Family Vacation Tips

Family Cruise Travel Agent vs Online Booking

[fa icon="calendar"] Oct 23, 2018, 4:31:00 PM / by Sally Black

Sally Black

3 RCCL ships"Why use a travel agent when I can book a cruise myself online?

Frankly there are plenty of reasons to work with a professional travel agent. We'll give you 7 good reasons here in this post. By the time you get done reading I'll bet you'll be saying "Why not book with a travel agent!"

Most people don't understand how travel agents work. Many people think travel agents are extinct...like corner video rental stores. I's no wonder folks don't understand all the benefits of having a great travel agent on your side working for you. 

 A travel agent that specializes in family travel knows the average parents only get about 15 chances to create memorable vacation experiences together while their children.  How do you want your kids to remember their childhood vacations? 

If you're trying to decide whether to reach out to a travel agent or go it alone, here are a few important points to consider:

How Do You Know You've Selected the Right Vacation?

72% of our clients end up booking a different vacation product from us compared to what they initially requested on our consultation forms. 

Why?....because most parents are not aware of all the family vacation options available to them.  If you're like most people, you probably plan a vacation maybe once or maybe twice a year.  Travel Agents eat/sleep/breath/study new travel products  every single day for thousands of different families . It's our job to insure our clients are fully informed about all the vacation options and choices available so they can make the right travel decisions for their families. 

If you book online or call a cruise line do you think they will tell you about a competitor's ship that has the exact features you're searching for?  Maybe a land based vacation would be a better fit for your family's circumstances and wish lists.  Did you know that you can pair a cruise vacation with a land based tour package or hotel stay.

Using a Travel Agent Doesn't Cost, it Saves

First point to understand is that travel agents are paid by sales commissions paid by the cruise lines.  The cruise prices you see online already include the cost of a travel agent commission which is generally around 10% (minus taxes and other fees).  If you book your cruise yourself, either by calling or online, the cruise line pockets the difference while you get to do all the work. 

Need help? Got Questions? You're on your own.

Second consider how much is your time worth per hour?  It takes the average person 10-20 hours to research, shop and decide which cruise to book. This number can easily double for first time cruisers or those traveling to distant, non-familiar ports....and that's the easy part.  A family cruise vacation usually includes pre or post cruise stays, researching and booking port sightseeing and activities, reviewing travel insurance coverage, selecting and booking ship board activities, flights and more. 

Imagine all the things you could enjoy doing if someone too care of this for you.

Agents Will Baby Sit Your Reservations

Every good travel agent knows it's important to book in far in advance for the best cabin availability and pricing.  Cruise lines publish rates and schedules about 1.5 to 2 years in advance. This is critically important when it comes to family cruises.  Most families sail during high demand weeks of school vacation. Often family cabins, especially those cabins that will accommodate families with 3 or more kids, sell out fast. To avoid disappointment, parents need to plan ahead to get the best availability. 

Cruise lines make profits when ships sail full.  Often they will offer last minute deals and perks as an incentive to fill remaining cabins.  Good agents know how to "baby sit" your reservations.  They watch watch cruise line sales, deals and perks. If your current reservation qualifies for any additional value, perk or upgrades, your agent will negotiate on your behalf to insure you get the best value possible.  Travel agents loving being super heroes.  There is no better feeling in the world to be able to call a client out of the blue to say..."Good Morning, Just wanted to say HI and say I've just saved you several hundred dollars".

Travel Agents know How to Play Deals and No Deal

Visit a cruise website at any given moment and you'll find a plethora of deals to make you pull the trigger.  Problem is most consumers don't fully understand or calculate cruise line marketing math. Many times those "BOGO" deals are created by upping the existing price of the 1st passenger to offer a perceived deal to the 2nd passenger.  Kids sail free deals often exist when parents pay higher rates.  Let's face it, the cruise lines want you to fill one of their cabins.  They will use every trick in the book.  Travel agents monitor cruise pricing every day.  We know whether an advertised sale price is a legit deal or just a marketing ploy.

 

Travel Agents Have Deals That You Don't

Travel agents can often get unpublished deals that are not available online.  These deals and perks can come from their professional organizations or be a reward thanks to their sales volumes.  Agents may also have established groups they can book your family into. This doesn't mean you'll have to eat dinner every night with a bunch of strangers. What it means is that your agent may be able to get you a better rate, extra perks like OBC (on board credit - extra money to spend during your cruise) or even find you availability during sold out weeks.  Travel agents also know how to capitalize on other deals offered by the cruise lines and can teach you how to make the most of your vacation budget.

 

Travel Agents Have Private Contacts

Sightseeing in exotic ports of call is one of the main reasons why families love the idea of a cruise vacation.  Shore excursions are a way to truly customize your family's travel experiences.  You may be perfectly satisfied taking the cruise line bus trip into Rome with 50 or so fellow passengers that drops you off 1/2 mile or so from the forum where you're guide gives you the same run down that 50 other passengers heard last week.  You'll wait for 40 min or so while everyone takes a bathroom break before resuming your drive by tour of the city and heading back to the ship.

For the same price or less, your travel agent can call her paisano pal Simone who will be right on time to pick up your family as you leave the cruise ship. His 12 passenger van can easily drive the narrow streets in Rome. He'll drop you off right in front of the Colosseum and leave you in the care of Andrea, who is the best local guide.  While all the other tourists schlep around in the "cheap seats" , Andrea will escort your family on the underground VIP tour where you'll experience the underground workings of the Colosseum and actually walk in the footsteps of Gladiators. They only allow a limited number of small groups down here each day so that is why this insider's tour is never offered to the folks on the big cruise line tour buses. 

Afterwards, Andrea will deliver your family back to a waiting Simone who will escort you down a stone alley where you'll enjoy a tasty, authentic lunch prepared by his family. You'll get this personalized service at the rest of your afternoon stops. Because you're not waiting for 50 other people, Simone will have you back at port before all the big buses so you don't have to wait in a long line to get back on board the ship. You'll have plenty of time to get ready for dinner and a fun filled night of entertainment.

Yes, experienced travel agents have these kind of personal relationships set up in just about every port of call.  They also know specialized guides for sports enthusiasts, history buffs, foodies, movie fans and more. These added touches are what turns a typical family cruise into an extraordinary and memorable experience.

Travel Agents Understand that Fine Print

Here travel agents can help you save your "assets" (pun intended!).

You know, all those pages of tiny font terms and conditions that you never read prior to making your online reservation but you go ahead and check the box anyway... Suddenly you get selected  jury duty for the same week as the cruise you've planned for over a year. You cannot get out of jury duty  and now you're out of pocket for the entire cost of your cruise through no fault of your own.   

Most folks don't realize their medical insurance does not cover them for emergency care outside of the U.S.  If you didn't know this and needed emergency medical care while on a cruise you may be faced with losing a lot more than just the cost of your vacation.

Chances are you didn't check with the state department to make sure that you have all the legal paperwork your family needed to cruise....but if you have a travel agent partner on your side, your agent would be looking out for you and preventing any of these situations, and a whole lot more, from ruining your family's vacation.

A family cruise is often a big ticket purchase for many families.  Why wouldn't you want professional help and guidance to get the most value out of your hard earned vacation time and dollars?

Really the only thing you give up when having a travel agent book your family cruise is control.  You won't be able to call the cruise line yourself to make any changes to your reservation.  The cruise line will only speak or make changes through your agent.

Of course there are those "Type-A" people out there who always need to be in control...and that's cool.  Many parents are so busy being busy that planning a cruise is just one more thing on their to-do list. Just know you're probably leaving some perks, deals and experiences on the table.  Then again, you probably won't miss what you don't know. That's the one great thing about travel, it is NOT a "one-size-fits-all" situation.

If you're new to cruising, looking to plan a celebration vacation with a family travel event or if you're just the type of person who appreciated customized planning and personal care then working with a travel agent who is experienced in family travel is most certainly the way to go.

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Topics: family vacations, Affordable Family Vacations, Family Vacation, family cruise, family vacation ideas

Sally Black

Written by Sally Black

Sally is the Founder of Vacationkids.com Travel Agency and author of the book "Fearless Family Vacations". She is also the Director of Travel Agent Initiatives and Training at The Family Travel Association.

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