Probably the most luxurious way to travel, cruises have become a popular way to travel for Australians. Whilst technically they are easy to book – pretty much like an airline ticket, there are a few things you should consider when deciding whether to book through an agent or directly with the cruise line. The decision could affect your entire cruise experience.
If you know exactly which cruise you want and which cabin and have no extra requests, then go directly to the cruise liner. However, if you are at the stage where you are considering which cruise will suit you and you want an objective view about various aspects of the ship involved, then booking direct may not be your best choice.
In-depth knowledge to find a cruise that suits you
Firstly, a cruise line is only going to tell you about their own cruises, whilst you may want to know about what is available in general terms and also get a few comparisons of not only the timings and facilities but also the atmosphere of the cruise, the quality of food, the level of service etc. Here, the travel agent can give you a much more objective view.
Ironically, the booking staff at a cruise liner are likely to give only generalised advice about even their own cruises. There are dozens of ships and cruises for the staff to get to know and very few, if any of them, would have been on the cruises themselves. Specialist travel agents can give a more comprehensive view of the various cruise lines to the customer. Very often, agents will even have accompanied some of the tours they organised or will have been on familiarisation cruises sponsored by the cruise liners. These experiences build up the knowledge base of the travel agent and put the good agent in a position to advise you about which cruise line to choose, which cabin to avoid, which route to take, etc. They can find the best cruise and the best cabin that suits your needs.
Will an agency booking cost more?
Although travel agents are paid by the cruise liners in the form of commission, there are some travel agents who also charge a service fee. Although this is usually quite small, about $20- $30 it is something to be aware of. Some more experienced travel agents are likely to charge more, but they also usually sell exclusive cruises and are less likely to guide you towards mainstream liners. By and large, if the agent charges a fee for finding you the right cruise, it’s a notional amount and well worth the extra information and advice you get.
Whilst some travellers believe an agent can give you a better price than the cruise liner, such situations are probably few and far between. Travel agents basically sell tickets at the same price that the cruise liners themselves would, and they are not in a position to discount prices or offer reward points, which may be possible if the ticket is booked directly from the cruise liner. There are, however, a few value add-ons that the agent may be able to arrange. Travel agents may book in bulk at lower prices than usual, which may also include some free add-ons such as complimentary wine, free dinner at a paid restaurant, or even free services at the cruise, so overall this may prove to be a big bonus if you are a large group.
You can see many agents in person and discuss what you want. You can’t do this with a mega cruise liner. Apart from offering vast experience in the field and first-hand advice, travel agents also make sure that your whole experience with them is fully satisfying because they want you coming back. By and large, they also have fewer customers than a cruise liner and are more able to give you personalised attention and service. The travel agent keeps track of the customer to make sure that everything from ticket payment to the cruise experience is absolutely perfect, and if anything goes wrong, then the travel agent would call the cruise liner
immediately and have it fixed as soon as possible.
Travel agents also offer customised facilities such as arrangement for parties, gatherings, ordering customized meals, and even accommodation such as booking at the finest hotels in Australia and pick-up and drop-off services.
Some travel agents also go that extra mile, and offer you the best prices when available, so that you may save some extra money. In choosing an agent, however, be careful to choose a reliable one and one who has the capacity to offer services at any hour. As you have booked through an agent, the cruise liner itself would not be able to help you with certain aspects of your booking, so you don’t want to be in the position of trying to contact your agent only to get an answering machine. Choose a large agency to avoid this risk.
Overall, booking a cruise through a travel agent has many benefits and as it is usually for the same price as booking direct, why not take advantage of the added value of personalised services?