Cruise Specialist: How to Buy a Cruise

| Updated October 4, 2007

The Best Ways to Buy a Cruise: How to Find a Cruise Specialist This article has been updated because many sales policy changes were enacted by the cruise lines in 2005. By far, the biggest change was the adoption of "flat pricing" rules by Royal Caribbean and Carnival, including most of their subsidiary companies.

There are many ways to buy a cruise; you can visit your local travel agent, call a nationwide agency that specializes in cruise sales, or book it online without ever speaking to another human being. Is one way any better than the other? Like many things in life, it depends, but the answer is our recommended method for booking cruises often yields the best results, and if not, it never hurts to try and see what happens - there is nothing to lose.

If you are NOT already familiar with cruising, we recommend doing research first and then consulting a cruise professional (we recommend using an agent who is certified as a Master Cruise Counselor, or MCC) to help you book your first cruise. But if you already have a cruise or two under your belt, and you are ready to make your own decisions, then go to the internet and start looking for the best bargain you can find.

Who are the Best Online Cruise Agencies?

The largest travel agencies online for air and hotels are not necessarily the best for cruises. Only a small minority of the thousands of transactions they handle every day are cruises. Almost all of their transactions are done electronically, so if you have a problem during your cruise, you are better off with the name and phone number of a real cruise expert you can contact directly. It is nearly impossible to establish a personal relationship with the non-cruise specialized mega-travel web sites, and just because they are the biggest it does not mean their prices are the lowest. Often they are not.

The best cruise bargains we see anywhere come from cruise-specialist agencies with a solid presence on the Internet who offer both 1-800 telephone and online booking engine options. Why? Because these agencies sell hundreds of cruises monthly and make their profit from the large volume. The interactive nature of the Web, with its instant pricing updates, makes it possible for you to seek out the lowest prices for most cruise available.

The trick is to first find an online cruise travel agent and go to their online booking engine. Start to check through their various ships and cruising regions, and take note that identical cruises can vary in price greatly depending on the sail date. There are several of these agencies online. Simply consult our CruiseMates Cruise Bargains!

Why Not a Neighborhood Travel Agent?You certainly can use your local agent, and many people feel more comfortable having an actual face to face exchange when it comes to handing over large sums of money. However, rarely will your local travel agent be able to beat the price of an online agency because they don't sell the same amount of volume.*

Wny Use an Internet Cruise Agency? Online cruise agencies are real people, in many cases some of the most experienced cruise sellers you could ever find. Though many of them have online booking engines, we recommend that you call the agency's 1-800 telephone number to book your cruise. At the same time you also establish a relationship, so if you ever have a problem down the road you know who to ask for.

Note: there are agencies that refuse to do business in any method other than email. CruiseMates does not recommend these agencies. The possibility that something could go wrong and require immediate attention from your agent is too real to take that chance. The best online agencies not only have great prices, they also offer time-proven cruise experts just a phone call away - ready to deal with any problem.

The Trick to Cruise Savings is Knowing What You Want.Before you book a cruise you have to do research: compare destinations, ships, cabin categories, sail dates and prices.

Once you see the cruise you want, pick up the phone and call that agency. Many of the new flat pricing rules forbid an agency to "advertise" or display on their website any prices that are lower than the cruise line's own price for that specific cruise. What they do allow, however, is for an agent who is in private conversation with a customer, by telephone or email, to sweeten the offer with discounts, onboard credit or other perks - depending on which cruise line is involved. It pays to make that phone call - you get the best of both worlds; expert assistance and often better prices.

Can You Trust the Cruise Agency? The agents you see in our Cruise Bargains are official CruiseMates Sponsors. They are all certified and well-established cruise agencies that in general have been in business for many years and have sold thousands of cruises. We stand by their credentials, but cannot get involved in singular disputes.

What are an agency's cruise professional credentials? Every legitimate cruise agency should have at least two affiliations: CLIA and ASTA. Before you book your cruise you should verify the agents legitimacy by doing the following:

  • Ask the agent for their professional credentials: CLIA and ASTA identification numbers. Then go to the web sites (click links above) for these organizations and check the agent's credentials. For CLIA you will need the agency's zip code.
  • Ask if the cruise line (not the travel agent) will be charging your credit card (the cruise line should charge the card). Get a confirmation number for your booking, and then go to the cruise line website to verify your booking.
  • With a credit card you can check your credit card account online to see if your card was charged properly. If you pay by check you should get a booking number by the cruise line within a week or so

Be aware that many states have laws that say travel agents cannot hold funds for future cruises. If an agent tells you they charge a service fee if you use a credit card, watch out! The credit card is supposed to be processed by the cruise lines, and they do NOT charge service fees. If it is a very reputable agency telling you this, there might be some truth to it, but if it is "Joe's Cruises" with a P.O. box, watch out.

In the few cases where a cruise agent has been "busted" it is because they are taking money from customers and not booking the cruise right away. If you pay for a cruise by credit card, you should receive your booking number from the cruise line as soon as you make your full deposit. If you pay by check, you might have to wait until the funds clear. Always tell your agent you want your cruise booking number as soon as possible, that is the best way to know they have passed the check on to the cruise line. With mail delivery of a full deposit check, it should not take more than 10 days to get a booking number.

Cruise Shopping in CruiseMates:
How to Buy a Cruise Online
  1. Select your Ship, Sailing Date & Cabin
  2. Shop for the Best Price
  3. Determine whether you want to call their toll-free number or book online.
  4. Follow Up

    Step 1: Preparing to Buy Your Cruise: Questions to ask yourself:
  • How much do I want to spend?
  • Where in the world do I want to go?
  • How many days will I be gone?
  • Do I want a newer or older ship?

These questions are important and should all be decided before you begin the booking process. Assuming you have decided all of these questions you can actually narrow your choices down to a specific sailing date, ship and cabin category. If so, you are ready to book online.

Step 2: Shopping for the Best Price CruiseMates offers several ways to find your best price. We recommend a start in Cruise Bargains to see the best deals our sponsors have to offer. Why? Because we know our sponsors are national agencies, specializing in cruising, who deal in volume to give you the best price possible. Then, click on the links above for our newsletters. These often contain the kinds of bargains that agencies are not allowed to advertise online.

Step 3: Book Your Cruise! Once you have found your cruise; ship, cabin, saildate and price, check your pricing on the telephone and online. In many cases you can save as much as 10% by booking it yourself online. If that is the case, and you know exactly what you want then by all means book it online.

Step 4: Follow Up Especially if you book your cruise online it is important to follow up. For online bookings, check your email immediately. Make sure you get a confirmation number and that the charge amounts are correct. Double-check your credit card statement to make sure your cruise was charged (and by whom). Most cruise lines now allow you to follow up on their web sites using your confirmation number to access your booking information. You cag time and order shore tours online.

Related Articles: Online Booking vs Live Travel Agent Understanding Cruise Line Ads Finding the Right Travel Agent
* A larger volume means lower prices for several reasons. Larger producers are often paid a higher commission, which gives the agent the some wiggle room on the pricing for the cruise lines who allow that. The large sellers also get what are called "overrides" whenever they sell a certain number of cabins. They also negotiate lower prices and hold inventory as group space.

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