Find the RIGHT
Cruising Travel Agent For You
by Linda Coffman
think you've found a jewel of a Travel Agent, then what?
First off, I'm not
a travel agent. When I want to book a cruise, what do I do? The same
thing you should... research, research, and more research.
I've used several
travel agencies over the years and through trial and error, I
discovered that when planning a costly cruise vacation the last
thing you want is an agent who has A) never been on a cruise, B)
calls a cruise ship "the boat" or worst still, C) quotes
So, how do
you find a cruise travel professional you can trust? First off, look
for signs indicating you're dealing with a Cruise Lines
International Association (CLIA)
affiliated agency. Preferably, your agent should be certified as an
Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC) or Master Cruise Counselor (MCC)
by CLIA. Those agents have completed a demanding training program,
including touring or sailing on a specific number of ships. They've
make it their business to know all they can to serve their clients'
You think you've
found a jewel of an agent, then what? Sit down and talk. Get to know
one another. And above all else, be honest about your expectations
and budget. Seldom can a travel agent guess what your
interests are and how much you can afford to spend. Don't be shy. If
you have champagne taste and a beer budget, SAY SO.
Take a moment to
look around the agent's office. Are there racks containing a wide
variety of cruise line brochures? Do you see trade magazines and
newspapers? If so, those are both good signs. Some agencies have
"preferred" suppliers and prominently display only their
products. If you have done your homework and know what cruise you
want to book, be wary of an agent who tries to change your mind
without very specific reasons. The agent who makes it a point to
read industry magazines and newspapers is an informed agent, one who
is likely to keep up with the latest trends and who can assist you
with up-to-the-minute data.
bottom line is that you can't beat the traditional Travel
Agent for service and responsiveness.
What about making
your reservation directly with the cruise line? Or booking with an
Internet agency that boasts the lowest prices? Or by calling one of
those cruise "brokers" on their toll-free numbers?
Contrary to what
conventional wisdom might suggest, cutting out the travel agent and
booking directly with a cruise line won't necessarily get you the
lowest price. Cruise line reservation systems simply aren't set up
to deal with tens of thousands of direct calls from potential
passengers; however, they will usually take your reservation and ask
if you'd like to assign it to a travel agent. Without an agent
working on your behalf, you are adrift on your own. If the cruise
line lowers their fare, it will be up to you to discover it and
request the lesser amount yourself. A good agent will do that for
A pricing factor to
consider is that many cruise travel agents belong to consortiums.
The consortiums book blocks of cabins on a number of ships, thus
enabling them to pass along "group" savings without the
hassle of putting together a group. Just because a travel agency is
small doesn't mean they can't get you the bargains offered by bigger
"name brand" agencies. Don't be afraid to ask if there are
any such deals available. If you are flexible, it's possible to save
hundreds of dollars.
never hurts to check online for pricing and availability.
In addition to
travel agencies you might find locally, there are many hard-working,
dedicated travel agents with web sites on the Internet. From large
agency conglomerates to mom-and-pop agencies, all are competing for
cyber-savvy clients' attention. It never hurts to check pricing from
a variety of sources. As a rule, the Internet and 1-800-number
brokers will do a decent job for you. They offer discounted fares,
but not always the lowest, so it pays to check around. If you know
precisely what you want and how much you should pay to get a real
bargain, and if you don't mind dealing with an anonymous voice on
the phone, by all means make your reservations when the price is
right. Just don't expect the personal service you get from an agent
you know. And be prepared to spend a lot of time and effort on the
phone if something goes wrong.
dropped dramatically since I booked my first cruise almost twenty
years ago. For instance, three years after our first sailing in an
outside Atlantic deck cabin on the SS Norway,
my husband and I were able to book a Norway Owner's
Suite at two-for-one rates for a mere $100
more than the first cruise. My travel agent, knowing us and our love
for that ship, secured that deal for us. Not only that, but when I
expressed concern over crimes against tourists in Miami
at the time, my agent made sure we had a limo available to take us
from the airport to our hotel, then to the ship, and back to the
airport... arranged through the cruise line at no additional charge.
Now, THAT is personal service.
The bottom line is
that you can't beat the traditional travel agent for service and
Lines International Association -- Use their search function
to find a travel agent near you.