Discover why you should consider using a cruise agent to book your cruises from now onwards.
I want to explore the best ways to book your cruises as you look to return to cruising, whether it’s the short-term, the medium-term, or the long-term, and explore whether you should be booking with a cruise agent or in some other way.
There are probably five different ways that you could be booking your cruises at the moment. One of which is with a high street, bricks and mortar travel agent. Secondly, with one of the online portals: the bigger, broader travel agents, for example Expedia. Thirdly, you could look at a focused cruise online agency. So, in the US there’s vacationstogo.com, and in the UK, there’s ROL Cruises. These operate both by telephone and online. Fourthly, you could go to an independent cruise broker. These are often cruise agents working for themselves, but part of a bigger group. Or of course, you could book with the cruise lines direct.
With everything that’s going on in cruising at the moment, I really recommend that you seriously think about working with a cruise agent – particularly an independent cruise agent or one of those bigger groups that do online and telephone calls. Even if you have future cruise credits that you’ve had from bookings you’ve done directly with the cruise line itself.
First of all, agents will give you exactly the same price as you’d get from the cruise lines. However, they will give you a whole lot more for your money.
The cruise lines, unlike perhaps with hotels, don’t undercut agents in any way. The agents are really important to the cruise industry, and certainly, as they try and get people back to cruising, the agents are becoming even more important. They’re going to rely on the agents to tell the story of cruising, to communicate all the new protocols, and to really try to convince people that they should try cruising.
And you can see lots of evidence of this, for example, the head of Royal Caribbean started a whole video series where he’s talking to agents. I’ve seen lots of webinars being set up with Virgin Cruises, AmaWaterways, etc where they’re talking directly to agents because they are so fundamentally important. And they will never, ever undercut the price. In fact, you might find that if you go with a cruise agent, you might get a better deal because they will often bundle in other things.
The way the cruise agent earns their income is they get a commission on that sale. And they’ll sometimes use some of their commission to add sweeteners, whether that’s extra onboard credit, gifts, or different types of incentives to book with them. So, you might actually get a sharper and better overall deal because they’ll throw much more in. We’re going to see huge volatility in prices over the coming year or so.
Prices haven’t really become that volatile yet, but once it all beds in, and once the cruise lines know exactly what cruises they can operate and when they’re going to operate, the challenge is then going to be filling the ships that they have out there. There’s going to be a lot of reluctance to get back onto ships and I believe prices are going to chop and change, and there’ll be deals and offers, whether that’s upgrades, extra onboard credit, or bundling in things like gratuities, Wi-Fi, specialty dining, etc. It’s going to become a very volatile and constantly changing world, and it’s going to be quite hard as an individual to keep up to date.
If you work with an agent, they will be constantly fed the updates on pricing. They’ll know the latest deals, what’s been added, and what’s been taken away. You’re going to be much more certain that you’re going to get the best deals that are going.
The other thing that I believe is really important, especially in these uncertain times is how the agents will be able to guide you in a number of ways. They can tell you the best time to book, so as different promotions come up, whether it’s for solo travellers, families, or whatever applies to you, they might be able to tell you to hold on for a couple of weeks if they know there’s a deal coming.
Another thing that you can ask the agent to do is track pricing. As I said, I think price is going to be very volatile, and if the cruise lines reduce their price, you’re not going to know that. If you ask the agent to track that price, if they see the price going down, the cruise lines won’t refund you that, but if the agent picks up on that, they can go back and negotiate a better deal. This has happened to me in the past, for example, where prices came down and I’ve been offered perhaps more onboard credit or often an upgrade. The agent can make sure that they keep on top of pricing as it moves all over the place to make sure that you do get extra benefits if the price goes down.
The other very important thing with agents is that close to sailing, the cruise lines aim to try and get the ship as full as they possibly can. They’ll often do some very big deals, for example they might start upgrading people from lower grades and they’ll put some incredible deals out there. They don’t want to go out and advertise those or put them on their website, so they’ll often go to trusted cruise agents and try to get them to clear those cabins. So, they will be the first to know if there are some really sharp deals.
So if you’re particularly looking at cruising at short notice, which you might want to do with all the volatility currently surrounding cruising, they are likely to have deals which you will not find anywhere else, even on the cruise line sites.
The second key reason for choosing to go with a cruise agent is the time-saving and the convenience of making just one call. We’ve seen – and may continue to see – huge volatility in cruising. With an agent, the advantage is that if your cruise is cancelled or you want to change it, your agent will deal with all the hanging on with the cruise lines if you’ve booked your whole package with them.
If you’ve booked, say, direct with the cruise line, you basically have to phone them up and you could be waiting for huge amounts of time. If you’ve perhaps booked hotels, flights, etc with the cruise agent, then with one call or email, the cruise agent has to deal with all of the refunds, and it saves you having to contact the cruise line, deal with the airline, get hold of the hotel, cancel excursions, etc. It’s one simple point of contact. And certainly, talking to agents, I know they have taken a huge amount of stress and strain away because they’ve been able to do all that for a client, and that’s a really big plus.
The second thing which is linked to that is if anything goes wrong on your cruise, again, you just have one point of contact.
This has been great for me in the past, for example, when I was on a cruise not that long ago where the airports went on strike and flights weren’t going. I could see everyone else on the ship who’d booked their packages separately, perhaps booked the cruise directly with the cruise line, booked flights and hotels separately, scrabbling around, having to upgrade Wi-Fi, using whole days at sea to try and contact all these people to just move everything around. It was a Windstar cruise and I was with a company called Mundy Cruising. I just sent an email to the agency, said, ‘look this has happened, can you sort it out?’, and then I could just relax and enjoy the next day and wait for them to sort it out. They eventually came back to me and they’d sorted out a new hotel and new flight time, and I hadn’t worried about all that stress.
Future cruise credit use
The third really good reason for using a cruise agent is if you have had lots of cruises cancelled, and you’ve actually got future cruise credit, because either you’ve cancelled or moved cruises, the really good news is even if you have future cruise credit which you’ve earned from booking direct with the cruise line, a cruise agent will be very, very happy to pick those future cruise credits up as you plan forward.
Because the agents are so important to them, the cruise lines will give commission to the cruise agents when they rebook new cruises with future cruise credits. So future cruise credits are located to you as an individual either with your club number, your captain’s number, or your frequent cruising number, or with your booking reference.
I’ve checked with agents that I know, both in the UK and the US, and it certainly seems the case that they’ll be happy to help you use those future cruise credits because they will earn the commission from those new bookings, even though originally you booked directly with the cruise line. And of course, the good news is then I’m also helping support those agents through what has been quite challenging and difficult times, and a huge amount of work for them.
So that’s another really good reason for choosing to use an agent. It’s going to simplify the whole process of using future cruise credits. Different cruise lines do it in different ways and different formats and you can get rid of all of that stress and strain by basically handing your references over to the agent and letting them get on with it.
One stop service
Another really good reason for using an agent is that they’re a one-stop shop.
As you head back into cruising, one of the things that you might want to do is use an agent simply because the rate at which airlines go back, their frequency of itineraries, which hotels are open, which ports are open, which excursions are running, which transfer companies are open, which cruise lines are running when will be a complicated mishmash of different rules, regulations, and travel advisories.
The advantage of working with an agent is they can navigate their way through all of that. They can then put together one whole programme from the time you leave your house to the time you get back, and they can fill in all the gaps, and work around all of those different rules, regulations and changes, and make sure that you know what they are.
I think travelling over the next year or so is going to be quite complicated and by handing that over to someone else to sort that out for you is going to be a big plus. And the great thing about working with an agent is that they’ll put together a nice document with everything laid out, step-by-step, day-by-day. So that whole one-stop shop will be a great way of easing back into travel, I think.
Expertise and advice
Of course, one of the most obvious reasons for using an agent is their expertise and their advice, particularly if you are new to cruise.
Agents have lots of experience, they know the ships, they know the cruise lines, and they have worked with lots of people before finding out what really works for different types of travellers. So, you’re actually then buying a lot of expertise. Of course, there’s lots of research you can do yourself, but certainly if you’re new to cruise, I think that’s a really big plus. Also, if you’re thinking of changing cruise lines – perhaps you’ve been really loyal to a cruise line, but with everything that’s going on, you’re maybe looking at a different cruise line. Again, using an agent could be a really good way of helping you in the right direction.
Linked to that, I like that most agents will give you some sort of checklist.
They will point out to you whether you need visas or vaccinations, whether there are certain things you need to pack (or indeed some things you shouldn’t be packing because you’re going to a certain region). If you book direct with the cruise line, for example, they will give you standard documentation, but an agent is normally pretty good at giving you documentation plus pointing out the kind of things you really need to think about because they’re giving you much more of a service. If you’re heading to a new region or a new part of the world, with everything changing again, and new regulations and rules, having that advice and guidance will be a real big plus.
Making you happy
Another good reason for using an agent is that agents want to keep you happy. They want to make sure that you have a great experience because they want you to keep coming back.
So by handing over a lot of this complicated administration and potentially disruptive organisation over to them, they’re going to work as hard as they can to make sure they put together something that really works for you because they want to make sure that you’re going to keep coming back.
Personally, I think one of the great things to do is work with a more independent cruise agent, because then you have one point of contact, so you’re always working with that same person. They’re often more available because they’re working from home, and they have even more flexibility than normal, and they’ll often be checking in on the weekends or the evenings too.
With everything going on in travel and cruising as the world readjusts to the new realities and regulations, I think working with an agent at this time is probably more important that any time in the past. If you haven’t worked with an agent before to book your cruising, this is the time. Hopefully that’s given you some insights and thoughts.
I’ve loads more videos full of tips, advice, and recommendations about cruising, so why don’t you watch one one of those right now?
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