If it seems that there are always cruise sales, bonus bargains, special offers and past-guest only programs available when booking a cruise vacation, there is a good reason. There are. Cruise lines constantly bombard us with discounts and reduced price offers ranging from 25 to 50% or more off regular pricing. Knowing how to weave our way through the complex matrix of pricing options requires a little work but can reap huge rewards and ultimately the very best cruise value.
The first trick to making it all work is to get our heads in the right place. Thinking about just the lowest price, like we might when looking for the best rate from point A to point B for an airfare purchase can be dangerous business. Unlike airfares where we have a pretty good idea what the experience will be like, cruise vacations can differ greatly depending on how they are booked. Booking airfare we go into the search thinking “I need the least expensive flight from New York to Los Angeles on October 12″. If we belong to a frequent-flyer club on certain airlines, prefer a certain seating location or flight times, we weigh those variables as well but there are few other factors to consider.
Booking a cruise vacation we really can’t say “I need the least expensive ride around the Caribbean around October 12.” Well, we could but cruise lines have ongoing offers, discounts, promotions and deals that we may not know about. Going directly to the cruise line website may or may not reveal the best value. And value is the key, not low price. Often, value trumps low price with a cruise vacation and by paying slightly more, huge gains can be had. That said, the best place for serious travelers to find the best value for a cruise vacation is with a travel agent specializing in cruise vacations.
But where to find one? That is often the big question
“A competent travel adviser can be your greatest asset when you’re planning a trip” says consumer advocate Chris Elliott. “Good travel agents have an edge over almost any other seller of travel. They know what you want. They speak your language.”
But how to go about finding one of these good agents is the trick. Consider these suggestions to help with the hunt:
Start by getting your head in the right place. To get the most out of a travel agent, you and that agent need to be working on a long-term business relationship that will benefit you far into the future. If you think along those critical lines, you already eliminate a whole lot of travel agents who are just in it for the commission.
Make a list and check it twice
Asking friends and family, maybe business associates, who they use is a great way to find a potential candidate. If you work for a large company that has a travel desk or uses one exclusive agency, that might be a good place to start also.
Start by asking questions of potential agents. “Are you certified?”, “How long have you been selling cruises? and other revealing questions are a must.
Test the waters
One of the big advantages of using a travel agent is saving time but a spending a little time up front locating that good agent is worth it.
At some point, you have to take the leap to using a travel agent. Try it on a simple booking you might have done online by yourself in the past. See first-hand if that agent comes through with a better value and overall better travel experience.
If they do, you have found your agent. If not, keep looking. The benefits of finding an agent right for you that produces good results is worth the investment of your time.