In a world of online travel booking engine websites promising to get you the best price on a cruise, a logical question arises: Is there any benefit to using a travel agent as opposed to doing it yourself? We even called a booking website’s number to speak to an agent to compare the experience of using a dedicated travel agent vs a booking website number. You might be surprised by the results.
A Deal That Isn’t a Deal
When using travel engines that promise to compare prices and give you the best value, there’s one thing that they aren’t telling you. The other guys are doing the exact same thing. But when it comes to cruising, there are a number of things a cruise agent can do that is impossible to achieve without an agent.
In this article, we’re going to list money-saving reasons it is in your best interest to use a travel agent as opposed to doing it yourself through a booking engine.
Free To Use
How much would a personal concierge cost be it a shopper or someone providing some other service? The thing is, that’s exactly what a travel agent is! They are your personal concierge for all things travel. But that’s not the best part.
Using a travel agent is absolutely FREE! If someone says they’re an agent and wants to charge you, run away. It’s a myth that you have to pay an extra fee to use a travel agent. The reason is that a travel agent receives their commission from the cruise line. This means that the agent can get you aboard the cruise line of your choice with no additional cost to you.
You might be thinking that those booking engine websites will do it and there’s no fee listed. And in all fairness, that is correct. But that brings us to our next point.
Travel Agents Remove Confusion
Booking a cruise using a booking engine seems simple enough. You want to go to this location between these dates. Here’s a list of cruises. Pick one, go through the process until checkout and – BOOM – you’ve booked a cruise!
You receive your information prior to the departure date and everything seems good. Until you get on the ship.
You see, if you didn’t catch that you booked a guaranteed stateroom or don’t even know what that means, you might find yourself in a part of the ship you otherwise wouldn’t have chosen.
Someone To Guide You Through Obtaining Travel Documents
Here’s what one booking engine says on the page identifying the travelers and asking for your credit card:
“Name must appear exactly as it is on the traveler’s passport or government approved travel document, or boarding may be denied.”
Which government-approved travel documents are allowed? How long does it take to get them? Are there some documents that allowed when traveling one place but not to another? What if I’m in the United States and going on a cruise to Alaska, will those documents get me on the ship?
Some might answer that an easier and better solution is to use a passport. We’d agree. But did you know that even if you have a passport, there is a possibility you still might be denied entry onto the ship? Or even if you are allowed onto the ship, you may not be allowed to go ashore at your port of call?
A booking engine isn’t going to tell you those things. It’s up to you to know the answers to these questions ahead of time when using a booking website.
Real Person To Help Answer Questions
A person might argue that there are phone numbers to talk to someone to explain the technical details. And that would be a correct statement. To test it out, we called one of the big booking websites. We wanted to see how things were handled and what information would be provided. We used the booking engine to go to the Bahamas for 3 days in September.
The lady was very nice. She stayed on the phone with me for 25 minutes. The ships I selected were from Royal Caribbean, NCL and Carnival. The NCL Norwegian Sky prices began at $249, the Royal Caribbean Navigator of the Seas started at $424 and the Carnival Conquest cabins started at $259.
She asked me my age and described the type of ships I might like based solely on my age. I posed as a new cruiser who didn’t want to be around partyers. She said the Sun would likely have them but didn’t tell me about the other ships. I was given a good explanation of the difference between a guaranteed stateroom vs a non-guaranteed room.
I asked about the differences between the different cruise lines and the ships. She told me I needed to research them for myself. When I asked if there were any resources on the booking engine site to find out more about the ships under consideration, I was told: “Google it”.
The thing is, if I didn’t know what questions to ask, I would never have received the answers I got. These are exactly the things a travel agent has been trained to do. Answers to these questions are part of the training a person takes to become a travel agent.
In the end, calling the number for the booking site would have helped me book the cruise. But would it have been the right cruise? Would I be on the ship that would make my cruise a memorable one? Unless I did my research ahead of time, it would be a roll of the dice. And if the traveler has to do the work to learn about the ship and the amenities, then there’s no advantage in calling the number on the site.
Not to mention, it’s up to the traveler to understand all the details in the booking. A travel agent will take care of that and explain the details.
A travel agent will also ask what the traveler is looking for in a vacation and put together packages that will suit the needs of the vacationer. Part of the training involves learning the differences between the classes of ship on a particular cruise line. They know what special features are on different ships. After all, the Royal Caribbean Navigator of the Seas is in a completely different ship class than the Norwegian Sky.
A Lifeline When You Need It
Imagine getting to the dock and finding nothing but water in the space that used to house your cruise ship. For whatever reason, you got back to the ship after the all-aboard time. Now the ship has sailed with all your belongings. What do you do?
If you booked through a booking engine website, you might be able to contact them to see if they can help. Considering that they left learning about the differences between the ships up to me, it’s highly unlikely they will help you in this dilemma.
Your family might be of little help either. If they are on the same cruise with you, they’re floating away on the open sea with no way to contact them. Even worse, because you’re traveling together, there is a high probability that they are stranded with you.
As you’ve probably already guessed by now, a cruise agent can be the hero you need in this time of crisis.
What are your options if you find yourself in this situation? One way to avoid this at the next port is to get a watch you can set yourself. In the meantime, if you used a travel agent, they might have requested copies of your travel documents. This would have been to review them to make sure that you wouldn’t have any problems boarding with them.
This also means that there is someone back home who you know has a copy of your documents. They can get them electronically sent to you. Then you can use them to get back home or to the next stop of the ship.
Shipboard Credits, Prepaid Gratuities, and Specialty Dining
Another advantage of using a travel agent is that an agent can arrange for you to get extras on your cruise. Some of these include having your gratuities prepaid by the cruise line, a few days of specialty dining at no cost to the traveler and shipboard credits.
Going back to the call with the booking agent website representative, one thing she pointed out was that the Norwegian Sun offered an unlimited drink package. What she didn’t mention is that, as of the time of this writing, Norwegian was offering a package that included not only unlimited drinks but also free wifi, free specialty dining, and free or reduced airfare. NCL says that’s over $4,000 in savings.
To be fair, the booking engine website offered up to $1,000 in onboard credit. However, it wasn’t through the cruise line. I asked how they could offer the same credit to every cruise line. The answer was that this was something the booking engine company was providing. I asked what could be done if I got to my cruise and the credit wasn’t there when I arrived on the ship. The answer: “We’ve been doing this for 30 years. There won’t be any mistakes.”
I pushed back, arguing that mistakes can happen. “There won’t be any mistakes,” was the reply. “This isn’t an automated process. After you book your cruise, we contact the cruise line to put the credit on your account.”
Ok. But that still didn’t answer the question I had. If I show up to the ship and the credit is not on my account, how do I get that resolved? The short answer I was given was that will never happen.
Everyone knows that mistakes and technical problems do occur. If you used a travel agent, they can make calls and get things straightened out for you. Remember, they’re your personal travel concierge. The booking website’s representative steered far away from offering that.
Read the Fine Print
Another thing that isn’t so obvious. The wording on the booking website says “up to $1,000 onboard credits”. “Up to $1,000” means you likely won’t get that. But they give you help in understanding what it means. The hyperlink for the credits opens up a window with a paragraph explaining how much the credit will be depending on whether your stateroom costs between this price and that price. If it’s between another number and yet another number, the credit will be this or that much.
Bottom line: it’s a bait and switch. $1,000 isn’t what you’re going to get if you booked an inside cabin for $300 using this travel engine site. If, on the other hand, you used a cruise agent, they would have gotten you the NCL package with free wifi, drinks, specialty restaurants along with free or reduced airfare. All of that is over $4,000 in guaranteed savings. Even if the booking engine did credit the account with the full $1,000, the travel agent would still be the better value.
There’s one more thing that booking engine sites do to make visitors think they’re getting an awesome deal. The price of the trip will show something like $275. Crossed out is another number that is significantly higher, giving the impression that the price provided by the website is a real bargain. The reality is that the crossed-out number is made up. To prove it, try this: go to the cruise line website and look for that exact cruise. Take note of the price. It’s exactly same as what the booking site says the traveler will pay.
Count The Costs
The beauty of the internet is that it gives us choices. If a person wants to use a booking engine to get what he thinks is a steal, he has that right. However, if you want to save real money and have a personal travel concierge, contact the Dream Team here at J’s Dream Travel to book you the perfect cruise.