Surcharges & Such


There’s been a lot of discussion about the Supreme Court decision on Spector v. Norwegian Cruise Line, Ltd. in the past week. Some of what’s written is accurate and some is not. As always when surfing the net, consider the source. I’ve found a lot of misinformation about the decision (and about the whole subject) posted on message boards, so when in doubt read the decision for yourself.

In any case, a lot has been said about how this ruling may affect the physical access of cruise ships (of course it’s all speculation at this point), but in truth that’s only half the issue. The subject of surcharges was also addressed in the appeal. Unfortunately because of the wording of the plaintiffs’ brief, that whole subject has been incorrectly reported by many sources.

Basically the plaintiffs claim that disabled cruisers pay more for their cabins than able-bodied cruisers. But it’s not exactly that cut and dried. It should be noted that the cruise lines charge the same “rack rate” for accessible cabins as they do for non-accessible cabins in the same category. In other words they don’t charge more just because a cabin is accessible

But the plaintiffs claim there is a surcharge on accessible cabins. How can that be?

Well, according to the brief, Douglas and Ana Spector paid $900 more for their accessible cabin than their non-disabled relatives paid for nicer cabins on the same cruise. On the surface it appears as if the Spectors were actually charged more for the accessible cabin; however that’s not the entire story. They paid more for their cabin, not because of a surcharge on accessible cabins, but because of a discount on the non-accessible cabins.

It’s a simple case of supply and demand. The accessible cabins usually sell out first, so they aren’t discounted. The plaintiffs further claim that if there were more accessible cabins, then disabled cruisers would be able to secure “run-of-ship” discounts available to able-bodied cruisers.

Since the Supreme Court ruled that Title III of the ADA applies to cruise ships, it would be illegal for the cruise lines to impose a surcharge on accessible cabins. But does the inability to secure a discount because of the limited availability of a product equal a surcharge?

Time will tell, as that’s another issue left for the lower court to decide.

Stay tuned.