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Hammergirl

Questions to ask a travel agent?

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I know we are not allowed to recommend specific agents, but I was hoping someone might have some ideas on what to ask agents so that I can better weed out the ones that will not work for me.

 

I am trying to book an Alaskan cruise and looking for an agent to help. I am finding to SO frustrating trying to find a good agent! They ALL say they are experts when when it comes down to it, I know more than they do (and I know very little). Also, when I ask what additional incentives they can offer I get anything from a case of water (ummm ok) to maybe $100 OBC. My budget for this trip is fairly hefty and so I am expecting more than a case of water. 

 

Does anyone have a list of questions they use (or have used) to ask an agent before I waste a ton of time interacting with them only to find out they have booked 1 Alaskan cruise?

 

Thanks!

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I do my own research for ports  & excursions  so never ask my TA about that

 

I would ask  if they have cancellation penalties  in addition to those the cruise line have

What perks they will offer  also in addition to the cruise lines offerings

What hours do they work  & can you reach them on weekends

do they watch for price drops

Do they remind you a few days before final payment (mine does)  But read often that people missed the date & cruise gets cancelled

 

I am happy with my TA  she usually responds within 30 mins  depending on  what I am asking

I usually know  where I want to cruise & the line I want  so she does not need to do too much for me 

JMO

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To add to LHT28's comments, ask if they charge any fees (not just cancellation fees) not charged by the cruise lines for originating, modifying, or cancelling a booking made through them, and if they do, IMO avoid them.  This is just extra income to them out of your pocket that many other agents don't charge.

 

I also prefer to deal with a live person who has a phone number that they answer along with email / text.  Again IMO, on-line only agencies can pose difficulties with communication when questions or issues arise.

 

Also to clarify, perks offered to you from them as an incentive to book with them typically come out of their pocket from their commission.  IMO I would be wary of any that are too good as that would suggest something else will be traded off, such as service.  After all by giving you back part of their commission, they are now earning less for the same booking, and at commision rates that typically range between 10 - 15% of the commisionable portion of the rate charged (which is not the full fare you pay and is also exclusive of taxes and fees), they are not exactly buying villas in the south of France with their earnings to begin with.

 

To further qualify their expertise ask about their own cruise and travel experience - there are many who have never seen a cruise ship let alone cruised on one.  Personal experience is IMO a significant component of expertise.

Edited by leaveitallbehind

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You might check out the website of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), which is the primary trade association for the industry. On the site is "Find a Travel Agent" functionality; if I remember correctly, you put in your zip code and get suggestions of travel agents who specialize in cruising. - Musing About Cruising

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27 minutes ago, rjgdjg said:

You might check out the website of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), which is the primary trade association for the industry. On the site is "Find a Travel Agent" functionality; if I remember correctly, you put in your zip code and get suggestions of travel agents who specialize in cruising. - Musing About Cruising

Thank you!

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37 minutes ago, leaveitallbehind said:

To add to LHT28's comments, ask if they charge any fees (not just cancellation fees) not charged by the cruise lines for originating, modifying, or cancelling a booking made through them, and if they do, IMO avoid them.  This is just extra income to them out of your pocket that many other agents don't charge.

 

I also prefer to deal with a live person who has a phone number that they answer along with email / text.  Again IMO, on-line only agencies can pose difficulties with communication when questions or issues arise.

 

Also to clarify, perks offered to you from them as an incentive to book with them typically come out of their pocket from their commission.  IMO I would be wary of any that are too good as that would suggest something else will be traded off, such as service.  After all by giving you back part of their commission, they are now earning less for the same booking, and at commision rates that typically range between 10 - 15% of the commisionable portion of the rate charged (which is not the full fare you pay and is also exclusive of taxes and fees), they are not exactly buying villas in the south of France with their earnings to begin with.

 

To further qualify their expertise ask about their own cruise and travel experience - there are many who have never seen a cruise ship let alone cruised on one.  Personal experience is IMO a significant component of expertise.

Thank you for this. I asked an agent about the fees and low and behold, they charge a non-refundable professional services fee that starts at $50 and goes up from there. Ummmm nope. 

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2 hours ago, leaveitallbehind said:

Also to clarify, perks offered to you from them as an incentive to book with them typically come out of their pocket from their commission.  IMO I would be wary of any that are too good as that would suggest something else will be traded off, such as service.  After all by giving you back part of their commission, they are now earning less for the same booking, and at commision rates that typically range between 10 - 15% of the commisionable portion of the rate charged (which is not the full fare you pay and is also exclusive of taxes and fees), they are not exactly buying villas in the south of France with their earnings to begin with.

 

My info is old and perhaps not completely on point but years ago I worked at QANTAS in the leisure travel, business and conventions area.  We worked with tour operators which was a step up from a regular TA.  They put together land/air packages that were then sold.  They got what was called an "override commission."  As their volume of business increased they got larger commissions from airlines, hotels, etc.  I would think top TAs get something similar.   I know that some specialize on particular cruise lines.  I got a referral to a top Oceania TA and my incentive is the gratuities.  That's a tidy sum and I'm pretty certain they're trying to generate volume.  My two cents 🙂

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1 hour ago, Hammergirl said:

Thank you for this. I asked an agent about the fees and low and behold, they charge a non-refundable professional services fee that starts at $50 and goes up from there. Ummmm nope. 

Which goes right into their pocket.  TA's are paid their "professional service fees" from the cruise lines - it's called a commission.  And although it may be rather nominal in scale, it is how a TA earns their income.  Fees also are a source for perks to you from them as incentives - but you are in essence buying your own perk in that manner.

 

There is one fee that would be legitimate, and that would be if you book your airline reservations through them.  Air arrangements made by TA's directly through the cruise line pay no commission and most direct air reservations through the airlines themselves pay little or no commission either.  Most TA's will do this as a service to their clients to coordinate all travel together and there could be a fee to do so.  But that fee is typically very nominal, maybe $10 or so per ticket.

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8 minutes ago, clo said:

My info is old and perhaps not completely on point but years ago I worked at QANTAS in the leisure travel, business and conventions area.  We worked with tour operators which was a step up from a regular TA.  They put together land/air packages that were then sold.  They got what was called an "override commission."  As their volume of business increased they got larger commissions from airlines, hotels, etc.  I would think top TAs get something similar.   I know that some specialize on particular cruise lines.  I got a referral to a top Oceania TA and my incentive is the gratuities.  That's a tidy sum and I'm pretty certain they're trying to generate volume.  My two cents 🙂

 

You are correct - commissions may be scaled based on overall volume of business booked by a given agency.  But the booking volume levels for each incremental % of commission increase are rather significant.  Group booking incentives, etc., are also a method of scaled compensation for a TA as well.

 

And keep in mind that in most cases the commission is split between the booking rep and the agency sponsor - similar to real estate.  But the math is pretty simple even if the rate is 15% - it would take $500,000 of commissionable booking $ to earn $75,000 for the agency before any split.  That's a fair amount of cruises booked!

Edited by leaveitallbehind

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Before the internet we had to go to consolidators and agents who held secret access and steered business and for that got paid by the provider ( cruise, air, hotel etc. )

 

In this day and age where each business can have an online presence who is paying for what and what the discount is muddy.

 

I see it very simply the provider ( cruise, air, hotel ) in the business of selling, he never wants it to be empty, he has a profit margin and to insure filling his capacity will sacrifice a bit of it, more of it for companies that fill more of it for him.    In the most extreme example you have SW who only sells direct.    Every other vendor in principle could offer a cheaper price directly and cut out the commission agent, but so doing if he undercuts also cuts off one of his biggest sellers.  Thus we get into the murky world of credits.  

 

Direct offer base price and sales, but agents got to beat it in some ways.    But direct can't cut the agents, and then the murkiness starts.

 

Simply ask how are they paid, and you learned they add a fix fee.   My corporate TA gets the same from my company, convenience for $.    Going direct in principle should be best, but again not if they vendor needs TAs or others to fill their capacity.

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Buy local. Our travel agent (found in the phone book) does not charge anything beyond the cost directly created by the cruise. I have learned to book insurance with her and she gets a commission off of that, too.

 

I don't need discounts, I need professionalism! She and us have been doing our thing for many years. She moved out of town and we moved out of town. I have recommended her to others and they keep going back. She does what needs to be done and that is what I need. 

 

Deals? Specials? Rebates? That is not being a TA, that is a marketing person. Go local, even if it costs a few dollars more. You will be supporting your local economy. Ain't that the right thing to do?

 

Jim

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13 hours ago, JimnKaren said:

Buy local. Our travel agent (found in the phone book) does not charge anything beyond the cost directly created by the cruise. I have learned to book insurance with her and she gets a commission off of that, too.

 

I don't need discounts, I need professionalism! She and us have been doing our thing for many years. She moved out of town and we moved out of town. I have recommended her to others and they keep going back. She does what needs to be done and that is what I need. 

 

Deals? Specials? Rebates? That is not being a TA, that is a marketing person. Go local, even if it costs a few dollars more. You will be supporting your local economy. Ain't that the right thing to do?

 

Jim

 

I agree, but only if they really add value, too many times I find that they really don't know much, but when they do, the cost of a little expertise is totally worth it.   

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Hammergirl, This is a great question.  I think the list of TA questions you are asking about could be very useful to many others.  

 

I've tried to recap the feedback so far.  Hopefully folks will continue to add: 

 

  1. Do they they have cancellation penalties in addition to those the cruise line have?
  2. Do they have any other fees not charged by the cruise line?
  3. What perks do they offer? Same as or in addition to the cruise lines offerings?
  4. What hours do they work  & can you reach them on weekends? What is the response time?  Are there back-ups? 
  5. Emergency contacts?
  6. Ways to make contact – phone, email, text?  
  7. Do they watch for price drops?
  8. Do they remind you a few days before final payment is due? 
  9. Ask about their own cruise and travel experience.  Do they specialize in cruising?  Do they specialize in certain cruise lines or itineraries?  
  10. Do they handle travel insurance?

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19 minutes ago, ldubs said:

Hammergirl, This is a great question.  I think the list of TA questions you are asking about could be very useful to many others.  

 

I've tried to recap the feedback so far.  Hopefully folks will continue to add: 

 

  1. Do they they have cancellation penalties in addition to those the cruise line have?
  2. Do they have any other fees not charged by the cruise line?
  3. What perks do they offer? Same as or in addition to the cruise lines offerings?
  4. What hours do they work  & can you reach them on weekends? What is the response time?  Are there back-ups? 
  5. Emergency contacts?
  6. Ways to make contact – phone, email, text?  
  7. Do they watch for price drops?
  8. Do they remind you a few days before final payment is due? 
  9. Ask about their own cruise and travel experience.  Do they specialize in cruising?  Do they specialize in certain cruise lines or itineraries?  
  10. Do they handle travel insurance?

My first question is do they offer discounts on the cruise line fares?  If they don't, I move on.  If they do, then we can talk about the rest of this list.

 

There are far too many travel agents that do offer discounts for anyone to pay full fare.

 

BTW, all this discussion of commission is somewhat irrelevant.  We have no idea how travel agents are compensated.  It may well be like auto dealers who can sell cars at below invoice and still make profits due to kick backs, etc.  

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6 minutes ago, RocketMan275 said:

My first question is do they offer discounts on the cruise line fares?  If they don't, I move on.  If they do, then we can talk about the rest of this list.

 

There are far too many travel agents that do offer discounts for anyone to pay full fare.

 

BTW, all this discussion of commission is somewhat irrelevant.  We have no idea how travel agents are compensated.  It may well be like auto dealers who can sell cars at below invoice and still make profits due to kick backs, etc.  

 

Oh boy, missed the most obvious.  Haha. 

 

  1. Do they offer discounts on cruise line fares? 
  2. Do they they have cancellation penalties in addition to those the cruise line have? 
  3. Do they have any other fees not charged by the cruise line?
  4. What perks do they offer? Same as or in addition to the cruise lines offerings?
  5. What hours do they work  & can you reach them on weekends? What is the response time?  Are there back-ups? 
  6. Emergency contacts?
  7. Ways to make contact – phone, email, text?  
  8. Do they watch for price drops?
  9. Do they remind you a few days before final payment is due? 
  10. Ask about their own cruise and travel experience.  Do they specialize in cruising?  Do they specialize in certain cruise lines or itineraries?  
  11. Do they handle travel insurance?

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6 minutes ago, RocketMan275 said:

My first question is do they offer discounts on the cruise line fares?  If they don't, I move on.  If they do, then we can talk about the rest of this list.

 

I would not dismiss an agent because they do not discount  the fare

Some people want cash rebates

I want good service 

It is  a personal choice

YMMV

 

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Just now, ldubs said:
  1. Do they handle travel insurance?

I would  get travel insurance from  a broker  so you can tailor it to  meet your needs

Some people just want medical others want comprehensive insurance

 

 Check the cruise insurance forum

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Just now, LHT28 said:

I would  get travel insurance from  a broker  so you can tailor it to  meet your needs

Some people just want medical others want comprehensive insurance

 

 Check the cruise insurance forum

 

Good advice.  Thanks.  

 

Anyway, I was just trying to recap all of the comments about what to ask.  They are just considerations really and I suppose folks should use or not use to suit their needs.  

 

 

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Depends on what you are looking for.  If just the best price/perks ask a bunch of them for a quote.

 

If you are looking for solid advice, my question would be “have you ever taken a cruise to Alaska?”.

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1 hour ago, RocketMan275 said:

My first question is do they offer discounts on the cruise line fares?  If they don't, I move on.  If they do, then we can talk about the rest of this list.

 

There are far too many travel agents that do offer discounts for anyone to pay full fare.

 

BTW, all this discussion of commission is somewhat irrelevant.  We have no idea how travel agents are compensated.  It may well be like auto dealers who can sell cars at below invoice and still make profits due to kick backs, etc.  

 

I disagree - a TA's compensation relative to discounts or perks you receive from them is completely relevant.

 

"Discounting" a cruise fare is a common misconception.  The vast majority of cruise lines, with only one or two exceptions, do not allow TA's to discount their fares.  The fare (at a given point in time, as they do frequently change) that is offered by a cruise line is exactly that that can be offered by a TA.  

 

If a TA says they are discounting a fare, frequently what they are doing is only showing the commissionable portion (that amount that they are paid on) and removing the non-commissionable portion of the fare.  This makes the rate appear lower as a result.  The non-commissionalbe portion is then added back on the top as part of the fees and taxes portion.  If you ask that TA for a copy of the final "all in" invoice to include taxes and fees you will usually see that they are very similar to the cruise line (and other TA's) fares.

 

And I do know how they are compensated - it is by a commission that runs typically between 10-15% of the commissionable portion of the fare less fees and taxes.  The compensation is not like car dealer to which you refer.  There are additional incentives for group (or large block) bookings where typically 1 passenger's fare out of 8 double booked rooms will be provided at n/c, which would then allow a 1/16th fare discount provided to the rest of those passengers in that group.  Higher volume agencies may be eligible for a percent or two more within that range than lower volume agents.  This provides more income to them to play with/

 

Where they can also show a lower price more typically is with give backs (or other perks) out of their commission to you, which obviously lowers the total you would pay by that amount. But make no mistake, there is no smoke and mirrors (other than what you believe) as they are paid by commission and any benefit to you comes out of their pocket.

 

I also find it interesting that many people have come to expect something from an agent in return for booking their business.  For an agent to offer $ to a client in the form of a discounted fare for his business is nothing more than buying that business, which IMO is unprofessional.  Would you offer money out of your paycheck to a prospective customer to get their business?  IMO business should be earned by service and by doing the different things already listed by others on this thread. To me that level of service is enough for me and represents more than the cruise line will do for their direct bookings.  

Edited by leaveitallbehind

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3 hours ago, leaveitallbehind said:

 

I disagree - a TA's compensation relative to discounts or perks you receive from them is completely relevant.

 

"Discounting" a cruise fare is a common misconception.  The vast majority of cruise lines, with only one or two exceptions, do not allow TA's to discount their fares.  The fare (at a given point in time, as they do frequently change) that is offered by a cruise line is exactly that that can be offered by a TA.  

 

If a TA says they are discounting a fare, frequently what they are doing is only showing the commissionable portion (that amount that they are paid on) and removing the non-commissionable portion of the fare.  This makes the rate appear lower as a result.  The non-commissionalbe portion is then added back on the top as part of the fees and taxes portion.  If you ask that TA for a copy of the final "all in" invoice to include taxes and fees you will usually see that they are very similar to the cruise line (and other TA's) fares.

 

And I do know how they are compensated - it is by a commission that runs typically between 10-15% of the commissionable portion of the fare less fees and taxes.  The compensation is not like car dealer to which you refer.  There are additional incentives for group (or large block) bookings where typically 1 passenger's fare out of 8 double booked rooms will be provided at n/c, which would then allow a 1/16th fare discount provided to the rest of those passengers in that group.  Higher volume agencies may be eligible for a percent or two more within that range than lower volume agents.  This provides more income to them to play with/

 

Where they can also show a lower price more typically is with give backs (or other perks) out of their commission to you, which obviously lowers the total you would pay by that amount. But make no mistake, there is no smoke and mirrors (other than what you believe) as they are paid by commission and any benefit to you comes out of their pocket.

 

I also find it interesting that many people have come to expect something from an agent in return for booking their business.  For an agent to offer $ to a client in the form of a discounted fare for his business is nothing more than buying that business, which IMO is unprofessional.  Would you offer money out of your paycheck to a prospective customer to get their business?  IMO business should be earned by service and by doing the different things already listed by others on this thread. To me that level of service is enough for me and represents more than the cruise line will do for their direct bookings.  

The TA compensation is only relevant to the TA and the cruise line.  I couldn't care less.

 

"Discounting" a cruise fare is a common misconception.  The vast majority of cruise lines, with only one or two exceptions, do not allow TA's to discount their fares."

 

-The TA can sell the cruise for anything the TA desires.  A cruise line that doesn't allow that would face issues with restraint of trade.  Or, perhaps price fixing.  It's just like any retailer.  The manufacturers cannot dictate final sale prices.  The argument that TA are forbidden to discount is a very convenient excuse used by some TA to justify their no-discount policies.

 

"If you ask that TA for a copy of the final "all in" invoice to include taxes and fees you will usually see that they are very similar to the cruise line (and other TA's) fares." 

 

- Not really.  I get an "all-in" invoice on all my cruises from my TA.  The bottom line, the "all-in", is 8-10% less than the "all-in" from the cruise line or most other travel agents.  BTW, she breaks out the "non-commissionable" portion of the fare on her invoices.

 

"I also find it interesting that many people have come to expect something from an agent in return for booking their business.  For an agent to offer $ to a client in the form of a discounted fare for his business is nothing more than buying that business, which IMO is unprofessional.  Would you offer money out of your paycheck to a prospective customer to get their business?  IMO business should be earned by service and by doing the different things already listed by others on this thread. To me that level of service is enough for me and represents more than the cruise line will do for their direct bookings."

 

It's no more 'unprofessional' than to expect to pay less than the MSRP on any product sold at retail.  Do you believe that customers should demand to pay MSRP in order to get 'better service'?  When you purchase a home, do you pay what the price listed on MLS or do you, "unprofessionally", negotiate the price?

Edited by RocketMan275

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4 hours ago, LHT28 said:

I would not dismiss an agent because they do not discount  the fare

Some people want cash rebates

I want good service 

It is  a personal choice

YMMV

 

A discounted fare does not mean you receive less than good service.  You can have both.  I truly believe the services provided by my TA are better than the services I've received elsewhere.  (Including from a PCC.)

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28 minutes ago, RocketMan275 said:

A discounted fare does not mean you receive less than good service.  You can have both.  I truly believe the services provided by my TA are better than the services I've received elsewhere.  (Including from a PCC.)

Not all TA's  are created equal

Not all online  agencies  have REAL  TA's

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Just now, LHT28 said:

Not all TA's  are created equal

Not all online  agencies  have REAL  TA's

Exactly so.  But, there are so many TA, that there are no reason to accept less.   See my answers to the questions:

 

  1. Do they offer discounts on cruise line fares? Mine offers an 8 to 10 % discount or OBC.  Your choice.
  2. Do they they have cancellation penalties in addition to those the cruise line have? Mine does not.
  3. Do they have any other fees not charged by the cruise line? None.
  4. What perks do they offer? Same as or in addition to the cruise lines offerings?  My TA passes through any perks offered by the cruise line and adds in her discount.
  5. What hours do they work  & can you reach them on weekends? What is the response time?  Are there back-ups? My TA has answered emails on the weekends.  Her response time depends upon the urgency.  I recently changed dining preferences on a cruise 12 months out.  She responded next day which was more than adequate.  I usually get a response within a couple of  hours.
  6. Emergency contacts? Telephone or email or text.
  7. Ways to make contact – phone, email, text?  Yes.
  8. Do they watch for price drops?  No, my TA does not watch for price drops.  I prefer the sure thing of her discounts over a TA that 'watches for price drops' that may or may not occur.  More importantly, my TA will honor any price drops as posted on the cruise line webpage.  I send her an email and get a new invoice with the new and discounted price within an hour or so.  And, yes, she does break out the non-commissionable fares from the total fare.
  9. Do they remind you a few days before final payment is due?  Yes, but that isn't a big deal to me.  I enter the final payment date in my calendar and my computer reminds me.  I find that better than relying upon someone else for something so important.   I normally set that date a week or so in advance of the actual final payment date.
  10. Ask about their own cruise and travel experience.  Do they specialize in cruising?  Do they specialize in certain cruise lines or itineraries?  My TA books river cruise, ocean cruises, on multiple cruise lines.  In fact, that's one of the best things about her.  Once I had two cruises booked on two different lines.  Unfortunately, I had to cancel both cruises.  I decided to rebook on a different line.   If I had booked direct, that would have required at least three calls.  Instead, I made one call to her and withing 10 minutes I had cancelled both cruises and rebooked them on a different line.  And, yes, she does take cruise herself.  Often complimentary cruise because of her high volume.
  11. Do they handle travel insurance?  She does and it's very good insurance.  I don't normally buy insurance through her.  My credit card provides sufficient cancellation insurance and I purchase GeoBlue medical insurance on an annual basis.  The GeoBlue is somewhat redundant since I also have tricare for life which cover out of country medical.

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7 hours ago, RocketMan275 said:

 

-The TA can sell the cruise for anything the TA desires.  A cruise line that doesn't allow that would face issues with restraint of trade.  Or, perhaps price fixing.  It's just like any retailer.  The manufacturers cannot dictate final sale prices.  The argument that TA are forbidden to discount is a very convenient excuse used by some TA to justify their no-discount policies.

 

It's no more 'unprofessional' than to expect to pay less than the MSRP on any product sold at retail.  Do you believe that customers should demand to pay MSRP in order to get 'better service'?  When you purchase a home, do you pay what the price listed on MLS or do you, "unprofessionally", negotiate the price?

 

Well in one of your previous responses you said that we have no idea how TA's are compensated, which I would think includes you.  Perhaps you don't, but I do.  And you are incorrect with your assumptions.   They cannot sell the cruise for anything they desire unless they wish to do so out of their pocket.

 

If they are selling it for less than the published direct price from the cruise line it is coming directly from the commissions they are paid as they are responsible to the cruise line for the full published fare with the bookings they sell. The cruise line will be paid their published rate - they will not accept a discounted amount.  That published fare is the cost of the cruise to the TA for the customer.  They are then (at a time after the cruise is completed) paid a commission out of that amount by the cruise line. They do not add a separate margin on top as profit to them. 

 

And to be clear - as stated before - my comment on buying business as unprofessional is with regards to giving part of ones paid compensation to a customer as an incentive to do business together.  

 

But believe as you wish.  I know factually that I am correct.

Edited by leaveitallbehind

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