Viking adds insult to injury, then reverses course

By | February 11th, 2016

James Lockery and his wife couldn’t wait for their Viking River Danube cruise last Christmas. What better way to start the holiday season than touring the cobblestone streets of Passau, Germany, browsing the famous Christkindlmarkt in Vienna, and sampling the delicious pastries in scenic Budapest on an eight-day adventure.

Lockery booked their cruise in mid-August 2015, but did not purchase cancellation insurance. What could possibly go wrong?

Sadly, a lot. His wife suffered a heart attack a month before their departure and passed away.

On Nov. 6, almost a full month before his scheduled departure, a grieving Lockery phoned Viking, told them of his wife’s untimely death, canceled the cruise and requested a refund. He even sent Viking an email with his wife’s death certificate attached, and explained that he was unable to contact Viking any sooner since he was dealing with the shock of his wife’s unexpected death and was making arrangements for her funeral.

Imagine Lockery’s surprise when he received an email back from Viking stating that he would not receive any refund since he did not cancel 30 days prior to departure. Viking’s cancellation policy clearly states that no refund will be made if cancellations are received 29 to 0 days before departure.

Lockery’s cancellation was made 29 days before departure. Missed it by that much.

Thinking that someone at Viking was merely following company policy and not looking at extenuating circumstances, Lockery located the names of Viking’s director of operations (Stefanie Maldonado) and CEO (Torstein Hagen). On Nov. 19,, he sent an email to Maldonado, with a copy to Hagen, requesting that they review his refund request on an individual basis. Ms. Maldonado never replied to Lockery’s email.

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Not to be deterred, Lockery attempted once again to get his refund by contacting Hagen directly by email on Nov. 30 and again on Dec. 14. Lockery received no response to either email.

A very frustrated Lockery contacted us. Within five days after receiving a refund request on his behalf from our advocate, Jessica Monsell, Viking refunded all of Lockery’s money, an amount just shy of $5,000.

While Lockery’s story has a happy ending, Viking’s actions make us wonder about how it arbitrarily enforced its policies. Even without cancellation insurance, shouldn’t Lockery have received an immediate refund? Why add insult to injury?


  • Tom McShane

    Does the behemoth in the picture sail on rivers? Doesn’t look like the cute river cruisers they show on the public tv ads.

  • MarkKelling

    Picture of generic cruise ship in the Caribbean.

    Close enough ;-)

  • Kerr

    It’s an altered photo. No way a ship that big could float in waters that shallow.

  • Skeptic

    More to the point, no way could it fit under the numerous bridges across the river.

  • orsay

    Why such weird comments abut a stock photo on such a story??

  • Tom McShane

    I think the thing is scary-looking. When I travel, I ‘d rather use human-scaled transportation, like a 747.

  • Annie M

    I am so tired of reading these stories about people who don’t purchase travel insurance and then have to cancel for an unforseen reason. It is hard to feel sorry for people that continue to do this although I do extend my sympathy on the loss of his wife.

    No, he shouldn’t have received a refund. He should have purchased insurance.

    And that is not a photo of a river cruise ship.

  • unicorn

    My condolences to Mr. Lockery and his family. I too lost my wife very suddenly just before we were supposed to go on vacation and was a basket case for months afterward. Fortunately, I had purchased trip insurance for several previous trips and they paid off each time (for one, bad weather stranded us for several days and the other, sudden illness) so I know it can work. I also know from reading this column that trip insurance is not a sure thing, so it may not have paid off if there was, in their opinion, a preexisting condition.
    Normally I side with posters but in this case I think Viking was in the right. However, they showed compassion when compassion was called for. I bet, though, when Mr. Lockery is ready to travel again he’ll give Viking a serious look. Instead of berating someone’s bad or ill-informed choice, let’s treat this as a lesson learned for all of us: life is unpredictable and a little compassion goes a long way.

  • judyserienagy

    That’s just what I thought, Tom …. then I read the headline again and realized it was an ocean ship. It may be a very small ocean ship but it is a scary-looking sucker

  • Tom McShane

    Yep, If it sailed into my port, I’d surrender.

  • SierraRose 49

    I am sorry for the sudden loss of Mr. Lockery’s wife, especially before the holidays. I do find it interesting, however, that a 6-night Viking cruise my husband and I took from Frankfurt to Nuremberg in Dec. 2013 cost us $6100 – just for the cruise! We did another Viking cruise along the Rhine in 2014 and the price was slightly higher since it was a 7-night cruise. Airfare + special fees + travel insurance through Viking added several thousand dollars more to each trip. Mr. Lockery did amazingly well to get an 8-day cruise for under $5,000 and get ALL of his money returned. I do have a concern, however. There have been MANY stories about people who do NOT buy trip insurance and when life deals them an unfortunate turn, they come here asking and or demanding that Chris and/or his fellow advocates get their money back and often he is very successful with a a couple of phone calls. Hmmm! Makes me wonder. Should we buy trip insurance for our next trip?

  • Mike

    No refund was due. That is why people buy insurance. Unless Viking was able to resell the cabin it seems unfair to ask it to take a loss.

  • cscasi

    Sorta like a showing a Boeing 787 where it is actually a Cessna being operated?

  • cscasi

    Or, at least he should have been aware of the refund time limit; 30 days prior to sailing. I am certain if he had done that, he would have remembered to meet the deadline. I am glad the cruise line waived the time limit for him and my condolences to him for the loss of his wife.

  • sirwired

    I’m with you that, in general, travel companies should suck it up and issue refunds in the case of the death of one of the members of the party.

    But Viking’s initial denial of the refund request was hardly “arbitrary”. They have a 30-day cancellation deadline and that deadline was not met. It’s mean, but rather straightforward. In fact, it could be argued that them choosing to issue the refund anyway was the “arbitrary” action.

  • judyserienagy

    I feel badly that we all exploded over the photo and forgot to comment on what a wonderful story this is – so glad that Lockery was finally treated properly by Viking. It’s a shame that companies push their customers this hard and make themselves look so bad. Do they not realize how many consumers read Elliott?

  • Mark

    My wife and I travel with many tour companies, Viking included. We always buy Vikings cancellation insurance as we never know what our health, etc. may be between the time we book until the end of our travels. Buying travel/cancellation insurance is our choice. We don’t believe Lockery should have received a refund if he chose not to purchase cancellation coverage. It’s unfortunate his wife passed away but life’s durability is an unknown. Anyone electing not to purchase travel/cancellation insurance is rolling the dice. Sometimes you lose. Lockery should consider himself lucky to have received a refund.

  • Annie M

    Viking is one of the absolute worst when it comes to refunds. When you are booking a sale rate, you must pay in full upfront for the entire booking. And there cancellation policies are terrible too. When will people accept responsibility for not buying travel insurance?

  • lvswhippets

    I always get travel insurance just in case. From advertising I see on PBS I would think Viking would be less expensive. I paid about $7000 for a 15 day trip with Vantage (as a single) in Thailand & Myanmar (cruising the Irrawaddy River) all inclusive. It is one of the best if not best trip I have been on & only wish I could go again. I have no connection to this company what so ever.

  • Éamon deValera

    It was nice of Viking to refund that cruise fare. It wasn’t compulsory as to the contractual obligation, but they’ve earned more than $5K of good will by doing so.

    Should I wish to book a cruise I’ll certainly consider Viking before others that have responded differently in similar circumstances.

    Then again I’ll buy insurance, I insure everything to a level of compulsiveness. I like selling people my risks for pennies on the dollar.

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