Sneaky Hidden Fees of Online Travel Agencies

Many online cruise agencies charge a sneaky nonrefundable processing fee with each booking.  This fee is hidden in the fine print on the bottom of the screen, but only after you have clicked through several times while you’re making a booking.  The fee is not shown added to the cruise fare until the final booking page.

Finding Out About the Sneaky Hidden Fees

I have signed up to get promotional emails from many online cruise agencies.  It seems like I get an email everyday from CruisesOnly.  I scan through the emails quickly and investigate any appealing deals.  It wasn’t until recently that I noticed that they charge a non-refundable $24.99 processing fee.  This disclaimer is in the fine print at the bottom of the email.

CruisesOnly

I was curious about this fee and went to the CruisesOnly website to do a dummy booking.  I searched for a cruise and went through the motions of making a booking.  It wasn’t until the fourth screen that the disclaimer about the $24.99 processing fee appeared at the bottom of the page.

Processing Fee Shows on Fourth Screen
Processing Fee Shows on Fourth Screen

As I got to the page that showed the total invoice, sure enough, the processing fee had been added.  Those of us who are experienced cruisers are used to agencies quoting prices before taxes and fees.  These fees are government taxes and fees charged by the ports.  It is just traditional to advertise cruise prices this way.  We know that the advertised price doesn’t include these charges.  The “processing fee ” however, is an added kicker to the travel agency’s bottom line, which they receive along with their commission from the cruise line.  Agencies that charge this fee are essentially “double-dipping”–they are getting paid by both the cruise line and the client.

Cruise Agencies That Are Partners With World Travel Holdings

The CruisesOnly format looks very similar to some other companies who send me promotional emails.  I decided to see if these other companies were related in any way, and if they also charged this processing fee.  It turns out that there is a travel conglomerate called World Travel Holdings.  They own outright several cruise agencies.  They also partner with many other agencies to provide them with booking engines and services.  The following table shows travel agencies who use the World Travel Holdings booking platform:

Partners With World Travel Holdings
Partners With World Travel Holdings

If you look at the online booking engines of these partners, you will see that it is essentially the same booking engine. Only the company logos change.  I didn’t do a dummy booking on all of them, but I did check two others–Priceline and Delta SkyMiles Cruises.  They also charge a $24.99 processing fee.

Travel Agencies Owned by World Travel Holdings

The following lists travel agencies that are owned by World Travel Holdings:

Cruise Travel Agencies Owned by World Travel Holdings
Cruise Travel Agencies Owned by World Travel Holdings

CruiseOne

I’m not sure why CruisesOnly is listed as one of their possessions, because it is also on the partner list.  I did a dummy booking on CruiseOne, and finally found the processing fee after clicking through several pages.  CruiseOne calls it a Service Fee, and it is $19.95

 

Cruiseone service fee
CruiseOne’s Final Cost Including a $19/99 Service Fee

Caveat Emptor

Please note that I am not angry that these agencies are charging an extra fee to book my cruise.  If an agency is charging me $200 less or giving me $200 on board credit, I will look past their processing or service charge.  They are in business and can charge what they want, but I am very annoyed that the fee is hidden until the very end of the booking process.  And it is annoying this is just another thing that I have to remember to take into account when I’m pricing out a cruise.

Are there any other agencies that I haven’t listed that also charge a service or processing fee?

4 thoughts on “Sneaky Hidden Fees of Online Travel Agencies

  1. I had never thought about this before, but I looked at my last invoice and saw I was charged a service fee. This was from my neighborhood travel agency. I was sort of disgusted when I saw this, because it was never discussed when I was booking. I think a lot of people just glance over it and think it is just another one of the add on charges. I will pay more attention from now on. Thanks!

  2. I am a franchise owner of Dream Vacations, recently re-branded from CruiseOne. Although World Travel Holdings is our parent company, they do not own my business. As a franchise, I am an independent agent. Also, although it’s possible to book on our websites, we are not an online agency. We have personal contact with every client. I’ve owned my franchise for over 12 years and I’ve had only 2 clients book online. The service fee is not hidden, and is optional with each franchise owner. In my case, I charge $29.95 and it’s well worth it for the service I provide. When you find agencies online, it’s easy to assume that we are all “online agencies.” But in the case of Dream Vacations/CruiseOne, it’s not true.

  3. Roseana, This has happened to me too. It was a travel agent that was working with my sister-in-law. She was not made aware of the service fee at any time during the booking process or after. This is the problem that I have–it’s not so much the fee as the disclosure of the fee.

  4. Alan, I appreciate you participating here with comments from a travel agent perspective. I’m still not clear on your relationship to World Travel Holdings. Were you formally a franchisee of CruiseOne, and now you’re a franchisee of Dream Vacations?

    I’m not saying that charging the processing or service fee is wrong. I’m sure you provide great service to your clients and you’re well worth the fee. The issue as far as I’m concerned is with how the fee is disclosed. I just went to your website and went through the motions of making a booking online. It was not until the last page that shows the final invoice is the fee disclosed.

    You say that most of your clients don’t book online. I’m sure that you are disclosing all fees and charges to those to whom you are speaking on the phone. However, many people prefer to book entirely online, especially younger people who rarely even make phone calls (they’re always texting.) In my opinion, all fees should be disclosed upfront–for instance on the first page of your website.

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