U.K. Couple Billed for £900 Fuel Charge

July 10, 2008
Hikes in fuel surcharges are becoming more commonplace and are weighing down on the pockets of passengers. But the situation of one couple, who booked on a 28 night voyage on the value-oriented Voyages of Discovery, only to find that their fuel surcharge soared to outrageous heights.

In a report aired on the BBC's Breakfast Show and Working Lunch programme, a Dorset couple was levied with such a high fuel surcharge they had to cancel their "dream cruise". According to the telecast, Ron and Gwenda Bennett paid a £900 deposit for a 28-day, £9,000 cruise in September onboard Voyages of Discovery's ship, Discovery.

After paying the deposit, the couple were told that based on a £19 per person, per night fuel tax, they'd need to shell out an additional £892. So they decided to cancel the cruise and get their deposit refunded.

No dice. The sting in the tail for the Bennetts is that the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) states that if you're cancelling a cruise you've booked because of excessive fees, the amount must add up to more then 10 percent of the price.

The Bennetts' surcharge came to 9.92 percent.

Voyages latest fuel surcharge is £19 per person, per night, which is currently the highest in the industry per day. Most other cruise lines charge between £4 - £7.50 per person, per day. Most lines have established a maximum amount of days in which they'll apply the per diem (Ocean Village and Cunard will only charge it for the first two weeks, Fred. Olsen for the first 20 days).

Voyages of Discovery's maximum is, as the Bennett's learned, was…28 days.

In a statement, Voyages of Discovery said: "In common with many other travel companies, the incredible and unanticipated increase in fuel costs has caused us much heart-ache and worry.

"We have not gone down the surcharge route without a great deal of discussion and consideration on the part of our directors, and we have carefully followed the surcharge rules laid down by ABTA."

Mr Bennett meanwhile told the BBC: "They are not breaking any rules but in principle I think it is very poor. It makes it look contrived."

Voyages of Discovery said that they offered to change the couple's cabin category in order to reduce the cost, or to reduce the length of the cruise. The Bennett's decided not to downgrade and sadly, went ahead and cancelled their cruise.

While fuel surcharges are becoming accepted among travellers who cruise -- a recently daily poll on Cruisecritic.co.uk that asked "would an increase stop you from cruising" found that a full 50 percent said no without qualification -- the increasing amounts are a bit troublesome. Fred. Olsen this week raised its charge to £6; U.S.-based Azamara levies a £7.50 tax. At what point is it becoming too much?

Let us know by voting in our poll.

--by Kelly Ranson, U.K. Editor