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Ann_on_the_road

How you met your luxury TA

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Tell me how you met and fell in love with your TA specialist for luxury cruising. Any stories about why you stick with them also appreciated.

 

My only experiences with TAs have been dismal, mostly through corporate contracts mandated by my employer. Those outfits were abysmal, we never let them book anything without telling them the exact flight numbers, etc.  Then there’s the time a TA sold me “travel insurance” that failed to pay out because she attached it to only a tiny segment of my 3 month trip, clearly did not know her products and couldn’t fix it. 

 

We just finished our first and last mainline cruise. Got a taste for what we liked, abhorred and is possible. First thing we want is a ship an order of magnitude smaller, LOL.  I’d sure like a competent TA to help me next time, but have no idea where to find one in this category and no friends IRL who cruise to ask.  So while CC doesn’t let us talk about “who”, surely how you found your pro is fair game. Give me hope that there’s a match for us, because true luxury would mean not having to do all the upfront work myself. 

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We were lucky enough to be given a personal recommendation from a fellow cruiser on our first cruise - a favour we've now in turn been able to do for many fellow cruisers over the years. I really think that is how successful agencies prosper by recommendations from happy customers 

 

When we spoke the TA (who is located in the US while we are in Australia) to check them out for ourselves we found them to be knowledgeable on the luxury lines as they had sailed on them and had relationships in place both in the lines back offices onshore and with management on the ships. They were also able to offer a generous OBC.

 

We continue to be surprised by the little things they come up with to make our cruising and travels great experiences and we've been lucky enough to sail with them on a couple of occasions

 

I suggest you work out some questions that relate to the things that are important to you that you can ask any TA seeking to look after you

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My first TA was on my brother's recommendation, but I didn't like her much.  Since then, I have been using a TA that I selected sort of at random, after sending email requests to several cruise-heavy or cruise-specific travel agencies in town - the one I selected offered me the best deal in OBC (and is a very high-volume Crystal agency).  Recently I took a recommendation from Stickman and have have booked a very future cruise with his favourite TA.......I hope I don't need her expertise very often (i.e. I hope nothing goes wrong), but the experiences of Stickman and other cruisers I've met who use her have been excellent. 

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We also received a referral from another passenger (10 years ago) for our TA that is one of Regent's top selling TA's.  They give a rebate on your cruise fare and OBC's on many sailings.  This is not a one person shop where you cannot reach anyone if he/she is sick or on vacation.  Every 2-3 years they have a party/get together in either their hometown or Miami with Regent management present.  They are kind, understanding and amazing.

 

 

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So I ran into the one friend I thought might use a TA and she just laughed. She hates to travel, so nope. I suspect I may have to do the legwork myself for our next trip and hope I can get a referral from another passenger if we like the experience. Sub-optimal, but the idea of interviewing random TAs from the Internet sounds unpleasant and time-consuming. Sure would like to tap some OBC though. 

Edited by Ann_on_the_road

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17 minutes ago, Ann_on_the_road said:

Sub-optimal, but the idea of interviewing random TAs from the Internet sounds unpleasant and time-consuming. Sure would like to tap some OBC though. 

 

How about this compromise....

Reluctantly, but so you do get access to OBC for your next cruise, can I suggest you do find a TA off the internet who offers OBC for your first trip (there's plenty out there) and then when onboard have a chat to new friends you meet about how they use

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We actually found out about our high-performing Regent agent here on CC, when agents could actually hang out here (although not to solicit business.)  That was 15 years ago, ha ha.  And we're still using this agency.  But the best way sometimes can be a personal recommendation from others *while cruising*.  Then again, you can talk opening elsewhere on social media which will remain unnamed.

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On 9/24/2019 at 9:24 PM, Ann_on_the_road said:

So I ran into the one friend I thought might use a TA and she just laughed. She hates to travel, so nope. I suspect I may have to do the legwork myself for our next trip and hope I can get a referral from another passenger if we like the experience. Sub-optimal, but the idea of interviewing random TAs from the Internet sounds unpleasant and time-consuming. Sure would like to tap some OBC though. 

For your next cruise keep asking people you know; neighbors, work colleagues, relatives and friends who cruise if they have a TA and if they do ask if they would recommend them.  I would start there before going pot-luck.

 

Going forward as you cruise ask people if they have a TA that they are happy about.  Try to come up with a handful of TA's including contact information.

 

For your next cruise write to each of them.  Send them the particulars of the cruise and ask what amenities they would offer.  Also ask them all the same set of questions; how long in the business, what types of lines they specialize in (if you want luxury lines I recommend finding a TA who specializes in them), how they differentiate themselves from other TA's, and a few other questions along these lines.  This in itself will give you a feel of their responsiveness as to how the level of effort they put into this and their timeliness.  Set up a phone call with those whose answers you felt fit what you were looking for.  Yes this is sort of like a phone interview to see how you click with them.  To me it's important to see if you click with the TA.  We all have different personalities and requirements so while one person might love their TA it might be the wrong fit for someone else. Sort of like most things in life.  Even cruise lines.  😀

 

I've been booking cruises for 35+ years.  We didn't' find that perfect TA the first time around but overtime we keep finding TA's that were a step up from the previous one and several years ago found our current one who we think is wonderful along with her support team.  By the way this is a question I recommend which is how does the TA operated when they are out of pocket/away from the office or wherever they work.  Do they have an assistant.  If not who fills in for them?  You don't want to be left hanging. Another question is in addition to the actual cruise do they do other things; help with tours, hotels, flights, etc and what benefits do they bring to the table. (Eg., some TA's are part of agencies that provide additional perks at hotels).

 

My point is it might take time to find the TA that you are pleased with.  You might find one the first time around or you might find one after trying out other TA's.

 

Good luck with this.

 

Keith

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About  10 years ago we left the full-service TA and found the one that gives us the biggest discount. We’re very happy with her because I do all the legwork tell her what I want and she takes care of it. When we return home we have a lovely surprise of a big check waiting for us.  I  found her on the website of the agency. If you were willing to do your own research it’s the way to go. If you want your handheld it is not the way to go.

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Some helpful tips both for picking an agent as well as getting the absolute best price/amenities:

 

 

Picking the Agent:

 

1.  Ask the TA how long have they been in the industry.  While this is not always true, the rule of thumb is that generally the longer the better. 

 

2.  Referrals from your friends are likely the very best way to land a "good" Luxury TA

 

3.  While it would be nice if your TA has sailed with the line you want to go with, many TA's have limited experience sailing on true luxury lines (Regent, Silverseas, Seabourne, Crystal).  Even with TA discounts, these lines are very expensive relative to what most TA's make in a year.    

 

With that said, many TA's that sell luxury product have had extensive training direct from the luxury cruise lines, and extensive experience selling these products.  It is ideal if your TA has sailed on the line you are interested in, but not 100% necessary depending on the agent's experience booking with that line. 

 

4.  Find an agent willing to "do what it takes" get you extra amenities aka goodies, OBC, refunds, freebies (more about this below in point 3.)  

 

 

Getting the Best Price + Extra Amenities Possible (note that this section is soley about getting the best price -- not necessarily about how knowledgeable the agent is about the cruiseline -- generally though the smarter an agent is about group rates, the more likely they have experience in general)

 

1.  Ask if they have agency Group Rates or Consortium Group Rates -- many travel agencies are part of a consortium of agencies -- the consortium group often has extra consortium group rates on the ship that will give you extra amenities such as OBC, free specialty dinners, Free Excursions, etc. -- sometimes even cheaper priced staterooms.   

 

Individual agency groups on the other hand are set up by the actual agency itself -- and not all agencies are good at doing this.  A "good" agency will have lots of agency groups as well as consortium groups.  Some agencies specialize in group rates for specific destinations as well.  Agency groups are blocks of staterooms reserved way in advance of a sailing at a set rate.  Regardless of if the cruise price goes up that agency group rate will stay the same. 

 

Group rates are very important for getting extra amenities and stateroom discounts .  So that is the first most important factor for landing deals.

 

To establish a "baseline" for what a cruise is going to cost you your first step is to always get a quote direct from the cruise line THEN go agency hunting.  That way you will know if the agency is offering you a deal or not.

 

 

2.  Travel Agencies generally have extra amenities available on top of whatever the regular promotions the cruise line is offering.  Those extra amenities come out of the agencies group space rates we discussed in point #1.   So first call the cruise line yourself to find out what promotions they have in place (and be aware that promotions do expire).  This gives you the knowledge that your TA knows what they are talking about when pricing out a cruise.  Remember you want the extra amenities and OBC that only a TA has access to out of their agency or consortium group space but you also need to make sure your TA is familiar with all the promotions and discounts offered by the Cruise Line -- and what promotions the agent can combine with their group space rates and amenities. 

 

Until you are confident that the TA is knowledgeable regarding luxury lines, this is one way to double check by finding out the promotions from the cruise line yourself first as well as the baseline price the cruiseline is charging for the room category you want.

 

Which leads me to a somewhat controversial way to save money, but one that will work if you are persistent about finding the right agent -- an agent with knowledge, experience but also an agent that is willing to "cut you in" so everybody wins:

 

 

3.  Margins on luxury cruises are huge for agencies so ask for some of the margin in the form of a refund or extra on board amenity.

 

Agencies generally make about 10% - 20% of the cruise fare as a commission.  It's important to note that the agency commission does not increase the cost of your cruise (assuming  a market rate you'd pay the same whether you booked direct with the cruise line or via the agency -- it's more like a "finders fee" paid out to the agency by the cruiseline for referring the business).  So booking direct will never save you that commission margin, the cruiseline just pockets it as extra profit. 

 

So with most luxury lines, on say a 15k - 20k costing cruise, there is likely a profit margin for the agency of approximately $2200 - $2500 USD dollars commission.  Luxury product has huge commission margins -- agents are often able to create an extra On Board Credit (or often a refund of whatever you agree/negotiate) to you out of their own commission. 

 

Ask the agent for a cut of the margin -- simply say you know what the commission margins are and in return for giving the agent your business you'd like a small split of the commission profit in the form of OBC or a direct refund.  If you add that with a promise to continue to do business with that agent again as well as referring your friends ….

 

Everyone wins right? 

 

The key is to be reasonable.  Assume whatever the cost of your cruise the agency is going to get 10% - 20% of that back as a commission -- So asking for a split of say 33% back to yourself is generally a safe number to choose.  Using the example I used above, if you believe the agency will be making say $2500 commission, go ahead and ask for an extra $500 - $700 refund or OBC out of the agency commission margin.   

 

Agents still need to get paid for the hard work they do but most agents will not turn away luxury business even with a REASONABLE split as it's still far more profitable than the commission made on mass market lines.  The key word here is REASONABLE.  If you get too greedy, Luxury TA's are not afraid to turn down business from unreasonable clients -- they do not work for free.   

 

Be aware that you will probably have to wait until the agent gets paid by the cruise line to be refunded on a commission margin split -- so you will have to pay up front with the commission kickback arranged by your agent when the agent is paid.

 

 

Hope this helps !

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

Edited by bamelin

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I should also add the above advice also works if doing suites on the mainstream and premium cruise lines assuming a 15k - 20k cost cruise.

 

Don't bother asking for "cut" if you are booking anything less than a suite on a mainstream or premium line -- there is no cut to give the margins on those lines regular staterooms are pathetic. 

 

Aside from that though the advice regarding group space is valid no matter the cruise line class.

 

Oh and in addition to what I said above, the biggest reason to check with the cruise line first on what the base price is -- you want to make sure you aren't getting ripped off by a TA.  Some unscrupulous TA's will "mark up" the cruise fare to make a bigger commission in the case where a client is clueless.   Don't be clueless.

 

So the starting point is to always find out what the cruise line is charging first, what the promotions are, then find an agency ideally with agency or consortium group space, then work out a deal with the agent on getting cut in on the commission.  Keep in mind too sometimes there is no group space pricing available --- it is what it is.

 

 

Edited by bamelin

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BAMELIN

I was with you until you asked the TA for  a cut of their commission

TA's  do not make a lot  & they have homes/families to clothed & feed 

maybe not in a position to take Luxury cruises either

JMO

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1 hour ago, LHT28 said:

BAMELIN

I was with you until you asked the TA for  a cut of their commission

TA's  do not make a lot  & they have homes/families to clothed & feed 

maybe not in a position to take Luxury cruises either

JMO


I get it, that’s why I said it’s controversial advice both with some consumers as well as industry professionals.

 

Trust me on this though, TA’s want the luxury business and often cutting clients in is the only way to give a competitive advantage, particularly in the case where the agency may not have group space rates available (versus another agency that does).
 

Half the time the TA may not even tell you this is what they are doing, by offering free gratuities, an excursion, or a big OBC they have paid for themselves, out of the commission.

 

I’ve never asked a TA for a cut of the commission, I’m the one giving the cut.  😉

 

 

 

 

Edited by bamelin

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41 minutes ago, bamelin said:

Trust me on this though, TA’s want the luxury business and often cutting clients in is the only way to give a competitive advantage, particularly in the case where the agency may not have group space rates available (versus another agency that does)

 

I'm certainly with you on discussing the amount of OBC/Rebate they can offer - where it come's from is their business - but I know it will impact their commission and I also know they will only do what works for their business. As you say the margins are much healthier on luxury lines than the mainstream ones

 

I can't remember the last time I bought a major item without a discount off list price - discounting in one form or another is common practice in both business and consumer land

 

BTW - I'm not a Travel Agent - but I do talk to mine frequently! and value having a good one who thinks outside the box for me

Edited by Stickman1990

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Lots of agents are not commissioned as well but work on salary.   Or sometimes a combination of both with monthly sales targets.

 

With big margin items like luxury cruises there is ALWAYS room to play with and it’s still in the agents advantage versus what a HAL/CEL/Princess or any mainstream cruise would net (which is usually between 200 - 600 dollars commission).   Usually the same amount of work put in too.  

 

Buying a luxury cruise is more akin to buying a car and can often be just as confusing.   You TA’s job should be to simplify the options for you, and help you to get the product (experience in this case) that you are looking for.

 

Like buying cars, with cruises (ESPECIALLY LUXURY CRUISES) there are many promotions, possible rebates, etc .... and just like car salespersons, TAs are paid in many different ways ... some by salary, some straight off the commission split with the agency, some are sole proprietorship taking 100% commission with no split, and some are paid a salary plus bonuses based on revenue targets.

 

My point being no agent will “rip themself off” on a deal.  With huge margins on luxury cruises it’s is still VERY profitable even when cutting in clients on commissions in the form of extra incentives be it a rebate, OBC, etc.

 

Just like at car dealerships, you just have to ask.

 

 

Edited by bamelin

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On 9/26/2019 at 11:55 PM, Keith1010 said:

For your next cruise keep asking people you know; neighbors, work colleagues, relatives and friends who cruise if they have a TA and if they do ask if they would recommend them.  I would start there before going pot-luck.

 

Going forward as you cruise ask people if they have a TA that they are happy about.  Try to come up with a handful of TA's including contact information.

 

Sadly, no friends/relatives/acquaintances are into cruising. I live in an extraordinarily small town. My friends are more the river-rafting-without-any-luxuries-whatsoever types. That was the reason for the post. 

 

I want to know the story of HOW you met your current TA, not what to ask them should I find this mythical miracle-worker (although the advice in previous responses has been helpful). We are looking at a possible SeaDream voyage, which limits the TA talent pool even further, it seems. Sigh...like I said, part of the luxury for me would be outsourcing some of the planning pain.

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10 hours ago, Ann_on_the_road said:

 

Sadly, no friends/relatives/acquaintances are into cruising. I live in an extraordinarily small town. My friends are more the river-rafting-without-any-luxuries-whatsoever types. That was the reason for the post. 

 

I want to know the story of HOW you met your current TA, not what to ask them should I find this mythical miracle-worker (although the advice in previous responses has been helpful). We are looking at a possible SeaDream voyage, which limits the TA talent pool even further, it seems. Sigh...like I said, part of the luxury for me would be outsourcing some of the planning pain.

We have found all our agents we have used over the years the way I described this above  through work colleagues, land friends and cruise friends.

 

My agent who I adore I found through a very nice couple we met on a long cruise who specialized in luxury cruise lines.  When I was ready to make the switch I contacted her via e-mail and then by phone.

 

Keith

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The first TA that I liked I found by walking into a travel agency across the street from my office. So it was pure luck. I wanted to piece together a vacation in the Greek Isles. I'd done one cruise before and hated it.  And I rarely hate vacations because, well, vacation.  Anyway, he managed to convince me to try a little ship called the Song of Flower--it would change my view of cruising. I did, and it did. But, like so many travel agencies of old, that one folded and he took up another career.

 

After a bad experience with an on-line travel agency, a fellow passenger suggested I use his TA. That was 16 years ago. I've been with her ever since. 

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On 10/28/2019 at 4:24 PM, wishIweretravelling said:

The first TA that I liked I found by walking into a travel agency across the street from my office. So it was pure luck. I wanted to piece together a vacation in the Greek Isles. I'd done one cruise before and hated it.  And I rarely hate vacations because, well, vacation.  Anyway, he managed to convince me to try a little ship called the Song of Flower--it would change my view of cruising. I did, and it did. But, like so many travel agencies of old, that one folded and he took up another career.

 

After a bad experience with an on-line travel agency, a fellow passenger suggested I use his TA. That was 16 years ago. I've been with her ever since. 

Wow!  That sounds like our story with a TA and the Song of Flower!  Our first experience cruising was horrible and turned us off cruising for 10 years until this TA recommended the Song of Flower.  That was 1992.  Boy, do I miss that little ship.  We've been cruising ever since.

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On 11/25/2019 at 5:14 PM, fudgbug said:

Boy, do I miss that little ship.  We've been cruising ever since.

No need to miss her-- go sail her again-- she's alive and well with Quark Expeditions!

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5 minutes ago, princeton123211 said:

No need to miss her-- go sail her again-- she's alive and well with Quark Expeditions!

Thanks.  As much as I'd like to do more expedition cruises, we have difficulty these days of getting into and out of zodiacs.

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