Viking’s goodwill gesture was a welcome surprise to this traveler

Douglas Guiler and his wife planned to embark on a Viking cruise this summer. But two months before they were scheduled to depart on the cruise, Guiler’s wife died. Guiler asked his travel agent whether he could substitute another traveling companion for his wife.

His travel agent thought the answer was “yes.” But Viking’s answer was “no.”

Unfortunately, Guiler did not have travel insurance that would have reimbursed him for the cost of his wife’s reservations. His story is a warning of the risks run by travelers who fail to purchase travel insurance that covers their situations.

But his story also has a more positive message, which is: Don’t be discouraged by a company’s initial refusal to offer assistance. Even companies known to rigidly adhere to their terms and conditions at the expense of their customers can be persuaded to change their positions.

Guiler and his wife had purchased, through Cruise Holidays of Viera, a 14-day cruise on the Viking Sea from Bergen, Norway, to Stockholm, as well as air reservations to and from Europe. The total cost of the trip was more than $15,000. They owned a travel insurance policy that covered medical costs and provided a small amount to cover cancellation costs, but it would not cover the costs of a cruise cancellation.

“My travel agent thought that Viking would permit me to substitute another family member to take the place of my wife,” says Guiler. “The word back from Viking was that this was not Viking’s policy. For me to have another guest in my wife’s place, her reservation would be canceled. Then I would need to pay full fare for the new guest.” Guiler would also have had to purchase new air tickets for his traveling companion.

Related story:   Dollar's sleight-of-hand jacks up rental bill by $414

Guiler asked our advocates whether Viking’s policy of not allowing substitutions for passengers with reservations is “reasonable and generally in line” with those of other cruise lines, which he assumed is intended to encourage cruise passengers to buy insurance policies sold by the cruise lines themselves or travel insurance companies with which they partner. He noted that the no-substitutions policy surprised his travel agent.

We’re wondering about his travel agent’s reaction, because Viking’s no-substitutions rule is standard for the cruise industry. Viking makes clear in its terms and conditions that it treats passenger substitutions as cancellations of reservations and charges change fees:

For any cruise/land booking, whether under deposit, partially paid, or paid in full and air-inclusive packages paid in full, the following travel agent or guest-requested situations are considered cancellations and fees will apply as noted below: changes to departure date; substitutions of itinerary; substitution of another person for original booked guest(s); or changing to a promotional fare.

(Note: Emphasis in the above paragraph is mine.)

As our advocate told Guiler:

Unfortunately, you are correct, travel companies are moving away from refunding or allowing changes to reservations and pushing travel insurance for these trips. It is possible by writing the executives you can possibly reach one who may show some compassion, but there is no guarantee, especially in the short period of time. You may have a better chance to appeal for a full refund (at least for your wife’s portion). Also, you should review any travel benefits/coverage that your credit card may provide.

It was no doubt discouraging to Guiler to hear that not only was he bereft of his wife, but he could not even expect to get back her cruise fare without having to pay a significant portion of it as a change fare.

Related story:   Welcome to the United States. Did you remember to pack your magnifying glass?

But his story ends on a positive note.

We suggested that Guiler appeal his case to Viking using the contact information on our website.

Guiler took our advice, which yielded him an unexpected gesture of goodwill from Viking:

She offered condolences on the loss of my wife, indicated verbally that a substitution would have been an option without additional cost, and provided me a one-year voucher for the balance that had not been refunded. This outcome certainly was unexpected and appreciated.

So we caution our readers that even when a company’s reputation and terms and conditions would suggest that it’s unlikely to provide compassionate treatment to customers in need, that company may still offer it. Just as in Guiler’s case, it may come as a welcome surprise.

Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for

  • sirwired

    I’m surprised it took work for Viking to agree to this change which didn’t even cost them any money, especially since they likely would have provided a full refund on request. (Don’t most travel providers provide a full refund if a party member dies? I mean, even those paragons of customer service over at Spirit will do this.)

    There are excellent reasons to have hefty change fees, but substitutes for a deceased party member aren’t one of them.

  • Chris Johnson

    His wife DIED and they wouldn’t let him substitute someone in her place or cancel and refund the entire trip? You have got to be kidding. Not that I go on cruises, but this is one cruise line I will never go on. If the entire cruise industry is like this, so be it, cruises are not a necessity for me.

    Regarding the airline ticket, I thought death was the one instance where airlines will automatically make an exception on a non-refundable ticket.

  • Lindabator

    just calling the res desk will not get you anything, tho. And the AGENT should have known this! That is why we have sales reps to assist in these instances. tsk

  • Lindabator

    Just calling the res desk gets you nowhere, as they have no such authority – but her AGENT has a sales rep, and that is who she should have contacted – would have been quite easy in that case – tsk

  • Bill___A

    That was a nice outcome, but the policies of all of them should be changed so that there is an exception when a person dies….

  • Michael__K

    No, we’ve seen this movie before and Viking not only generally refuses to provide a full refund on request for a dead passenger, they will even charge the other surviving passengers “change fees” if they still want to travel as originally scheduled…

    Spirit Airlines resists refunds upon death of a passenger as well. As we’ve seen in this space, you can eventually get one, but you need to be persistent and repeatedly appeal your way up the ladder and/or get an advocate or journalist to promote your cause.

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    We need new laws. One, when a traveler dies, a refund is automatic. Two, no substitution fees for replacement of a dead traveller. Three, no substitution fees for minor name corrections. Just a start.

  • Annie M

    Viking is the most restrictive of the cruise lines and usually very unforgiving. I am actually surprised and happy that they made an exception. This is not a circumstance that happens frequently and sometimes a cruise line needs to shown a little compassion.

  • Annie M

    Not Viking.

  • Annie M

    Viking is well known for their restrictive stand and they generally do not give in at all.

    There are many other river cruise lines that actually like to service their customers and offer more inclusions than Viking. Do your homework and use one of them.

  • Annie M

    Harvey if they didn’t charge for mane changes they would be playing name games all the time. There is a reason for it- to discourage it. But they need to make exceptions and focus on being customer oriented.

  • Don Spilky

    And here I was thinking the story was going to be about the OP wanting a refund for his cruise so he could mourn his wife.

  • Alan Gore

    Two companies to stay away from, it seems.

  • lvswhippets

    We don’t know his wife’s medical history nor the circumstances in which she died. Be kind, Don. I for one. am glad to see him continue his life for whatever reason (wife’s last wish, his way to grieve) . No matter,motive is not our business.

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    I’m not talking about changing ‘Annie Smith” to “Arnold Jones”, which would be a change in the customer, but rather changing “Annie Smith” to “Annabel Smith” to reflect a person’s official name on official documents. While some people might be able to use a limited name change to change the customer (i.e. Jr. and Sr. or family members with really similar names), most of the time people just use their normal form of address that may or may not be the same as the official one, and those name changes should be “free” (i.e. baked into the price of tickets).

Get smart. Sign up for the newsletter.