Cruise week: 5 questions when you use a travel agent

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Editor Randall Shirley on his least-favorite cruise ever, planned with the "assistance" of the wrong travel agent.

Editor Randall Shirley on his least-favorite cruise ever, planned with the “assistance” of the wrong travel agent. The itinerary was San Diego to Hawaii (and back), at holiday time. It was cold much of the time, and the ship was packed with families and children.

It’s “cruise week.” One of the times during the year when the members of CLIA mutually agree to have a coordinated “sale.” Frankly, I see so many advertised deals and discounts throughout the year that it’s hard to believe “cruise week” actually deserves much hype. This is when it’s good to use a travel agent.

A good, cruise focused travel agent can tell you if it’s a good deal–the right deal for you.

As Mark and I have discovered by attending 2 recent Cruise3sixty conferences, the cruise companies love travel agents, and still see agents as their primary sales force—unlike the airlines and hotels who have mostly abandoned travel agent relationships in favor of direct internet bookings. The cruise companies work very hard at nurturing their relationships with agents. Based on my own experience and conversations with travel agents through the years, here are 5 crucial questions to ask before “hiring” a cruise travel agent.

1. How many cruises have you personally sold to people like me (i.e., gay, similar income bracket, taste, interests, luxury/budget expectations).
    • You want to ensure your agent understands YOU, and has experience in selling a cruise experience that you will enjoy.
2. Have you actually taken a cruise  on the line you are suggesting to me—and not just a ship inspection or company training?
    • As Mark and I have discovered, many agents visit cruise ships during events like Cruise3sixty. We’ve tagged along and explored, and we know that while it’s illuminating and useful info can be collected, it’s not the same as taking a real cruise on the ship.
3. Do you have a solid track record with the cruise line that can assure me of not only the best price, but your ability to successfully trouble-shoot on my behalf if something is not right at any time before or during the cruise?
  • Agents—and the companies they work for—can have varying levels of relationships with the cruise lines. Some agents become highly-experienced specialists with a handful of lines, and know how to make things work best for their customers who book specific lines.
Editor Randall Shirley on his best-ever agent-booked cruise, the Royal Caribbean Legend of the Seas through the Panama Canal.

Editor Randall Shirley on his best-ever agent-booked cruise, the Royal Caribbean Legend of the Seas through the Panama Canal.

4. Beyond the commission you are paid by the cruise company, is there any additional fee for using your services?
  • Unless the agent provides other services that are truly exceptional (i.e., booking non-ship shore excursions, hotels, cars, etc.) there should not be an additional fee, and the agent should be providing you a competitive price.
5. What percentage of your customers represent repeat business?
  • There is no better endorsement than a repeat customer, seconded only by a referral. If an agent doesn’t have a substantial percentage of repeats and referrals, you’d probably do best to use a different agent.

If you already have a great relationship with a cruise travel agent, they will be able to honestly tell you whether the “deals” they can offer you exclusively during “cruise week” are worth hurrying to put your money on.

What do you think? Are you a travel agent with additional thoughts or different opinions than ours? Chime in on the conversation in the “reply” box below.


  • Stuart Falk

    Since most travel agents remuneration is based exclusively on commissions, they are incentivized to sell those cruises offering the highest payout rather than serving the interests of their clients. Of course, there are exceptions, but they are few and far between and certainly are not among the large online cruise sellers who advertise on sites like Cruise Critic. That’s why, when possible (and like many travel agents, they only sell the big lines), if not booking directly with the cruise line, I book through Costco Travel, where all of the agents are salaried employees (with generous benefits) and which match the best offers to be found with other consortium member agencies.https://www.costcotravel.com