What Is a Cruise Broker?

Paul Gauguin cruise ship sailing the ocean

Cruise brokers are serious cruise experts who have sailed pretty much all the ships on the market-a pretty serious feat to accomplish! They can rattle off the seemingly most mundane of details, but it's an essential feature of their job since they need to know their niche market inside and out. According to the Travel Industry Dictionary, a cruise broker is a travel agent or other person who specializes in the sale of last-minute cruise berths.

What Cruise Brokers Offer

Also called cruise consolidators, cruise brokers have arrangements in place with various cruise lines and travel sellers to secure a set of rooms that they then offer to their clients at a heavily discounted rate. Oftentimes, these are last-minute deals, so you need to be pretty flexible to take advantage of some of the best-priced options.

They have detailed maps and deck plans; they know the difference between the average staterooms on each deck and position on the boat.

Some cruise brokers specialize in handling group events and destination management planning. Maybe it's a company that is planning an employee retreat, or an organizer planning a special themed cruise event. Cruise brokers can tell them about the options for booking a block of rooms and help event organizers narrow down which ships would best suit their needs.

Buy Sea is one of the companies that specialize in brokering and managing destination events. According to their service page, they are the leading and largest cruise and all-inclusive brokerage. They will help organizers find the perfect destination, ship, resort, and destination management company for whatever the event is. Buy Sea handles everything from site selection to contract negotiations, pre-program operations and on-site assistance.

How They Differ From Other Travel Professionals

Travel agents may be familiar with some cruises and sell cruises, but they also book a variety of other travel needs, like hotels, airfare, and car rentals. Cruise brokers tend to specialize only in last-minute cruise deals and their prices are typically lower than your average travel agent. They get a block of rooms set aside for their direct customers, so you will see prices on the cruise line's website that vary from the prices on cruise brokers' websites.

Typical Fee Structure

In general, brokers who offer last-minute deals on their websites don't charge customers for their services. They take a commission from the cruise line for the cabins they book. In some cases, they take reduced commissions in order to pass along bigger savings to you, making up for it with the quantity of cabins they book. Some sites even note a guarantee that the price of your cruise won't increase after booking.

Companies like Buy Sea, who specialize in brokering your cruise ship and managing all aspects of your event, typically don't charge a fee for their services.

Do You Need a Cruise Broker?

In most cases, the answer is going to be yes. Unless you're a savvy cruiser who books the same line for each vacation and has built up status with a specific line, price is probably one of your most important criteria.

When you book a discounted cruise through a broker site, you may not get the status benefits you would by booking it through the cruise line directly. The trade-off is you may score a deal of up to 60% off, for example, on the cabin.

If you're the person responsible for booking your company's event on a cruise ship, working with a specialty broker is definitely recommended. Not having to deal with all the individual vendors and businesses is less hassle, and these people are specialists in negotiating prices and contracts. Plus, it means you are dealing with one contract for the entire event, rather than separate contracts for the cruise line, the resort, and destination specific vendors.

Cruise Broker Options

If you're looking for examples of some cruise specialty agents and brokers, these are some of the more popular options.

  • The Cruise Guy was founded by cruise industry expert Stewart Chiron. He helped pioneer the cruise sales and marketing industry with around 30 years of experience. He was named one of the Top 15 Cruise Brokers by MSNBC and Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel Magazine. His site has been up since 1995 and is part of the Leisure Pros travel group.
  • Vacations to Go calls themselves the world's largest cruise agency and has an overwhelming number of deals to choose from. You can save up to 82% on cruises here, so it's worth spending some time browsing. There is a 90-day ticker that provides a listing of the last-minute deals on the world's best lines.
  • The Cruise Brothers is a family-owned cruise consolidator with over 30 years experience. They have a network of nearly 300 agents and partners with Shoretrips, Club Med, Superclubs, and more.
  • Cruise.com is one of the largest Internet cruise specialists, serving over 500,000 customers since 1998. It's owned by Omega World Travel, Inc., and offers users 5-10% off the lowest rate, promising to beat out other cruise consolidators by $25-$500.

Tips for Booking

To book the best possible cruise vacation at the lowest possible price, keep these key points in mind.

  • Cruise broker suggesting a cruise for customers
    Once you've identified a specific cruise you are interested in, look at several sites to compare prices and special deals. Remember, some brokers are much bigger players in the industry and have a better selection of cruises and discounts to pass along.
  • Look at brokers' FAQs to see if they offer a price guarantee or matching policy. In some cases, you may want to book as early as possible as the cruise broker locks in the price, but stays on the lookout for fare sales. This means you get the benefit of knowing you have a cabin reserved, but if there is a fare sale and prices decrease, they will see if the cruise line will discount it as a "retroactive fare decrease."
  • Getting the best deal on your cruise may come down to your ability to be flexible. In some cases, you may find the best deals are just a few weeks out. That's great if you live near the port you're looking to depart from. However, it can be impossible if you're flying from the US to Spain to catch a Mediterranean cruise. The savings you get from the cruise may be lost in the cost of last minute international flights. Given that, make sure you are researching flight prices at the same time you're ready to book your cruise.
  • You also need to research whether buying a heavily discounted cruise will keep you from earning status with the cruise line. You may think you won't go on another cruise ever again, but a majority of passengers are already booking their next cruise before disembarking!
  • Make sure you verify whether taxes and fees are included in the price or will they be added on later. Taxes and fees can vary based on the destination, as some of these charges include things like local harbor pilots when needed, tolls, baggage handling, security, and more. Sherman's Travel has noted they can be less than 20% of the base cruise fare, but may be as high as 50% in other instances.

They Work for You

Just as mortgage brokers earn their commissions from banks and lending companies and not from homebuyers looking for the best possible mortgage, cruise brokers are an excellent resource for anyone looking to book a cruise vacation. They are especially convenient for group vacations where blocks of staterooms and additional activities need to be arranged. Last minute trips have never been so affordable.

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