A wealthy friend decided to take a one-month vacation with Seabourn Cruises and knew the ship, itinerary, departure date and stateroom she wanted. She decided to conduct an experiment in cruise bargain hunting by calling three travel agents and, after relaying the specifics of her desired voyage, advised each agent that whoeverave her the best price would get her business. She saved thousands of dollars.
The travel agent who won her business did it by rebating. If there is one dirty word in the cruise industry it's rebating, which means an agent kicks back part of his or her commission (generally 15% of the cruise fare) to pass along a lower fare.
After 15 years of writing about the cruise industry I still do not see why rebating is bad – do not real estate agents and car salesmen do the same thing? Is not this just basic competition? Still, several cruise lines will not let any travel agent rebate cruise fares, including Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Crystal Cruises, Regent Seven Sea Cruises and, to a large part, Norwegian Cruise Line.
The remaining cruise lines do allow rebating, but will not permit travel agents to advertise or promote a lower price to the public. You have to ask.
This means that if your sights are set on a Princess, Holland America, Cunard, Oceania, Carnival and Seabourn cruise, it's worth your time to ask travel agents if he / she can come up with a lower price than the one you're first quoted.
Of course your chances are better in some cruising regions. Right now, sales of Caribbean, Mexico, Baltic, South America and Western Europe cruises are soft. Here, here you stand a better chance of getting a lower price than on Alaska and Greek Island cruises, which are selling much better this year.
It's all about supply and demand. And timing. For example, traditionally suites and balcony cabins sell out first. But now that a bad economy is upon us and there's overcapacity in the Caribbean, Mexico and some areas of Europe, you still may get a better deal on the highest-priced categories. So ask. The only think a travel agent can say is "sorry, this is the price."
WHEN NOT TO SHOP AROUND: When you have a wonderful travel agent you trust implicitely, who has steered you towards good deals in the past. To save $ 100 or so is not worth it.
One caveat. Travel agents can only rebate the price of a cruise. There are fixed costs, like port charges, taxes, fuel surcharges and airfare that are never negotiable.