For years, I worked in the travel industry, helping people plan their dream cruise vacations. Sadly, I dealt with a lot of cruisers who had made mistakes with their cruise booking that ended up costing them a great deal of money. Most of them had too much money invested in their booking already to just walk away, so they'd reluctantly shell out the extra money to fix things. I always wished that I could have somehow prevented their predicaments, but usually by the time I was working with them, it was already too late. If you're thinking about booking a cruise or have already decided to, it's crucial to make sure your i's are dotted and your t's are crossed in the planning and booking stage so that your vacation proceeds without a hitch. Here are 5 costly and common mistakes to avoid:

1. Not carefully checking your booking confirmation

After making your deposit, the cruise line or travel agency will email you a confirmation detailing your ship, sail date and itinerary, passengers' names, dates of birth and gender, your cabin number, dining time and final payment date. Upon sending the confirmation, cruise lines consider the guest duly notified of their booking details and the terms and conditions. It is solely the guest's responsibility to make certain that everything's correct, so go over your confirmation with a fine-toothed comb!

  • Verify that passengers' names are spelled correctly and exactly match their passport or other government issued photo ID. Some cruise lines levy a change fee that can be as much as $50 per correction of more than 3 letters if they aren't notified of mistakes before the final payment date (usually 61 or 76 days prior to sailing) or within 24 to 48 hours if booked under a restricted special offer.
  • Booking under a name that doesn't match your ID risks denial of boarding without refund.
  • Check that dates of birth and gender are correct to avoid boarding headaches.
  • Make sure the ship and sail date are correct. Instances where the booked guest didn't notice an error until weeks or months later happen more than you'd think and can be financially disastrous.  Fares on the desired sailing could have skyrocketed in the interim, or the ship could have sold out, reducing their options to alternate, possibly more expensive, sailings. If it's after final payment already, changing the sailing is in actuality a cancellation and rebook, and fees will be incurred.

2. Not paying the balance of your cruise fare by final payment date

This seems like a no-brainer, but it also happens quite a bit and, unfortunately, can result in auto-cancellation of the booking. If you call the cruise line even just a few days late to make payment, you might find that:

  • You no longer have an active booking and your deposit has been forfeited.
  • Reinstating the booking and paying it off is the only way to reverse the deposit forfeiture.
  • The reactivated booking is subject to current rates, which could be significantly higher than when you originally booked.
  • The cabin you had has already been resold to another passenger.
  • All of the economy cabins are sold out, and now only pricier balcony cabins and suites are available. At the time of booking, some lines let you to set up auto-payment of the balance on the same credit/debit card used for deposit. Your balance will be automatically deducted from this card on the final payment date. Observe these cautions with auto-payment:
    • Call the cruise line or log into your booking on their website on the due date to verify that the payment actually posted, because a percentage of auto-payments fail due to human error — the agent forgot to set up the auto-payment as requested, auto-payment was set up but the guest no longer has the card that it was set up on, or payment was made with a debit card and the funds were insufficient.
    • Payment failure should generate an auto-email notification, but don't rely on this. It could go into spam, or you may not open it until days later, and by this time, your booking is history.

3. Not knowing the terms and conditions and cancellation policy of your booking

Cruise lines offer promotions with varying features and price points. Whether you're working with a cruise line representative, travel agent, or making a do-it-yourself booking online, make sure you fully understand the terms and conditions and the cancellation policy of the deal that you're getting. Ask questions, scour the line's website for "fine print" and read their Cruise Ticket Contract before putting your money down! Common features of some promos:

  • Non-refundable deposits
  • No name changes
  • No say in the cabin location — the cruise line assigns the cabin.
  • Cancellation fees prior to final payment
  • Fees to change passenger name, ship or sail date
  • Loss of special rate if the qualifying passenger in a cabin (as in military or senior citizen promos) cancels. Regardless of the promo booked, after the final payment date, your booking is subject to a cancellation penalty schedule that looks something like this:
    • Cancel 75 to 56 days prior to sail date – lose your deposit
    • Cancel 55 to 30 days prior to sail date – lose 50% of total cruise fare
    • Cancel 29 to 15 days prior to sail date – lose 75% of total cruise fare
    • Cancel 14 days or less prior to sail date – lose 100% of total cruise fare

4. Not purchasing travel insurance

I never used to bother with insurance, but a few highly-publicized accounts of the plight of uninsured travelers converted me into a true believer. Cruise lines sell insurance, but you can buy better coverage for less money via a third-party provider. I purchase all of my travel insurance through InsureMyTrip. Policies vary and there may be exclusions, such as pre-existing conditions, so make sure you understand what's covered and what's not. Coverage reimburses you if you're unable to take the cruise, miss a portion of the voyage or incur additional expenses due to certain unforeseen circumstances. Some examples:

  • Sudden illness, death of an immediate family member, involvement in a traffic accident en route to the cruise, job layoff, employer revocation of previously approved time off, jury duty and hurricanes.
  • Missing the cruise departure due to an airline delay and as a result incurring additional expenses for lodging, meals and transportation to catch up to the ship.
  • Your baggage is lost, damaged, delayed or misdirected by an air carrier.
  • Medical expenses if you became sick or injured during your vacation. Health insurance through your job may not cover you outside of the country.

5. Not obtaining the proper documents necessary to board the ship

This can result in denied boarding with no refund. Even insurance won't help you out of this mess. It is the traveling guest's responsibility to verify and obtain the documents required for their cruise and to make sure they are valid for the duration of the trip. Cruise lines provide some general information but assume no responsibility for helping you to identify which documents are needed. Start your search with these resources:

If using a driver's license and birth certificate in lieu of a passport for a closed-loop cruise, make sure that your birth certificate was issued by the Vital Records Department in the state where you were born. At VitalChek you can order a new certificate if necessary. Note that if you miss the cruise departure, a passport is required to fly to a foreign port of call to meet the ship.

This is a guest post by Deidre from Dania Beach, FL
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5 Costly Mistakes to Avoid When Booking a Cruise