I thought I had seen it all!

by Howard Moses, President of The Cruise Authority

An important lesson on who to book your trip with...

Recently we interviewed a very nice young lady who was a travel agent for a large, internet-based cruise seller. What was shocking to us was the description of the operation she worked for, and the relationship it had with its clients. These items in particular really jumped out at us:

RATE DROPS -----------------------------------------
Every Friday all of the agents at this operation would check all of their bookings to see if the rates had decreased. If they had, and if the cruise line allowed it, they would lower the rates on all bookings possible. What was disturbing was that the agency would keep a significant portion (if not all) of these funds. Apparently this was an enormous profit center for them and their agents!

Point of comparison: We monitor the rates for our clients as well, however when the rates drop we either upgrade our clients to higher accommodations or offer the funds back. In either case we DO NOT keep these funds.

DEPOSITS -----------------------------------------
These organizations increase the amount of the deposit for the cruise (sometimes doubling the deposit!), with the sole purpose of being able to pay the agent’s commission at the time of booking! Honestly, after 26 years in this business I thought I had heard of everything, but I was truly astounded at this revelation. In addition to finding this practice outrageous, it also has the added effect of disincentivising agents to offer top notch service to their clients throughout the booking cycle.

Point of comparison: Our agents earn their commission at the time of sailing. This serves the dual purpose of keeping our clients’ deposits at the actual level they are, AND providing an incentive to our agents to take amazing care of our clients throughout the entire booking process (not that they really need any incentive).

CANCELLATION PENALTIES -----------------------------------------
Should a client cancel their cruise these operations keep this bumped-up deposit, with the caveat that it will be returned should they book a future cruise. Really?! They force you to use them again.

Point of comparison: We charge our clients the appropriate deposit as indicated by the cruise line. If a client cancels, and there are no cruise line determined penalties, a full refund is in order. In addition, we do not charge any agency-based cancellation penalties. It is always regrettable when people have to cancel a trip, but we don’t make things worse by keeping a portion of their money!

AGENT TURNOVER -----------------------------------------
Apparently turnover is rampant at these types of agencies, with typical tenure of less than 1 year. What this means is that every time a client calls there, they are probably getting a new agent who has little knowledge about the cruise lines or destinations. As this is a straight commission operation, the agent’s primary concern is selling any trip, without regard to the needs of the clients. Or worse, many agencies will have a special booking window for a particular cruise line who is offering a bonus commission to the agents to sell their particular cruise line during that time frame – is this the place you want to book your vacation?

Point of comparison: Our agent pay doesn’t vary by cruise line, and we don’t allow the cruise lines to offer a monetary incentive for bookings. Really...do you want your vacation decided by an agent whose only goal is to earn as much as possible, as compared to ensuring that you go on the right vacation? Note: our average tenure is roughly 8 years, and we have several ladies who are coming up on 20 years with us.

In doing some digging I learned that these are all fairly common practices among the big internet operators. In talking to some Business Development Managers from cruise lines and resorts, I came to the conclusion that if it were me I would NEVER deal with one of these businesses.

Truly this is a case of Caveat Emptor - “Buyer Beware”

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