TRAVEL THERE: BARGAIN IS A RELATIVE TERM
So, last week I was talking about my conversion to travel agencies for booking cruises over doing it myself online. I bragged on getting our Norwegian cruise online cheap, cheap, cheap! I don’t recall which site finally won our travel dollars, but we couldn’t believe how inexpensively we were going cruising. Then the nickel and dime-ing began – and some of the nickels were pretty hefty: airfare, taxis, hotels, gratuities, special dining, shore excursions, wine packages and the list goes on. We quickly doubled the price of the “all-inclusive” cruise. I wish I would have called CTC, the travel agency who sponsored a recent travel show here in Dallas. They know sort-of-all-inclusive from truly all-inclusive.
Cruising with an Agent
Had I called CTC, they would have asked me where I wanted to go, why I wanted to go and what my budget was. If I’d done that, instead of looking for a cheap cruise, they wouldn’t have let me return to ports of call I had already visited or allowed me to hang about for so many days at sea on a ship loaded to the gills with screaming kids. More importantly, there is no way they would have signed me up to go on the shore excursion with Josie.
A good travel agent will not sell you a cruise based on price point, because they know there are price points and then again there is the real price. If you don’t know what you’re doing you could go broke saving money. A travel agent takes your travel budget, gives you the most cruise you can get for your travel dollar and they’ll made sure you’re on the right cruise. That’s their business.
How They Do What They Do
Time and again at the show, from company rep after company rep, I heard that the earlier you book a cruise with your travel agent, the better your deal will be and the more bang you will get for your buck. The cruise lines schedule their cruises and then they let the big boy travel agents choose their blocks of cabins at the absolute best price anyone is going to get them for – ever. The bigger the boy, the better the block and the lower the price. CTC has been booking cruises for almost thirty years and they are a very big boy. If you book your own cruise, there are cabins that you never even get to know exist and if you did find out it existed, you’d never be able to book it.
Sure, you can go online and see prices that seem to be cheaper than a travel agent’s, but you are not looking apples to apples. Though all cabins on any particular deck may seem to be the same, they’re not. Cabins may be right next door to one another, but a travel agent is privy to which one has something obscuring the view, adding to the noise level or limiting the storage space. The better cabin is not going to be on the bargain website.
What’s more, when CTC books their block there is some heavy negotiating going on. CTC knows the value of their reputation and they know the cruise lines want them to be the ones filling their rooms. Along with being able to negotiate the very best prices for the very best cabins and suites, they are able to score some pretty amazing perks which you would never be able to get on that website.
See, the travel agents are the cruise lines best customers. Even if you cruise full-time, you are never going to be able to buy as many cruises as your travel agent does. So why would the cruise line give you the kind of discount your travel agent is getting? Why would they give you perks? The truth is, they wouldn’t.
Why You Should Let Them Do What They Do
It’s called service. Who do you think is going to be more willing to discuss shore excursions with you? A wholesaler who depends solely on volume or a retailer who heavily depends on repeat customers? And should something go wrong along the way (which happens more frequently than anyone wants to admit) who do you think is going to be more responsive? Good luck getting the wholesaler to respond to your calls and emails. At the show I heard about a cruise line who held an Australian cruise for several hours for one couple who booked with CTC. Who cares how cheap your cruise was if you never got to take it due to our weird weather in Dallas?
The Cruise Lines Know
A travel agent could have told me all this stuff and I would have listened politely while thinking, “uh huh, sure.” In fact, I’m pretty sure I heard most of this awhile back at a travel show from a travel agent. Then I went ahead and booked my cruise online. But these were the cruise lines talking. Many of them can take your reservation online and never have to involve anyone, not a wholesaler or an agent, but they know the score. They know all about the perks they give to the travel agents and who has access to the best prices for the best cabins and suites. They know the travel agent isn’t going to steer you to their decks unless you are the right cruiser for their ship and that you are more likely to cruise with them again if you are that right cruiser.
Yep, someday I’m taking that luxury river cruise and I can tell you right now that I’m booking with CTC. Next week we’ll talk about the Travel & Adventure Show, then (if I don’t get too long-winded) we’ll get back to the nostalgia!