I called an agent friend today to check pricing on a cruise we're interested in for next year. Now you have to understand that this guy is a friend first and an agent second. My wife and his wife were buddies in their single days and that's a long time ago, so I've known this guy for well over 30 years as a personal friend. The only reason I point this out is so you understand there are no sales motives in our conversations, no subtexts or spin.
Anyway, we were talking about a 2-week repo cruise that has balconies selling for about a hundred bucks pp per night, but with port taxes and fees of over $350. He started chuckling and said, "Do you believe that?"
He went on to explain that the cruise lines have discovered that if they re-designate part of the fare as "taxes and fees," it does two things: it makes it look like the fare is cheaper, and it makes the inflated "taxes and fees" portion noncommissionable to the agents.
He said there have been some suits filed about this.
Apparently the reason they get away with it is because they add the word "Fees." In this case "fees" pretty much means "additional fare."
I'd never thought about this before, but found it kind of interesting in its own right, and also in light of the squawks we always see here when a ship misses a port. People always want their "taxes" refunded on the understandable assumption that some pro rata part of whatever they paid goes to each port. But apparently the port taxes represent just a portion of this charge (and maybe not a very big portion). I don't know whether the lines publish what portion is actually port taxes, but it would be fun to find out.
Actually, this has been going on for quite some time... with different terminology at different lines. Basically, these charges come under the heading of non-commissionable fares and then there is a second, more precise charge called Government Fee's and Taxes.
The reason is really not the doing of the cruise lines, exactly. They used to cover these costs and taxes under the misleading umbrella phase "Port Charges". A successful suit has resulted in the CL's now showing the charges separately. (1) Government Fee's and Taxes are exactly that and (2) the remaining part of what used to be called Port Charges, such as Panama Canal transit fee's, tug escort fees, fueling costs (not the cost of fuel itself), pilotage, security costs and so forth. These are not "marked up" by the CL's and hence they pay no commission on them.
The new method actually makes more sense and is more to the point. Again, it goes to the fact that cruise pricing is complex and defies simple overarching definitions and comments.
Because the charges are assigned to a vessel based on its capacity, at double occupancy, and they divide by the capacity to arrive at a per person charge... again based upon double. Some lines charge double with single occupancy cabins, some do not. It is quite complex and, in the opinion of some, a bit unfair.
Be aware that if flying into Chile you must pay an entrance fee - $100.00 per person for USA, other nationalities pay less. It is payable in cash and must be in US dollars. No credit cards. Take some cash if your sailing on the Zenith.