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Choosing The Right Travel Agent
by Chris Dikmen, Managing Editor

Chris DikmenRegular visitors to already know that I am a big believer in the value of using a travel agent to book a cruise vacation. Some find it peculiar that an "Internet Guy" like me would not be in favor of going online and booking a cruise on the Internet. After all, the Internet is supposed to make our lives easier, isn't it? And, you always get a better price when you book it yourself, right? Well...not necessarily. The reality is that the new culture of online shopping is driven more by corporate insatiable hunger to reduce costs, and not as a result of consumer demand.

"That's just crazy talk", you say. Allow me to illustrate. Today, virtually all airlines require that you book online (or by calling the airline's toll free number). Back 'in the day', you would call your travel agent, tell him or her when and where you wanted to go and he or she would use their computer to research and find the best deal. The airline paid the travel agent a commission for handling the transaction, you got a better deal, and everyone was happy. That was, until airlines found out how well travel agents were at getting you a good deal. In an effort to better serve their customers, travel agents came up with all kind of "tricks" to save their customers hundreds or thousands of dollars on expensive airline tickets. Needless to say, airlines were not too keen on paying a commission to someone who was ultimately going to prevent them from gouging you on an expensive airline ticket.

The airlines, in their infinite wisdom, decided a few years ago that they could eliminate the commission they were paying to travel agents and at the same time, force customers into buying the higher priced tickets (since there would be no seasoned professional to do the research for them). Surely, this strategy would save the airlines and return them to profitability. Well, you know how that turned out.

  • The travel agents lost their commissions and thousands went out of business as a result.
  • The traveling public no longer had an advocate to assist them in getting the best airline deal. You are now required to do your own research online, or, sit on hold with the airline's toll-free number.
  • The airlines continue to lose money at a dizzying pace.

When the cruise industry was just getting started in the 70's (after the hit TV show The Love Boat), it turned to travel agents to sell the cruise product to consumers. Up until that time, travel agents were primarily in the business of selling airline tickets to business travelers. With an airline ticket, there was not a lot of "selling" involved. Basically, the agent was an "order taker" and researcher. Over the past 30 years, the industry has changed dramatically. As the airlines were gradually (or not so gradually) phasing out commissions, the cruise industry began to explode. Intelligent travel agents saw the writing on the wall, so to speak, and quickly figured out that they could make more money selling a $2,000 cruise vacation at 10% to 15% commission than selling a $300 airline ticket at 3%.

Today, the cruise industry has grown to the point that it can easily sustain thousands of travel agents who sell nothing but cruises. That being said, here are some of the reasons that I believe using a travel agent is a smart choice when booking a cruise:
  • It does not cost you anything to use a travel agent because they are paid a commission by the cruise line.
  • You will probably save money because a good travel agent has connections and knows how to get the best deals. Remember, when cruise lines have special offers or deals, they inform the travel agents first. After all, that is their field sales force. Without a good travel agent, you may never see these deals.
  • You have an advocate that can intervene on your behalf if there is a problem.
  • You have someone to call if there is a problem. Try calling a reservation agent at a cruise line for help if you book directly with the cruise line. Good luck!

Perhaps the most important decision you can make in booking a cruise is the selection of a qualified professional cruise consultant. Technically speaking, any travel agent can book a cruise for you. However, many travel agents are not cruise consultants.




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