Most people feel confident to book travel themselves these days: you go online, search for deals, then lock it in. But the cruise market is different, with a lot of fluctuations and quirks. That’s why the vast majority of travelers still use a travel agent for cruises.
Here's why you should think about using one:
Booking a cruise has a lot of moving parts. After locking in a rate itself, there’s choosing a cabin, booking the dinner seating, airfare, transfers, and possibly a land tour and travel insurance. Agents can do in a day what would be a weeks-long headache for many travelers.
Agents know these ships well. They can tell you about the ambiance, typical clientele, or kid-friendly atmosphere of one ship versus another—because they’ve more than likely been on these ships many times for familiarization trips, or learned about them repeatedly in cruise-education seminars.
They have an inside line on deals. They get the scoop on sales that may or may not show up the web, such as deals that bundle in extras like free shore excursion or onboard freebies.
They can give you a "group" advantage even when you’re not part of a group. Their agent status lets them book a lot of individual parties under discounted group rates.
They can get you a rebate after you book. Agents are always tracking the fluctuating rates and deals going on in the cruise industry. If your cruise goes down in price after you book, they can get you a rebate before you depart.
You have a resource if something goes wrong before or during your trip. What happens if you plane gets stuck in Chicago on your way to your departure port? Your agent can advocate for you and often cut through red tape—after all, they want to keep you as a client.
How to Book an Agent
Not every agent is perfect, of course, and even a good agent might not be right for you. Before you commit to one travel agent, make sure that:
They specialize in cruises—with an emphasis on Alaska. Look for titles such as cruise specialist, or cruise counselor at an agency.
They don’t just work with one or two cruise lines, which would limit your options.
They have some good credentials. Good signs to look for include accreditation as a cruise counselor through the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), or membership with the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), National Association of Cruise Oriented Agencies (NACOA) and Better Business Bureau (BBB). The web sites for ASTA and CLIA are good places to look for agent listings.
They don’t charge any service fees. Most agents get commissions from the cruise lines, not out of your pocket.