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New tool lets cruise agents bid for your business

SmarterTravel

Given the vast number of travel agents, both online and off, hoping to sell you a cruise, it’s hard to know if you’re getting a competitive price, especially if you only have time to check a few sources. With the arrival of CruiseCompete in September 2003, consumers have a new way to access a variety of agents all in one place. We’ve decided to put this site to the test to see if its new approach to cruise booking will actually deliver on its promise of low fares.

At CruiseCompete.com, you choose your desired ship and travel dates, and let the agents come to you with quotes. While this site does not offer much hand-holding for first-time cruisers, our tests show that the quotes you receive are quite competitive. If you’re ready to book a cruise, this site allows you to compare the fares on your next sea vacation without too much effort.

How it works

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The first step in booking through CruiseCompete is to identify the cruise you want. You must select a specific ship’s sailing on a specific date; you cannot be as general as “a seven-night Europe cruise in July.” Then, you enter your personal information, such as number of travelers and cabins, cabin types, and any other information that would help a travel agent, including previous quotes you’re trying to beat or special preferences. You can have two open requests at a time.

Once you’ve submitted your request, all of CruiseCompete’s affiliated travel agents have access to it and can choose whether they wish to offer you a quote. According to Bob Levinstein, CEO of CruiseCompete, the average customer receives two to six quotes, with the first quotes coming within hours or even minutes after submission, then tapering off after a few days. When you see a quote you like, you contact the agent directly to book your cruise. Each quote includes taxes and fees, so you won’t be in for any surprises, and the agent’s submissions include who they are, how to contact them, and information on the agency so you know why you can trust them.

This site is best for people, especially past cruisers, who have already selected a sailing and are ready to buy. There is a phone number to call if you wish to speak with an affiliated travel agent, but first-time cruisers and travelers who need help selecting a sailing should do their research before booking with CruiseCompete. Luckily, if you do need to learn more about cruising, the site provides some research tools with links to informational websites such as Cruise Addicts and Cruise Critic.

How you’ll save

Not only will CruiseCompete save you time on your cruise shopping process, it can save you money on your cruise price as well. Our two test requests yielded quotes that were about $100 per person cheaper than the prices we found through our own online search. Out of 10 quotes total for two sailings, only three were higher than prices we found ourselves.

The first cruise we requested was a seven-night sailing of Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas, departing for the Caribbean on December 4. We chose this cruise because we expected to find low fares given that we’re booking well in advance and the cruise departs during the low season between the holidays. The lowest CruiseCompete quote for an inside stateroom was $1,001 for two people (about $500 each), including all taxes and fees. We then priced the same sailing on Royal Caribbean’s website, Orbitz, and icruise, and the lowest price we found was $1,295 (approximately $641 each, plus $14 shipping) on icruise, close to $300 more than the CruiseCompete quote.

We found similar results for our second request, a seven-day Alaska sailing on Celebrity’s Summit departing July 16. We chose this cruise because it’s a peak-season sailing for a popular destination, and this time we weren’t booking early. CruiseCompete offered a low price of $2,175 (about $1,088 each) for an inside stateroom. Our search on Celebrity’s website, Travelocity, and icruise came up with a low price of $2,349 (approximately $1,168 each, plus $14 shipping), again on icruise. The savings came to nearly $175.

Levinstein explains how CruiseCompete’s system lets you save. “Travel agents work on commission,” he says, “so they’ll earn the same amount whether they spend hours helping you choose a cruise or minutes booking the cruise you’ve already picked. The faster they can book cruises, the higher their profits.” As agents can offer you quotes fairly quickly via CruiseCompete’s system, it’s an easy sell for them. And as they know they’re competing against several other agencies, it’s not in their best interest to offer you a quote that isn’t very competitive because they won’t get the sale. So you’ll likely receive responses only from the agents who can offer you alluring prices, and you’ll be able to save on your next cruise.

But the key to saving is booking quickly. The agents will quote you the lowest prices in their system, but if a large group books the same cruise in the next hour or day, cabins could sell out or prices could go up. If you see an appealing quote after you’ve submitted your request, book it soon. Otherwise, no one can guarantee that the low price will still be available when you call.

The second way to get a good deal on CruiseCompete is to check out their Cruise Specials page. CruiseCompete’s affiliated travel agencies are each allowed to promote one or two of their best deals; when you submit a request, you will only receive a quote from the one agency that sponsored that deal. These offers are best for less-decided travelers who might let a good price determine which cruise they take, rather than someone trying to get a good deal on a specific sailing.

Of course, you can never guarantee that the travel agents who respond to your request will offer you the best deal out there. But CruiseCompete will help speed up your comparison shopping and give you access to competitive prices that you might not otherwise have found. If you’re thinking about booking a cruise, it’s a good site to add to your list of favorite online cruise sellers.

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