How to tell if that cruise deal is really a deal

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Bahamas: Cruise shop docks at Freeport terminal. (Larry Luxner)

The time has come for you to finally take a vacation and you’re ready to book your vacation.

You do what most people in this day and age do and that’s go online.  When you do, you find ridiculously good deals for cruises that are so cheap, the cruise lines are practically paying you to take a cruise.  Overwhelmed with excitement, you start planning your cruise vacation in your head and imagine yourself sitting on a beach somewhere warm and tropical sipping a frosty beverage.  But wait; don’t get too excited without checking the fine print.

The cruise lines in general will offer pretty much the same rate on cruises to all of its sellers of travel.  This is the way it’s supposed to be, but we all know that’s not always the case.  For example, whether you buy your inside cabin for two people on your 7-night Caribbean cruise through an online travel agency that has an 800 number and is somewhere on the other side of the country or your local travel agency, the rates in most cases should be the same.

Where they might differ is in the bonuses or add on’s that they can offer travelers.  The large volume agencies will rebate their commission and offer it as onboard credit, discounts, etc. to entice people to book with them.  They can do this because the more cabins the sell, they will get more of a commission later on down the road with the cruise line.  Although the agent selling the cruise will probably make zero dollars off the sale, you as the consumer feel it is well worth it to get a great cruise deal.

But this doesn’t have to be the case whatsoever.  Did you know you can approach an independent travel agent or travel agency and ask them to price match the deal you found online?  Depending on what the promotion is, they might be able to match it for you.  Better yet, when you deal with a knowledgeable travel agent, they will ask you questions to better understand what cruise line matches you best instead of you going for the cheapest possible cruise.

By doing so, you might find that an even better deal than what the online agency advertised.  Remember, they will probably push the cruise line that they’re trying to get the best long-term deal with to make the most money and that doesn’t necessarily mean the best deal for you.  In a nutshell, what the company is advertising as a deal is probably the best moneymaker for them, but doesn’t always mean that it’s the most cost effective travel option for you.

Another thing to keep in mind is that most often online deals are advertised as the lowest per person inside cabin rate that can be found.  This price usually doesn’t include taxes, fees, and port charges.  When you see the total price and then realize it’s the same price as every other price you’ve seen online or maybe even higher, ask yourself if this is the deal they were advertising.

Most people believe that by booking online that they’ll get a great deal, but what happens after the sale?  What if you’ve never cruised before?  Will you know to check in online prior to arriving at the cruise port?  How about gratuities? Excursions?  The list goes on and on and perhaps you don’t care about service and are all about the mighty dollar.

Consider this:  You pay for your cruise but didn’t know about travel insurance.  You decide to cancel (pick a reason, any reason – illness, hurricane, etc.) and when you contact the online agent, you’re told that you’re not entitled to a refund.  Is that fair?  According to the cruise contract, it is.

Ultimately, everyone deserves a wonderful vacation experience and if you’re able to save money while doing it, you’ve accomplished something phenomenal.  But do your homework and consider working with a travel professional that you trust to guide you through the process.

Did you know that travel agents don’t charge a fee? Some do for things like booking air and some also charge a fee that you can later apply to a trip if you book with them.  Book your own air and hotel for weekend getaways, but for a cruise vacation do consider working with someone whom you trust who will work to keep your business by finding you the best vacation options possible.  Quite often that’s wrapped up in a pretty little bow called a cruise deal.