Q – We have just booked our eighth cruise with Crystal. We’ll be sailing to South America next winter. We’ve never used a travel agent before and we are wondering if there is a way to use one now. The problem is that we booked this upcoming cruise while we were on the cruise out of Hong Kong. So everything was done with the on-board cruise consultant. As you know, they give is a little incentive for booking on the ship. But now that we’ve read the information on cruisetruth we are wondering if we would have been better off all these years booking with an agent. I guess are questions are, should we, how much more will it cost, and how do we go about doing it?

A – If you get a bad agent, you might be better off booking directly with the cruise line. If you can find a knowledgeable, well-connected cruise specialist, it may well end up saving you money because most of the better agencies in America belong to groups that give the cruise lines millions and, in a few cases, billions of dollars in annual revenue. The cruise lines allow them to offer on-board credits, complimentary shore experiences or dinners, as amenities on certain sailings.

We can, for instance, tell you that if you have been booking Crystal directly for your past seven cruises you have likely missed out in several thousand dollars worth of on-board credits.

This is all a bit of hush-hush stuff because cruise lines do not want it known that they do not have the best pricing options for guests. They depend on a certain amount of direct bookings because every direct booking given them a double profit  – one on the fare paid and the second on the travel agent commission they can now pocket. The goal of the industry is to keep the consumer in the dark about pricing. That allows everyone to make false pricing claims and it makes every cruise purchaser, those who book through agents and those who book with the cruise line’s call center, feel like they’ve all scored the deal of the century. It is, if we may say so, all smoke and mirrors.

Unless you have paid in full for your cruise, you can always advise the cruise line that you will be “turning over my booking to “Madam and The Happy Bookers” Travel. Include their phone number and the reservations folks can pull up the agency information. As we’ve stated previously, booking directly with a cruise line and being charged for an agent’s professional services without receiving any of those services is, at best, silly. It is also, in our view, fraudulent.