Hi Barry & Kimala,

We just finished our first cruise and really enjoyed it. I received a lot of helpful information from your site. While on the cruise of course they offer future bookings, which I wish we would have taken the offer. But my question is about the comment that was made. The gentleman told the group that it doesn’t matter if you book through the cruise line or a travel agent, all the prices are going to be the same. A travel agent cannot offer a lower price baiscally is what he was saying. Is this true? He told us to beware if the price is lower and to see what deck the cabin is on or what type of cabin, that’s why the price is lower. So does it really matter if I call, book on line, or use a travel agent? Does it all come out the same price? Thanks for your input, Cheri.

Answer:

Thanks Cheri, for the kind words and a great question.

The future cruise certificates can be a good option but only in the sense that they give you some on-board credit to spend. As to his pricing comment, that is essentially correct. Several years ago all of the cruise lines went to fixed pricing in response to wanting to capture some of the cruise booking business from their own web sites without paying commissions. If they undercut all of the travel agents they would lose business because not everyone is going to book online and particularly the higher priced luxury cruise passengers want more service than a web page can offer. The agreement they finally reached was to have the same price regardless of where it was booked but travel agents still get their commission – it comes out of the cruise line revenue. Naturally the cruise lines would like you to book through them to avoid those commissions. But they also know that the cabin price is artificially low to get you aboard and then the real money gets made in the casino, bars and shore excursions (which the travel agent misses out on). So, the question becomes if everyone has the same price why use a travel agent? The short answer is knowledge and service. A cruise specialist travel agent (the only kind to use for cruising) will help you find the perfect ship/itinerary/culture for you. Every cruise line and ship has a particular “feel” based on the kinds of passengers it attracts, the activities it has, and the ports it calls on. A good agent will try to get a sense of what you like and steer you to the right ship for you. That’s the knowledge side. On the service side, if something goes wrong you can’t exactly call the web site for help. Even if you booked it direct with the cruise line, getting them to fix a problem they created can be tough. Most guests have no idea of how to work the customer support operations of the cruise line. An agent will and they will be your advocate in getting things put to right.

The warning about lower prices is definitely valid but misleading. You assuredly have to check the cabin class to find out just what that price entails. If you watch a web site like VacationsToGo you’ll see all kinds of deals for “7 nights for $30/night”…a price too good to ignore. A little digging will tell you that is the lowest possible fare and is for a very small interior cabin with bunk beds and there’s only two of them on the entire ship. If that’s ok with you, go for it. But if you were hoping for an outside cabin on Lido deck…ain’t gonna happen. Deciphering cabin classes across the cruise lines is a black art in itself and the lines won’t give you much help there. They want you to book through them. They basically only provide web site booking because they have to (web sites don’t upsell very well ).

I guess the long answer (LOL) to your question is travel agents won’t get you a better price. They can help you find a better fitting cruise and help you get a problem fixed.They also don’t cost any MORE than booking through the cruise line (that was the misleading part). Do we use travel agents? Yes, but not always. If I know the ship and the itinerary I want, the cabin class I want, and feel comfortable with the risks involved I’ll book it online or call the cruise line vacation planners. If it is a new ship or something special (e.g. we just returned from a 12-day Europe cruise and needed to know which countries required a visa/passport), I’ll use an agent. BTW, Jen just did an article for us on picking the right agent in case you haven’t seen it: http://www.cruisedork.com/need-to-know/how-do-i/booking-cruise-travel-agent-choose/

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