Nothing can rob you of don’t-worry-be-happy vacation bliss quicker than a credit card mishap that holds your cash flow hostage. If your response to a recent posting on the Cruise Critic Facebook page— in which we asked readers if they’ve ever had a credit card problem while cruising — is any indication, there are a lot of you out there. And, yes, I’ve been in the same boat, too.
From your posts, and with well over a decade’s cruising behind me, I’ve sussed out the three primary pitfalls that commonly occur once you’re actually on a cruise (and well after you’ve forked over the moolah for the voyage).
Horror No. 1: In-port theft. Thefts are not limited to pilferers who’ve physically nabbed your card. It can happen even while your credit card is safely tucked away.
Joyce King-Husistein’s cautionary tale follows: “I had made a long distance call in Grand Cayman with my credit card, and the operator tried to use it, which Visa caught, thank goodness. I thought we might be washing dishes for years.” Writes Rosemary Smarrito Stinsman: “I booked an excursion at the Boatyard in Barbados and knew I should not have emailed my credit card number. Someone tried to purchase $700 worth of Virgin mobile equipment and American Express cancelled my card three days before the cruise.”
While you can’t always avoid giving out your credit card number while on vacation, it’s not a bad idea to keep records of your actual purchases and check your statement as soon as you’re home to contest any misuse.
Horror No. 2: Blocked cards because you didn’t alert your credit card providers that you’ll be out of town. Indeed, in most cases, Facebook responders were in agreement that you should let the cards’ operations centers know you’ll be traveling.
Monica Roberts learned this lesson the hard way. “My credit union set a fraud alert because I made a purchase on St. Martin,” she tells us. “They said they did not know I was out of town.”
Unfortunately, there were a number of Facebook posts in which travelers had actually called in pre-trip alerts and their cards still didn’t work.
Another reason to call: One of the ports on your itinerary may be on a fraud list. Amy Anderson recounts a nightmarish experience in Cozumel, where she figured she’d use her debit card to get cash out of an ATM. The request, plus others she made for incidental amounts (taxi, a round of cocktails), were all rejected. Her credit union, she reports, told her that it was “declining all charges in the country of Mexico due to fraud.” She was reduced to wandering the beach, looking for a generous-minded fellow passenger to loan her enough cash to pay her bar tab.
Horror No. 3: Reaching your credit limit. You know how you’re asked to hand over a credit or debit card for incidentals upon cruise check-in? Beware: Cruise lines tap into your credit limit (or actual balance) in a variety of oft-mysterious ways that aren’t readily publicized. And their method could, unknowingly, cause you to run short.
On Carnival, for instance, $50 is authorized at embark. Each day, the company seeks additional authorizations based on what you’re spending. At cruise’s end, it settles the charges and releases the pending charges it has placed on your credit card throughout the week. The danger zone? When the pending amounts are put back into your account is entirely up to your bank, not the cruise line. If your bank is slow when it comes to eliminating the pending spend – and essentially crediting the money back to you – you may not have access to what is left. Writes Chris Myers, “By the end of the trip there were thousands of dollars in charges sent to the credit card and we only had around $500 worth of charges.”
Beyond this, we’ve heard plenty of stories that have neither rhyme nor reason but have caused cruise travelers anxiety nevertheless.
The lesson I learned recently: I always assumed that a credit card’s expiration date –- at least as long as you made payments on time — meant something. Apparently not to American Express and other companies that offer a fine-print caveat when you sign up for a credit card: They reserve the right at any time to cancel the card for any reason that suits. I’ll never forget being abruptly cut-off from my American Express card, the primary card I use for travel, with no warning and little to no information provided when I called customer service. The situation was ultimately resolved, but the resulting stress caused a big loss of confidence in American Express.
Let’s end with this chilling tale from Tien-Lun Yao. One night onboard Norwegian Cruise Line, Yao was dining at Cagney’s Steakhouse when the maitre’ d came to his table to say there were problems with the credit card registered at embarkation. What could have happened? He asked on Facebook, “Could we complete our meal and wash the dishes or would we be released at the next port?”
Can you relate? Tell us your credit card tales of horror.
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