Who Should I Book My Cruise With?
I think the most important thing to ask yourself is what do you want from your cruise agent? If you know exactly what you are looking for and are shopping around, then I would be really upfront with your agent and say “I know what I want, this is the cruise and the cabin and this is the best price I have. Can you beat it?” That way, you are saving yourself and the agent a lot of time and that means the agent is more likely to be willing to discount the cruise.
Book With A Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) Member
First and foremost you need to make sure your agent really knows what they are talking about when it comes to cruises. The way to ensure that is to look for their CLIA accreditation badge. Once an agency or individual becomes a CLIA Member, they have the option to train to become a CLIA Master. This means the agent has completed a more in-depth level of training on a wide range of cruise lines as well as some written work. This is my badge from 2016.
Who You Gonna Call?
If you have no idea what you are looking for, or need two or more options, this is going to take some agents longer than others. If your agent has suggested they get back to you with some details, make sure you mutually agree to a deadline, to avoid any confusion. Everyone’s idea of no rush is different. Something to bear in mind is that call centre cruise agents will be on a basic wage plus commission, therefore regardless of whether you book with them or not, they will still get paid at the end of the month.
Independent Travel Agent
When I was an independent travel agent, we worked on a commission-only basis. The majority of these home working independents will be lucky to walk away with 5% of the cruise fare in commission, after taxes and splitting it with their agency. Plus they have overheads such as franchise fees and marketing costs. So for a £1400 cruise booking, they will make around £70.
That may sound like a lot but when you take into account the time they spend on the phone to cruise lines with booking queries, checking for upgrades, making requests, taking balance payments and the unsociable hours, it is not a lot. Plus they are paying premium rates for calls rather than you, so that is saving you time and money. This does not take into account any discount you may be expecting your agent to offer. When they discount your fare, that comes out of their commission.
On the plus side, if you know exactly what you want and you speak to an independent agent and tell them you are ready to book right now, they are in a position to make a decision there and then as to what they can offer. If you need a lot of information about the cruise line and ship, then it’s a good idea to call the cruise lines directly as they have in-depth knowledge of their own products. Also bear in mind that call centre calls are recorded, so agents are not entirely free to say what they think. Independent agents aren’t always using a system that records conversations and in many cases are happy to give you a mobile number to call.
Things To Avoid
I would avoid paying large deposits, even if it means you get a lower price. I know of an incident where someone paid a huge deposit and intended to take the cruise. There was a communication problem and the guest missed the deadline to pay the final balance as they were overseas. The travel agency cancelled their booking, which was in line with their booking terms and conditions, and the customers lost their cruise and deposit.
Another thing to watch out for is something the cruise lines refer to as cross border selling. In the UK we should only be able to book with a UK agent. Some travel agencies have found a way around this, which means they can sometimes sell a cruise at a cheaper price. There are two problems with this. Firstly and most importantly, they are not covered by ABTA. Secondly their office hours are not in sync with the UK so getting hold of them may be an issue.
I am not saying DON’T book with them, all I am saying is be aware of the potential problems that can occur.
My advice is to find an independent cruise specialist that you can trust. Someone you have a rapport with and enjoy talking to. If you keep loyal to them, they will be happy to give you discounts and give you the best service too. They will want to make you happy so that you will refer your friends to them. That is what makes their business a success.