of options and find the best ones that work for you.
2. Your time is precious. Who wants to spend hours sorting through the hundreds of cruise ship and itinerary options? An experienced agent will be happy to do the work for you – it’s what they love to do.
3. Complete door-to-door service. Do you need a ride to or from the ship? Air transportation? A hotel the night before or after your cruise? A shore tour? The cruise line will be more than happy to book these as part of a complete package, but your choices will be quite limited to whomever the cruise line contracts with. A cruise agent, on the other hand, has connections to many taxi companies, local tour guides, discount hotels and other resources that can save you money or provide service in line with your particular style.
4. Reliable Pricing. Have you ever logged on to a web-only cruise site to research pricing on a particular cruise? You’ll see one price listed, one for each cabin category. You say to yourself, great – I think I’ll book. However, in many cases that’s not the only price; there may be other promotion codes, as well, allowing for different rates for the same cabin. A knowledgeable agent will let you know whether any price discounting is available resulting from any special promotions, group pricing, or whether you might qualify for a past passenger rate, a military rate or other discount and/or added amenity.
5. Unbiased information. An independent agent is working for you, not a particular travel supplier or cruise line. While you are welcomed to take advantage of all the services the cruise line will offer as part of a cruise package, the agent will help you find other alternatives if the cruise choices are not to your liking or you simply want to find ways to save money on your vacation.
6. Added amenities and reduced group pricing. Cruise agencies will typically reserve groups of cabins and sell them to their clients at a reduced group-only rate and include other amenities such as onboard credit, a bottle of wine, free excursion, or any number of other gifts.
7. Personalized Service. Have you ever been frustrated with the 800-number large web-based agencies, waiting on hold, unreturned phone calls, or misinformation? During the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly, many travelers have complained that calls to their OTA’s (online travel agency) for help have gone unanswered. With inexperienced order takers in their call centers, OTAs simply don’t have the means to handle this volume of request, let alone in a professional and knowledgeable manner. In some cases, the representative you are dealing with has never stepped foot on a cruise ship and is just relating information from the cruise line’s website. A good, reliable agent will never leave you hanging, always return calls and emails promptly, and pass along information from both the cruise line and the agent’s own personal experience. A good agent knows what you are looking for in a cruise vacation and will make it happen in a friendly and professional way. Most importantly, a qualified agent will be there to help you when you most need it.
8. Support Small Business. With thousands of agencies out there beckoning for your business – brick & mortar and on-line agencies alike – competition is fierce. Small, independent agencies – in business for years, with a loyal clientele – need to work hard to retain their place in the world of cruise selling. These mom & pop agents have access to the same resources as the big web agencies as well as personal experience and unmatched service you won’t find anywhere else. The next time you call 1-800 Big Cruise Outfit, keep in mind that you may be taking business away from the guy around the corner trying to feed a family.
9. We Have Your Back. If any problems should arise before or during your vacation, a good agent will advocate on your behalf to get the answers and results you’re looking for. Like during a pandemic or other world event having a broad effect on travel.
10. Transfer your direct-with-cruise-line booking to a travel agent. Did you know that if you find an agent you really like but have already booked direct with the cruise line, that you can transfer that booking to the agent? Simply let the agent know, and he or she will take care of the whole process. You’re cruise stays exactly the same, you will receive great service and bonus amenities, the agent will get a commission, and everyone wins!
At the time of this writing, ship operations are paused, but when they sail again – and they will – you’ll want to be ready. A travel advisor is one of the best tools you can use in a post-pandemic vacation world.
By Janice Neves, CruiseCrazies Authorized Agent