I’m booking a cruise and am overwhelmed by all the options. Where will I find the best rate—through a travel agent or online?
Credit: Peter Arkle

Question submitted by Alex Bruno, Boston, Mass.

Trip Doctor’s Answer

Book through an agent. Cruise lines are strict about keeping pricing consistent across the board—so if you find a discount offered online, your agent should have access to the same rate. “The playing field is pretty level in terms of what vendors can sell a cruise for,” says Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor-in-chief of cruisecritic.com. When deals do pop up, they usually take the form of onboard credits, excursions, and other perks. Note the fine print: a lower price online could be for a different cabin category and may not include the same extras. Given the potential for confusion, it’s no surprise that 80 percent of cruisers still book through a travel agent, says T+L’s cruise editor, Jane Wooldridge. “If you don’t care what ship you’re on or where you’re going, you can buy a cruise like you would an airline ticket, and just grab a good deal you see online.” But agents can offer insight and advice that a website cannot. The best of them will be familiar with the features and quirks of a ship, will tell you if upgrades become available later, and may get you access to onboard welcome parties. (If you’re using miles for your flights, they can also help you obtain air credit.) “In general, you’re not going to pay more to book through an agent,” Wooldridge says—yet the advantages are clear.

Have a travel conundrum? The trip doctor is in. Send questions to tripdoctor@aexp.com.