Free vacation scams used to come in the mail. Now, they arrive over the phone. I was just promised a gift of a free two-night Bahamas cruise as thanks for answering three short questions for a national political opinion survey.
Okay, I’m listening — because I do have opinions about Congress and the White House, and curious how Political Opinions of America can afford to give a free cruise to everybody who answers a few questions about who they are voting for in November 2012.
I was switched to a woman who identified herself as Summers Pierce, at Caribbean Cruise Lines. She refused to answer my questions about which port city this free cruise leaves from, the name of the cruise line, or the name of the ship. What she did say — repeatedly, each time I asked a question — is that she would tell me everything if I stopped interrupting her. That told me she was sticking to the script in front of her, which included asking me to promise I would share the good news about this free cruise with friends and family, and waiting for me to respond, “of course,” before proceeding.
This free cruise offer starts with a $59 charge on your credit card to “reserve” the free voucher. Then, you will be charged port fees and $10 per day per person for tips for the crew. In fairness, every cruise passenger pays these fees. Lower-priced cruise lines generally add them on, so they can advertise an attractive low price, the same way airlines charge you for checking your bag after you’ve bought the low ticket. So, already, my two-day free Bahamas cruise is past $200, and that’s even before buying an airline ticket to the port in Florida.
My $200+ free Bahamas cruise would be aboard the Bahamas Celebration, a converted Baltic ferry operated by Celebration Cruise Line. Her company — with the similar sounding name Caribbean Cruise Lines — is a discounter that fills empty cabins. Those are generally the least popular, least salable cabins — inside cabins with no windows, and the smallest cabins with bunk beds. You get what they give you. No choices.
Of course, Summers Pierce did not tell me that her company, Caribbean Cruise Lines, has hundreds of complaints against it registered with the Florida Dept. of Consumer Services and the Florida Better Business Bureau. There are hundreds of stories by people ripped off by Caribbean Cruise Lines on the website CruiseCritic.com, which published an investigation on this free cruise scam in 2010.
These complaints include having to pick up a “welcome packet” in Fort Lauderdale and sit though a timeshare pitch before boarding the ship — which docks in Palm Beach, one hour away. That’s an expensive cab ride or one-way car rental, adding another $50-$100 to the price of my free Bahamas cruise, not to mention a couple of hours of travel time and a nightmare airline reservation to fly into Ft. Lauderdale and out of Palm Beach. Other complaints were from consumers unable to get refunds for their $59 reservation fee after having second thoughts about the deal.
Celebration Cruise Line, which operates the ship, has a top rating as a family-friendly, budget cruise line, and currently offers four-night packages starting at $225 per person for the two-day cruise and a two-night stay at a four-star hotel on Grand Bahama Island. Plus, you can book any type of cabin you want. Either way, you get the same ship, Bahamas Celebration.
As for Public Opinions of America — there’s no name, address or phone number on their website. The only way to reach them is via one of those form emails, under the “contact us” tab. So you can guess my opinion of Political Opinions of America. If I ever get another robo-call from them, I’ll just hang up, and recommend you do the same.
Be a smart ecoXplorer —
- never — ever — give your credit card number to somebody you don’t know, who phoned you, no matter how good the deal sounds
- if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is
- if you feel you’ve been ripped off, contact that state’s or city’s consumer affiars department, the state’s Attorney General, the Better Business Bureau — and it’s a good idea to vent on public forums like CruiseCritic and on social media outlets
Photo courtesy CruiseCritic.com
by Evelyn Kanter