Tips for cruise passengers after woman pinged $89 roaming for a few texts - and she didn't leave NZ waters

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A technology expert has some advice for cruise ship passengers after a woman was charged almost $90 for global roaming, sailing New Zealand's coast.

Fair Go investigates the hidden costs of cruising New Zealand.
Source: Fair Go

Irene Neal told Fair Go she was surprised and incensed when her Vodafone cellphone bill showed she owed $89 in roaming charges after she sent a few texts from the Pacific Pearl during her art deco cruise to Napier a month ago.

"They said you've been out of the country, international roaming. I said no, I haven't been out of the country - I went to Napier," she told the programme.

Ms Neal says passengers were told that because the ship didn't go into international waters they weren't able to purchase any duty free on board.  

But they were in international waters when it came to her phone.

"I think it's a scam. I think it's terrible," she said.

Cruise ships use maritime roaming networks, and Ms Neal was charged about 80 cents per text, but the problem was she was also unknowingly using data every time she switched her phone on.

You're actually being charged more because of the type of technology that's being used"
Craig Young of TUANZ

Craig Young, chief executive of the Telecommunications Users Association of NZ, said her phone used 3.5 megabytes for something like a Facebook background update, at $25 a megabyte.

"That's really expensive. I've just been overseas and I thought Europe was expensive at $10 a megabyte, but $25 is really at the steep end," he said.

"What's happening on a ship is they're actually using satellites to provide the back-haul for those calls. So you're actually being charged more because of the type of technology that's being used."

Mr Young said if you turn off "data roaming," under "mobile networks" in the phone's settings you wouldn't be charged data in a roaming situation.

Or you could buy a wifi package on board the ship, which he said might be a better option as you could then use Facebook messenger and other messaging services.

The roaming bill wasn't a huge amount of money for Ms Neal but she's worried other cruise passengers could be hit harder.

"I look at families and all the kids have got their phones. So mum and dad and the kids - that's a huge amount of money to be paying for basically nothing when you're going on a cruise around New Zealand waters." 

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