I figured Carnival wouldn’t make it through the week without giving in on the fuel surcharges that the Florida attorney general’s office wants it to refund to its cruise customers. I figured wrong.
Last week Royal Caribbean agreed to return $21 million in charges to its customers and those of its subsidiaries. But the Orlando Sentinel reports today that Carnival isn’t ready to pony up the $40 million in surcharges levied retroactively by the cruise lines it owns, at least not yet.
The attorney general’s office argues that both companies agreed in a 1997 court settlement to disclose all charges (except government taxes and fees) to passengers in their advertising, and then violated that agreement by imposing the fuel surcharges last November on fares that had already been sold. When Royal Caribbean announced March 11 that it would refund the surcharges imposed retroactively, Carnival said it was still in talks with the attorney general’s office.
Not very productive talks, it seems. According to the Sentinel, Carnival Chief Financial Officer David Bernstein told analysts Thursday that Carnival is not in the same boat as Royal Caribbean because, he said, Carnival had disclosed the possibility of fuel surcharges in advertising brochures.
It’s an interesting defense. Is disclosing the possibility of a fee the same as disclosing the actual fee and the amount? And what if you don’t see the brochure? The husband I booked our Carnival fares on the Web – and wherever that fine print was, we didn’t read it until later.
In its new settlement with the attorney general Royal Caribbean has agreed to disclose "the amount and frequency of the fuel supplement charges." That’s not the same thing as including them in the base fare, which would be less susceptible to misrepresentation. But I guess it’s an improvement.
Meanwhile, it looks as if there’s more waiting in store for people who’ve booked trips with Carnival and its subsidiaries: Costa, Cunard, Holland America, Princess and Seabourn.
And me, well, I’m still very open to a $120 refund …