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How to Find a Reputable TA


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I know we can’t recommend specific travel agencies here but how do I find a good one? Done about 10 cruises and booked everything myself, I’m one to check on a weekly basis for deals and price drops but keep hearing about additional perks thru a TA. Don’t have any family or friends that cruise (hard to believe, right?) so don’t have anyone to ask. I’ve looked online and check reviews but making me even more confused since even the best reviewed TAs have some awful reviews mixed in. Help.

 

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19 minutes ago, Ukigirl said:

I know we can’t recommend specific travel agencies here but how do I find a good one? Done about 10 cruises and booked everything myself, I’m one to check on a weekly basis for deals and price drops but keep hearing about additional perks thru a TA. Don’t have any family or friends that cruise (hard to believe, right?) so don’t have anyone to ask. I’ve looked online and check reviews but making me even more confused since even the best reviewed TAs have some awful reviews mixed in. Help.

 

We have had many TA’s .We always seem to have discussions on cruises and nearly everyone we talk to has a great TA.

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24 minutes ago, Ukigirl said:

I know we can’t recommend specific travel agencies here but how do I find a good one? Done about 10 cruises and booked everything myself, I’m one to check on a weekly basis for deals and price drops but keep hearing about additional perks thru a TA. Don’t have any family or friends that cruise (hard to believe, right?) so don’t have anyone to ask. I’ve looked online and check reviews but making me even more confused since even the best reviewed TAs have some awful reviews mixed in. Help.

 

I have yet to find a "Good One" that I would give repeat business to. My friends and family book directly with the cruise line. Last time I booked through by big box Warehouse club. They offered a large OBC $250. They have never offered that deal again.  The agent I booked with was never able to be reached and my calls were transferred or returned by another agent. Most times I was on hold for 45 minutes or longer. I was just calling to confirm my OBC just before the cruise and once I called to ask what $ amount to insure for the cruise as I know some amount is refunded if you cancel.  Both times the agents were helpful. I never heard back from the agent who booked my cruise but all must be well because she left me a voice message last week asking if I was interested in booking another cruise.  Bottom line is I would only go through this agency if they offered that large OBC again.  I don't cruise enough or book the top rooms to qualify for a large OBC or other perks.  What I look for is an agent who will pay gratuities or is able to book me at a group rate.  I haven't been able to find a group rate yet.  Start by researching the agents that advertise here on CC to see what they offer.  To me it's not worth a $50 OBC to go with a big box agent who offers no service and I wouldn't expect them to go to bat for me if there is an issue. I 'm better off fighting my own battles since I'm my only client.

Edited by Iamcruzin
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Since you know no others that cruise regularly , after 10 cruises booked with no TA goodies or assistance , it is time to take a chance on one.

 

Shop around the websites , speak with  online agencies that have real Cruise Specialist TA's to work with you .

You already know what you want but be open to recommendations.

 

Edited by MCC retired
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I have a few guidelines in determining a preferred TA.  First I would want to deal with a live person that you can communicate with directly either in person or on the phone and not just through email or text. On-line only would scare me off as that limits your options should an issue arise, etc. 

 

Second, I would ask if they charge any separate fees not charged directly by the cruise lines for originating, modifying, or cancelling a booking made through them.  If they do, I would move on to one who doesn't (there are many) as, since they are paid a commission by the cruise lines for booking business through them, this is just extra income to them out of your pocket.  (Often this is used to offset OBC's or other perks they might offer to entice you to book through them).

 

Third, I would confirm the level of service provided in managing your booking - are they proactive regarding favorable price changes on your behalf? Do they complete your check in and provide your boarding docs?, etc., - or do they just process your booking.

 

Lastly,  I would ask about their personal experience with cruising and the lines they have cruise on themselves.  To me direct experience is of value in their ability to consult with you on lines that may suit your preferences best.

 

Just my opinion.

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20 minutes ago, leaveitallbehind said:

I have a few guidelines in determining a preferred TA.  First I would want to deal with a live person that you can communicate with directly either in person or on the phone and not just through email or text. On-line only would scare me off as that limits your options should an issue arise, etc. 

 

Second, I would ask if they charge any separate fees not charged directly by the cruise lines for originating, modifying, or cancelling a booking made through them.  If they do, I would move on to one who doesn't (there are many) as, since they are paid a commission by the cruise lines for booking business through them, this is just extra income to them out of your pocket.  (Often this is used to offset OBC's or other perks they might offer to entice you to book through them).

 

Third, I would confirm the level of service provided in managing your booking - are they proactive regarding favorable price changes on your behalf? Do they complete your check in and provide your boarding docs?, etc., - or do they just process your booking.

 

Lastly,  I would ask about their personal experience with cruising and the lines they have cruise on themselves.  To me direct experience is of value in their ability to consult with you on lines that may suit your preferences best.

 

Just my opinion.

 Totally agree !

You don't want an Order Taker .

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28 minutes ago, leaveitallbehind said:

I have a few guidelines in determining a preferred TA.  First I would want to deal with a live person that you can communicate with directly either in person or on the phone and not just through email or text. On-line only would scare me off as that limits your options should an issue arise, etc. 

 

Second, I would ask if they charge any separate fees not charged directly by the cruise lines for originating, modifying, or cancelling a booking made through them.  If they do, I would move on to one who doesn't (there are many) as, since they are paid a commission by the cruise lines for booking business through them, this is just extra income to them out of your pocket.  (Often this is used to offset OBC's or other perks they might offer to entice you to book through them).

 

Third, I would confirm the level of service provided in managing your booking - are they proactive regarding favorable price changes on your behalf? Do they complete your check in and provide your boarding docs?, etc., - or do they just process your booking.

 

Lastly,  I would ask about their personal experience with cruising and the lines they have cruise on themselves.  To me direct experience is of value in their ability to consult with you on lines that may suit your preferences best.

 

Just my opinion.

Mike, I agree 100% with your opinion and method. I do exactly the same.  

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There are certainly ways to conduct "due diligence" on line.  But I think one of the best ways to find out about agencies and agents is to simply socialize and chat with fellow cruisers while on a ship.  We often see the usual threads on CC about folks who prefer to dine alone (2 tops), admit they do not like to socialize with strangers, carefully guard their privacy, etc.  All that is perfectly fine and one's choice.  But, having been an avid cruiser for over forty years I can say that much of the best information we have learned (and dispensed) happens when we share large (usually 6-8) dinner tables in the MDR or just meet others while having cocktails, sitting in the Lido, on deck, etc.  When we meet other cruisers who are obviously well traveled we will often ask them how they book their cruises, hotels, etc.  No need to talk about money (unless everyone wants to get into that subject but it is amazing what you can learn by simply socializing and talking about travel.  

 

Hank

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Agree with all of the above.

 

Interesting though when we hear people comment about B&M agencies and on line agencies.   I used the same TA for business travel for years and lots of it.   Fact is I never went into her office/shop.  It was all done by phone or email.

 

We use an on line agency now. We get good service, good cruise OBC's, and the have extensive business hours.  Strictly a business transaction for us.  Not looking for a new best friend nor do we care if the person at the other end of the line is making small talk by asking about our grandchildren.  It is strictly price and delivery.  After all, buying a cruise is not much different than buying a commodity.

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1 hour ago, iancal said:

Agree with all of the above.

 

Interesting though when we hear people comment about B&M agencies and on line agencies.   I used the same TA for business travel for years and lots of it.   Fact is I never went into her office/shop.  It was all done by phone or email.

 

We use an on line agency now. We get good service, good cruise OBC's, and the have extensive business hours.  Strictly a business transaction for us.  Not looking for a new best friend nor do we care if the person at the other end of the line is making small talk by asking about our grandchildren.  It is strictly price and delivery.  After all, buying a cruise is not much different than buying a commodity.

 

I feel exactly the same way.  I realize that there are those who value a "personal relationship" with their TA and want to discuss options and recommendations.  That's not me.  I do my upfront research and know exactly what I want to book before I ever call a TA.  When I do make the call, I'm looking for the best price/perks from an agency that has the resources to provide service whenever I need it.  For me, this has usually turned out to be online and big box agencies.  In the past I have gotten TA recommendations from fellow cruisers, but when I call them their quotes have been disappointing.   Since I'm happy with the service levels of large online and big box TAs, I've pretty much given up the search for a personal TA.  I'm sure there are great ones out their, but I've yet to find one who quotes better prices/perks.

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I am always amazed when folks post about sticking with a travel agent because they are "friends" or they have special relationships.   Granted, if you are booking through a real friend then you may not care that it is costing you more money...sometimes hundred or thousands of dollars per booking.  We view our relationship with cruise/travel agents as a business relationship.  Yes,  we have fun conversations with one of our cruise agents and talk about her as though she is a friend.  But she is well aware that she is only a "friend" as long as she an deliver the best deals.  If not, our bookings go to a different agency (we tend to use 3 different agencies).   The deals are all about money (we are talking some real money).  We do a lot of travel (about 6 months a year) and all of our bookings are about business!  

 

As to those here who talk about their travel agents or Personal Cruise Counselors (what HAL calls their own clerks like they are friends, I wonder how often they go out to dinner with their "friends."  Some folks cannot separate their business dealings from a "friend" concept.  Sales people are trained to personalize business relationships and there are some folks that fall into that trap.  I still recall the last phone call from our PCC (Personal Cruise Counselor) at HAL who tried to get our business.  I made it clear that he could have our bookings if he could offer the best deal (he could not).    Bottom line is that I will call anyone my "friend" when they offer me the best deal.

 

Hank

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We booked our first cruise 20 years ago through a former co-worker/friend and based todays prices we paid probably twice what we should have. We then started booking directly with the cruise lines. The last 4 cruises we've gone through a big box warehouse club. We've found you pay the same or less than going direct and you get more perks. Also, if you have any issues, you have a toll free number to call in to get things straightened out. Although, we've never needed to call that number. Only issue we ever had was a promised ship board credit that didn't happen. So, they provided us an equivalent value cash card to use after we reported the error to them.

We have no plans to go anywhere else as long as they are providing this type of service.

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One thing I've learned about the internet is everyone makes the best choices. They eat the best foods. They have the best cars. Drink the best drinks. So I'm not surprised everyone has the best TAs too.

 

I know quite a few people that will religiously book every trip through their TA because they trust this person to do the right things for them. It is often even a friend. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I don't completely buy the notion that there are these super secret TAs that the cruise lines see and give them massive discounts because they sell a lot. I get volume discounts in any business, but it's not going to be what some of the exaggerations are.

 

Most people also aren't telling you that their $350 OBC was on a $6000 cruise. Often making you think your cheap cruise is going to give you a huge rebate if you find the secret Agent. These things are often very small percentages. TAs aren't making commissions more than 10-12% in most cases. They aren't going to give away all of their commission. Many will be likely to throw out money to their bread and butter clients to keep them from thinking of going elsewhere.

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9 hours ago, Hlitner said:

I am always amazed when folks post about sticking with a travel agent because they are "friends" or they have special relationships.   Granted, if you are booking through a real friend then you may not care that it is costing you more money...sometimes hundred or thousands of dollars per booking.  We view our relationship with cruise/travel agents as a business relationship.  Yes,  we have fun conversations with one of our cruise agents and talk about her as though she is a friend.  But she is well aware that she is only a "friend" as long as she an deliver the best deals.  If not, our bookings go to a different agency (we tend to use 3 different agencies).   The deals are all about money (we are talking some real money).  We do a lot of travel (about 6 months a year) and all of our bookings are about business!  

 

As to those here who talk about their travel agents or Personal Cruise Counselors (what HAL calls their own clerks like they are friends, I wonder how often they go out to dinner with their "friends."  Some folks cannot separate their business dealings from a "friend" concept.  Sales people are trained to personalize business relationships and there are some folks that fall into that trap.  I still recall the last phone call from our PCC (Personal Cruise Counselor) at HAL who tried to get our business.  I made it clear that he could have our bookings if he could offer the best deal (he could not).    Bottom line is that I will call anyone my "friend" when they offer me the best deal.

 

Hank

We had a TA for more than 15 years who was a friend .We knew he would not rip us off in any way.We used TA’s who were neighbors and one who was a friend of a neighbor.

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We like the OBC but we also like the independent feedback.  Two  bookings that I can  remember.  On one, we picked out a last minute cruise.   Emailed our on line TA.  She asked me to call her, which I did.  All she said is do not book today, wait until next week.   We took the hint.  Result...a $250 pp savings.     

 

The second time we were about to book a smaller ship cruise about five years ago.  She told us that she had several clients on that ship and that it was a dog.  AC, plumbing, flooding, and management issues.   Checked CC and sure enough the comments reflected her advice.  We selected the second ship on our list.  Granted, we might have been fine but our perspective was why take a chance with our time and our money.

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3 hours ago, Joebucks said:

Most people also aren't telling you that their $350 OBC was on a $6000 cruise. Often making you think your cheap cruise is going to give you a huge rebate if you find the secret Agent. These things are often very small percentages. TAs aren't making commissions more than 10-12% in most cases. They aren't going to give away all of their commission. Many will be likely to throw out money to their bread and butter clients to keep them from thinking of going elsewhere.

It's not difficult to book through a TA that will discount or give OBC of 8-10% of the cruise fare.  I, and many others, do it all the time.  Sure, a 10% discount on a $2000 booking is less than a 10% discount on a $10,000 booking.  I suspect the 10% discount means a lot to those who book the cheap cruises. 

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8 hours ago, Joebucks said:

One thing I've learned about the internet is everyone makes the best choices. They eat the best foods. They have the best cars. Drink the best drinks. So I'm not surprised everyone has the best TAs too.

 

I know quite a few people that will religiously book every trip through their TA because they trust this person to do the right things for them. It is often even a friend. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I don't completely buy the notion that there are these super secret TAs that the cruise lines see and give them massive discounts because they sell a lot. I get volume discounts in any business, but it's not going to be what some of the exaggerations are.

 

Most people also aren't telling you that their $350 OBC was on a $6000 cruise. Often making you think your cheap cruise is going to give you a huge rebate if you find the secret Agent. These things are often very small percentages. TAs aren't making commissions more than 10-12% in most cases. They aren't going to give away all of their commission. Many will be likely to throw out money to their bread and butter clients to keep them from thinking of going elsewhere.

When we talk about getting "good deals" we speak in terms of percentages, not specific dollars.  So, when quite a few of us here on CC explain that some cruise agencies routinely save cruisers 7-10% on each booking, that is what we mean :).  When I book a $6000 cruise I will generally save at least $600 by using one of our favored cruise agencies (we currently use three different agencies and go with the one that gives us the best deal).  And if somebody booked a $2000 cruise then they should expect about  $140 - $200 savings.  On the other hand, when we book very long and expensive cruises our savings are generally in multi--thousands of dollars (when compared to booking directly with the cruise line).

 

Nobody is talking about "super secret" TAs.  We are simply talking about very reputable high volume cruise agencies.  If one does their research (or talks to other cruisers) it is not difficult to find out a few agencies that routinely give 7-10% in OBCs or other amenities (or even a reduction in the cruise price...with some cruise lines).  

 

Now, you may choose to be a "denier" of the reality, but it truly is reality.  We have been cruising (extensively) for over forty years and book 70-120 days of cruises a year.  And believe me, we are generally saving 7-10% (and sometimes a lot more) through any of the agencies we use.  There is more involved then just "giving away commissions" as the industry is a bit more complex then some (such as yourself) believe.  Agencies (and in some cases large consortiums) work with the cruise lines....there is nothing happening under the table.  Not only are their normal commissions there can be overrides and other incentives (from the cruise lines) for certain high volume agencies.  I might add that there are other ways to get some amazing bargains, but these are generally so-called last minute (inside the final payment period) bookings.  When a cruise is not selling and has empty berths the cruise lines have various strategies to unload those unsold berths.  They will sometimes dump them off on "Interline" deals (not available to the general public) or will quietly have them marketed by a select number of cruise agencies (who are generally prohibited from publicly marketing the prices).  It is not that these deals are "secret" but rather they are generally made available to only those who have registered with those agencies.  In a sense it is done privately and one assumes it is done this way to avoid upsetting those who have already paid a much higher amount for the same cruise.

 

There is also a relatively new trend where one can actually save money (again we are in the 7-10% area) upfront rather then getting it as an On Board Credit.  This can be a great option on lines where the OBCs may not be fully refundable.  Consider a person who books what is essentially an all-inclusive cruise (with free drinks and prepaid gratuities) on a longer more expensive cruise.  They might get $2000+ in On Board Credits which they really do not need and would not generally spend on the ship.  With some lines a agencies it might be possible to get that $2000 off the cruise price and have zero OBC.  It does save problems.   Last year we had two cruises where we could not spend all of our OBCs.  On one, since the OBC was non-refundable I found myself using it in the casino and ultimately turning it into cash.  On another line (Princess) the cruise line actually send us a check (for hundreds of dollars) a few weeks after the cruise which was a refund of our unused OBCs.

 

Hank

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On 1/10/2020 at 6:54 PM, leaveitallbehind said:

I have a few guidelines in determining a preferred TA.  First I would want to deal with a live person that you can communicate with directly either in person or on the phone and not just through email or text. On-line only would scare me off as that limits your options should an issue arise, etc. 

 

Second, I would ask if they charge any separate fees not charged directly by the cruise lines for originating, modifying, or cancelling a booking made through them.  If they do, I would move on to one who doesn't (there are many) as, since they are paid a commission by the cruise lines for booking business through them, this is just extra income to them out of your pocket.  (Often this is used to offset OBC's or other perks they might offer to entice you to book through them).

 

Third, I would confirm the level of service provided in managing your booking - are they proactive regarding favorable price changes on your behalf? Do they complete your check in and provide your boarding docs?, etc., - or do they just process your booking.

 

Lastly,  I would ask about their personal experience with cruising and the lines they have cruise on themselves.  To me direct experience is of value in their ability to consult with you on lines that may suit your preferences best.

 

Just my opinion.

 

Good advice.

 

And what makes a great TA may be different for different people.  I travel a lot for work, so a TA that checks for, and gets price reductions is more important than more OBC.

 

Also, how responsive are they.  One cruise there was an issue with the TA OBC.  I emailed, and 15 minutes later got a response that the OBC had be re-issued through the cruise line and should be showing up shortly.

 

And finally, how to feel about them, your gut reaction.  When I was shopping TA, some just did not give me good feelings.

 

 

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15 hours ago, Hlitner said:

When we talk about getting "good deals" we speak in terms of percentages, not specific dollars.  So, when quite a few of us here on CC explain that some cruise agencies routinely save cruisers 7-10% on each booking, that is what we mean :).  When I book a $6000 cruise I will generally save at least $600 by using one of our favored cruise agencies (we currently use three different agencies and go with the one that gives us the best deal).  And if somebody booked a $2000 cruise then they should expect about  $140 - $200 savings.  On the other hand, when we book very long and expensive cruises our savings are generally in multi--thousands of dollars (when compared to booking directly with the cruise line).

 

Nobody is talking about "super secret" TAs.  We are simply talking about very reputable high volume cruise agencies.  If one does their research (or talks to other cruisers) it is not difficult to find out a few agencies that routinely give 7-10% in OBCs or other amenities (or even a reduction in the cruise price...with some cruise lines).  

 

Now, you may choose to be a "denier" of the reality, but it truly is reality.  We have been cruising (extensively) for over forty years and book 70-120 days of cruises a year.  And believe me, we are generally saving 7-10% (and sometimes a lot more) through any of the agencies we use.  There is more involved then just "giving away commissions" as the industry is a bit more complex then some (such as yourself) believe.  Agencies (and in some cases large consortiums) work with the cruise lines....there is nothing happening under the table.  Not only are their normal commissions there can be overrides and other incentives (from the cruise lines) for certain high volume agencies.  I might add that there are other ways to get some amazing bargains, but these are generally so-called last minute (inside the final payment period) bookings.  When a cruise is not selling and has empty berths the cruise lines have various strategies to unload those unsold berths.  They will sometimes dump them off on "Interline" deals (not available to the general public) or will quietly have them marketed by a select number of cruise agencies (who are generally prohibited from publicly marketing the prices).  It is not that these deals are "secret" but rather they are generally made available to only those who have registered with those agencies.  In a sense it is done privately and one assumes it is done this way to avoid upsetting those who have already paid a much higher amount for the same cruise.

 

There is also a relatively new trend where one can actually save money (again we are in the 7-10% area) upfront rather then getting it as an On Board Credit.  This can be a great option on lines where the OBCs may not be fully refundable.  Consider a person who books what is essentially an all-inclusive cruise (with free drinks and prepaid gratuities) on a longer more expensive cruise.  They might get $2000+ in On Board Credits which they really do not need and would not generally spend on the ship.  With some lines a agencies it might be possible to get that $2000 off the cruise price and have zero OBC.  It does save problems.   Last year we had two cruises where we could not spend all of our OBCs.  On one, since the OBC was non-refundable I found myself using it in the casino and ultimately turning it into cash.  On another line (Princess) the cruise line actually send us a check (for hundreds of dollars) a few weeks after the cruise which was a refund of our unused OBCs.

 

Hank

 

Can you at least be fair and state which cruise lines you are sailing? Not every line works that way and you know that.

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I used a local agent for many years but her service weakened. So like you, I gingerly took the step into the online world. I asked around and now use an online agency recommend by many friends. 

 

Important to me is access including after hours and on weekends. If my agent isn’t available, his manager or another agent can help me make a change. Obviously I prefer to work with my one agent, but if a better cabin comes available or there’s a price drop on Saturday morning, I don’t want to wait till Monday only to find out it’s gone.

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7 hours ago, Joebucks said:

 

Can you at least be fair and state which cruise lines you are sailing? Not every line works that way and you know that.

Well, in the past 12 months we have been on Princess, Celebrity  Seabourn, and MSC.  This year we will be on MSC, HAL and Princess and possibly more (to be determined).   If we go back more then a year then there are many more lines.  You are correct that different lines have different rules when it comes to booking.  Saving 7-10% is a pretty good bet with nearly any line but trading generous OBCs for a reduced cruise price is only done by a few lines.   There used to  be a decent travel agency that would simply rebate about 10% of the cruise fare (not including taxes/fees) which would come as a payment or credit card credit a few days after the cruise.  We have not used that particular agency in many years so have no idea of their current policy.

 

The reason we always suggest "shopping around among reputable high volume agencies" is that things are always changing in the industry.  We have lately been pretty loyal to one specific agency but I tell my cruise agent that she will get our business as long as she can give us the best deals and good service.  We still shop around for all of our bookings and will compare our favorite agency with at least 3 or 4 of the competition.  Our booking goes to whoever has the best deal.  There are also some differences (in deals) depending on the cruise line.  If we are booking a RCI-owned product (RCI, Celebrity or Azamara) our booking business will often go to an agency that we have no used for any other cruise line.  Why?  This one particular agency generally has the best deals on only those RCI products but they do not do as well on the CCL owned products.  

 

Hank

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There are many reputable agents out there.  However there are a lot who lack knowledge, and customer communication skills.  A couple of years ago we had a package deal to south  Africa with a stopover in Dubai.  Paperwork back and I checked airfares.  I could get same flights on internet for $600 less for each person.  Rang TA, oh no I get special deals.  He checked website for airline changed our flights.  $600 extra spending money for me.

Same on trip to China, different agent.  Inefficient or lazy, not sure but double check all the way.

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