Free Cruise Scams
Written by: Paul Motter
A reader said his mother just received a notice for a free seven-day cruise. He sent me a picture of the offer he had received from the company by the U.S. Postal Service. It said:
Dear — and the name of the recipient was printed in a different font, out of alignment with the rest of the text.
In celebration of our Anniversary in your area, You have been selected to receive a complimentary 8Day/7-night Cruise for 2 with an outside cabin, leaving from any major port in the U.S., including Los Angeles, CA! – and once again this was printed the same way as the name above.
Obviously – the name of the recipient and the port name “Los Angeles” had been added to a form letter after the fact and this was just the first clue that this offer was highly questionable.
No travel agency company name was on the card even though it says “In celebration of our anniversary in your area.” Sadly, the card does contain the logos of two major travel companies, Carnival Cruise Lines and U.S. Airlines, but I seriously doubt either of these actual companies is involved in this scam. Carnival is based in Miami and U.S. is based in Phoenix. They are not “in the Los Angeles Area,” so to speak.
The left hand column has this ridiculous information:
Ports of Call: Los Angeles
Port of Call #2: Freeport Bahamas
Port of Call #3: St. Thomas
Now, anyone with a brain, or a world atlas, can see that Los Angeles is on the Pacific coast and the other two ports are in the Atlantic Ocean. Oh, you can get to these ports from Los Angeles, but it takes 14 days if you go through the Panama Canal, or about 60 days if you go around South America.
Anyone with cruise experience knows the farthest south you can get on a 7-day roundtrip cruise from Los Angeles is Mazatlan, Mexico. You cannot even reach Acapulco and return to Los Angeles in seven days. Furthermore, if it was a Panama Canal cruise that is how it would be described, because seeing the canal is the highlight of any cruise that crosses the isthmus of Panama.
When I called the number in the letter they answered with “reservations.” They did not say the name of any company. I was immediately put on hold. I tried to call four more times and only got voicemail. One the fifth call a real person transferred to the “gift processors” where I sat in hold for 10 minutes before they disconnected me.
By now I had crossed from 99% to 100% sure this was a travel scam – but how did it work? In this case I do not know because after five failed phone calls I gave up – just imagine if you had a booking with these people. But I did go through a call with a similar company before and this is what happened:
I received a phone call to say I had won a free cruise, but to claim it required a credit card number on the spot “to cover a few taxes and processing fees.” If I did not give them my credit card information I was forfeiting my “free cruise” prize. They wanted to charge me about $80 up front, but this was back in 1992.
But they could not give me a date for that free cruise. I was told they needed to “hold my reservation” for 60 days “to process my payment” before I could schedule my cruise. It is no accident that 60 days is the amount of time you have to dispute a credit card charge. By the time they were supposedly ready to process your free cruise you would then realize it was a scam but it would be too late to cancel the charge on your credit card.
How does the scam work? Generally, the “free cruise” has blackout dates and your reservation is subject to “availability.” This means there is a very good chance that any date you choose will not be available. They hope that after you ask for several dates and are not availed you will just give up trying to book this cruise and walk away from your initial processing fee.
Or you may find an open cruise date, but there will be more fees in the hundreds of dollars because it is “prime season.” Another part of the scams says you are required to stay at a hotel before the cruise that will cost you several hundred dollars. You can get a cheaper hotel, if you agree to pay the hotel cancellation fee.
Bottom line, the ruse is to get you to pay a certain amount of money up front with no guarantees. Then they make it all but impossible to book the actual vacation. If you are crazy enough to agree to all the fees you end up paying more for the free cruise than if you had just booked it directly in the first place. The idea is to wear you down with complications and added charges until you finally just say “forget it, it is not worth the aggravation,” and you walk away from your initial deposit.
Bottom line – no reputable travel agent or cruise line works this way. These are travel scams. You should never pay a red cent until you know your exact ship, sail date, accommodations and the total cost for what is included in your cruise.
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Posted: May 11th, 2011 under Paul Motter.