A few months pass and your vacation is fast approaching and you have put money aside to pay the final payment on your cruise. You call the 800 number from the Internet travel site and wait 10 minutes on hold. The person on the other end reads a script and asks you to verify who you are before they proceed. He offers you an insincere congratulations on the purchase of your cruise and then asks which credit card you’ll be using, even though he gets your name wrong a few times. You make the final payment and begin the countdown to your cruise vacation.
The day before your cruise you are scrambling to get everything together and finalize packing. The morning of your flight you are hurrying around trying to get to the airport on time and hoping (ok, praying) that your flight is not delayed or cancelled. You arrive to the cruise port by taxi and are completely lost as to what to do. The porter asks to take your bag, but notices that you do not have any luggage tags from the cruise line. He has to have you fill one out before he can take it. You go inside to get screened through security and aren’t sure where to go or what to do so you follow everyone else through. They instruct you where to go and you wait in line to see an agent who asks for your paperwork, which is of course, buried on the bottom of your bag. Thank goodness you remembered to bring your passport! Up an escalator and the gangway and you are on the ship at last.
On board you see lines already forming for excursions, but figure you will wait until later when the lines let up. Later becomes the next day and when you go to book that once in a lifetime trip, you see that it is sold out. You get on a wait list for your second choice excursion and hope that you will at least be able to do that one. You realize that your dinner seating is far later than you would have liked, but what can you do now? You’re having fun, but reality starts setting in and you realize your dream cruise vacation was nice, but nothing like you expected it to be. This is true when you know that you have little time to catch your flight home from the time you leave the ship. More praying in the taxi on the way to the airport and although you make it in time, the entire trip was more stressful than you ever expected a vacation to be.
How is it any different with a travel agent? Remember that great deal that you found on the Internet? An experienced travel agent would have been able to offer you the same deal. Yes, it’s true. Most cruise lines don’t allow travel agents or agencies to discount cruise pricing. What that means is that the price the Internet sites offer are the same prices that any travel agent will offer you. If they offer the same price, but also offer onboard credit or some other amenity, simply ask your travel agent if they can do it for you and they most likely will.
Let’s use the example of the single traveler above going on her first cruise. She books online knowing nothing about the cruise line, ship, or itinerary she has chosen. A travel agent might tell her if this is a good cruise for a first time traveler, if the itinerary seems geared more for an older or younger crowd, and so much more. The travel agent probably will say that this cruise is a good deal, but might find a cruise that is more appropriate for her based on her interests, lifestyle, and budget.
- Flights: The traveler would have been advised to arrive into the cruise port area the day before instead of the day of the cruise. A hotel near the cruise port would have been reserved and the flights and hotel would have been effortlessly been built into her itinerary. As a result, she would have arrived and had a moment to relax before getting on the ship. This would eliminate worrying about making it to the ship or not.
- Payments: Your travel agent will remind you to make final payment in advance of the final due date, but will also let you know that you can make regular payments toward that bill.
- Excursions: Your travel agent would have recommended booking excursions before you arrived on the ship. The cruise lines allow you to book ahead of time through them and your travel agent might have even done it for you. Your travel agent can even recommend some excursions apart from the cruise line for more experienced travelers.
- Trip Insurance: Whether or not to purchase insurance is a personal decision, but your travel agent will highly recommend that you do purchase travel insurance. Why? Imagine being in another country, which you will do while on your cruise, and you get sick or injured. The cost of medical evacuation back to the United States can be as much as $50,000 or more and they want payment before they fly you back. There are all different types of travel insurance, but a good one will cover medical evacuation; flight delays, interruptions, and cancellations; baggage loss and replacement, and more. After knowing this, is travel insurance really optional?
- Dinner reservations: Meal times should be explained by the travel agent since when you might eat at home may not reflect a busy itinerary on a ship. Understanding seating times, table assignments, and open dining plans is one of the other items a travel agent can address with you.
- Disembarkation: Your travel agent, if they book flights for you, will understand the process of disembarkation and will allow sufficient time for you to leave the ship. You won’t feel rushed or panicky about missing your flight because you will have sufficient time to eat breakfast, finish packing, and get to the airport.
- Packing and preparation for your trip: Cruising vacations are fun, but you can easily overpack and your travel agent can offer you suggestions as well as point you to resources on what and how to pack for your trip. In addition, your travel agent will advise you what to have ready when you arrive at the port such as your passport, cruise paperwork, and luggage tags.The biggest difference between a travel agent and the Internet sites is that if you need help with anything, your travel agent should be available to you by phone or email. The example above may not seem so bad, but imagine if she was traveling with a companion or her family with small children or a group. It could have been complete chaos and calling an 800 number while at the airport hoping not to miss your flight might not have resulted in any less stress. If you book with a travel agent, you could call that person immediately and ask them for help. Travel agents are available to their clients by phone, email, and often text message whenever they are needed because that’s their job. They would never want someone to feel stuck or left to fend for themselves in a situation that they might be able to resolve far easier than their clients could.If you don’t think that’s true, take a look at some of these sites:
- My3cents.com: Expedia complaints and reviews
- Customerservicescoreboard.com: Expedia customer complaints
- Consumeraffairs.com: Consumer complaints about Expedia.com vacation packages
- Customerservicescoreboard.com: Orbitz customer complaints
- Complaintsboard.com: Orbitz complaints board
In the end, when you are thinking about booking your next trip, don’t let price guide you toward the Internet sites now that you know pricing is the same regardless of where you go. Look for a travel expert who can guide you through the process and be there to help you if you need help.
Have you had experiences with an Internet travel site or travel agent that you would like to share? Go ahead and post your comments — I look forward to reading them.