Travel Troubleshooter

Travel Troubleshooter: Bill from cruise line comes late

Q: My wife and I took a very enjoyable cruise on Princess Cruises in June 2014. We recently received a bill for $476 for a portion of the trip that we thought we had already paid for.

The credit card we used to pay for the cruise had been canceled just before the trip because of fraudulent charges. I tried to add a new credit card number on the Princess website, but it said I could not make changes once the trip had started.

I went to the pursers on the cruise ship, gave them the new credit card information, and they updated the information and charged my credit card. I explained all this in the letter I sent to Princess, and expected the cruise line to send me information showing what I had paid for and what it thinks I did not pay for. However, all I received back was another bill.

A year and a half later, I do not have anything that shows what I paid for. I am surprised that Princess waited this long and now expects me to respond immediately, without providing any details. I would have written the cruise line again rather than ask for your help, but it does not appear the company is responsive to my request.

David Dennis, Wichita, Kan.

A: Princess should have billed you for the items promptly. Coming back a year and a half later without any documentation just doesn’t seem right.

Normally, this kind of late billing happens with car-rental companies. I’ve seen cases drag on for almost two years, where damage is discovered to a car and a bill is sent to a customer many, many months after the rental. This is the first time I’ve encountered this with a cruise line (and I hope it’s the last).

Just like a car-damage bill, you have a right to ask for a detailed invoice with the charges – not just a grand total. And Princess’ demand that you respond immediately seems a little ridiculous, given that the company took more than a year to send you this invoice. Rather than just sending you another invoice, it should have taken a minute to find your charges and send them to you.

There’s a double standard going on here. For example, if your ship had skipped a port of call that you really were looking forward to, it would not have to compensate you in any way, except perhaps to refund the port fees you paid in your cruise fare. How so? Check its cruise contract, which allows it to skip any port. But when the tables are turned and a cruise line wants something from you, there’s no choice but to pay up.

You could have appealed this vague and very late bill to a Princess Cruises executive. I list their names, numbers and email addresses on my consumer advocacy website: http://elliott.org/company-contacts/princess/.

But that wasn’t necessary. I asked Princess to look into your bill. It produced detailed records of two transactions – a dinner theater and a shore excursion – that had not been paid. According to Princess, the charges were handled by different billing systems, which was why it didn’t see them on your folio.

You wrote Princess a check for $476.

Email Christopher Elliott at chris@elliott.org.

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