As a travel agent, I get a lot of calls asking me about last minute deals. Most start off with “I’m looking for a great last minute deal for this coming weekend.” Last minute deals have really become a thing of the past. Over the past year and a half, cruise bookings have increased. Ships are filling up and cruise lines are really offering their best rates for those that book early. Now that doesn’t mean you won’t find a last minute deal … they are out there sometimes. But if you are looking for one, be prepared that the ship, itinerary or category you desire just might not be available.
Booking early has lots of advantages! First of all, the cruise lines have been offering their best rates early. I have the luxury of watching rates all the time. I can tell you with certainty that most rates increase as time goes by. Especially when it comes to peak sailing times (peak times are holidays and when the kiddos are out of school). Some cruise lines, like Carnival, even offer Early Saver Rates, which have a low price guarantee, but it does come with some restrictions as well. Also, booking early means you get the best selection of available staterooms. So if you are particular as to where to want your stateroom to be, best to book early. The most desirable staterooms are the ones that get booked first. Also, by booking early you have a longer window of time until final payment, which allows you to make payments on your cruise if you wish.
What happens if you book early and the rate goes down? That is a great question. Most cruise lines will honor a rate change if it is done prior to the final payment due date (the final payment due date is usually 75 days prior to sailing). Some cruise lines will even make adjustments or upgrades after the final payment due date, depending on the rate code that was originally booked.
Do travel agents have staterooms that cruise lines do not? The answer to this is usually no. A travel agent uses the same live inventory that the cruise lines do. Agents pull everything directly from the cruise line. So if you call the cruise line direct and the ship is sold out, odds are that it is in fact sold out. Sometimes agencies hold block space, but if it is close to the sailing date, unsold space must be released back to the cruise line.
Can a travel agent get you a better rate? Well, sometimes. With the cruise lines, the rates are the rates. Most cruise lines have a very strict policy against discounting and it is just simply not allowed. With that said though, there are some agencies that hold block or group space. This means that staterooms have been held, locking in the rate at that time. This sometimes means that an agency just might have a lower rate than what is currently offered.
If rates are the same, why use a travel agent? That is another good question and one that I get very often. Let me start the answer by saying that as a client, you do not pay any more than you would pay by going direct to the cruise line (speaking for myself, as I do not charge a fee). The cruise line pays me. So in a sense, even if you book through the cruise line, you are still paying for an agent. Agents are very knowledgeable. I cannot tell you the countless hours I have spent training, touring ships and continuing my education. Agents have YOUR best interest. Not the best interest of the cruise line. I received a call yesterday from a person that I quoted a rate to last week. Turns out she booked directly with the cruise line and had an issue. She called the cruise line and was not happy with the answers she was getting. She actually called me, which is surprising. Her first line was “I am so sorry to bother you with this but the person at XYZ Cruise Line was simply a clerical person and did not help me or understand my issue.” I answered all of her questions and she thanked me and stated next time she cruised she was going to call me and definitely use an agent. If you can get personal service, expertise and a dedicated person to be with you through the entire process and even after you get home … all for no extra cost … wouldn’t you use an agent?
So, the bottom line is, if you are looking for a last minute deal, give your travel agent a call. Agents can search all of the cruise lines and itineraries very easily. Something it would take you as a consumer lots of time. Just remember that you might not be going on that last minute cruise, and even if it is available the rate might not be so “last minute.” If you do not have an agent, give me a call, visit my website, or send me an email. I would be more than happy to add you to my list of satisfied clients!