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Friday, November 29, 2013

When the Middleman Makes a Difference

Here’s the disclaimer: I’m not a travel agent. I’ve never been a travel agent. I have no friends or family who are—or have ever been—travel agents.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, I’m going to talk about why you might want to book your cruise through a travel agent.

Since the launch of the internet, there’s been much said about the declining value of the middleman. And truth to be told, I’ve been travelling for decades and never used a travel agent. But cruising is one type of travel where we’ve really benefiting from using one.

Here’s why:
·       They’re knowledgeable. Particularly if you pick an agency that specializes in cruising. They can help you on everything you need to know from shore to ship and back again
·       They’ve got special privileges. Make a reservation directly through the cruise line and expect to pay your deposit right away. Many travel agents will give you several days to pay—they will even give you an extension

·       They give bennies. Always ask what shipboard credits are available. To be competitive, travel agents will give you shipboard credits, free meals in specialty restaurants, pay for your trip insurance—but you need to ask; they won’t volunteer

·       They can tell you when the price goes down—and get it for you. On one of our first Celebrity trips, several weeks after we booked, the price came way down. Our travel agent called and got us the lower price

·       They’re an emergency contact. If something should happen on your cruise, it’s nice to know you have someone to contact who knows how to work with the cruise lines

·       They provide personal service. A travel agent we worked with for many years called us after every trip to find out how it went. Who else does that?
But, you should also know—

·       They’re paid by commission. Always do your own research to make sure you’re getting guidance unbiased by their paycheck
·       They offer opinions. Sometimes, what masquerades as fact is really opinion. Or based on their own particular experiences. For example, we chose May for a trip to Alaska because a travel agent told us we’d see the least amount of rain. Okay, to be fair, they don’t control the weather. But it rained or was overcast six out of seven days (more on our Alaska trip in a later post)
While we feel like we’re near experts on Caribbean cruises at this point, we still use a travel agent. And for ease, peace of mind and more than a bit of help, we suggest you do, too.