For anyone new to a cruise vacation, there are plenty of options to consider, and not all of them are super obvious. When it comes to travel agents, a lot of readers are surprised to hear that how important they can be for just about anyone.
The travel agent industry has changed a lot over the years, and while other sectors of travel have seen a fundamental shift in booking things on your own, the cruise industry leans heavily on travel agents because cruise vacations are not "a dime a dozen".
A good travel agent provides so much value and service, and they are an invaluable component to many seasoned cruisers.
You might be surprised to learn a few very important things about using a travel agent, and how they can greatly benefit your vacation.
They cost you nothing extra
Before I talk about any other benefit a travel agent provides, you should know any good travel agent charges you absolutely nothing extra for their services.
Travel agents are paid a commission by the cruise line, which comes out of the cruise line's bottom line, and not charged to you.
When you book a cruise, make changes, re-price and cancel a cruise, these are all activities that the agency provides for no charge.
If you run across an agency that does change fees, I would recommend challenging them on it or simply taking your business elsewhere.
Travel agents can get access to lower cruise prices
In addition to the prices of a cruise you see online, travel agents have access to a variety of other ways to save their clients money.
Many people mistakenly believe travel agents are just middle men and women, who take your information and book the same cruise for the same price you can see online.
It is not unusual for travel agents to discover special group rates that have lower pricing, lower pricing based on residency or occupation, or even special rates offered to a consortia of travel agencies .
Individual agencies may have groups set up for specific sailings, and there is no reason they cannot add you to that group and take advantage of lower prices.
In short, there are a lot of ways a travel agent can get you a lower price than you can find online. While they cannot always get you a lower price, they have access to far more opportunities to save you money than booking on your own.
Travel agents can reprice when there is a price drop
One of my favorite things a good travel agent can do is take advantage of a price drop and save you money.
For residents of certain countries (United States, Canada, select Caribbean countries, et al), if you are before final payment date, you can re-price your cruise if the price goes down. This entails contacting Royal Caribbean to re-price the booking, and a travel agent can do it all for you.
Not only can they save you time by doing this, some agents will periodically check on their client's bookings if there is a new sale and see if they can get their clients a better rate.
Travel agents can book casino rates
If you gamble enough in Royal Caribbean's Casino Royale, you can might be eligible for significant cruise fare discounts through the Casino Royale program. Travel agents can book most of these rates for you.
By booking with a travel agent, you can take advantage of the great service they provide, as well as the lower rates. It is win-win.
Create a group for your friends and family
If a cruise vacation for your family, friends, high school reunion or any other group sounds like a great idea, your first step should be to work with a travel agent.
A travel agent can set up a group with Royal Caribbean that can possibly save money, or get you special perks back. Moreover, the travel agent can handle the logistical issues of payments, price adjustments and answering common questions.
You love your family, and enjoy spending time with your friends, but reminding Aunt Kathy to make final payment or figuring out if your bestie's 7 year old son needs a passport is not something you need or should be worried about. A travel agent can handle all of that for you, for no extra cost.
Provide help when there are issues
If I did not think it would be extremely gaudy, I would highlight and add red siren gifs to this point, because I think it is the most important thing a travel agent does that many cruisers are completely unaware of when deciding on using an agent or not.
In these days of policy changes, future cruise credits, and fear of what may come tomorrow, a travel agent is invaluable because they are the ones that will spend hours and hours with the cruise line to sort out these issues.
Even if there is not a global health crisis, things happen on a cruise. Errors in a reservation, mechanical issues in a stateroom, hurricanes and a great deal of other unforeseen situations can occur. If they do, having a travel agent means you have someone in your corner fighting for you, and taking care of the details.
They are the person that goes back and forth with Royal Caribbean on your behalf, offers options to you, and more.
With the global cruise suspensions, travel agents can help make sense of the refunds you get back, make requests for refunds or future cruise credits, and more. It is not uncommon for the hold times with the cruise line to take a very long time, but a travel agent can be the one dealing with that.
During hurricane season, a travel agent can assist if you vacation is impacted by changing flight plans or excursions.
Set up payment plans
One of the most requested options from anyone booking a cruise is a way to pay off the cruise over time, and travel agents can take payments along the way leading up to your final payment date.
Not only does this save you from not having to call in to make a payment, but they can do it automatically for you.