Fuel surcharges on cruise ships make unhappy consumers

When some cruise lines began adding fuel charges to their price tag the beginning of February, passengers have begun cry foul. The basic idea is that you have to give people fair warning of increases and there needs to be rules in place for how increases are added. It can’t seem willy nilly, otherwise people get their rankles up. Also if there aren’t regulations on how prices are doled out, who is protecting the consumer from a surcharge filled life?

Since the Florida attorney general has noticed the 150 (plus by now) complaints he received from customers, he is looking into the matter. Because Florida is a cruise ship hot spot, his findings are important to the industry. No one is arguing that costs to cruise ships have risen because of fuel costs, but how to get the money fairly is a question. The concern is that people are told one price on a brochure and then find a hefty fee added under a line item called “fuel surcharge.”

From my understanding of the issue, is that people bought their tickets prior to the February 1 date and the surcharge was added after the purchase. The question is, can you charge people retroactively? Cruise lines are saying yes because the passengers were told in advance of their purchase so that they could cancel. I wonder how big the print was on that piece of information? Why wouldn’t prices of cruises be higher? The fuel surcharge is on average $5 per person per day. Why not just say as of February 1 a five-day cruise costs $25 more.

The customers are saying, no way, no how. You can’t switch ponies. (Animals are not really involved. I’m using this as a metaphor.) Ed Perkins, a writer on consumer travel issue with Tribune Media Services outlines the argument here.

It seems to me that if fuel surcharges are to be allowed they should only be charged to people who bought the tickets from February on. Can you imagine what would happen if cars had a fuel surcharge that was retroactive? Let’s say you bought your gas at 2:45 on a Wednesday afternoon and by 3:00 the gas went up by a quarter because of sudden increased prices and those who bought gas earlier should have paid more. Therefore, if you got 10 gallons of gas, you would have a retroactive fuel charge of $2.50. The gas station companies could send you a bill in the mail.

Another question I have is why isn’t their fuel surcharges on food in the grocery store? Each item could have a few cents added to its cost under the guise of fuel surcharge. The idea of surcharges seem fishy to me. Just tell me the price and let’s be done with it so I can enjoy my Mai Tai on a tropical beach without feeling like I’ve been fleeced.