Okay, all you experienced cruisers, I need your opinion. My husband and I have been on 6 cruises (Celebrity). I have always done the research and booked on line. Have felt that I got the best price that I could and usually do better than going with a local agent. I was informed yesterday by a friend that , "you must go through an agent because only they know the ins and outs and can do the best., you can't do it on your own because it is too complicated!" Am I living in my own little happy bubble and missing something? (This is their first cruise.) I also realize with the new rules put in place by the cruise companies, that discounting is going away.
I disagree that you can't do the job BUT I still use a T/A because it doesn't cost me a thing. Even when I do onboard bookings and get the shipboard credit, I make sure he gets credit for the booking. Why? He handles any glitches, specific air arrangements and looks for better deals as the cruise approaches (just saved us an extra $300 at final payment time on our May cruise).
Why not use an agent? As stated above it costs you nothing and a good agent will find you the best deal. Agents who are affiliated with a consortium like Cruise Holidays, etc. get rates on some sailings on certain cruise lines that arent available on the internet or directly with the cruise line. The key here is finding a good agent. There are some truly awful agents out there with very little travel experience so beware. Interview them and ask them questions about their travel experience and how long they have worked as a travel agent before giving them your business.
As an agent I may be a little prejudice on the matter, but it doesn't cost anything to use an agent, you normally will get the best deal or a very similar one as you are going to get doing your own running around and you have someone to fall back on if things don't go quite as planned. I know some agencies are charging a slight booking and reseach fee these days, often referred to as a service charge; we do not. Give a reputable TA a chance, save yourself the research and see how you like us? If you want to go back to your way after you have tried a TA, at least you will have given the TA a try. Good luck, NMnita
I like to do my own research and then give the info to my TA...sometimes he can match it , sometimes not. I saved nearly $3000.00 on a cruise by shopping around after I had already booked with my TA...he was very good about it, he cancelled and rebooked us with the new fare.
Even with the new "non discounting policies" a travel agent can save you money. The may have group rates available, or be able to offer other incentives.
The policy does eliminate advertising rates different from cruise line established rates, so simply surfing the net may not produce different price results, but a call or e-mail will likely get you a different quote.
This makes CruiseMates "Cruise Quote" feature more valuable, because you post the sailing you are looking at and agents e mail you their offers.
I love this question and the comments so far. -- Help me out here please.
Using an agent may have advantages, and I would use one, but being a Celebrity loyalist, I cannot find one in my area that
1) has a good relationship with Celebrity and therefore highly recommends the line and
2) I feel comfortable dealing with.
I booked twice (my 2nd and 3rd of 6 Celebrity cruises) with a local agent and I had to practically educate her on Celebrity and explain why I was choosing Celebrity over another line...i.e. Carnival which she admitted they had a good relationship with and received perks from Carnival.
This agency did nothing but make a telephone call to secure our cabin, take our payment and call me to come pick up the docs. Oh yeah, I got a tote bag with their logo on it. No attempt at shipboard credits, bottle of wine, fruit baskets etc that I have heard other agents do for their clients.
I have booked on Celebrity's website and through Captain's Club Desk since then. Perhaps I didn't get the best price, but the procedure was smooth and efficient. I would love to save money if I could...you know....more saved for more future cruises.
Here's where I could use some help. How does one find a "Great" agent? I wouldn't object to an email from CruzCrazy with a recommendation.
Thank you for any suggestions you can give me on this.
There are some cases when booking with a TA has it's advantages. If you book with a travel agent in British Columbia, Ontario or Quebec you are protected in the event that a travel provider goes bankrupt. All TA's in these locations that a memebers of the Tavel Industry Council of Ontairo (TICO) must join a fund which is used to protect travellers in the event of bankruptcy.
Yesterday a discount airline in Canada "Jetsgo" suddently closed it's operations without any notice to it's customers. This left over 17,000 people stranded, many of whom had paid for tickets that are worthless. 2 years ago Royal Olympic Cruise lines had 2 ships go bankrupt which left hundreds of people without a vacation and lost thier money.
Often when you book with a travel agent your money is protected against a cruise line going bankrupt. When you book directly with the cruise lines you are not given this protection.
I must admit that I'm a bit jealous of all of you. I used two different agents for our first two cruises. The reason I used different agents was because I was sold the "I'm sure the rates will come down by the time you sail, so I'll adjust your price" story. Unfortunately I fell for their stories & of course always paid a full non-discounted price. For the third cruise I shopped quite a bit on line & knew what I wanted to spend. I went to a local TA who only booked cruises. I told him what I wanted & how much I will pay & I was told in a not so nice way that he would not make any money on my trip, so why should he waste his time. I booked that cruise & all after that with a TA out of FL who operates on line. They have never let me down & have always given me the best deals. I really wanted to give my local agency the business, but my bottom line is the bottom line.
Every TA I have ever used, local, on-line, or cruise line rep is nothing more than an order taker. I have taken 10 cruises on 3 still operating lines over 30+ years and I, thanks to libraries and these boards, know more than ANY agent I have ever even spoken with. They should be working at Burger King for all the "help" I have gotten. I pay by credit card so I am protected if the cruise line goes defunct. I buy travel insurance (parents are in their 80's) so I am protected from airline problems and more.
I had to educate the one I used in 2001 about Carnival being ok for the >50 crowd at non-college break time on 7/+ cruises, the ports and the very existance of these boards. She had NEVER even been on a cruise herself. I gave up and in 2002, 2003, 2004 used an on-line auction to buy my cruises. That no longer works as there are now pretty high minimum bids that with taxes, port charges, fees and often date premiums come in equal to or higher than on-line prices even w/o checking for deals.
This year I am trying to put together a trip for a group of ladies winter 06 and the quotes I have gotten are ludicrous. They are =/higher than on-line advertised prices and only offer a $100 cabin credit max. Some are not even offering that and I am not checking the newest, most popular ships.
Boy it's hard to believe any agent wouldn't be familiar with Celebrity, but I guess stranger things have happened and I feel for anyone who does all the work and then just turns it over to a TA who is nothing but an order taker. I have known TAS just like that for betrer or for worse. Most of us are not in the business to get rich but love to see people happy and what could be a better profession than helping people have a great vacation. I know more agents that spend hours researching and answering questionf for clients than those who are just order takers: if you have an order taker type, run, don't walk to anyone else. With modern technology your agent does not have to have an offiec next door. give recommendations from someone you trust and go for it.
So you know where I'm coming from. This is my frustration too. I've talked briefly with other TAs and the conversation was going nowhere, so I moved on and found the TA that I used twice that was just an order taker.
I'd love to find a good, personable TA. Hope you find one too or at least good prices online.
Use a travel agent? I like the idea of speaking to someone (the same someone every time) when I have a question and there are plenty of questions before you sail. You can indeed speak to someone when booking online but the majority of time it is never the same person twice. I like calling up MY agent and it doesn't cost any extra-plus she can get me free upgrades,and extra amenities. I just saved $400 by getting a group rate not available online.
And I am not just another number. Since the cruise lines have stopped the rebating that online agencies were doing, there are no advantages to online booking.
Why not let the agent get a commission paid to them by the cruise line? They earn it!
It is good for me and good for them.
IF (and that's a big IF) you can get one to respond. I posted a while back and never got one response. These agents must not be to eager to help or get commissions. I just found what I wanted on my own and then booked through Captains Club desk. Poor example of customer service here if you ask me.
www.astanet.com is the web site for the American Society of Travel Agents. There's a search feature on the home page that can provide a list of agents in your area and what ever specialty you are looking for.
You should interview an agent just like you would any other professional youíre looking to hire. Ask them which cruise lines are their preferred suppliers. Although theyíll probably sell any line, itís the preferred suppliers that they have established relationships with and can therefore provided you with more responsive service when it comes to special requests or any problems that may arise.
When I started cruising the internet didnít exist so I had to go through an agent ďin a store frontĒ. That was the only way to get brochures and book the cruise. In 23 years, 18 cruises and over 150 days of cruising Iíve used several different agencies. I fired the ďsomewhere in ArizonaĒ on line agency that didnít bother to let me know that the cruise had been cancelled until the refund of my deposit showed up on my credit card statement.
Since then Iíve retired from my corporate job and spent two years obtaining a Leisure Travel Specialist Certificate from my local community college. Now Iím selling cruises to myself as well as others. One thing Iíve learned is that agents have more clout with the lines that they sell the most of (preferred suppliers). They also provide their clients with personal service because we know that cruisers will cruise more than once and theyíll go some where else if they donít like our service.
As far as booking your cruise online goes, if youíre buying them as commodity (just shopping for price) like people buy plane tickets, online is fine as long as you donít need help picking out the cruise line, the ship, the itinerary, the cabin and donít expect personal attention.
Calif cruiser, you put it very well. An example of what agents can do and how hard we sometimes work happened just this past few weeks. I am an agent and handling my grand daughters wedding on the Zenith. We have 10 cabins booked so far, the rate has gone down twice since we started booking. As an agent you can imagine how many hours I have spent re-booking cabins, asking guests if they want the lower rate or an upgrade etc. I do it cause I love seeing people happy, but also know how hard we work for a little money. This is just the beginning as we expect to book about another 10 cabins. If she had tried to do this on line, what a nightmere!! by the way, we can save our cliants money sometimes, as you know. When the rates dropped the second time I called Celebrity and they didn't show the same rate our company's system showed. I understand some booking via the net, but also know, as you do, personal service is worth alot. NMnita
My agent has booked us on 2 Celebrity, 1 RCCL, and 1 Winstar cruise. We do our own research, and when we find some kind of deal, she is very quick to check on it and get back to us. For example, when we went to Hawaii 2 years ago, we booked air fare through Clebrity for $299/person from Atlanta. Pretty good price, I thought.
The, on the Cruise Critics site, I read a post where some said they got their airfare for $99/person. I had our agent check on this, she found it was true, and made the change for us. More money for excursions and tropical drinks (and chocolate martinis for my wife)
I have always maintained the it is the consumer's responsibility, not the TAs, to watch out for good deals. For the most part, they just have too many irons in the file. It is the TAs responsibility to act on his customer's behalf.
I'll repeat my mantra (and some of you may be sick of it ny now): There is nothing that beats being an informed consumer. Look out for yourself, no one is going to do it for you
Book via cruise line, internet travel page, or TA??? YES, NO, MAYBE,SOMETIMES! Got that My point is simple, there is NO one answer. I have been a dedicated cruiseaholic since 1984, cruise min twice a year often more. Through the years I have been an outside agent for a cruise only agency for three years, now several years ago. Was the original cruise guide for The Mining Company now About.com Currently no affilation to any cruise anything except as a dedicated cruiseaholic as stated.
I have booked all three ways for different reasons at different times. I have NEVER found the booking directly with the cruiseline to be of any price advantage, ever, if you know what you are doing. This may change in the future as cruiselines lean more and more towards promoting direct booking and using their staff to assist those with questions. Carnival and celebrity now have " vacation specialists " basically someone that actually will try to assist more than a reservationist. Still no price modification on their part so far. Cruiseline charges you their current rate INCLUDING the portion that they would be paying the Agent in commission. This is supportable I guess by the fact that they are doing some of an agents work now.
Normally I use an agent who is doing little in my case other than making or taking over my reservation. What I get in return is a discount off their commission. If they were not to discount, in my case, there would be no reason to use them, in fact without a discount I would prefer direct booking with line in that tickets issued directly to me saving at least one level of transit that could result in loss in mail or whatever and knowing payment was made direct to cruiseline. That again saves one level of possible conflict, I know who I paid and that my name and cabin and payment are all directly credited. However, again, I have never NOT received a discounted price from an agent.
Another reason to use an agent is if you are new to cruising. Using an Agent can be a real plus IF AND ONLY IF, the Agent is one knowlegable about ships, basically a cruiser themselves. If they are not a real cruiser then they often fall prey to the same marketing gimmicks that any new cruiser would be suseptable too like booking something called a SUITE that is far from it.
Finally online travel sources such as Travelocity and such. Again if they were a better deal, but I would always give my agent a shot at matching the deal. And I would never use an online agency presenting a deal extrememly far superior to what anyone else has. That is because there is either a gimmick in their and price will not be as noted in the final analysis or they are operating on the tiniest of margins and therefore at risk by any fluxuation ( like 9-11 or something slowing market quickly ) in volume. This is because they are often booking blocks of cabins using minimal depositing and paying and giving your booking your name only as final payment is do. Fine until the cash flow gets slowed dramatically, then you worry about the disappearring act. Always check that aftermaking a booking that the cruiseline has your name assigned and that whatever payment you have made has been credited to your booking with the line.
Many Agents work very hard monitoring pricing and obtaining lower prices when the indeed occur. Many know the ships and thier condition, cabin abnormalities and so forth. Just as many do not! Like in anything else, buyer beware. Up to your to determine whether an Agent knows his stuff just like any other sales or service person you deal with.
Now some recent examples of my bookings which demonstrates practicing what I preach. October 2004 Zenith booked Royal Suite to Bermuda online with Celebrity. Booked it online to guarentee that I had it because only two ( actually booking both friend taking other one ) and pricing had dramactically dropped. This can happen and rise again the next day. So I booked online. Then called my TA gave him the reservation number and he took over the booking. This is readily done with the cruiselines. He of course reduced the commission part and since this was an expensive categorey even after price drop we saved a considerable amount of money. Since two other couples were also planning to join us and were ameniable to any accomodation price being their primary concern my Agent worked and booked their reservations securing them good pricing and handling all the questions and so forth He also made sure that location was good for them relative to our location. He was familiar with the ship having sailed it himself and with us having booked many a cruise for us.
January 2005, Princess Cruise, Panama Canal 10 day FLL return to FLL. Here we surfed the Princess pages for best $$ date ( cruise prices are different often week to week for various reasons like hotels, busy weeks versus slow weeks ) . Researched reviews, Coral Princess, of which few existed I found. ( You will find my review posted on cruisemates review section ) Another two couples going with us. We knew somewhat our preferences by had never sailed Princess in all our sailings. Here we decided to really on our Agent almost exclusively as he had personally sailed Princess several times. He worked on this one and still provided us a decent discount from cruiseline price of direct booking. He also saved us considerable money recommending a different categorey being that it was virtually the same cabin as a higher categorey but less advantage in location. We decided the $$$ were worth the location since cabin size and style was the important factor to us on this particular cruise.
Finally, sorry to be so long winded but there is a lot to this, more than I can go into n one post.
Booked for Celebrity Horizon repo cruise next month. Here I know ship having sailed her before. Current condition is guess depending on who you read. But pricing is excellent. So book direct on Celebrity to make sure we have cabin preference and price. Now search various well known internet sources find same real low price with additonal $100 onboard credit. Call Agent and advise of deal, he can't ( totally unusual ) match it or provide us something comparable. We cancel online reservation and immeditely rebook ourselves via Travelocity where deal was. Therefore put that cabin availablility at risk for a few moments but using two browsers only actually a minute or two.
So thus my original answer, YES, NO MAYBE etc.
I was, by the way, surprised that Celebrity called me the next day * travel specialist " and inquired as to my cancelling the prevous reservation. They were soliting my booking. I say I was surprised in that it demontrates a more agressive end run around agents. You have to understand the dynamics at play. Agents provide the answers and distribution system, don't know what the percentages are now but used to be agencies provided majority of bookings. As the internet gets assimilated into our daily lives more and more I am sure that the percentages are changing dramatically. So cruiselines are trying to walk the line, in my opinion, between not destroying the in place distribution paths, Travel Agents, and what they see as the future where the customers are doing their own bookings with minimal assistance.
Travel Agent is not an easy business. Yes many say why are they getting paid they are just making a phone call. Well for every easy booking there are three KILLING me bookings. Those that need hand holding a lot, change prefernces daily and so forth. Then there are the times the cruiseline makes an error and thankfully the TA catches it and fixes it or when suddenly a ship breaks down and a cruise is cancelled and it falls upon the agent to come up with some alternatives and protect the client too.
In the meantime the business is changing and everything that I see is to the detriment to the TA's out there the great ones anyway. Less and less of the pricing is commissionable, more incorporated into port charge type non-commisionable parts of cost. More and more competition from the lines themselves and from internet sources.
As a PT travel agency, I'm sorry you had a bad experience.
But, does it have to be from someone in your area? For example, I have a basic website & people email me all the time. I'll call & we'll talk about their wants/needs & then I might book a cruise or tour or hotels for them. I sell cruises across the country from where I live.
I would also never try to talk someone out of a cruise line, tour, etc. that they specifically wanted. I might point out additional ideas and options, but it's their vacation & I'm there to serve them what THEY want.
Also, some agencies belong to large consortiums & get better pricing & perks on certain lines (also more commission from certain lines)
mslvp, I think any good agent does what you do. We research, we deal with cliants thoughout the country and we depend on the latest technolocy to be able to do the best for our cliants. Asking questions is the only way we can really learn what our cliants want. I do give options, but try as hard as possible not to inflict my feelings on the cliants as what I like may not be what they are looking for in a vacation experience. yes, we sometimes can get better rates even than what is seen on the net, but more than that I feel it's the service we give that sets us apart. NMnita
I'd love to find a good TA. I've been on three cruises in 2 1/2 years -- 2 through a TA, one involving a bank group and one a medical group,and one I booked through Celebrity on my own. The first cruise through a TA had glitches, like no tour guide showing up until we actually boarded the ship (2 days in Venice, first), but the most upsetting thing was requesting a picture window instead of a port hole and being charged an extra $100(Royal Olympic). I didn't mind the extra payment until I learned that all the outside rooms had picture windows and the others in the group got the same room, sans the $100. The brochure had indicated there were portholes, or windows, and the TA had supposedly checked with the ship before telling me there would be an extra $100 charge. When I returned and requested a $100 refund, I was treated with unbelievable rudeness and total incompetence. I never got a refund or the promised return call with a cogent reason for the charge. I pulled my money out of the bank which sponsored the trip, too.
The second time with a TA and a medical group was more egregious,imo. She booked the flights through the cruise, tacked $35 extra on top of the airline ticket price, charged us an extra $20 pp for a transfer each way (all free when air is booked through the line, and only $12 when buying just a transfer from the line), changed our flight to an early am, necessitating an overnight near the airport, bumping us from a later flight, ostensibly to accomodate her entire family on the later flight, and if that all wasn't bad enough, she "rounded up" our prepaid gratuities, and lied to us, saying the extra was going to our head waiter. I checked with the ship and found out she had pocketed the overage. Take all those extra charges and multiply by 80 couples! We figured she made a handsome profit, on top of her commission and berth credits. This year, I refused to take the medical seminar because the docs were still using her, but I did troll around to see if the group discount was the best price that could be found -- nope, it could be matched on line, and beat, considering all her tack-ons.
Some years prior to these happenings, I had stopped using the local TA (I'm in a rural area) because she totally messed up tkts/flights. After that, I figured if she could mess things up, I couldn't do any worse on the internet, and I would only have myself to kick. I didn't have a choice of using TA's for the above cruises because of the group bookings. Thrice burned, thrice wary.
my, sounds like you have reason not to totally trust us> I hope I have never done any of these things to my client. I don't even charge a service charge if I book the air separate from the cruise. I may not enjoy doing it as booking air is a pain and we get nothing for it, but that's the way it goes. NMnita
Glad to see this thread get all the diverse reaction and I wholeheartedly agree with George in NY. I am able to cruise 3-4 times per year so I always want the most bang for my buck (as I would hope most of you do to). Finding the best deal is a big part of the adventure for me. Even if I do an onboard booking, I make sure my T/A gets credit for the cruise so he can handle any follow-up or changes that may occur. Even though he doesn't have to work hard for the booking, I love to utilize my free air deviation ("RCI" has wised up and only the first deviation is a free "C&A" benefit) and plans do change for a variety of reasons. I also agree that your T/A does NOT need to live nearby. The internet obviously mkes this a smaller world.