Should you use a travel agent to book your cruise vacation?

If you have a trusted travel agent who has helped you book your vacations in the past, then most likely, you will use them again to book your cruise package.

The rest of us will enjoy planning and booking our own cruise vacation. We will take the time to research cruise options, compare flight and hotel prices, choose the best transport options, read reviews, join group chats to get more inside info and tips, and speak to cruise consultants who work for the cruise line.

However, here are five specific situations where it makes sense to consider booking a cruise package with a travel agent. Because most often, we do need the whole package, including flights, the cruise itself, pre and post-cruise hotel accommodation, and transportation.

These are easy-to-follow guidelines that will help you save money and create value.

We will also address some general statements you come across when you read articles on whether travel agents are a thing of the past.

1. Accessing special flight prices to get you and to and from your cruise port

Generally speaking, visiting price comparison sites like Momondo, Kayak, and Skyscanner will find the cheapest flight prices online. 

But then there are the special prices where you need to meet specific criteria to be allowed to book. These prices are often only available at traditional travel agencies. Examples would be:

  • Tour operator fares if you also need to book accommodation or rental car
  • Youth prices where you need to be of a certain age
  • Student prices where you need to produce a valid student ID

Airlines are very strict about following the rules for these types of ticket prices. And as of today, there is no proven and effective way for price comparison sites and Online Travel Agents to know when to show these prices.

So, if you are looking for a particular flight price, consider booking with a travel agent for the best possible price and terms.

2. Save money when booking flights for more than two travelers

If you travel as a family or a group of friends, you could save money using a skilled and experienced travel agent.

To understand the concept, we need to look at how airlines use so-called booking classes to control inventory (available seats) and revenue (price per seat).

Most commercial airlines divide their airplanes into cabins. Examples would be Economy, Premium Economy, and Business. 

Each Cabin is, in its turn, divided into a set number of booking classes. Each booking class is then given a total number of seats and a price per seat.

It could look like this:

Economy Class
T
K
L

Number of seats
10
10
20

Price per seat
50
75
100

Business Class
C
D

Number of seats
10
20

Price per seat
200
275

Generally, we would move to a higher booking class and price per seat when available seats in the lower booking class are sold out.

But this is not the whole truth. Imagine that available seats instead look like below:

Economy Class
T
K
L

Number of seats
1
2
9

Price per seat
50
75
100

When a family of four searches online, most booking engines would return a result of 4 seats in booking class L at the total cost of $400.

The reason is that the L booking class is the lowest available class with four available seats.

However, a skilled travel agent could create a booking below at a lower cost of $300.

One seat in T class ( 1x 50)
Two seats in K class (2×75)
One seat in L class (1×100)

This would likely be three separate bookings, but your travel agent would link them together in the reservation system.

But how would you know if this is possible? Start your search looking for one seat, then two seats, and so on.

But you should also be able to ask your travel agent as that level of trust must exist in any good professional working relationship.

3. Combination trips to a new destination you have never visited before

You should always contact a travel agent if you plan a combination trip with several independent components to a new destination.

Choose a travel agent with experience booking to your desired destination, or better still, if they have been there and can advise you based on personal experience.

  • Experience will ensure you are protected against booking a trip during the rainy season. 
  • Expertise would safeguard against missing essential details, such as a planned safari that requires a transit visa.
  • The volume would allow you to benefit from preferential treatment and more competitive prices.

When you plan trips that include flights, hotels, transfers, tours, and a cruise, many details could go wrong.

And it is in situations like this that specialty travel agencies shine.

And no, it does not have to be expensive. Any good travel agency should have preferential rates where you end up paying the same as you would booking directly, and they pocket the commission paid to them by their supplier.

4. When your time is worth more to you than money

Booking with a travel agent should be stress-free and save you time. 

You set a budget and discuss with your travel agent what you want from your vacation. A good travel agent will put together two or three suggestions for your vacation, and you work together to create your ideal holiday package at a price you are willing to pay.

From there, your travel agent will handle all the details, inform you of any itinerary changes and help you with information such as visas, vaccinations, check-in procedures, and more. They do all the planning and booking for you, saving you valuable time.

5. Airline stopover packages

If you are booking long-haul international flights, some airlines offer stopover packages. 

A clever travel agent can identify a route where you can take advantage of a stopover package. This means you can explore an exciting city on the way to your final destination. And beat jet lag by breaking up your long journey with a good night’s sleep. 

Often this is possible if your layover is, for example, longer than 6 or 8 hours. The airline will offer a heavily discounted package price on transfer to/from a city hotel, hotel overnight with breakfast, and even a city excursion can be included. 

Some stopover packages allow up to 3 nights’ stopover. The stopover packages can be booked by your travel agent in the Global Distribution System (GDS) at the same time as your flight booking, saving you time and money and creating a seamless journey. 

Some examples could be Singapore Airlines (Singapore), Air China (Beijing), and Emirates (Dubai) but always check with a travel agent for the latest information.

Three myths about the benefits of using a travel agent

As we have noted above, there are times when it makes sense to book your cruise vacation with a travel agent. But with the technological advances, the marketplace is becoming much more competitive and difficult for the broad and general travel agent.

Whereas there still can be a place for skilled, experienced, and specialized travel agencies, the following three myths are long gone as general truths:

1. Travel agents save you money

Generally speaking, a travel agent will not save you money. However, a good travel agent will not charge you more than you would pay to book directly and will instead earn commissions from partner cruise lines, airlines, and hotel suppliers.

The problem for the general travel agent is that many products are offered below cost in the online marketplace. And when the travel agent does not specialize, they may find it difficult to sell the volumes necessary with individual airlines or cruise lines, to benefit from preferential rates, and remain competitive with their customers.

2. Travel agents offer personal service and support 24/7

This may or may not be true. But it would be best to verify before you assume that your travel agent provides 24/7 personal support and international contact numbers.

If something does wrong with your travel arrangements late on a Sunday afternoon and the airline refers you to your travel agent as you booked a package vacation, will your agent answer your call?

Nowadays, 24/7 access across all time zones is a major selling point for airlines and major hotel providers.

3. Travel agents are specialists

Again, verify before you assume that your travel agent is a specialist.

The word specialist is an extensive term. Booking a flight in the Global Distribution System that all travel agents use requires skills and expertise and is, in many ways, not destination specific. Some commands show availability, sell a seat, and price the booking regardless of destination.

On the other hand, if you plan a trip to Europe, Singapore, or Hawaii, you would want a destination specialist. The flight would be a part of it, but you would also want someone who has put together fantastic and successful trips in the past with rave reviews to prove it. 

The harsh reality for many travel agencies is that they have to serve the business that comes their way. And with this follows an industry with more travel generalists and fewer travel specialists.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it worth booking through a travel agent?

There are situations where you should contact your travel agent for a quote. These include when you are booking complicated trips, need expertise, qualify for special prices, or book flights for large groups. But generally speaking, you will save money if you book yourself online.  

How do I know if a travel agency is legit?

Reputable travel agents are often members of international associations such as The International Air Transport Association (IATA), The American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA), and The International Airlines Travel Agent Network (IATAN).  

It is also advisable to visit online travel portals and read reviews. And if there are no reviews to read, that should also tell you something.

Furthermore, you can contact consumer protection agencies and ask for advice. 

And finally, if you doubt the travel agent you are in contact with, please find another travel agent to work with. There are so many good and reputable travel agencies out there – there is no need to risk your hard-earned money.

Book flights through a travel agent versus online

When you are booking just flights, you will most of the time save money booking online; There are some situations where a travel agent can be useful if you qualify for special prices or book larger groups of people. 

How much do travel agents make per booking?

A good and professional travel agent should be prepared to share the fees charged. Ideally, the travel agent will not charge you more than you pay if booking directly, and will make a living from commissions from travel partners and suppliers.

Is it cheaper to book flights online or with a travel agent?

In most cases, it would be less expensive to book flights online.

Meet the author: With more than 20 years experience from the travel industry, Mattias offers tips, expert advice and a unique perspective anchored in having worked with market leading cruise lines, tour operators, consolidators, airlines and hospitality suppliers. Read more..