They missed their New Year’s Eve cruise by a whole year. Are they entitled to restitution?

Sara Zalkin planned a special New Year’s Eve celebration with her husband and 16 friends aboard the Carnival Conquest, and they booked through the travel agency Legendary Journeys. But when the group arrived at the embarkation terminal, Carnival refused to allow them to board the ship: Their boarding passes were for Dec. 31, 2017, instead of Dec. 31, 2016.

They missed their special cruise and want a refund — but whose fault is it, and who owes them the refund? This case is a reminder that even when using a travel agent, you must double-check everything, lest you find yourself at home watching New Year’s Rockin’ Eve instead of dancing the night away on the high seas.

The Zalkins used one of Legendary Journeys’ travel agents to book their group’s New Year’s cruise. When they received their confirmation and invoice from the agent, Zalkin says she checked the paperwork and the embarkation date was listed as Dec. 31, 2016. But she never double-checked the boarding passes and luggage tags that came after final payment was made.

Their friends checked in at the port and were allowed to board the ship, but what Zalkin missed, because she didn’t confirm the dates, was that her and her husband’s boarding passes and luggage tags showed the correct month and day of boarding, but the year was listed as 2017. Carnival refused to allow them to board with their friends. Zalkin says they were “humiliated” by the Carnival staff and suffered “exhaustion from mental and physical anguish.”

When she returned home, Zalkin contacted their travel agent, who blamed the error on Carnival. If you read our site regularly you know what’s coming next: Carnival blamed the travel agent for the error.

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Zalkin could have used our contacts for Carnival Cruise Lines to appeal for a refund, but instead she contacted us after Legendary Journeys and Carnival started the blame game.

Many people choose to book through a travel agent because they need help with a complicated travel plan, are unfamiliar with their destination, are not computer-savvy, or simply want an advocate in case something goes wrong. In the case of the Zalkins and their friends, it was a group of 18 people who wanted to travel together, and asking an agent to book that many people as a group can result in better pricing and additional amenities.

Although Carnival includes an option on its website to find a travel agent who can assist you with your booking, its cruise ticket contract terms distances itself from any responsibility for errors by the agent you select:

Any travel agent or sales agent utilized by the Guest in connection with the booking of the cruise, or this contract is solely the agent of the Guest and not Carnival. Carnival is not responsible for the financial condition or integrity of any travel agent utilized by Guest.

It’s clear that someone made a mistake on this booking. All the correspondence from the travel agent lists the year of departure as 2016, and since the original confirmation showed the correct year, it seems that the mistake would be Carnival’s.

But Carnival disagreed. When we reached out the company, its representative told us that the travel agent made the reservation online, with “no human interaction with anyone at Carnival when the reservation was made. This was entirely the travel agent’s mistake and Ms. Zalkin needs to work this out with her travel agent.”

In the state of Florida, a travel agent must be both licensed and bonded. Agencies are supposed to be insured for omissions and errors, but when Zalkin contacted the Travel agent she used, the agent told her any reimbursement not covered by Carnival would have to come out of the agent’s own pocket.

Travel agents can be extremely helpful in booking travel and negotiating with travel providers when something goes wrong. But as with any other business, it is essential to understand what protections you have if something goes wrong. Asking for proof that the agency is insured can give you peace of mind that you are working with a solid, reputable agency, and that you have recourse in the event of an error such as the one that ruined the Zalkins’ cruise.

Some travel insurance policies also cover errors and omissions made by agents and operators. The terms of the policy will disclose if errors are covered.

The best way to ensure that you never need to invoke an agency’s insurance (or your own travel insurance) to cover an error is to review all of your documentation immediately upon receipt, and to notify the seller or provider if you find an error.

The agency and Carnival finally reached a resolution, with Carnival reimbursing the Zalkins for the missed cruise. The Zalkins also wanted the expenses they incurred getting to the port to be reimbursed. Carnival refused. The agent again reiterated this money would have to come out of her own pocket, but the Zalkins persisted. After promising a $300 gift card, the agent eventually sent them a $250 check.

The Zalkins have received reimbursement of the money that they spent for the cruise and for their expenses getting to and back home from the port. But Zalkin asked us if they are entitled to restitution. In addition to the way they were treated by Carnival at the port, she says they “wasted a few days packing, and lost a day traveling back and forth to Ft. Lauderdale,” and wants Carnival to also give them a free cruise.

We’re running this story again because our advocacy team doesn’t want your New Year’s cruise — or any other holiday purchase — ruined by a lack of attention to detail. Please. Pay. Attention.

Are the Zalkins entitled to additional compensation in the form of a free cruise?

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Michelle Bell

Michelle worked in the travel and hospitality industry for almost two decades. Born in Germany, she has lived in 15 states and two foreign countries, and traveled to more than 35 countries. After living and working in Southeast Asia for several years, she now resides in New Orleans. Read more of Michelle Bell's articles here.

  • AJPeabody

    Please announce your holiday “reruns” at the beginnings of the articles, not at the end.

  • Altosk

    They lost me at “emotional distress.”

    But seriously…one thing that bothers me about this site is the refusal to name and shame bad travel agents. “Legendary Journeys” seems to be a business with bad reviews but independent agents. This person made a terrible error and then whined about the mistake “coming out of her own pocket” Well, Sugarcakes, thems the breaks!

    …there have been other letters in the last few years where small agencies are spared their names being on this site. I have a problem with that.

  • Byron Cooper

    According to Better Business Bureau, Legendary Journeys is insolvent and has ceased operations. There were 57 complaints and a 1 * rating. The OP was lucky to get anything out of this defunct company.

  • Donald Filiault

    Ms. Zalkin got far more than she was entitled to receive. People shouldn’t be reimbursed for their errors, and she was responsible for the Error, despite what her travel agent and cruise line did.

  • cscasi

    If indeed she was responsible for the errors, then why did Carnival refund the money? I know cruise lines may be generous now and again, but they are not in the business of giving away money; unless it is proven to be their errors.
    Yes, she did not check the paperwork to see the boarding passes dates, but then again, either the cruise line or the travel agent made the mistake. Obviously, Carnival paid off, so it must have found fault on its side.

  • LeeAnneClark


    No. She wasn’t. Read the article again. It makes it clear that Ms Zalkin booked the cruise for Dec. 2016, and all documentation except for two of the 16 boarding passes reflected the correct dates. It is inconceivable that the passenger should be held fully responsible for not noticing that, given that she is not the one who made the error. That’s an absurdly harsh judgment on your part.

    How, pray tell, do you come up with the idea that “she was responsible for the Error”? The “error” was not made by her. Not noticing an error made by someone else does not then transfer full responsibility for the error to her. What a ridiculous notion!

    The very fact that she DID receive full reimbursement confirms that it wasn’t her mistake.

  • KennyG

    I was with you up until the final sentence. We have both been around this site long enough to know that there could be many reasons other than the cruise lie being at fault, or actually no good reason she got her full reimbursement. Public relations concerns, being contacted by the advocates on this web site [call that Elliot concerns], or just plain old finding an agent or executive that was sympathetic to her plight and authorized the refund, or any of many reasons having little to do with actual fault. We have seen time and again, where most people commenting pretty much agreed that whoever had claimed to be “wronged” wound up receiving far more from the “company” than was reasonable. As I said, up until that last sentence, I was with you.

  • pauletteb

    I agree. Not naming bad agents/agencies leaves them free to victimize others.

  • Alan Gore

    You wouldn’t be emotionally distressed if you traveled to an embarkation port on a holiday and found your cruise tickets were no good. Whosever error this is, it’s definitely not the LW’s They had a confirmation with the correct date.

  • Alan Gore

    The Zalkins were totally not responsible. They paid in full and got a confirmation with the correct date. The incorrect date was apparently on the boarding passes. And because it’s Carnival, I strongly suspect this was where the problem lay.

  • RichardII

    Indeed! This site implores companies to “do the right thing” even when they don’t have to. To take an offer of help from a company as proof of their negligence is not only unfair, it is exactly the kind of behavior that keeps many businesses from actually helping when it is not required.

  • LeeAnneClark

    Ok, you have a valid point. I agree that there have been many cases we’ve all seen on this site in which a company went above and beyond, or even caved due to pressure or wanting to avoid bad publicity.

    But that is clearly not the case here.

    None of us know exactly who made the mistake, but it OBVIOUSLY wasn’t the passenger, who got screwed royally and then put through the wringer to get her money back.

  • LeeAnneClark

    Please note that was only one incidental point in my comment, and is NOT the reason why this passenger is clearly not at fault. It was simply meant as supporting evidence.

    The article makes it plain that she correctly booked her cruise for December 2016. She relied on the professional services of a travel agent to manage her booking. Somebody screwed up…and it obviously wasn’t Ms Zalkin. To hold her fully responsible simply because she didn’t notice the mistake that someone else made is patently absurd.

  • RichardII

    I don’t believe anyone suggested it was entirely her fault. However, there is some contributory negligence involved. In the end the only party damaged by the mistake was the LW. The fact she was made financially whole does not make up for the lost trip. But, there is no way to do that. Lesson, if it is really important, make 100% certain everything is in order, and do that early.

  • fairmont1955

    I don’t have a problem with the TA having to pay out of pocket- that’s what happens when you screw up and her clients should be stuck with the costs. However these people seem to be upping their greed factor with additional requests.

  • LeeAnneClark

    Um…yes they did. Go back and read the comment that I originally responded to:

    “People shouldn’t be reimbursed for their errors, and she was responsible for the Error, despite what her travel agent and cruise line did.”

    So yeah, this guy put all the responsibility squarely on her shoulders, and gave a full pass to both the TA and Carnival.

    I also disagree that there was any negligence on her part. Given all the documents involved with a cruise, it was an easy thing to miss. The passenger not noticing their error does not exonerated them for making the error. She deserved back every penny she got. And I for one think she deserved more. I’d be pissed as hell if my long-planned vacation was ruined line that, and then I had to fight to get my money back.

  • NorthtoSouth

    I wonder if the ship sailed with those rooms empty? It looks like the company could have done more in looking into the problem before it sailed.

  • joycexyz

    The travel agent made a mistake and then complains about the refund coming out of her own pocket? Boo hoo! Who did she think should pay for her error? Although the responsibility is ultimately hers, the Zalkins could have saved themselves a whole lot of grief by double-checking the reservations. Trust, but verify.

  • Hanope

    Even if the travel agent had insurance coverage, she probably had a deductible she had to pay first, hence coming out her own pocket.

  • Noah Kimmel

    yea seriously – just as we tell travelers if they don’t have insurance then they need to be prepared for the costs when things go wrong, so should a business. If the agent didn’t insure herself, pursuant to Florida law, and it has to come out of her pocket, so be it. She made a choice to not be insured. At a minimum, her omission should be returned

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