The 1 thing you should do every day of your cruise — and it's not what you think
Savvy cruisers do one thing every day that I bet you do not. It’s not as sexy as securing the best sun lounger without turning into a chair hog or taking advantage of a lucrative bar or dining discount. However, if you adopted this habit, it could save you money and hassle.
The one thing smart sailors do every day? Check their onboard bill.
Oh no, I hear you saying, I do not want the buzzkill of thinking about money on vacation. I want to enjoy those umbrella drinks, impulse buys and extra-fee snacks 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 spot those screwy charges in a timely manner, recouping your money gets a lot more difficult. Read on to discover why this quick and easy step can save you time, money and hassle.
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Onboard billing problems
Mistakes on your onboard account are more common than you might realize.
You could be inadvertently charged for drinks you did not buy or meals you did not eat. Maybe your shore excursion credit did not come through, or you were charged twice for the overpriced logo sweatshirt you bought at the onboard shop. We’ve heard tales of kids racking up bills at the arcade, and their parents not discovering the fees until the last night of the cruise. And sometimes mysterious charges show up out of nowhere, and you have no idea where they came from.
Related: 15 ways that cruising newbies waste money on ships
Case in point: On the last evening of a recent Norwegian Getaway cruise, TPG’s Jamie Page Deaton discovered charges on her onboard bill for eating in The Haven Restaurant (which should have been an included dining option for her, as she was staying in the ship's The Haven suite area). She also discovered charges for drinking at The Haven Bar, despite having a premium beverage package. She was charged what looked to be a 20% gratuity on meals and drinks, based on drink and meal prices on board, including a $28 charge for a breakfast of eggs and waffles, implying the total bill should have come to $140.
She never had to sign a receipt at the restaurant or bar so was unaware she was being billed 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’s concierge during a quiet hour and sorted out what was going on. However, as it was a short cruise, she didn't bother to check until the end.
Why you shouldn’t wait to contest your bill
If it’s not obvious why checking your bill every day is the better way to go, let me spell it out for you.
You could ignore your onboard account and wait until a paper bill is delivered to your cabin the night before disembarkation. If there are issues, you could contest the charges at that time. But I see two problems with this strategy.
One is that many cruisers take this approach, leading to huge queues at guest services the night before and the morning of departure. You could spend your last evening on board enjoying a leisurely dinner, a toe-tapping show, a last run at the poker table or a no-holds-barred bar crawl. Or, you could 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 does not help you stop a problem before it gets out of hand. If your child is running up a bill on video games unbeknownst to you, the cruise line isn’t going to wipe those charges on day seven because they’re legitimate purchases. However, if you notice the issue on day two, you can have a talk with your child about onboard spending and can put a spending limit on his card at guest services, so he can’t rack up further charges.
It also lets you discover if onboard credit or loyalty-member perks are not being applied correctly and have that issue taken care of as soon as possible. In Jamie’s case, she could have questioned the charges, and either had them removed or — if they were legit — made dining and drinking decisions based on the knowledge that a gratuity would be applied in The Haven restaurant and bar.
If you’re thinking you’ll take care of any billing problems after your cruise, let me assure you that this will cause you even more headaches. Post-cruise customer service is sadly not the best at cruise lines, as Jamie has found out.
She was hoping to address the issues on board with The Haven concierge, but the desk was closed when she got the bill on the last night of the sailing. Disembarkation was a "madhouse," with the concierges busy trying to get the suite guests off the ship.
"Given the bedlam of the morning and the fact that the concierge looked beyond overwhelmed, we didn’t want to bother him," she said. She assumed she could figure out if the charges were appropriate or not after the sailing.
However, getting information from Norwegian Cruise Line has been nearly impossible. Jamie spent nearly three-quarters of an hour on hold with the land-based concierge for The Haven passengers just to be told she needed to call a different customer service line. That line only led to a recording instructing her to submit an online claim. She's still waiting for a response or even an acknowledgment that her claim was received. Her next step will likely be disputing the claim with her credit card issuer, resulting in more time spent on the phone to resolve the issue.
Indeed, I have tried to get copies of my bill emailed to me after a trip, and heard nothing. Customer service doesn’t always have access to your onboard bill or have any idea which charges are problematic — that is, if you can even get to an agent without spending hours on hold.
The best strategy: Check your bill daily
All you need is five minutes a day to focus on the un-sexy topic of your onboard spending charges, and then you can go back to playing in the sun and ignoring reality on your vacation. That five minutes can save you time, money and headaches on the last day of or after your cruise.
Technology makes it extremely easy to check your onboard folio. Download the cruise line’s app, and you can usually see your charges there. Ships with interactive cabin TVs also offer a way to check your bill from your room. If all else fails, you can go down to guest services to request a copy — look for a time when the queue is short, and it won’t eat into your day.
In most cases, a quick glance will assure you that all the charges are correct, and you can get back to vacation fun. If you do notice a problem, you can take care of it when it’s convenient that day, rather than when everyone is queuing up to dispute their bill with guest services.
Because even experienced cruisers eventually run into trouble. "Even though I consider myself a fairly savvy cruiser, this is a lesson that will stick with me," says Jamie. "What I like about cruising is that I can pay for everything upfront and not have to think about money for the entire vacation. The trade-off for me not thinking about money on this cruise is now I get to think about it for the next several months as I get this straightened out."
"For our [next] cruise, I am planning on setting reminders on my phone to check the bill each evening, and to hit the concierge on our way to breakfast each morning. That 10 minutes a day will save me a lot of time once I hit land, and maybe keep the vacation feeling going longer."
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