Hidden Costs of Cruising: 2008 Update -part 2 by Paul Motter, CruiseMates Editor September 8, 2008
What is included in your cruise fare depends on what type of cruise you are considering. How to know how much your cruise will really cost.
Port Fees or NCFs: When shopping for a cruise, you will see prices quoted in advertisements, travel agency booking engines and cruise line web sites. These price quotes include the cruise fare and what is known as NCFs, industry jargon for "non-commissionable fees." These fees used to be known as "port fees" because they included what each individual port charged the cruise line for the right to bring passengers into their country.
Back in the 1990s the cruise lines found it unwieldly to quantify port fee charges to their passengers. Actual fees charged to cruise lines by the ports they visit tend to change with each cruise depending on passenger load. To standardize cruise pricing in advertisements, and simplify accounting port fee charges to their customers, the industry collectively elected to average port fee costs across the board and not refer to them specifically as port fees any longer. Hence, the new term "non-commissionable fees," or "NCFs," was created.
NCFs should be included in the quoted cruise fare, not listed separately, so this is rarely a concern. But, if you have doubts about your travel agent this is something to double-check. A few less scrupulous agents will take these fees out of the quoted price but include it in small type at the bottom of the page, making their quotes appear substantially more competitive than almost everyone else. This is not illegal, but it is against standard practice agreed to in the 1990s.
Taxes: Fees listed as "government taxes" will be added to your quoted cruise fare, similar to sales tax. The good news is that they aren't much - usually limited to about 6% of the cruise fare. Cruise prices have been quoted this way for years now.
Fuel Surcharges: These are new "hidden costs." These fees are currently not included in the quoted cruise fare but are added to the total fare along with the taxes. These fees came about in early 2007 and today all of the major cruise lines charge them. In most cases they are about $10 per person per day. They cap the fee at 14 days (or $140) per person. In most cases, if there is a third person in the same cabin they will charge $5 per day.
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Deposits and Changing Fares: Most of the time, when you book a cruise you are asked to pay a deposit to hold the cruise. Usually, this deposit is about $250, although Princess often runs $100 deposit sales. Your final payment is due at some point before the sail date, usually 30 to 60 days out. Importantly, if the price of the cruise goes down before you make your final payment you may be able lower your cruise fare. Once you have made that final payment, however, it can be very hard to get a refund for the difference.
Can cruise prices change? Yes, prices for the specific cruises can change as often as every week. Cruise lines use the same practice the airlines use for finding the price where a ticket will sell. It is called "yield management," and it includes adjusting the price of every cruise until each ship sells out. Does this mean there is an advantage to booking later? Sometimes, but usually no. Like the airlines, the best prices are usually found by booking very early and last minute prices can be through the roof. But it can work the opposite way with prices getting lower as the sail date approaches if the ship is not very full. Inmost cases however, most ships sell out and last minute cabin selectionis far less than ideal. In general, booking early is best because you get lower prices and the exact cabin selection you want.
What isn't included? A cruise fare for Carnival, Royal Caribbean, NCL, Holland America, Celebrity or Princess will not include onboard alcoholic beverages or gratuities. Some luxury cruise lines do include these in the cruise fare, but you will see that mentioned plainly in the brochure. Examples are Silversea Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, and Seabourn Cruises. Most European river cruise lines such as Viking River, Dielmann, Avalon Waterways and others include alcohol and shore excursions in the cruise fare, but not gratuities. For more information about this, see our section on Luxury Cruise Lines.
This has been a summary of the hidden costs in cruise fares. It varies by the style of cruise you are considering. A good travel agent can help you keep track of what is included when you are comparing one cruise to another. Part Two of this series examines the hidden costs of cruising onboard the cruise ship.