We have debated the notion of using a travel agent in a number of ways here over the years. The general consensus of opinion verifies some of the strategies you may very well use to book airline tickets, rental cars, hotel rooms and more. But a recent move by a major cruise line should drive home the notion that using a travel professional, be it an online source or an actual agent we have come to know personally, can maximize travel savings.
Internet Cruise Brokers, the used car salesmen of travel, are on the way out.
Recently, Norwegian Cruise Line put travel agencies trolling for clients through low-price website CruiseCompete on notice: shape up or ship out.
“Norwegian Cruise Line has severed ties with CruiseCompete, a website where travel agents bid for consumers’ cruise business. The cruise line has also warned its agent partners that participating in CruiseCompete is a breach of contract,” notes travel expert Fran Golden in a recent article on Travel Market Report.
For those unfamiliar with CruiseCompete, it’s a website where consumers can go, enter the ship and sailing date they have in mind, then wait for travel agents to bid for their business, often giving up a portion of their commission in order to offer the lowest bid.
“What’s wrong with that?” one might ask. Plenty.Buying Cruise Travel Is Not Like Buying Air
First, buying cruise travel is not like buying an airline ticket, flying from point A to point B. In that case, as long as the flight gets us there and brings us back, the lowest price is probably the best choice. An online service like Airfarewatchdog can help direct us to the best sources too.
But with cruise travel there are a great many other variables to consider. Take the passengers personal cruise history, for example. Carefully considered by a travel professional that has the passenger’s best interests in mind, that “low price” offered through bidding may not be the best option.
Paying a bit more might take advantage of a past-guest promotion that has an end value far greater than that “low price” bid, giving onboard credit, free drinks, free prepaid gratuities or other valuable benefits.
Down The Road Come The Benefits
A stronger reason for using a travel professional is what happens throughout the life of the booking. This goes for all types of travel, not just cruises. The Internet travel broker is busy bidding as many potential clients as possible to yield a net profit that will pay the bills. They have little, if any, time to consider promotions, deals and offers that come up after the initial booking.
A travel professional does.
In the case of cruises, even booking directly with the cruise line will not yield the potential benefits of booking with a travel professional that we have spent the time to develop a good business relationship with. No cruise line will notify you, “Hey, a new promotion has started that will lower your price by hundreds.” It just does not happen.
An alert travel pro considers the initial sale as just the start of the process, works your booking throughout its life and follows up after sailing. They are investing time in their clients and will gladly work with the cruise line to lower the fare when some new promotion comes up that applies.
And it’s not all about saving money. Do you need/have the right documentation to enter Russia? Which is the best choice for travel insurance? Is it safe to travel in Egypt? These are questions our travel professional will have the specific answers for and have time to be sure we have that information.
Same Song, Different Singer, New Lyrics
But the argument for using a travel agent is basically the same as we have been reporting for years. In 2011’s “Travel Agents: The Dinosaur You Might Just Need,” Gadling sang a similar song, noting, “A travel agent is ‘your friend’ in the travel business. They are your friend who knows what is going on in the travel industry.” That is still true now.
What is different now and builds a stronger case for using a travel agent is how cruise lines are operating. As they continue to differentiate themselves from one another, cruise line pricing has become more sophisticated, offering more fare codes that have more requirements and qualifiers than ever. Keeping up with pricing policies alone can be a full-time job, something click-to-buy options fail miserably at considering and consumers simply don’t have the time to do effectively.
Try It For Yourself
The idea of using a real travel agent as opposed to an Internet cruise broker is going to take an investment of time. Finding a good agent can be as simple as following the recommendation of a trusted friend or relative. But what if we don’t know anyone who uses a travel agent? Where can we find a good one?
A good start for finding a travel agent would be your local Better Business Bureau or even a local sourcing option like Angie’s List. Good search results for a travel agency would be ones with plenty of activity but very few, if any, complaints. Another option would be the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) website, which lists agencies and the agents associated with them along with their credentials. Their Cruise Expert Finder brings a list of local agencies.
To drive home the value of an agent, go to a price comparison website like CruiseCompete, pick a ship and sailing date at random, and begin the bidding process. At the same time, call a local agency, tell them you are trying to decide between using an agency to handle all your travel needs or simply using online booking sources to plan your travel. See what happens.
Odds are very high that the end result will be the beginning of a beneficial relationship yielding great savings over your lifetime and a richer travel experience too. Travel agents have a lot of “been there, done that” experience, helpful destination information and contacts of their own to share.
Not to discount online tools altogether in the travel buying equation – an online service similar to Airfarewatchdog called CruiseFish, which is independent of cruise lines or travel agencies, can help. CruiseFish is a price, stateroom and cruise monitoring system that does all the browsing for you and sends email alerts when prices change. The $.99 per listing fee may very well be worth the peace of mind buyers gain from knowing a third-party source is also looking out for them.
Yes, doing business with a live travel agent can yield the best results.
Yes too, stacking the deck in your favor can also be beneficial.
[Photo credit – Flickr user elmada]