First, let me thank Paul & Kuki for their support. It means a great deal to me.
As for whether to book with an agent or not, "Why should I book with you," is the most asked question people have for an agent. The next most asked question is, "What will you give me to book with you?"
To answer the first question, obviously I'm biased on the matter, but I always suggest people book with an agent. While their prices will be the same and sometimes less (if they have a group onboard), their assistance can be invaluable. Most reputable agents do not charge you a fee for their service, so if you're paying the same for a cruise using an agent as you would booking it yourself, it makes sense to use an agent. They have contacts not available to the average cruiser, so should problems arise, they represent you and can often get things done or get remuneration that you cannot get. Also, they have 'been there done that', so their first-hand experience and knowledge can make your experience easier, cheaper, and more enjoyable with alot less hassle. They are your first line of contact and have your best interest in mind. Whereas when you book directly with the cruise line, they have their best interest in mind. Obviously, it's always best to have someone with pull on your side, unless of course you like handling the bureaucracy of a big business.
As for the second question concerning what an agent will give you, that's a personal choice for each agent. Some are comfortable giving away part of their income, while others simply don't want to give away money in order to 'buy' a client's business. Larger businesses have no problem rebating or discounting in order to sway a customer into buying with them because they deal in quantity and not quality. As I mentioned, they're betting many people will book online using their computers and not have to interact with them personally. While most of the time, this may work fine for those who know exactly what they want, first time cruisers should never fall for discounting over best service. Remember, price is what you pay - value is what you get. You may get a little discount, but you could end up spending a whole lot more in the end.
I like to give an example of a party of 4 couples who wanted to book a cruise with me. I gave them a price and one person said they could get the same price with an online site for $50 less. I asked them for the site so I could verify the information and see if perhaps I might have missed a special. I went onto the site and tried to book the cruise. Yes, the price was $50 less, but in fine print it said, 'plus administrative fee'. I called the online site and was on hold for 45 minutes!! When they answered, I pretended to be a first-time cruiser and asked the obvious questions. She flat out lied to me on several occasions. I then asked about the administrative fee and she explained when I go to buy the cruise that it would be added to the total. I told her I was not going to buy something without knowing the fee beforehand. She said I would have to talk to their accounting department and transferred me. I got disconnected! I asked the client if he called them and he said yes. I asked how long he was on hold and he said about 45 minutes. I then asked him how long he was on hold waiting for me to answer the phone and he said that he didn't think the phone rang more than twice. I said, "Exactly." Long story short, he ended up booking with them, while the other 3 couples booked with me. About 2 months later, I saw a special and got $100 taken off the price of the cruise for my clients. When they told their uncle, he called his discount website, waited 45 minutes, and found they would not honor the new rate. In the end, he paid $50 less, but had to pay a $25 admin fee. My clients paid $100 less than I originally quoted, so they ended up paying $75 less than he did.
Believe it or not, the exact same thing happened the next year!!! He didn't learn his lesson and booked with that same company again! And again, the other 3 couples started off paying more, but ended up paying less than he did. Some people are just hardheaded. Or as one of his nieces said, "There needs to be more chlorine in the gene pool."
My dad, who died when I was 11, was a carpenter by trade. But he always taught me one thing; pay a little extra for a good tool, take care of it, and it will last you a lifetime. In the end, it'll save you alot of money and make your job alot easier.
So find an agent you feel comfortable with and can trust, then stick with them. They will always look after you and insure you're getting what you're paying for. And that, my friends, is value.