Many people who think about booking a family cruise for the first time don’t think about working with a cruise specialists. Or, they may dismiss the idea out of hand. Websites like Orbitz, Tripadvisor.com, and Expedia provide excellent tools for comparing different travel options, checking out detailed reviews, and figuring out what’s the best deal for your family. But, if you rely solely on this route when it comes to planning your family cruise, you will very likely be leaving free money on the table. Using cruise specialists can save you time and money. And they can give you access to additional valuable perks that you won’t get from your usual online sites.
There are many reasons families should book their cruises using cruise specialists. You can find 5 excellent ones described here in this great post on Cruise Fever. But the reasons I really want to focus on are the potential monetary benefits. So many people have been conditioned to believe that they can do a better job saving money if they follow the DIY route. It works for hotels, flights and other travel items, why wouldn’t the same hold true for cruises? But it really doesn’t. Cruise specialists can save you money, and can keep on saving you money even after you book.
Related Content: Try These Top Ways To Stretch Your Family Cruise Dollars
Cruise Specialists Have Access to Valuable Incentives at Booking
So, what exactly do I mean by “monetary benefits”? It’s not things like a bouquet of flowers and a note, or an invitation to a shipboard cocktail party. I mean perks and savings that essentially put money or keep money in your pocket. Things like on board credit. This is a credit on your ship account that you can spend on whatever you want – spa services, internet packages, photos, shore excursions. You name it. An on board credit is literally money that is taken off of whatever bill you have racked up while you were sailing. Is this going to be some huge $500 credit? Probably not. But a smaller sum like $50 has real value. After all, if you passed a $50 bill on street, would you really leave it there?
Other potential free amenities that have monetary value could include a free dinner at a specialty restaurant, complementary shore excursions, airport transfers, prepaid gratuities, or free drink packages.
My favorite perks are bonus frequent flier miles. Many times, I have been able to accrue 30,000 to 60,000 miles via a cruise promotion. I also consider this free money. The miles or points translate to dollars I don’t have to spend on flights and hotels. Travel awards that can be used on our next vacation.
Cruise specialists will usually stack their promotional benefits on top of whatever promotions the cruise line happens to be running. So, for instance, if a cruise line were offering a two-sail-for-the-price-of-1 promotion, you would still get the benefit of that promotional pricing.
And, these additional benefits flow at no additional cost to you. You will not be charged for using the services of a cruise specialist. Travel agencies do make their money through commissions. But, the cruise lines pay those commissions, not the passengers. (Caveat: If you are working with a travel agent who is planning your entire vacation, this is a different type of premium service that may involve additional fees. You can get more guidance on this from How Travel Agents Get Paid.)
Cruise Specialists Can Provide More Value After Booking.
Cruise specialists can continue to put money in your virtual pocket after you make your booking. Cruise lines often change the prices of various sailings, or offer new and better promotions. But, unlike flight fares, you can actually benefit from sales that take place weeks or months after you first book your cruise. The cruise line will not, however, automatically give you the benefit of a better price. A good cruise specialist can help you track that and request that any new credits or promotions be applied. This last point deserves emphasis because it happens all the time. There have been dozens of occasions where we have saved hundreds of additional dollars, and sometime even thousands of dollars, based on subsequent promotions or fare adjustments.
Moreover, experienced cruise specialists are repeat players. So, they can more efficiently and knowledgeably address issues with your cruise line. They are more likely to know the right questions to ask, or requests to make. Items that you would not think of, and that the reservation agent is not in a position to volunteer.
Where to Find the Cruise Specialists
So, where do you find the good cruise specialists? As with most things in life, a personal referral is usually a great place to start. Do you know someone who has cruised before or who cruises often? Ask them for a personal contact.
Other places to look include your membership or affinity groups, or your favorite frequent flier or frequent travel program. Some examples of airlines and other partners that offer their own cruise promotions: American Airlines, Delta Airlines, United Airlines, Spirit Airlines, Jet Blue Airways, Marriott Rewards, Hilton Hotels, Choice Hotels. I used several different agents for my first few cruises. I met each of them through various credit card or frequent flier promotions. If you participate at a significant level in any airline, hotel or other programs, you should check whether they offer travel agent services.
You can also search for agents in your area on the websites of relevant professional organizations such as the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) (focus on cruise specialists) or Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).
Finally, when you are consulting with a prospective agent, find out whether she has firsthand experience with the cruises that interest you. You should expect something more than the ability to read and summarize from cruise line documentation.
Do You Have Anything to Lose?
So, do you really have anything to lose by working with a good cruise specialist? Not really. If you work through a cruise specialist, you may gain access to additional promotional perks and have a better opportunity to take advantage of later sales or fare drops. On the flip side, you won’t gain anything extra by doing it all yourself. Cruise lines don’t generally provide any additional incentives for booking directly with them. Any cruise line sponsored incentives will also be available through an agent.
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Closing Thoughts: Your family vacation planning can be significantly improved by using cruise specialists. This comes at no additional cost to you. And, for those folks who say that a big part of the fun in a vacation is doing research and planning, great! Do all the research your heart desires. But, you can still call upon the services of cruise specialists as it comes time to book.
Have you received interesting or valuable perks booking your cruise through a cruise specialist? Please share your experience in the comments.
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