Booking a Cruise - Online or Travel Agent?

There are many options available to cruisers for booking their vacation – online discount cruise outlets (cruisedeals.com), online discount vacation outlets (expedia.com), the cruise lines, and a travel agent.  Which you choose to use for booking your vacation will depend on who has the best price and the best upgrades.  So, who will that be? 

Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this question.  The best thing to do to find the best deal is to research, research, research.  Check all available sources and compare what will or will not be included in the price of the cruise.  As an example, let’s imagine we want to travel to Bermuda in May (no hurricanes yet!) on a Norwegian Cruise Lines ship (for ease of comparison) for seven days.  First, a search on NCL’s website shows a double occupancy inside stateroom way down on Deck 4 (and probably darn close to those engines) costs $499 per person.  They offer up to $100 of shipboard credit as a free upgrade.  Government taxes and surcharges are not included, and at this time there is no fuel surcharge.  Next, let’s look at a website such as Expedia.  They show the very same deal with no changes in price, cabin location or upgrades.  A search on a website such as Cruisedeals reveals the same cabin price and location; however, they offer up to $400 in shipboard credits.  Finally, we call a local travel agent to find out what kind of deal we can get.  The travel agent can find the cruise for the same price with the same $100 shipboard credits.  However, they are running a special booking deal and if the cruise is booked by a certain date, the cabin can be upgraded to an inside stateroom several decks higher. 

So, what do you do?  Who do you book with?  The two stand-out deals are with the travel agent and with the discount cruise deal website.  At this point you have to decide what you prefer – more shipboard credits (maybe you plan to drink in the discos or lounges) or more comfortable sleeping arrangements in an upgraded cabin (and away from the ship’s engines).  If neither option holds significant importance for you, you may want to go with the travel agent and start building a rapport for future vacations.  Travel agents often receive a heads-up on future deals that are not available to online booking sites, can quickly compare your choices and help you make the best vacation planning decisions.  Interestingly, most cruise lines recommend that passengers book through a travel agent.  Large travel agencies who have a good working relationship with cruise lines often buy blocks of cabins from the cruise line for an incredible discount and are then able to sell those cabins to their customers for prices much less expensive than booking through another source.

Of course, every trip is different.  It is always a good idea to do your research and find out exactly what is available and what the average cost will be, then find a better deal.  Keep all of your options open and your vacations will be affordable and enjoyable every time.

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