Q – I will be taking my wife on a Viking River Cruise on the new Odin Longship sailing from Germany on June 12th. My travel agent informs me that I have to pay in full six months in advance of my cruise departure. In reading the fine print, Viking makes it clear that final payment is due “ninety days prior to departure”. I feel like someone is trying to take advantage of us and I’d like to know if this is some sort of a scam. This must affect others who sail with Viking River.

A – It does. You have read the fine print correctly but you are leaving out the key sentence which exempts “certain promotional fares”. The fact is that nearly everyone who books Viking is on some sort of a “promotional” fare, if they weren’t, they would be paying list price.

Normally, your travel agent would have explained Viking’s payment schedule. It is not at all standard industry practice and it does raise questions about the financial situation at any company that requires full payment for a travel product that will not be consumed for another half year.

Some companies, such as Crystal Cruises, offer an early payment discount of 3-5%. But Crystal is very open about this pricing option. The problem with Viking’s current policy is that they retain the right to charge a higher price if the guest does not make full payment on promotional fares far in advance. While we really do not wish to question Viking’s current financial situation, it is true that building two dozen ships in a 36-month period requires substantial cash flow. Viking is clearly helping its bottom line with these full payment promotions.