WHY YOU DON’T WANT TO BOOK A CRUISE YOURSELF
8 Reasons why you’re better off booking a family cruise through a travel agent than online
Why book with an agent?
Most people don't understand how travel agents work. In fact, many folks think that travel agents are extinct like those video rental stores. So it’s no wonder that travelers don't understand all the benefits of having an experienced travel agent working for them.
Here are 8 things to consider when deciding on how to book your next family cruise.
Editor’s note: This article is written by veteran travel agent and parent, Sally Black. You may be thinking to yourself, “Of course, she’s going to recommend using a travel agent. She is a travel agent. It’s in her best interest.” Yes, you’re correct. But we at KidTripster know Sally personally. And we also know that what she’s about to describe is true. Bottom line: We believe that using an experienced agent will save you money, time, and stress. Read on to see if you agree!
1/Have you selected the right vacation for your family?
In my agency, 72% of our clients end up booking a different vacation product from us compared to what they initially listed on their request forms. Why? Because most parents aren’t aware of all the family vacation options available to them. If you're like most people, you probably plan a vacation maybe once or twice a year. Travel agents eat, sleep, and breathe travel and are researching new travel products every single day for thousands of different families. It's our job to ensure that our clients are fully informed about all the vacation options available so that they can make the right travel decisions for their families.
If you book online or call a cruise line directly, do you think that company is going to tell you about a competitor's ship that has the exact features that you're searching for? Maybe a land-based vacation that would be a better fit for your family's needs? Or what about pairing a cruise vacation with a land-based tour package or hotel stay? The answer: no way.
2/Using a travel agent won’t cost you extra money but instead save it
Travel agents’ commissions are paid by the cruise lines. But understand this: the cruise prices that you see online already include the cost of a travel agent commission which is generally around 10% (minus taxes and other fees). If you book a cruise yourself, the cruise line pockets that commission even though you did all the work.
3/Need help? Got Questions? You're on your own.
How much is your time worth per hour? It takes the average person a minimum of 10 hours to research, shop, and then select which cruise to book. That time can easily double for first-time cruisers or those traveling to distant, non-familiar ports. And that’s the easy part! You’ll also need to book flights, arrange pre- or post-cruise stays, select and reserve on-board activities, research and select shore excursions, review travel insurance coverage, and more. Imagine all the other things that you could be doing with those hours! Instead, put a travel agent to work for you.
4/Agents will babysit your reservation
Every good travel agent knows that it's important to book in advance for the best cabin availability and pricing. Cruise lines publish rates and schedules about 1-1/2 to 2 years in advance. This is critically important when it comes to family cruises. Most families sail during high demand weeks. Often family cabins, especially those cabins that will accommodate families with three or more kids, sell out quickly. To avoid disappointment, parents need to plan ahead to get the best availability.
Cruise lines make profits when their ships sail at capacity. Often they will offer last-minute deals and perks as an incentives to fill remaining cabins. Good agents know how to babysit your reservation. They watch cruise line sales, deals, and perks. If your current reservation qualifies for any additional upgrades, your agent will negotiate on your behalf to ensure you get the best value possible. Travel agents love being super heroes. There’s no better feeling in the world than to call a client out of the blue and say, “Just wanted to let you know that I just saved you several hundred dollars!”
5/Travel agents know how to play “deal or no deal”
Visit a cruise website at any given moment and you'll find a plethora of deals that tempt you to pull the trigger. The problem? Most consumers don't fully understand cruise line marketing math. Many times, those BOGO (buy one, get one free) deals are created by upping the existing price of the first passenger to offer a so-called deal to the second passenger. “Kids sail free” deals often exist because parent prices are jacked up. Let's face it, the cruise lines want you to fill one of their cabins. They’ll use every trick in the book. Travel agents monitor cruise pricing every day. We know whether an advertised sale price is a legit deal or just a marketing ploy.
6/Travel agents have deals that you don’t
Travel agents often can get unpublished deals that are not available to you, the consumer. These deals and perks come from their professional organizations or may be a reward thanks to their sales volumes. Agents also may already have a group on your desired sailing to which they can add your family. That doesn't mean that you'll have to eat dinner every night with a bunch of strangers; it simply means that your agent may be able to get you a better rate, extra perks like OBC (on-board credit) or even find you availability during sold-out weeks. Travel agents also know how to capitalize on other deals offered by the cruise lines and can make the most of your vacation budget.
7/Travel agents have private shore contacts
Sightseeing in exotic ports of call is one of the main reasons why families love cruising. Shore excursions are a way to truly customize your family's travel experience. You may be perfectly satisfied taking the cruise line bus trip into Rome with 50 or so fellow passengers that drops you off a half mile from the Forum where your guide gives you the same rundown that 50 other passengers heard last week. You'll wait for 40 minutes while everyone takes a bathroom break before resuming your drive-by tour of the city and heading back to the ship.
For the same price or less, your travel agent can call her Italian pal Simone who’ll be right on time to pick up your family as you leave the cruise ship. His 12-passenger van can easily drive the narrow streets or Rome. He'll drop you off right in front of the Colosseum and leave you in the care of Andrea, who - in my opinion - is the best local guide. While all the other tourists schlep around in the "cheap seats,” Andrea will escort your family on the underground VIP tour, where you'll experience the subterranean workings of the Colosseum and walk in the footsteps of former gladiators. The Colosseum only allows a limited number of small groups down here each day, so that’s why this insider's tour is never offered to cruise line passengers on tour buses. Afterwards, Andrea will deliver your family back to Simone who’ll escort you down a stone alley where you'll enjoy a tasty, authentic lunch prepared by his family. You'll get this personalized service at the rest of your afternoon stops. Because you're not waiting for 50 other people, Simone will have you back at the port before all the big buses, so you won’t have to wait in a long line to board the ship. You'll have plenty of time to get ready for dinner and a fun-filled night of entertainment.
Yes, experienced travel agents have these kinds of personal relationships set up in just about every port of call. They also know specialized guides for sports enthusiasts, history buffs, foodies, movie fans, and more. These added touches are what turns a typical family cruise into an extraordinary and memorable experience.
8/Travel agents understand the fine print
A travel agent can help save your "assets" (pun intended!). You know all those pages of terms and conditions that you never read prior to making your online reservation but you go ahead and check the box anyway? Well, what happens when you’re suddenly selected for jury duty for the same week as your cruise and can’t get out of it? Now you're out the entire cost of your cruise through no fault of your own.
Or what about medical emergencies? Most folks don't realize that their medical insurance doesn’t cover emergency care outside of the USA. If you needed emergency medical care while on a cruise, you may be faced with losing a lot more than just the cost of your vacation.
If you have a travel agent partner on your side, he or she will be looking out for you and preventing any of these situations - and a whole lot more - from ruining your family's vacation.
The only thing that you really give up when having a travel agent book your family cruise is control. You won't be able to call the cruise line yourself to make any changes to your reservation. The cruise line will only speak to or make changes through your agent. But frankly, many parents are so busy that they don’t mind leaving the details to someone else.
Sally Black is the founder of the travel agency Vacation Kids and author of the book, “Fearless Family Vacations.” She’s also the Director of Travel Agent Initiatives and Training for the Family Travel Association.
If you’d like Sally to help you plan your next cruise, use this link to contact her. Vacation Kids is a trusted KidTripster partner. Know that if you decide to book with her, KidTripster gets some coffee money at no additional cost to you. Thanks for your support.