Booking a Cruise- DIY or Use a TA?
Should You Book through a Travel Agent or the Cruise Line?
A lot of 'newbies' - first timers and those who've cruised only a couple of times - often ask, "Is it better to book a cruise directly through the cruise line, or go through a Travel Agent?" This is my answer to that question. But first . . .
A) What's in it for me? and B) What do I know?
A) Nothing; and
B) I've sailed a few times myself - OK more than 35 times - and I've done it both ways.
So, here's my answer: Find a great Travel Agent and Use them! ...
WHY? . . . Read on to find out. There are some pretty sound reasons to use an agent.
Are you a Newbie or a Veteran? - . . . or somewhere in between?
I'm Hopelessly Hooked, but working on becoming a True Veteran. What about you?
How many times have YOU cruised?
If You're New to the World of Sea Travel
There's a LOT to choose from....
If you're new to the going to sea, you might think it's better to simply take control of the situation and do it all yourself. Nothing could be farther from the truth. FIRST, there's the matter of CHOOSING your cruise line, ship, itinerary, and best time for you to sail.
There are over a dozen different major lines sailing from North America - each with their own signature style. (And that doesn't count small ship, regional, or river lines) Each has a number of ships in varying sizes (yes, size MATTERS) and ages, and a variety of onboard facilities. And each attracts a different passenger mix. Which is best for you?
Photo (mine): Big ship, Little ship
It's the JOB of a good TA know all about every line, ship, and itinerary ... and to advise you, based on your likes and dislikes, and what you tell them you are looking for in a cruise.
Make sure your TA is a member of CLIA or some other organization for Travel professionals, AND that your agent is not just a Travel Agent, but an agent who specializes in cruise vacations, and who has actually been on board a few ships.
Won't it cost me more to go through a travel agent?
No! A good agent may actually SAVE you money.
By going straight through the cruiseline, you'll get whatever the going price is, and you probably won't get future reductions. (More on this later)
On the other hand, a travel agent has access to specials, and they often pre-book blocks of cabins for a volume discount, which they can pass on to you. these are called 'group rates.'
But ... but, don't you have to pay more to make up for the fact that the agent will get a commission? Nope! That's paid by the cruise line, not you. And, if you book through the cruise line, they just get to keep that cut. They don't reduce your fare because they aren't paying a commission.
BONUS: If you are lucky enough to be booked into a group, you will sometimes (not always) get a little something extra, just for being part of the group. This could be anything from a small credit to your onboard account, to a bottle of wine delivered to your cabin, to a bit of SWAG that the TA has made up for the group.
SWAG??? What's that? Read on.
Groups and SWAG
SWAG is Free Cruise Stuff
So, you say groups can get better rates and being in one might snag me a little swag. How does one get in a group, and what's swag, praytell?
How to be a part of a group
1) Ask your agent if they have an available group into which they will book you. If it's a reputable agency of any size, they may have a number of groups set up already, or can start one.
2) Become a "Group Leader" by organizing a cruise for a club, family group, or bunch of friends. Then, call your TA and have them set up the group. There is a minimum number of cabins required for a group, usually around 8.
One of the definitions of 'swag' is loot... free promotional items. That's pretty much what Cruise Swag is. If you are a part of a group, your TA or Group Leader may provide a nice little souvenir item for each cabin or each member of the group, or a small credit to your on board spending account
This comes out of their pocket, so don't expect a set of Louis Vitton Luggage. Look for something more on the order of keepsake name badges, T shirts, or Tote Bags with the name of your group printed on them.
Not a part of a group?
You can still buy your own. You'll find plenty of cruise gear and other gifts for cruise enthusiasts at CruiseReady on Zazzle.
ind a gift that says "Let's cruise," and you will have found a gift that a cruise lover will truly appreciate.
Available in white or yellow gold or rodium plated sterling silver.
What Else Can an Agent Do for Me?
Things you might HOPE for...
Helping you find the right cruise at the right price, and maybe offering a little swag is not the ONLY thing a TA will do for you. here are some others:
1 - FARE REDUCTIONS
Because pricing fluctuates from day to day, even for the same category of cabin on the same sailing of the same ship, SOMETIMES you can snag a price reduction AFTER putting down your deposit, but BEFORE final payment. A good TA will keep a constant watch on these fluctuations for you, and request a reduction for which you may be eligible from the cruise line. OR you could check the prices yourself each morning and evening, determine if your cabin is eligible for any reductions you see, and call the line yourself to try to get it.
Sometimes (not often!) a ship is in danger of sailing under capacity, and already booked passengers MIGHT be offered upgrades with little or no fare increase. Your TA will watch for this situation to come up, too, and work to get that upgrade for you. Sometimes these are FREE. Sometimes you'll be offered a chance to upgrade for only a fraction what it would have cost originally. You'll have a better chance at an upgrade with a good TA. Sometimes they are the first ones to get the call.
IF Something Happens -
- Your TA Can Help
3 - TRAVEL INSURANCE
Buy it! Third party travel insurance is offered by most TAs. Understand that Travel Insurance is different than Trip Protection, which is what most of the cruise lines sell. You WANT Travel Insurance, from an independent company. It covers things like emergency medivacs, which can run tens of thousands of dollars, and which trip protection usually doesn't cover. Plans available through Travel Guard can provide you with coverage for unexpected medical expenses while on a trip. That's who we use, and we've been satisfied with their service.
4 - HELP WHEN YOU NEED IT
Now, sometimes, something odd will happen with your cruise booking. Like the time I was already booked, and a huge group came along and chartered the WHOLE ship, bumping everyone else off that sailing. My TA was a great help in getting me rebooked on another sailing. The new sailing was selling at a much higher fare, and the category of cabin I had originally booked was sold out. She got me into a nicer cabin, and I didn't pay a penny extra for either the higher priced sailing or the nicer cabin. There were some other things, too, but let's just leave it at that.
What's YOUR Opinion? - Do it Yourself or Use a TA?
Now you know what I think, and why. What do you think... and WHY?
Now, I know there will probably be responses from Travel Agents... and that's OK. Try to tell us something I haven't said about why you can do it better than the average cruiser. Feel free to mention your business name, but, please, just don't make it just one big advertisement for your agency. (Pure spam will be deleted)
Which do you think is better and why?
Collect Some Memories - of Cruises Past
Current eBay auctions for some cruise ship and ocean liner memorabilia. These are from one of my favorite eBay sellers.
Do you need New Travel Accessories - for your Cruise?
Here are some things Amazon has to offer today -
The items shown below are all eligible for Amazon'e Free Super Saver Shipping!
Save Money During Hurricane Season
Special Information about Cruising Between June 1 and Nov 30
If you have booked, or are thinking of booking, a cruise that sails between June 1 and November 30, you'll want to read this:
Dozens of itineraries were disrupted in 2011 because of Hurricane Irene. It was just one such occurrence. You might ask, "Why would anyon...
Cruises during hurricane season (particularly during the PEAK of the season) can be very affordable, but there are certain things you should know about the risks you accept as a trade off for the lower prices, and what you can do to make sure your vacation is a pleasant one, even it a storm comes your way.
My Most IMPORTANT Tip
Don't Miss the Ship!
However you book, and whatever your mode of transportation to your port of embarkation, make sure your travel plans to and from your ship are FLEXIBLE.
Plan on arriving at your port at least the DAY BEFORE your are scheduled to sail, and be prepared to be able to change your return flight or plans.
Because things happen. Particularly weather.
Cruises can and have been missed because of tight scheduling, especially during hurricane season.* If there is an active system in the area of, or approaching your port, all ships could be ordered out to sea hours early. The Captain, and even the cruise line has no say in this matter, as the Coast Guard and Port Authority are in control in these situations. Get there early, and be prepared to get to the pier earler than planned.
Storms can also cause altered itineraries, incuuding early (or late) departures and late (or early) returns.
Once, we returned a whole day late, and to a different port than we left from. It doesn't happen often, but it can and DOES happen.
* Hurricane Season is from June 1 through November 30, with peak activity usually from about the second week of August through most of October.
Looking for Tips on Choosing Your Cabin?
You might find my article about Picking the Best Cabin helpful.
Here are some other pages you might find useful.
- Read All About It: Cruises - Whether you're considering your first cruise, or planning your 20th, many seasoned cruisers will tell you a lot of the excitement actually comes in the anticipation.
- What Is It About Food on Cruise Ships? - One of the things people talk about after their first cruise is the food. It really is everywhere
- Cruise Ship Muster Drill is a Must - The first and last thing you absolutely MUST do is attend Muster Drill, sometimes (erroneously) referred to as the "lifeboat drill."