Cruise blogger Gene Sloan at USA Today, who's always on top of the latest developments in the tricky world of the cruise ship biz, was quick to tweet a warning to consumers after Tuesday's closing bell on Wall Street. The price of a barrel of oil had just closed over $70 for the first time since last fall.
Sloan pointed out that most of the major cruise lines post specific verbiage on their Web sites that gives them latitude to start charging more for fuel should oil go above $70.
Here's Carnival's wording, listed online: "The company reserves the right to re-instate the fuel supplement for all guests at up to $9 per person per day if the NYMEX oil price exceeds $70 per barrel."
Royal Caribbean's threshold is even lower: "We reserve the right to reinstate fuel supplement charges if the price of West Texas Intermediate fuel exceeds $65 per barrel..."
So far, the cruise lines haven't announced intentions to stick passengers with the fee, although now the door is open and by rights they can. Last year, the Florida courts rapped the wrists of the big cruisers because they were charging passengers retroactively for high fuel costs -- meaning customers who had already paid were then required to pay even more at the dock as ransom for being able to start their vacation. The point of contention, though, wasn't so much about whether that was right but whether the cruise lines had adequately warned customers ahead of time.
Because of that tussle, which resulted in some refunds, the cruise lines have been very up-front about what's at stake if oil prices rose again. They've carefully laid it out in advance for all to see. If oil remains above $70, and there's every indication it will because prices tend to stay elevated for the summer season (and some citizens want a congressional investigation into that patten), then anyone who is about to take a cruise may get slapped with more, legitimate charges.
Even if you've paid for your cruise but haven't taken it, the line may demand that extra charge as ransom before they let you board, because it told you in advance that it might.
And once one segment of the travel industry gets the ball rolling, don't be shocked if another segment -- airlines -- primes the pump, too.
Now that oil is back up to $70 a barrel, are surcharges back, too?