Smart cruisers do one thing every day that I bet you don’t. It’s not as sexy as securing the best lounge chair without turning into a chair or taking advantage of a lucrative bar or dining discount. However, if you adopt this habit, it can save you money and hassle.
The one thing smart sailors do every day? Check their bill on board.
Oh no, I hear you say, I don’t want the noise of thinking about money on vacation. I want to enjoy umbrella drinks, impulse buys and surcharged meals without worrying about the cost until I’m forced to face reality the night before I leave the ship.
And yet – what if the bill is wrong? If you don’t notice those strange charges in time, recovering your money becomes much more difficult. Read on to find out why this quick and easy step can save you time, money and hassle.
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Problems with on-board billing
Errors in your onboarding account are more common than you may realize.
You may inadvertently be charged for drinks you didn’t buy or food you didn’t eat. Maybe your shore excursion credit hasn’t arrived, or you’ve been charged twice for the overpriced logo sweatshirt you bought at the onboard store. We’ve heard stories of kids racking up arcade bills and their parents not discovering the charges until the last night of the cruise. And sometimes mysterious charges appear out of nowhere, and you have no idea where they came from.
Related: 15 Ways Cruising Newbies Waste Money on Ships
Case in point: On the last evening of a recent Norwegian cruise, TPG’s Jamie Page Deaton discovered charges on her onboard bill for dining at The Haven restaurant (which should have been an included dining option for of, as she was staying on the ship. Haven suite area). She also revealed allegations of drinking at The Haven Bar despite having a premium drinks package. She was charged a 20% food and beverage surcharge, based on the prices of drinks and meals on board, including a $28 charge for an egg and waffle breakfast, meaning the total bill should have come to 140 dollars.
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She’s never had to sign a bill at a restaurant or bar, so she wasn’t aware she was being charged until she saw the charges on her final bill. Had she checked her bill on the first day or two of the cruise, she could have gone to The Haven concierge during a quiet hour and sorted out what was going on. However, since it was a short cruise, she didn’t try to check in until the end.
Why you shouldn’t wait to dispute your bill
If it’s not clear why checking your bill every day is the best way to go, let me spell it out for you.
You can ignore your onboard account and wait until a paper receipt is delivered to your cabin the night before disembarkation. If there are problems, you can dispute the charges at that time. But I see two problems with this strategy.
One is that many cruisers take this approach, leading to long lines at guest services the night before and the morning of departure. You can spend your last evening on board enjoying a leisurely dinner, a foot-tapping show, a last run at the poker table or a no-holds-barred bar crawl. Or, you can spend it shoulder-to-shoulder with your shipmates, waiting in line at guest services.
Related: 16 Mistakes Cruise Ship Passengers Make on Disembarkation Day
The second is that this strategy doesn’t help you stop a problem before it gets out of hand. If your child is paying a bill for video games without your knowledge, the cruise line will not write off those charges on the seventh day because they are legitimate purchases. However, if you notice the problem on the second day, you can talk to your child about spending on board and you can set a spending limit on their card in guest services so they can’t rack up any more charges.
It also allows you to find out if onboard credit or member loyalty benefits are not being implemented correctly and address that issue as soon as possible. In Jamie’s case, she could have questioned the charges and either dropped them or – if they were legal – made eating and drinking decisions based on the knowledge that a gratuity would apply at The Restaurant and Bar Haven’t.
If you’re thinking you’re going to take care of any billing issues after your cruise, let me assure you, it’s going to cause you even more headaches. Post-cruise customer service is unfortunately not the best on cruise lines, as Jamie has discovered.
She had hoped to address issues on board with The Haven concierge, but the desk was closed when she received her bill on the last night of the cruise. Disembarkation was “madness,” with porters busy trying to get suite guests off the ship.
“Given the morning bed and the fact that the porter looked beyond shaken, we didn’t want to disturb him,” she said. She supposed she could figure out if the charges were appropriate or not after the cruise.
However, getting information from Norwegian Cruise Line has been nearly impossible. Jamie spent almost three quarters of an hour on hold with the concierge on the ground for The Haven passengers only to be told he had to call another customer service line. That line only led to a record that instructed him to submit a claim online. She is still waiting for a response or even an acknowledgment that her request has been received. Her next step will likely be to dispute the claim with her credit card issuer, resulting in more time spent on the phone trying to resolve the issue.
Actually, I’ve been trying to get copies of my bill by email after a trip and haven’t heard anything. Customer service doesn’t always have access to your bill on board or have any idea what charges are problematic — that is, whether you can get to an agent without spending hours on hold.
Best strategy: Check your bill every day
All you need is five minutes a day to focus on the non-sexy topic of your onboard spending fees, and then you can go back to playing in the sun and ignoring reality on your vacation. These five minutes can save you time, money and headaches on or after the last day of your cruise.
Technology makes it extremely easy to check your files on board. Download the cruise line’s app and you can usually see your fares there. Ships with interactive cabin TVs also offer a way to check your bill from your room. If all else fails, you can go to guest services to request a copy – look for a time when the queue is short and you won’t be eaten up in the day.
In most cases, a quick look will ensure that all charges are correct and you can get back to your holiday fun. If you notice a problem, you can take care of it when it’s convenient that day, instead of everyone standing in line to dispute their bill with guest services.
Because even experienced cruisers eventually run into trouble. “Even though I consider myself a pretty smart cruiser, this is a lesson that will stay with me,” says Jamie. “What I like about cruising is that I can pay for everything in advance and I don’t have to think about money for the whole vacation. The trade-off for not thinking about money on this cruise is now that I have to think about it for the future. some months after I fix this.”
“For ours [next] cruise, I’m planning to set reminders on my phone to check the bill every evening and hit the porter on our way to breakfast every morning. These 10 minutes a day will save me a lot of time after I get to the ground and maybe keep the vacation feeling longer.”
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