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Ask the Editor: Money Matters

Why don't cruise lines refund paid customers when fares drop?

Should I tip cruise line youth program staffers?

Should I tip my stateroom's butler?

What currency will I pay onboard?

Why don't cruise lines or travel agents automatically refund paid customers when fares drop or new shipboard credit offers come online, rather than waiting for the client to uncover these customer perks and rattle the agency or cruise line cages?

Would you like sour cream or chives on your hot potato?

We passed this question along to CLIA, the professional association representing both cruise lines and travel agents. They immediately kicked it back to the cruise lines, stating that it was an issue for which individual cruise lines set their own policies. We then posed the same question to Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line, altogether accounting for 80 percent of cruise sales. Carnival was very forthcoming with this non-obfuscating, no-nonsense response:

"Cruise lines operate the same way most all retailers do, whether selling a travel product or some other type of consumer product. Pricing fluctuations based on consumer demand is at the foundation of a free market society. When demand is greater, prices typically go up and when it is softer, prices go down, whether we're talking about cruises, hotel rooms, tour packages, electronics, books, toys and so on -- the list is endless -- and in none of these categories does the retailer seek out the consumer who has already made a purchase to offer reimbursement if the price goes down."

Oh, if only politicians could learn a lesson in directness from this reply!

Neither Royal Caribbean nor NCL responded to our request for information. However, we suspect that Carnival's answer pretty much states the case for the industry. By the same token, when a price reduction is called to the attention of travel agents, they will usually honor the more recent, lower rate. However, for those who book their cruises through travel agents, it is important to get a guarantee from the agent that they will adjust fares to equal revised pricing. Some more service-oriented agencies will check out revised prices at least when final payment is due, and just before the cruise line's sales department closes out that sailing. Even after final payment, it is often possible to get the difference credited to the guest's onboard account -- which is also usually faster than getting a refund by check or credit card adjustment.

Regardless, knowing that the cruise lines are not likely to be forthcoming on volunteering late-term discounts, prudent cruisers should, at the time of final payment, and three weeks prior to departure, do their own research to check for better rates, and contact their agent or the cruise line directly.

Is it appropriate to tip cruise staffers who work for onboard youth programs, and, if so, how much?

According to all the cruise lines we contacted, the answer is "no." Youth counselors come from a department whose personnel are compensated without gratuities figuring into the remuneration calculations. However, all our contacts are quick to point out that, as with all shipboard crew and staff, tipping is always an acceptable and thoughtful gesture if a staff member extends special, personal service above and beyond what is normally called for.

This is the first time I have been in a stateroom tended by a butler. Should I tip him?

First of all, in our new world your butler may be a she! But, regardless, each cruise line has different policies with regard to butlers, or for tipping in general. For policy information, check out the following features: An Insider's Guide to Cruise Tipping and Cruise Line Tipping Policies. Read the information in your room or in your boarding documents, and if those don't answer the question, ask your cruise director or at reception. Absent information to the contrary, a good rule of thumb is to tip your butler at a base rate equal to that of your cabin steward, and adjust it upward based on special services performed for you during the course of your voyage.

What currency will I pay onboard?

It depends. Is that a helpful answer? Sorry, but it's a complicated issue. Typically, lines determine which onboard currency they use based on where they're headquartered (this has nothing to do with the flag cruise ships fly denoting where in the world they're "registered" -- that's a question for another day).

For example, Brit-based P&O Cruises, Ocean Village, Fred. Olsen and Hebridean, among others, price all onboard a la carte items -- from cocktails to shore excursions -- in the British Pound.

The Italian MSC Cruises and Costa use the Euro. Germany's Aida and Hapag-Lloyd also use the Euro. U.S.-based Carnival, Princess, Royal Caribbean, Holland America, Crystal, Seabourn and Oceania -- among others -- are dollar based.

It's occasionally tricky: For instance when MSC and Costa cruise the Caribbean, a region they market heavily to North Americans, they'll switch to the dollar. For more information, see our story, Confusing Onboard Currencies.

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