Let’s get one thing straight: the latest round of fuel surcharges on cruises and airline tickets have about as much to do with higher fuel prices as hotel “energy” surcharges in 2001 had with higher electricity costs — which is to say, not much at all. No, these are opportunistic fees tacked on to your bill because there’s a perception that your cruise line or airline has to pay more to keep the planes and boats running. And because the fees are bogus, they can be fought.
Air carriers are already paying for their high fuel costs through a series of unprecedented fare hikes. So when United Airlines announced that it is adding a $5 each way surcharge to domestic ticket prices to “offset the price of jet fuel,” it was telling a half-truth, at best. United has already raised prices; it’s just helping itself to more of your money to ensure continued profitability.
“It’s a game,” says travel agent Janice Hough, who points out that a United ticket from Washington to London costs $195 roundtrip, until taxes and fuel surcharges are factored in. Then, the price goes up to $504. “So taxes and surcharges are over 150 percent of the fare,” she says.
It’s a game travelers don’t like to play. Consider the case of Jeff Johnson or Fennville, Mich.
I recently booked a seven day cruise with Princess Cruise Lines on the Crown Princess. I have fully paid for my cruise and am just waiting to sail in February. Today I received an updated booking notice that says effective Feb 1, 2008 there will be a $35 per person fuel surcharge.
I am aware of the increase in fuel costs, but isn’t this a charge that should be added at the original time of booking? I have contacted the Princess Line and was told “its what all the cruise lines are doing.”
The fee seems excessive on a ship that carries over 3,000 people. Are we paying for a fuel increase of $100,000?
No one likes hidden charges and Princess should adjust their future booking prices so there aren’t surcharges after the customer has paid. Do I have any recourse in regard to these fees?
As a matter of fact, we do.
Retroactive fuel surcharges can be appealed. The key to overturning a retroactive fuel surcharge is a careful reading of the cruise contract, the legal agreement between you and the cruise line. For example, Princess’ contract has this to say about its fares: “The Cruise Fare does not include beer, wine, spirits, sodas or other bottled beverages, or charges for other incidental items, activities, excursions or personal services during the Cruise, or any Government Fees and Taxes for which a separate charge may be imposed.” But there’s no mention of a fuel surcharge, and indeed, it’s clear that once you pay the fare, there will be no future increases. Bottom line: Princess is out of line.
Future fuel surcharge can be protested. It’s imperative to keep the pressure on airlines and cruise lines to do the right thing — if their costs go up, they need to raise prices, not add a “surcharge.” These fees may, in fact, be illegal. A letter sent to the Department of Transportation or the Maritime Commission, questioning the legitimacy of the fees, could pressure these travel companies to drop these silly extras. Here’s a complete list of contacts.
Be on the lookout — read your ticket carefully. This is the time when travel companies will try to sneak a surcharge on to your bill without sufficient disclosure. Review your ticket and don’t hesitate to question a suspicious surcharge. Be particularly vigilant when it comes to your hotel bill. I think resorts may see higher energy costs as an opportunity to pull a fast one.
Make no mistake, these fuel surcharges are wrong. Hough puts it like this:
Can you imagine if you went to buy your wife a cashmere sweater and they told you it was $50, but that there was a $50 ‘sewing’ fee, and $50 more for the shipping and handling costs to get it to the store, and $50 more for a labor surcharge? Jeez.
Jeez. That about sums it up.
Update: My blogging colleague over at Flight Wisdom has weighed in with a few good points:
Janice would definitely see the fuel surcharge, which shows up in the farecalc line under the header Q, ie UA IAD Q5.00 87TA74N LHR (Just made that up as an example.) But, that makes it part of the base fare total on a ticket, not part of the tax calculation, which is separate.
Also, US DOT regulations require the fuel surcharge to be quoted as part of the advertised fare, although other countries, including EU ones, do not.
Also, look at her example…a flight to the UK. You may recall Gordon Brown, prior to his promotion, and a big to-do in the UK over raising airport taxes there to supposedly offset environmental factors. If you compared that tax assessment to London to one to another European
country, you’d see something of a difference. It is creating a situation where many people who used to change at Heathrow are routing to Amsterdam and other places.
Fuel surcharges should just be reflected as fare increases, rather than creating a separate line item. But, officially, it is still part of the fare.