Friday, September 28, 2007

Booking Direct or Using a Cruise Specialist

A question that comes up often when I am talking with a prospective new client is "what is the advantage of booking with you instead of directly with the cruise line?"

My normal answer is "Me!" But, in reality there is a big difference and it is really in the customers best interest to use a Cruise Specialist against even a "full service"agency much less the cruise line directly.

To begin with, when you call a cruise line (customer or agent), they ask for a phone number. When this is entered into their booking engine, the computer system tells the reservation person whether the caller is an agent or not and the system generates rate codes that are applicable to the caller.
Retail customers do not always get access to all the rate codes or the lowest prices although they will get access to regional, senior, past passenger promotions etc.

There are two "environments" in the booking process - individual (known as FIT) and group blocks. When an agency contracts group space for a sailing, the number of cabins in selected categories can only be sold by that agency. When the agency contracts for the space, they also "lock in" the rate. Depending on the sailing and availability of cabins, the rates can go up or down in the FIT environment but the group rate was locked in. The earlier the space has been blocked, the lower the rate the agency has for their cabin inventory.

If the rates do go down, the agency has the option to lower the pricing of anyone already booked and to book new clients at the lower rate and if the FIT rates have gone up, that agency then has a price advantage or lower price for their clients then the cruise line or other agencies. The cruise line does not hold it's own space except in the FIT environment. The pricing all agencies get when making a new booking is the current pricing in the FIT environment if they are not holding any group space. It's the same as the cruise line pricing if you book direct.

However, the agent/agency is also your advocate, not the cruise lines, so that is an advantage right there over booking direct.

Another advantage of using a cruise specialist over the cruise line directly is this. Let's suppose you call cruise line A and you actually got a reservation agent who will take time to help you select a cruise. Normally, they only want to know "how many people, what ship, what date are you looking for, what type cabin do you want (and would you like fries with that? - OK, I added that ) The point is they only take orders like a waitress or waiter. When you call cruise line A, they only can help you with cruise line A, not B, or C, etc. even though they may own the other cruise line or be associated with them. That reservation agent knows nothing about the other lines nor do they have access to them. If you want to compare, you need to call them all.

A Cruise Specialist on the other hand, helps you determine the best cruise line and the best value for your individual situation each and every time and has access to all of them. Guess what! You are not paying any extra for this service since it is the same FIT pricing and therefore you are getting more value for your money because the agent is your advocate, not the cruise lines.

These are just a couple of reasons why booking with an agent is an advantage for the customer. And I use the term Cruise Specialist rather than travel agent because Cruise Specialists really do know more than most travel agents when it comes to the differences between cruise lines and how to find the best deals. And because the cruise specialist agency probably does more volume of business with the cruise ines and has access to more promotions (some exclusive) and all the best pricing the cruise lines have, they probably are holding more group space and can better assist the customer to make the best decision for the cruise. Full service agents who book everything all the time - well, you just can't be all things to all people all the time and be an expert in everything in my opinion.

So if you are looking to book a cruise, work with a cruise specialist. You'll be better off.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Cruise Vacation and Boredom?

A question was asked by someone today that tells me there is still a big misconception about cruising. It related to an Alaska Cruise and the person was concerned about being "bored" while on the cruise. "Sure, there are plenty of things to see while in Alaska and great photo ops, but what about when on the ship?" was the comment.

When I hear boredom and cruising in the same sentence I really do shake my head in amazement. With the cruise ships that are being built today, they are incredible destinations in themselves even if they never stopped anywhere! With bowling alleys, ice skating rinks, in-line skating, rock climbing walls, sports courts (yes even shuffle board), movies, multiple lounges with a variety of entertainment, the main showroom with a different show every night - production numbers, comedians, acrobatics, magicians and who knows what, not to mention lounging by pools, hot tubs, libarary, card rooms and just quiet places to reflect and think. Did I forget all the activities the cruise director's staff have going on or the casino or bingo if you enjoy these things?

The person who thinks they will be bored on a cruise ship probably also thinks that a 0-0 baseball game going into the 9th inning is boring. The point is this. If you are a boring person and want to figure out how to be bored, then anything will be boring probably.

The beauty of a cruise is you have so many choices, it's really hard to decide what to do. There really is something for everyone; at any age. OK, the 6 - 18 months old are not included in that statement so why not leave the baby with the grandparent since babies don't know what is going on and the parents can't enjoy themselves because THAT is the same as being home - taking care of the kid - and others on the ship already know you have the cutest baby ever born and really don't care to hear babies crying. Sorry, I digress.

If nothing else, just the anticipation of the next port of call and visiting a new place is exciting. With about 150 different ships sailing all over the world, do you think the world is boring? So if you think you will bored on a cruise ship, think again or stay home and be bored by yourself and let the rest of us have a great time. After all, that is what a vacation is for anyway - doing different things, seeing different places, relaxing and meeting new people who just might become life-long friends. Even the crew members are fun to talk with and learn about their homelands.

Boring and cruising? Not a chance unless that is YOUR choice.


Friday, September 21, 2007

As I learn a little about "blogging", I realize that you can't post but can comment on my posting. But then I thought, people might want to ask questions so how do I do this?

Answer is simple (I think). All you have to do is send me an e-mail with your question and I'll put it on along with an answer for you. Then others might also be able to contribute information with their comments. You know, there are a lot of people that have a lot of information and I definitely don't claim to know everything. But I do have the resources to find things out and rather quickly most times. If you ask something I don't know, that is great! Because i'll get to learn something new also in finding out the correct answer.

So go to My Profile and you'll have the link to both my website and my e-mail address. I look forward to hearing from you.

Life is not a dress rehearsal so Go for It!


Thursday, September 20, 2007

My first blog

Well, the sun has risen off the east coast of Florida and I am actually catching up with something before it becomes obsolete- starting a blog.

So here goes - I absolutely love cruising!!! I used to say that to me the worse cruise I could be on still beats the best day at work! Except, now my work IS about cruising.

When the opportunity came about back in the later part of 2001, (on the advice of my own agents who told me I knew more than they did), I became a cruise specialist and had the opportunity to share my "limited" experience at that time with others. Limited in the fact that we had been on 9 cruises (in 4 years) at that time and never was involved in the travel industry.

Now, we (and the we part is my beautiful wife and full time partner in everything Helen) have been on over 30 and I also have the great privilege to be the Recruiting Mgr. of New Agents for the National Company I am associated with.

Helping others to enjoy the cruise experience the same as we have has been a pleasure and we have made many friends in all parts of the country with our clients and get to sail with many of them at different times.

And helping others to become a cruise specialist themselves, helping them to earn extra money for things they want and maybe mentoring them to a small degree so they have the same fun we do, is really a great and rare privilege.

This blog will be dedicated to both - whether you are looking to pick the right cruise to vacation on or pick the right company to be an agent for, I hope to share thoughts, ideas, and secrets you can benefit from.

As time permits or information of interest becomes known, I'll share with you things I learn, have learned, or will be learning. I hope this is worthwhile for all of us.