How do you get a company to keep its promises?

Ever book a dream trip only to have it turn into a nightmare? I have.

It was a Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) cruise to “wherever.” The ship left late, one of the engines broke down and we skipped a few ports on the itinerary.

But once at sea, what can you do — swim home?

Cruise lines are easy to pick on. They promise so much and sell you an irresistible “package” that promises once you’re aboard, you’ll be transported to another world where all your cares are gone and nothing but fun awaits. But when you look at last year’s J.D. Power Cruise Line Satisfaction Report, many are just “about average,” including NCL (like so many cruise lines).

When things go wrong, what can you do? As a consumer, you do have options and it really is up to you to get what was promised to you, either on paper or verbally, from a company and its representatives. The key is preparation. When you are interacting with anyone, be sure get:

1) The name of the representative
2) If you can’t email, then the date and time of the call
3) Notes on what was promised

After that, if you can, also make note of the call center they are located in, if that is mentioned; whether it is a recorded line (you can even ask before you hang up just in case there are issues), and a confirmation number of the change.

Beyond that, I often request that an email be sent to me with the promised changes. If you can get an email from the company about just what was changed. This way you have moved from just a verbal commitment to something you can show to provide if needed later as evidence of what was told to you.

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Another great tip is not to hang up until you see the correct changes online. In today’s modern digital age you can often times go online and the rep should be patient enough to “hold” while you log on to the company’s website to see if the changes are as verbally promised. There have been many times when I have had to, for example, book a first class ticket but the rep’s rebooking landed me in a coach seat. They are far more likely to fix it right then before you leave the line.

If you’ve done all the above, you should have enough “ammo” to get what was promised. If not, you can now, with information in hand, take it to the next level with the company. For example, requesting to talk to a supervisor or a team leader, or whatever the next person up the food chain is called, who can get done what was promised to you. Eventually, someone will have the power to fix what was promised.

So how did it work out for me and the NCL trip to nowhere?

We floated around the Caribbean on one engine for the entire trip. Each day we ended up wherever the captain took us and we could make it simply limping along at half speed. All our shore excursions bookings were worthless, as we never knew where we would wake up the next day.

Oh, and for even more added excitement, one night there was even a fire onboard. It was a grand cruise to remember (or one we wish we could forget).

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A refund was out of the question, as once the ship sails it can just park off shore and they will have fulfilled their contract with you by taking you to sea. However, I did manage, with many phone calls and emails, to get some credit back. But to this day, I have not set foot on a NCL ship, nor will I again — ever.

The bottom line is that with careful notes and keeping a good paper trail, you can often get fixed what has been promised to you or, at least, after the fact get some satisfaction. Ultimately, voting with your wallet and letting the company know why may be the best choice of all.

Do you trust what a company representative tells you?

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Rene de Lambert

René de Lambert, also know around the web as “deltagoldflyer” publishes the website Deltapoints.

  • sirwired

    “But when you look at last year’s J.D. Power Cruise Line Satisfaction Report, many are just “about average,” including NCL (like so many cruise lines).”

    Errrr… unless the cruise lines are offering tours of Lake Wobegon, wouldn’t we EXPECT ‘many’, (or even ‘most’) providers to receive ‘average’ ratings? Isn’t that the whole point of having an average?

  • Paul

    What I don’t understand is if you have a set itinerary (and I believe all cruise do), and the cruise was not able to deliver what’s set on the itinerary outside an “act of God”, you should have a good case to get some compensation for the portion of the itinerary that was not delivered.

  • Joe Farrell

    The problem with cruising is exactly this: once you board, their obligation is limited to taking you to ‘sea.’ As I tell everyone, the cruise line could take you on a tour of the harbor in a dinghy, deposit you in a Motel 6 for 7 nights, and present you with $300 of Mcdonald’s gift cards for food and they have technically satisfied their obligation under their contract. . . . .

    Plus, you cannot easily sue them . . .

  • Daddydo

    Sorry Paul, that is not the case. Each cruise line has a contract. Once you deposit the trip, you acknowledge that contract to be true. The captain can do what he wants to when there is any problem, mechanical or weather or whatever.

  • jennj99738

    You should, however, get the port taxes back for any missed ports but it might be in the form of a shipboard credit.

  • Daddydo

    “Port Taxes” – a very creative term. There have been many a suit over this exact issue, with nobody winning outside of the lawyers. They used to break down these so called taxes per stop. Not any more. The ships pay so much per stop, average out the cost based upon some per centage of occupancy, then charge you some ridiculous amount. Taxes and goverment fees many times eceed the cruise price. It is easier to give a shipboard credit and a discount off of another cruise so you can be sucker punched again.

  • LFH0

    All may well be true. And in that respect, the only thing that keeps the lines in line is their concern over reputation. I don’t think there will be many passengers deposited in a dinghy, with McDonald’s vouchers, simply because once word gets out to the marketplace few will book that line. The lines may go as far as they can while remaining within the realm of reasonableness–as measured by consumers in the marketplace–but I don’t think they will go beyond that (even if their contracts so permit). Think about those instances where a line really messes up (think about the voyages with disabled
    engines and power supply): the lines make sure to recompense passengers
    . . . at least up to the level that other consumers in the marketplace would consider to be “fair” . . . even if their contracts did not strictly require them to do so.

  • Dmitry A

    What about implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing?

  • sunshipballoons

    No, not necessarily. We’d expect that on average the reviews are average because that’s the definition of average. Assuming we’re talking about the “mean” (and we usually are when people just say “average”) there are definitely situations where you’d expect the distribution to be generally very far from “average.”

    The real point is that people no longer use “average” to mean “average” in terms of reviewing something. The expectation is “good” or “great” and “average” really means unsatisfactory or barely satisfactory.

  • Nigel Appleby

    Twice with Holland America on different cruises we missed ports due to weather conditions. Both times we got back port taxes and fees and the cost of booked excursions. True the refunds were applied to our on board account but it was like cash in that we didn’t have to pay so much at the end of the cruise.

  • Joe Farrell

    Thats the one you could use – but then venue becomes a fight.

  • Joe Farrell

    The point I”m making is just that – at the end of the day, the compensation for a totally botched provision of service is at the complete discretion of the provider. Thats wrong. The person who suffers the breach of the agreement needs to be able to present subjective damages. Because even in the event of the royal Caribbean fire and 5 day drift in open sea with no power, no sewer and no water or food – the contract allowed the company to control the level of consideration provided in the event of what they officially called an ‘irregular operation.’

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Another word for average is mediocre. I would hope that most reviews are mediocre.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    The problem with the marketplace perspective is that many cruisers are first time cruisers with limited information.

  • bodega3

    Sadly, do anything the first time and you learn more than you ever thought you would, especially when you DIY.

  • TonyA_says

    Oh heck, after reading all of the comments above, I wonder why anyone bothers to cruise.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    But there seems to be something about cruising where the flow of information seems less robust than in other forms of travel. Perhaps its the smaller market, i.e. fewer people cruise, than with airplanes, hotels, and rental cars?

  • Nigel Kirk

    It is the HOPE of having a good cruise.

  • Pegtoo

    Have no fear: is here.

  • bodega3

    Not if you use a TA. If you are a DIY’er, then you have taken on this to obtain what you need youself. Just like with anything, the first time you learn and after than, you get better.

  • I’m pretty shocked that a cruise line is able to legally not deliver on the promise of a cruise. Perhaps there would be more impetus to plan better or fix things right the first time if consumer protection laws existed instead of what seem to be “cruise company protection” laws.

  • Judy Serie Nagy

    For the record, I will never again set foot on a cruise ship. The maintenance issues and horrid problems of the last few years dictate that decision. I can think of few things worse than your dream week being spent puttering around and going nowhere … or worse, much worse. And I love cruising, probably been on 20 ships over the years. I’m not sure I grasp why anyone would book a “cheap” cruise these days. If you’re going to cruise, and I wish I were, pick an upscale cruiseline that takes proper care of its ships and pays their crew decently … otherwise do something else with your hard-earned money and time..

  • PsyGuy

    Like all adhesion contracts they get to define everything.

  • PsyGuy

    It’s cheap, compared to the equivalent such as a Sandals all inclusive resort, and the vast majority of cruises do provide good value.

  • PsyGuy

    Agreed, the hoops you have to go through to sue them basically involve relocating to another country, and securing representation in judicial systems that strongly favor the cruise line.

  • PsyGuy

    Less regulation applies to cruise lines. Maritime law is very old and outdated compared to aviation law which is relatively modern.

  • PsyGuy

    In reality though cruise lines are very much like airlines, everyone has had problems with them, but there aren’t a lot of options if you want to use their services.

  • PsyGuy

    It’s not a “set” itinerary, there is always language that states the itinerary is subject to change.

  • PsyGuy

    It depends on the range of the scale. If you rate a cruise 1-5, you may think 3 is average because it bisects the scale, but average is a measure of scores, not scale ranges. It’s entirely valid to have an average score of 5 on a scale of 1-5.

  • sirwired

    But the results didn’t say “on a scale of 1-5, most providers got 2-3” or “many providers received a score of ‘Meh'”, they said that many providers received an average score. Which is exactly what one would expect.

  • Daddydo

    I respect Holland America as one of the better normal cruise lines. But, I am curious, what ports were missed and what was the exact refund for that port? I have never heard of any cruise that would withhold the excurions, but what was the breakdown of the credit? If you still have the figures, just subtract the excursions. You will probably be shocked at the small amount left against what was originally charged.

  • Nigel Appleby

    I don’t still have the figures, but here’s what I remember. The first time was Key West in the mid 90’s because of weather, the captain didn’t want to risk bending the ship trying to dock. The second time was 3 or 4 years ago at Charlottetown in PEI, again the wind was too strong and from the wrong direction to try docking. The refunds for the shore excursions were the full amount we paid. With the port fees and taxes The amount we were refunded, based on the total port fees for the cruise and the number of ports seemed quite reasonable. I didn’t actually divide the total by the number of ports because the port fees from port to port. In any case we were happy with the amount and so did the other passengers we discussed it with at the time although we were all disappointed to miss the ports.

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