Cruises remain a popular vacation choice for older travelers, but the siren song of seagoing luxury and exotic ports of call can draw you into scam-infested waters. The classic cruise con starts with an email or call (often automated) with news that you’ve won a free cruise — as a sweepstakes prize, a special offer from a travel company or a “reward” for taking a brief survey. You might be asked to provide a Social Security number to reserve your spot or credit card details to cover nominal booking or processing fees.
What you’re actually signing up for is a barrage of sales pitches and additional charges, such as taxes, port fees and onboard gratuities. By departure time, your “free” trip might cost more than if you’d simply booked directly with the cruise line or a travel agent. That’s if there’s a trip at all: Some cruise offers are just ploys to get the requisite data to steal your money or identity, or to harvest contact information that is shared with spam-spewing marketers. (The latter is particularly prevalent on social media.)
Another common trick is offering an all-expenses-paid cruise in exchange for a little of your time — which turns out to be a time-share presentation or resort tour lasting several hours. If you survive that with the cruise offer intact, you’ll likely face more high-pressure pitches for costly trip upgrades. Turn them down and you're apt to end up with “dismal cruise conditions and ships that lack common amenities like air-conditioning,” the National Consumers League warns.
Even offers from genuine travel agents and cruise companies can be misleading, according to the TripAdvisor-affiliated review site Cruise Critic. Offers like “75 percent off” or “buy one, get one free” may be based on inflated “full fares” and end up costing more than booking directly at the regular price. And getting a refund can become an ordeal, even when a cruise is cancelled by the company. Know the terms before you buy.
- An email or call says you’ve won a free cruise in a lottery, sweepstakes or contest you do not recall entering.
- You receive an offer of a free cruise in exchange for attending a meeting or presentation.
- You’re asked, in a robocall or social media post, to answer a few questions to qualify for a free cruise.