Using a reputable online travel agent is my #1 secret to getting a good deal on a cruise. A good travel agent will ALWAYS be able to get you a better deal on your cruise than booking directly with the cruise line by offering discounts, onboard credit (OBC), or amenities, such as free wine, spa treatments, dinner at a specialty restaurant, or gratuities. OBC can be used for expenses you incur while on the cruise, such as gratuities, shore excursions, photos, shopping, spa treatments, and specialty restaurants. I typically save between $100-500 when using a travel agent to book my cruise.
Choosing an Online Travel Agent
There are several things you should consider when choosing your online travel agent:
Fees: Online travel agencies can give you a great deal but there are some trade-offs. Many of them charge fees for booking, cancellation (in addition to what the cruise line charges), changing your cabin, and honoring a price drop. Make sure you read the “Terms of Service” (the fine print) on their web site and that you’re getting the best price after factoring in any booking fees they charge. If your cruise has a decent chance of being cancelled, postponed, or you’re just not good at commitment, you should avoid an agency that charges cancellation or change fees.
Customer Service: In general, you should NOT use an online travel agent if you are looking for a good resource in helping you plan your trip. Don’t expect any hand-holding from them or to answer any questions you have about the cruise itself. Many of these agencies make money by booking in bulk, keeping overhead low, and running their agencies like a call center. Some agencies don’t even assign an individual agent to your reservation and you will deal with a different person each time you call or e-mail. You should expect that they will help you with the cruise reservation itself and nothing more. If you want to know about the cruise line, ports, ship, and anything else related to planning your cruise, you will need to research this on your own. With the combination of Cruise Critic, the cruise line’s web site, and calling the cruise line myself, this has never been a problem for me. I love to plan my own trips, do my own research, and become an expert for every place I travel so I don’t mind not having the same level of customer service you would find at a traditional travel agency. However, if you are looking for a travel agent that will help you plan your trip or give you a lot of guidance, you should consider a traditional travel agent or booking through the cruise line directly.
Reputation: Once you’ve found an online travel agent, make sure you check them out by looking them up on the Better Business Bureau and doing a Google search for negative reviews. Even then, you should always get travel insurance (I recommend using InsureMyTrip) that covers financial default, in case the travel agency or even the cruise line goes out of business.
Getting the best deal
Once you know which cruise you want to go on, use CruiseCompete.com to find the best deal. You input the ship, cruise date, number of passengers, cabin category, and if you’ve cruised with the cruise line before. Within a few hours, you’ll receive quotes from multiple travel agents and there is no obligation to book the cruise.
Once you’ve narrowed down a few good quotes, give each travel agent a call and double-check the rate since prices change all the time. Also, the agent may even quote you a better deal because often they cannot publish their best rates.
In addition to using CruiseCompete, I’d also recommend checking these agencies if you are a member:
Travel Agents I Recommend
These are travel agents I have personally used and recommend. Make sure you tell them Rebecca Low sent you!
- Dan at Cruise Vacation Outlet
- Wendy at CruCon
- Toni at Crown Cruise Vacations
- David at CruiseDeals.com (Great deals on Hawaii cruises on Pride of America)
- Dreams Unlimited Travel (Disney cruises/vacations only)
Check out Cruising 101: Cruise Planning Tips, Tools, & Resources for more of my tips on getting a cruise deal!