MIAMI - Several travel agents last week urged Norwegian Cruise Line to add its daily $10 per-person service charge to the cruise price up front instead of adding the nonnegotiable fee to customers' onboard accounts at the end of the cruise.

The nonrefundable service charge will replace NCL's automated gratuities charge on passengers' onboard bills next May; it's already in place on the line's NCL America ships, including the Pride of Aloha.

The difference between the service charge and the current gratuities charge is that passengers will not be able to remove the charge - except under extenuating circumstances.

But some agents say the mandatory fee is deceptive.

"If you can't reverse it out of your onboard account, then just charge up front," said Kristopher Krenz, at Pak-n-Go Cruises and Tours in Brick, N.J. "I think it would work in NCL's favor."

Edgar Wood, an outside agent with Plaza Travel in San Diego, agreed, saying NCL should "raise the price of the cruise and keep the tipping policy the same."

NCL has said that including the service charge in the ticket price would make the sailings look more expensive and, therefore, less competitive.

Moreover, the ticket price is nonadjustable, and the service charge could be adjusted "if we feel the passenger did not get the service [he or she] deserved and addressed it with us early enough in the cruise," NCL said.

In a statement e-mailed to TravelWeekly.com, NCL said, "We believe it is fair and equitable that all passengers pay a daily charge for the service they receive.

"If the service is terrible ... then we want to hear about it immediately and have a chance to rectify the problem. If the passenger prefers not to tip at all, we do not believe that is fair for the other 95% of the passengers to be subsidizing that approach," NCL added.

Several agents last week were confused about whether the new policy covered tips; NCL executives said tipping is not expected beyond the $10 fee, whether it's called a gratuity or a service charge.

To contact reporter Rebecca Tobin, send e-mail to [email protected].

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