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A senior fare mix-up

Beverly Darnell gets a mysterious notice with her cruise tickets: Either prove that you’re a senior citizen — or pay an extra $250. Not only is Darnell too young to qualify for a senior fare, but she never asked for one in the first place. Now her online agent is giving her two options — cancel the cruise or pay up. What should she do?
/ Source: Tribune Media Services

Q: I recently booked a cruise through, and paid for the full amount by credit card. When the information packet arrived with our tickets, I was surprised to find a notice that we had reserved a special senior-citizen rate, and a warning that if we couldn’t prove our age when we checked in, we would be charged extra.

We never told anyone we were seniors — in fact, the birthdays we gave when we bought the cruise clearly indicated that we aren’t senior citizens.

When I called, an agent said she would ask our cruise line to look into the matter. Now I’m being told that we owe another $250, on top of the $1,133 we’ve already paid.

After almost a month of calling, our agent said she couldn’t get the fee waived and asked if we wanted to cancel the cruise. What should I do?
— Beverly Darnell, Conroe, Texas

A: I think you should go on your cruise without paying another penny.

There are times when the price of a cruise can change even after you’ve bought your tickets. A few years ago, when fuel prices suddenly spiked, some cruise lines retroactively added a fuel surcharge to their cruise fares. But this isn’t one of those times.

Somehow, you bought a senior fare even though you aren’t old enough to qualify for one.

If your transaction had been done online, through the Web site, then this would probably be an open-and-shut case. Most travel sites have the capability of showing screen shots that prove you pushed the button that resulted in your itinerary. But you made your reservation by phone.

When you run into a problem with a phone reservation — and it basically becomes your word against someone else’s — it’s important to switch to a medium that allows you to create a paper trail. E-mail or even a regular letter will do the trick. Having a formal record of your request to fix this problem and the company’s response is critical, should the case ever get escalated to a supervisor or become a credit-card dispute or even a small-claims court action.

Repeated phone calls to your online travel agent are less helpful. Although many companies record their calls, there’s no transcript that you can easily get to. You need something in writing.

I asked to look into your reservation. It turns out the company had erroneously sold you a senior rate and after you discovered the mistake, it called your cruise line in the hopes that it would honor the lower fare. When it wouldn’t, you were given the option of paying an extra $250 or canceling your cruise.

An representative contacted you, apologized for the misunderstanding, and offered to pay the difference in your cruise fare.

Christopher Elliot is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. E-mail him at, or troubleshoot your trip through his Web site,