I’ve always been a big cheerleader of using travel agents for cruise vacations. In the past, booking a cruise through a travel agent was a win-win situation. You could book a cruise through a travel agent at no additional cost. Travel agents would receive a commission from the cruise line (usually 10%-16% of the fare), and travelers would benefit from a travel agent’s expertise and time (and possibly on-board credit that came from the agent’s commission). I’ve booked 14 cruises in the past 12 years for my family through a travel agent, and have always recommended others do the same.
But now, the travel landscape is changing. The decision to use a travel agent for a cruise might not be as clear cut as it once was.
Travel Agent Fees for Cruising
After booking a new cruise recently, I was surprised to receive a list of fees that the travel agency now charges. The fees are $25 per person for a reservation change and $50 per person for a cruise cancellation. These fees are from the agency itself, not from the cruise lines.
This might not seem like a lot of money. But, if you have a big family and you need to make a date change or cancel, the fees can add up.
On one hand, I can understand why some travel agents need to charge additional fees. During the Covid shutdown, travel agents suffered. Since they are mostly paid on commission and cruising was shut down for over a year, their income came to an abrupt halt. Even when cruising resumed, there were a lot of restrictions (vaccines, negative tests) that prevented some cruise fans from rescheduling. Travel agents still had to work during that time, though, rescheduling everyone’s cruises, often multiple times. Setting up a fee structure for cruise bookings on top of commission guarantees some income.
But on the other hand, many commission-based jobs don’t charge fees and only benefit when the sale is final, despite putting in legwork. Car dealers don’t charge fees to look at and test drive cars. Real estate agents show clients houses without a guarantee of a sale. They continue to spend time with clients and answer questions in the hopes that it pays off in the long run. Even if one client doesn’t make a purchase, they will recommend the company to friends and family. A successful sales strategy often means playing the long game.
It doesn’t matter what I think of travel agency fees for cruising. Some travel agencies are now charging them, and some are not. I guess that’s the new normal.
Do I still recommend that cruisers use a travel agent?
The answer is “that depends.”
Before you get involved with a travel agent, ask if they have fees for booking, changes and cancellations. And, if you’re in the miles and points hobby, ask if they have any issues taking your payments via multiple credit cards and gift cards.
I’m not saying not to use an agency that has extra fees. But, it’s important to know about them in advance and think about the likelihood that you will need to change or cancel your cruise and factor in the additional cost.
The reality for my family is that we have a lot of moving parts that may cause us to change or cancel a trip. I’ve had to change cruise dates due to Covid and school calendar changes. I’ve also canceled a cruise due to job changes. But, we always end up booking (and going on) a future cruise. For the long game, my family is profitable for a travel agency. But in the short term, we may eat up a lot of an agent’s time.
Cruise fans, are you still using a travel agent to book? Is your agent charging new fees for cruise changes and cancellations?
How does my family travel so much? We use miles and points from credit card bonuses. See my Travel Hacking 101 post as well as current credit card offers here.
Nancy lives near Dallas, Texas, with her husband and three kids. Her favorite vacations include the beach, cruising and everything Disney.
Harmony Skillman says
We TAs are so busy! And I get cancel or change fees for complicated custom trips, but not for a cruise. I don’t charge any fees! I love your support of agents, but for cruise and simple land trips, you can easily find a great agent with no fees. I’m sure this will be a debated topic and everyone runs their business differently
Bonnie Schlarb says
I do not, nor does my agency charge any cancelation fees. The only exception is if a particular agent has done a ton of work for a client over multiple years and never seems to travel. But that would be more like a planning fee and a rarity.
Pandemic was tough on many – but like you said, the long game is more important.
Mark D says
My wife is a TA and never charges fees. Yes, in some cases she ends up doing a lot of work and getting $0 out of it, but like you said, in the long game her customers appreciate what she does and will return year after year.
While I find the premise of charging fees for cancelling cruise bookings a bit dubious, I’m not sure the analogy holds up when you compare a travel agent with a realtor. I left my full time job as a travel agent in the 90’s when airlines instituted commission caps because that eviscerated the income for most agencies. I don’t know any realtors that would work for a maximum set amount of, say, $2,000 for selling a house or commercial building. Ultimately, the expertise of a knowledgeable travel agent has to come at a price that someone pays, whether the client or the cruise line.