Booking a cruise? Test your cruise travel agent first

test your travel agentSome travel agents are not going to like this idea at all. Those would be the ones that are just in it for the commission. Others, the ones you want, the good ones, won’t have a problem with this and will pass the test with flying colors.

“Finding a good travel agent who will work with you to select the best cruise possible is sometimes as difficult as finding a good doctor, dentist or other service professional.” says cruise travel expert Linda Garrison from About.com.

A big advantage you have with travel agents is that you can test them. Other than seeing diplomas hanging on the wall or Googling a prospective doctor or dentist online, you really can’t test them much before using them.

The test: Fake-book a sample cruise. Pick an easy one using the following variables:

  • 4 to 6 nights
  • Carnival cruise
  • 2 guests, both under 55, residents of New York, not in the military
  • You want to sail sometime during the month of August 2011
  • Least expensive mid-ship Balcony cabin.

Try that online at the Carnival website then at Expedia.com and send it via email to your cruise travel agent or potential agent if you don’t have one. You’ll have to go all the way through the process online, stopping short of providing a credit card, to get the final price. Your good travel agent will take some time to get back to you but it should be reasonable.

Take notes

  • How long did it take to complete the process with the cruise line, Expedia.com and your travel agent?
  • Which source offered you the most options?
  • Which source had the best price?
  • Which source offered a human being that could look beyond the numbers and facts like humans do, offering me the best alternatives?

OK, so the last one was a slightly loaded question but the point is well taken: A good travel agent will be the one that takes a personal interest in you, your plans and can look beyond just the numbers, fees and facts with a focus on not just price but the experience itself.

Save time, skip the test, contact a Travel Agent.

Flickr photo by nicasaurusrex

Does your cruise travel agent pass the test?

cruise travel agentThere’s an ongoing debate between consumers and those critical of the travel business which struggles to answer the question “Do I need a travel agent or not?”. They’re not required and cruise-related websites make it really easy to click and buy a cruise, much like you might buy an airline ticket. But a good travel agent, one that will bring great value to the table, will have certain qualities required to make the cut. Ask these simple questions to find an agent with the minimum qualifications that make them worthy of your business.

  1. Are you connected? Since you are reading this, you are connected. You need someone who speaks your language in the medium you prefer be that via email, facebook, twitter or maybe just an easy phone call away. Bonus tip: try communicating with an agent via email to provide a written record of what was said, promised or delivered.
  2. Have you been on many cruises? A good travel agent specializing in cruise vacations should have a rich cruise history on multiple cruise lines. You’re looking for their first-hand knowledge and experience dealing with cruise lines, they better have it
  3. Are you certified? They should be at least members of the Cruise Lines International Association and have a few letters after their name like ACC, MCC or ECC showing they went through basic training and then some. If they have one of those, odds are they will tell you about some specialized training they got from the cruise line too. Give big bonus points if they are members of other professional organizations or consortium’s.
  4. How long have you been selling cruises? If they say less than five years forget about them. That’s about the minimum amount of time it takes for agents to really know their way around cruise lines, establish contacts that can do you some good later and have enough bookings behind them to know what they’re doing.
  5. Will I be dealing directly with just you? This one has to be a “yes” answer or the whole thing is not worth your time. To a good agent, their job starts with making the booking and never ends as they work towards building a life-long business relationship with you. If they are not personally following your booking from beginning to end you have the wrong person.

Cruise lines slash prices, buyers cash in

Cruise lines slash pricesMaybe its a bad news spotlight or maybe just some last-minute bargains but cruise lines are slashing prices on everything from short 2-night sailings to longer 7, 10, and even 16-night cruises . Make it a quick getaway or long, relaxing escape, cruise lines have some of the best vacation values around right now.

“With a bit of flexibility, you’ll likely be able to snag a good rate, and maybe even a few added bonuses, such as onboard credits, prepaid gratuities and cabin upgrades” reports CruiseCritic.com.

Short sailings to the Bahamas like 2 nights on Celebrity Century from Miami on January 15th go for as low as $115 per person or do 4-nights January 21 starting at $279. In the Caribbean, 7 nights on Crown Princess from Fort Lauderdale January 15 start at $379 per person and Ruby Princess starts at $449 on the January 16th sailing.

Longer sailings are available too like Princess Cruises Ocean Princess 16-day South China Sea Holiday sailing December 22nd with prices starting at $899 per per person or a 10-day sailing to the Mexican Riviera on Sapphire Princess from Los Angeles for $599 per person on January 5th.

Check with your travel agent for additional savings which might include discounts for residents of certain states, active or retired military members, seniors, past guests, Canadians, or other special promotions which could get you reduced airfare, onboard credit, complementary upgrades or special gifts.

Flickr photo by Tom Mascardo