Cruisers Fight Back on New Fuel Surcharges

February 7, 2008
Angry about the $5 to $10 per day fuel surcharges that cruise lines have begun levying?

If your answer is yes -- you are not alone. Some 150 consumers, according to reports from Florida-based newspapers such as the Miami Herald and South Florida Sun-Sentinel, have filed complaints with the state's Attorney General. These consumers have taken issue with the mandatory additional charges applied after they'd paid in full or put down a deposit. So if you've got a gripe about a Florida-based cruise line feel free to add your name to the list.

The complainants don't question the levying of the fuel surcharges, as much as the retroactive application of extra charges on previously booked cruises. One writer puts is clearly: "I don't think that it is right for Carnival to be able to come back and tack on this charge after people have already booked their cruise."

Another references a perceived breach of contract: "The institution of a fuel surcharge/supplement on existing, paid in full reservation is inappropriate and not supported in any agreement I had with the cruise line."

Still other consumers argue that the policy left them little choice. One states, "I was told I have to pay the additional $140 or else we will not be allowed to board. The only choice I have (unless the Florida AG's office acts to protect me and the many other similarly situated consumers) is to pay under duress, which I plan to do, since I don't want to forfeit my entire vacation (the $4,500 I already have paid)."

As a result of these letters, an investigation is under way into whether the cruise lines can retroactively apply a fuel surcharge. Have the lines misled consumers by applying these fees to booked passengers, or did they adequately disclose the additional costs?

Apparently, there's a precedent -- in 1997, cruise lines agreed to revise pricing policies after the Florida attorney general's office dinged them for adding extra fees to port charges and keeping the difference as profit. According to that ruling, cruise lines can't charge any fees not included in the original cruise price that don't go to a government agency.

A quick back story about the rise of fuel surcharge fees: Back in November, most major cruise lines announced an added charge of $5 to $10 per person, per day to cover rising fuel costs. These costs applied primarily to new bookings made after this point, but certain companies, such as Royal Caribbean International and the Carnival Corporation, even imposed the fees on cruisers who had already put a deposit on a cruise.

You can either file a complaint online or call the office's fraud hotline at 866-966-7226 (within Florida) or 850-414-3990 (outside Florida).

For the full scoop on who's charging what, read our feature, At Your Service: Fuel Charges.

We'll keep you up to date on any decisions made by the Attorney General.

--by Erica Silverstein, Associate Editor