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September 15, 2021

Free cruise: Scam or the deal of the decade?

When does ‘free’ actually mean something completely different?

That’s the question consumer advocate Christopher Elliott, whose “Travel Troubleshooter” column appears in several U.S. newspapers, has been asking lately.  

Elliott has expanded beyond mediating grievances of airline passengers and hotel guests to helping settle a host of customer-service disputes through his blog On Your Side.

His latest crusade: The kinds of teaser mailings and phone calls that promise a free cruise for answering a series of questions or attending a 45-minute presentation.

Personally, I just throw them away. But one poor soul bit recently, largely because the offering had the Carnival logo on it, which made him think it was legit.

After sitting through the pitch and filling out the forms, he found that there are skads of fees, surcharges and two-for-one offers that he can’t quite decipher. He hasn’t taken the bait completely — yet. But, oddly enough, he still seems to want someone to tell him that he's getting on the boat for nothing. 

Except he's not, of course. Nor is this the first time the company in question has attracted this kind of attention. Nor is it the only company working the phones.

And, if you do sign up and pay the "well, it's almost free' fees", then be prepared to board a converted Baltic ferry and sleep in a small inside cabin, perhaps set up with bunk beds, warns the Cruise Critic.

What's your experience? Does this kind of travel promo ever pan out for you? Or have you been burned?

By Gordon Powers, MSN Money




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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...