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By PAUL MOTTER
You can book a cruise without talking to a travel agent, but it isn't the best idea. Whether you book your cruises directly with the cruise lines or you already have a travel agent that you use all the time, I encourage you to read the following...
How do you know you are getting the best deal?
If you are booking directly with the cruise lines
I can guarantee there is a travel agent in this newsletter who can give you a better offer.
If you already have a travel agent, you may be getting the best deal already, or you may not.
If you are an experienced cruiser you probably already know the cruise agencies featured in this newsletter. They are among the nation's biggest volume cruise sellers. Yet price alone only goes so far. Service is equally important. Well, you can get the best of both worlds.
We live in good world. The Web offers us the latest, most accurate information possible, (as long as you use reliable web sites) including instant access to these cruise deals. The only way you could have found this information 10 years ago was to first find out who the biggest cruise sellers are and then to call each of them individually.
In almost every case, they were already selling cruises in volume well before the Internet was in your home. They used to mail out thousands of flyers week after week. They originally advertised in newspapers and travel magazines, and some of them still do. But the Internet enables them to reach out and find customers around the world.
These agencies specialize in selling cruises to people like you - people who want a great value on their cruise, and the best possible service. These people know the cruise business. They may deal in volume, selling hundreds of cruises weekly, but they still understand that great customer service is a big part of being competitive.
You are a savvy shopper - I am sure the concept of cruise sales specialization makes sense to you.
How to Buy a Cruise Online
How can I be so confident in saying you won't get a better price going directly to the cruise line? Because cruising is one industry that will not undercut the travel agents, they rely on them for 90% of their sales. One cruise line tried it several years ago, and was practically drummed out of the business.
Bottom line, you may get as good a deal by going directly to the cruise line, but you will never get a better deal. On the other hand, you can, and very often will, get a better deal by buying a cruise through a discount cruise travel agency than by going directly to the cruise line.
How does this work? Cruise agents get their commission from the cruise lines, not from the customer at all. In addition, some agents are so competitive they cut their commissions and pass the savings on to the customer, a practice known as "rebating" (which many people would prefer we just didn't talk about).
CruiseMates' sponsors are legendary in the world of cruising. One of them invented the concept of "rebating". Another one of our sponsors was named cruise agency of the year (for the most recent year) by three different cruise lines: Royal Caribbean, NCL and Oceania Cruises. That is quite an accomplishment.
Does that mean you will get a better price from a cruise agent every time? Not every single time, but it does mean you should never be quoted a higher price than the cruise line quotes. In the case of some cruise lines, a cruise agent will match the direct sales price plus give you a bonus incentive like free cruise insurance, spa/casino credits, free shore excursions, free transfers -- something you would not get if you boughty directly from the cruise line.
This is where the rules of cruise sales get complicated (to really get the nitty gritty on how cruise sales work, read our article Understanding Cruise Pricing - the Master Class).
There are many ways a good cruise agent can make your deal sweeter than going directly to the cruise lines. And if a cruise line is offering you an incentive for booking with them, rest assured a cruise agency can give you the same incentive plus more.
So, how do we recommend you proceed? Scan the deals you see in this newsletter. When you see an offer you like click on the link. If you like what you see on the agent's web site then we recommend that you call them and ask about the cruise you are considering. Ask them what the latest special offers are for that cruise, and possibly others similar to it. Let them make you an unbelievable offer. You'll be happy you did.
Cruise Savings Tip
Assuming you already know what ship, cabin category, sail date and itinerary you want, what is the one thing you can vary to get the most savings? For reasons that make more sense to the cruise lines than they do to us, the answer is that if you are flexible on the sail date you may save as much as 40%.
The cruise lines engage in a practice called yield management. Their goal is to sail every cruise at 100% capacity, and they do a very good job of it.
What this means to you, the consumer, is that the ships that currently have more staterooms still unbooked on any particular sail date are more attractive in price.
Should you book early or book late? The answer is "it depends on what kind of cabin you want." If you want a nice balcony cabin or suite, the best prices are farthest out (up to a year). These cabins sell out first. But, if your goal is simply to get on the cruise as cheaply as possible, then wait until the last minute and be ready to accept an interior stateroom (inside cabin) with no windows.