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Confessions of a cruise agent

Dann Halem, whose family has been selling cruises for nearly two decades, reveals industry secrets.
Passengers enjoy the weather on the deck of the cruise ship Fascination at the Port of Key WestAlan Diaz / AP / AP
/ Source: Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel

Does your travel agent hand out rebates? Do they have the clout to get you an upgrade? If not you may be with the wrong agency. Straight from an industry source, here are the things you need to know before you book your next cruise.

Choose specialists, with special deals: When you book a cruise, it almost never pays to go to the cruise line or a regular travel agent. Sure, I’m a bit biased, but cruise specialists have what amounts to insider deals: They’re responsible for 90 percent of all bookings, they have access to special blocks of rooms, and their commissions are already built into the price. What some brokers will do, if you ask, is rebate a portion of their commission to lower your fare. Cruise lines rarely discount rooms directly but still charge a 10 percent commission.

It pays to wait: Travelers often look at sailing the same way they view flying—they book early, thinking they’ll save. But cruise lines would rather give rooms away than sail with vacancies. Think of ships as floating Las Vegas hotels: Empty rooms mean less money spent at shops, bars, and casinos, which are where cruise ships really make their profits. If you’re flexible about dates and staterooms, you can have extra poker chips in your pocket when your ship departs.

Perks and changing prices: When it appears a ship might sail half empty, out come the promotions, including free upgrades and prepaid gratuities. After booking, look for even lower fares. If rates go down, call your broker. They can often get you the better price, even after you’ve paid.