Is the liability limit for a lost bag on NCL really just $100?

“We’re so sorry. This has never happened before.”

This was the response from a Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) customer service agent to Lyle Larson’s complaint after the cruise line lost his family’s luggage while transferring it to their cruise ship. Larson heard it repeatedly during the cruise, along with promises that his missing luggage would arrive later that day or the next day.

It never did.

But as far as Larson’s concerned, an apology makes up for neither his family’s financial loss nor the special activities they couldn’t participate in without the contents of the missing luggage. The loss of the bags and NCL’s responses, or lack thereof, to their complaints turned the Larsons’ “cruise of a lifetime” into the cruise from hell. Larson’s story is also a cautionary tale about the limits of your cruise line’s liability, should anything happen to your luggage.

“When did ‘so sorry’ become the standard response in handling customer service complaints?” asks Larson.

Larson and four other family members had paid over $25,000 through Costco Travel for the trip, including flights to Barcelona, Spain, hotels and cruise fares. When they set out from their hotel to the embarkation port for their cruise, NCL strongly encouraged them to allow its representatives to transfer their luggage from the hotel to the ship.

But five pieces of their luggage, containing $16,000 of clothing and personal items, never arrived in their cabins. The Larsons waited five hours for the bags to arrive and then searched all over the ship. But the luggage never turned up.

Says Larson:

We immediately went to the customer service desk on deck five. This was our first encounter with poor service. The customer service representative accused the airlines, the hotel, and then our family for not looking in all of the staterooms for missed bags.

When we explained to him that the NCL-endorsed hotel loaded and unloaded the bags as we had witnessed, he said they would have to go through a process and we would have our bags tomorrow. We then asked if we could get toothbrushes, toothpaste and shaving razors for the two of us who had nothing more than the clothes on our back. He said, “No, you can buy that stuff in the gift shop.” However, the gift shop was sold out of toothbrushes and toothpaste.

Without the contents of their bags, the Larsons could not participate in various special activities because they did not have the appropriate clothing. Larson himself lost both his bags and had to wear the same clothing for the entire cruise. The ship’s restaurant manager first refused to seat the Larsons because two of them were not dressed in appropriate attire. When they explained that their bags were missing, the manager seated them in a remote, noisy area of the restaurant. The lack of appropriate attire also prevented them from getting family portraits taken and visiting the casino in Monte Carlo.

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Larson, a diabetic with ruptured discs, and another family member also needed medications that were in the missing bags. Although the ship’s doctor provided some of the medications they needed, Larson could not get a replacement for a medication that would have relieved intense pain. The ship’s customer service agent invited him to use the spa, but he could not do so because he did not have the appropriate attire. By the end of the trip, Larson could not walk and needed to use a wheelchair.

The assistant service manager asked the Larsons to fill out “itemization of property loss” forms and provided them with small travel kits of toiletries. The next day the guest service manager offered the Larsons a $200 credit per person and all they could eat in all the up-charge restaurants with no additional charge. As the Larsons had already paid for a package of up-charge restaurants, they rejected her offer. But she told them that this was all she could do for them while they were on the ship, and the Miami office of NCL would handle their compensation. She also instructed them to submit receipts for replacement items to NCL.

However, NCL’s guest relations coordinator told the Larsons that it was clear that they had not read guest ticket contract, which provides that

The Guest and Carrier agree and stipulate that the aggregate value of all the Guest’s baggage and any other property lawfully brought on board by the Guest, which shall include but not be limited to photographic equipment, jewelry, watches, cell phones, clothing and cash, does not exceed U.S. $100 and any liability of the Carrier or the vessel for any cause whatsoever with respect to said baggage and other property regardless of whether carried in baggage or by a Guest shall not exceed such sum unless the Guest shall specify its true value, in writing, and pay to the Carrier before embarkation 5 percent of the excess of such value, in which case the Carrier’s liability, if any, shall be limited to the actual damage sustained up to, but not exceeding such specified value.

She offered the Larsons a $200 a day ship credit plus a “reduced price cruise” within the next 12 months, but told them that NCL would give them nothing else.

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Larson hired an attorney, who advised him to ask Costco Travel to assist him with his request for more compensation. Although Costco Travel reached out to NCL, it learned that NCL was sticking with its guest relations coordinator’s offer. As the Larsons cannot take another cruise within 12 months, and after this experience do not want to travel again with NCL, they don’t feel adequately compensated by this offer. Larson also resents this treatment from the guest relations coordinator after the ship’s personnel told him to fill out claim forms and that the Miami office would compensate him.

Unfortunately for Larson, most other cruise lines, including Holland America, Viking, Carnival, and Disney have similar, tiny liability limits.

But Larson hoped that our advocates could help him convince NCL that the guest ticket contract terms notwithstanding, NCL’s offer just wasn’t equitable compensation for the loss of a $25,000 cruise, especially when the cruise line was responsible for losing the bags. (Executive contact information for NCL appears in our Contacts section.)

Our advocate reached out to NCL, but nobody from the cruise line responded.

Travel insurance coverage could have helped the Larsons, and our advocates as well as some of our regular readers would advise all cruisers to obtain it prior to embarking on their trips. Our advocate suggested to Larson that his credit card may provide insurance coverage that would offer at least partial reimbursement for his losses.

He also told Larson that normally we would recommend filing a lawsuit in small claims court, but we think that he’s unlikely to prevail against NCL because of the tiny liability limit in NCL’s guest ticket contract.

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At best, we can share his story warning travelers that if their luggage is lost while in the custody of cruise ship personnel, the cruise line’s liability is extremely limited.

Cruisers: Keep your bags and always pack prescription drugs and valuables in carry-ons.

Should cruise lines be required to fully compensate passengers for their lost baggage?

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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 Elliott.org. Read more of Jennifer's articles here.

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