Did Cruises Go Overboard with Fuel Surcharges?

Multiple cruise lines—including Royal Caribbean Cruises and Carnival Corp., which collectively hold 90 percent of the North America cruise market—were named in a class-action lawsuit alleging that they colluded to fix unreasonably high fuel surcharges. At the same time, Florida Attorney General Bill Collum's office is investigating that charge and whether the companies properly disclosed the fare hikes to already-booked passengers.

According to the complaint, filed by Florida attorney Harley Tropin on behalf of New York resident Jason Ablelove, the cruise lines engaged in a conspiracy to "fix, raise, maintain, and/or stabilize the energy surcharge prices." The fuel surcharges, reported on by MeetingNews when they were announced by several companies in November, amounted to $5 to $10 per person per day, depending on the company. The lawsuit alleged that the surcharges were set higher than the actual increased cost of fuel, and that the companies violated passengers' right to free and open competition. The suit also cites a 1997 settlement between several of the defendants and Florida's attorney general, which said that the cruise lines can no longer charge customers any fees in addition to the advertised initial ticket price, except for fees passed on by the company to a government agency.

Although Tropin did not respond to a request for comment by press time, the cruise companies issued statements denying the charges. Royal Caribbean said: "Like many other businesses, we have been significantly impacted by the record-high fuel prices of the recent past. Also, like many of those businesses, we implemented a fuel supplement...We think this is a fair and reasonable response to the problem, and we intend to continue assessing the supplement on a temporary basis, and may periodically adjust it as fuel prices fluctuate. Our company reached these decisions independent of the other parties named in the lawsuit, and we will rely upon these simple and straightforward facts in responding to this meritless lawsuit."

Carnival responded in a similar vein: "We believe that our fuel surcharge complies with applicable laws. The lawsuit in question is completely without merit, and we will vigorously defend ourselves against this claim."

Originally published March 24, 2008