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 to embark the ship, the Zalkins’ boarding passes were for a cruise departing Dec. 31, 2017, instead of Dec. 31, 2016, and Carnival would not allow them to board the ship.

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.”

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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.

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.

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But Carnival disagreed. When we reached out the company, its representative told us that the reservation was made by the travel agent 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 contacted by Zalkin the agent she worked with told her any reimbursement not covered by Carnival would have to come out of her 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 you never need to invoke an agency’s insurance (or your own travel insurance) to cover an error is to review all your documentation immediately upon receipt, and to notify the seller or provider when an error is found.

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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.

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.

  • Hanope

    I’m confused. The cruise was booked for 18 people and everyone except the one couple got to board and do the cruise? Are we really supposed to believe that everyone else got the 2016 date on the booking except for the one couple? I guess the last couple, with the “Z” last name, got processed by the travel agent last and by that time the agent was “tired” and accidently clicked a date a whole year apart? That really sucks. Whose to say the error could have even been fixed when the “last payment” was made, I presume such ‘holiday’ type cruises are popular.

    While I feel for the agent who had to pay out of pocket, but this is why you get E&O insurance. People get rather upset when you screw up their planned vacation, especially when it costs a lot of money and most people get so few opportunities for a nice vacation. I’m glad the couple pushed it.

  • finance_tony

    I think they’re entitled to a do-over — from the travel agent who obviously made the mistake.

    I don’t understand the hate on Carnival in the post, and why Carnival should be responsible for a new cruise or “the way they were treated” when in fact Carnival boarded everyone with a correct ticket.

    The advocates reached out to Carnival for answers; any luck getting a reply from Legendary Journeys, the responsible party?

    I’m the furthest thing from a Carnival fan (hope to never cruise the line again) but they did nothing wrong here.

  • Kristiana Lee

    Carnival reimbursed them for the cruise and the agent reimbursed them for the cost incurred to get to and from the port. Haven’t they been made whole? Am I missing something?

  • sirwired

    Hmmm… I’m going against my usual grain, and saying this looks like an epic mistake on Carnival’s part, unless I’m missing something. You CANNOT get boarding passes for a cruise a year in advance, no more than you can do so for an airplane journey. If you inexplicably send in final payment a year early, the line won’t send you bupkis back; certainly not your final docs.

    If they got all the usual pre-boarding stuff in the mail / e-mail, then some computer at Carnival thought their cruise was happening pretty soon, not a year from soon.

  • Lori Heathorn

    For what I read, it is completely the travel agent’s fault. S/he used the online booking form, and it is very easy to enter the wrong year from the drop down menu. What I don’t understand is how the agent didn’t catch it when s/he made final payment, which for a 2017 cruise would have been due sometime around October 2017, not anytime in 2016.

  • cp556

    I see that the “original confirmation” had the correct 2016 year. My question is: was the confirmation from Carnival, on Carnival letterhead, or from the agent/agency? If the writer has nothing directly from Carnival showing 2016 we then know where to point the finger…..

  • DChamp56

    I’m confused. Did all 16 book through the same TA? If so, the TA is 100% at fault here.
    Normally, if you’re going with other people, your booking #’s are linked.
    I’m also with others here that no cruise line will give you your boarding passes a year in advance.

  • Bill___A

    I’m confused too. Airlines and hotels generally only let you book a year in advance, why would they have been able to buy 2017/2018 passes? 100% the travel agent’s fault and it should come out of the travel agent’s pocket, that’s the pocket at fault in my opinion. But the travelers should have checked also. Big mess all around.

  • sirwired

    Passes aren’t issued by the travel agents, they are issued by the cruise line. If they got boarding passes for the wrong year, something seriously wrong within the cruise line.

  • William Leeper

    Strangely, I looked it up on Carnival, and you can check in online any time from payment of final deposit until 11:59PM the day before your cruise, and you can print the boarding pass and luggage tags when you check in.

    I guess the only limit is how far in advance you can book, and that appears to be 18 months on Carnival.

  • sirwired

    Final payment isn’t due (is it even accpeted?) that far in advance; the doc pack with the boarding pass contains things like which terminal it’s in, embarkation time, etc., none of which is known that far ahead.

  • Rebecca

    I thought it didn’t make sense a boarding pass could be printed a year before the cruise. But I was wrong. Perhaps the Carnival website:

    “You can only print your Boarding Pass if your booking is paid in full and online Check-In is completed.”

    Once paid in full (which I double checked and I can pay in full right now for a cruise next year), you fill out an information form and your boarding pass is available. So, it is perfectly plausible that the travel agent reserved the wrong year. I would be pissed if a travel agent did this to me. So pissed. I’ve been on a New Years cruise and it’s lots of fun. Of course, I can’t stand loud drunks, so I’d recommend they choose another line and go next year.

  • John Baker

    They were made whole financially. Anything else and they start benefiting from the mistake.

    Plan another cruise for this year. This time find a better TA and cruiseline


    I am perplexed as some important details are missing. Was the confirmation from Carnival or the travel agent? I always get a copy of the cruiseline’s confirmation showing the booking details and not just one from my agent. Also a cruise for December 2017 is so far in advance most of the fare paid should be refundable. Some deposits with Carnival are nonrefundable and some of their fares are (appear to be last minute), but it would be odd that a cruise that far in advance is completely nonrefundable. (just briefly glanced at the website for this information.) At first I believed the agent is solely at fault here but find it very odd that it was so difficult to get a refund of a cruise that was booked over a year in advance. That confirmation from Carnival would tell us so much more–such as the date confirmed and the type of fare booked.

  • Rebecca

    Due no. But accepted? Yes. I looked and I can pay right now, in full, for a cruise over a year away. I thought exactly the same. But if I paid in full, I could complete online checkin and print the boarding pass right now. I’d never go on a Carnival cruise, but that’s besides the point.

  • Rebecca

    I tend to be on the side of not being compensated for mistakes, only being made whole. But I also try to put myself in someone else’s shoes. And in this case, I would be livid. Like fire coming out eyes and steam from my ears pissed. This really is unacceptable and the agent owes them something, in my opinion. Because of the holiday, everything is completely booked or prohibitively expensive on the off chance it’s available. Imagine you planned a vacation, took time off work, paid in full, and showed up and had to go home. Yes, they should have checked the boarding passes. But even if they did, I’d be willing to bet it wouldn’t be available by then anyways. At final payment, there’s going to be a wait list for a New Years cruise. I took one, and we had to plan over a year in advance. I just don’t see it as fair that they got their money back and that’s it. They got screwed and got nothing. And again, there’s nothing left available even if they tried to vacation somewhere else last minute.

  • Randy Culpepper

    “Zalkin says they were “humiliated” by the Carnival staff and suffered “exhaustion from mental and physical anguish.'”

    I would like to know what actually happened to make this claim. “Humiliated” is a term I see tossed into virtually every complaint, but I’d be willing to bet usually the OP is only humiliated because they made a scene.

  • Alan Gore

    “Normally, if you’re going with other people, your booking #’s are linked.”

    This is a crucial point. The mistake probably happened at the travel agency, but didn’t it occur to anyone at Carnival that in a group of 19 people who booked together and all paid at the same time that there was something odd about one couple being a year behind the rest of their party? All i takes is a glance at the itineraries to show that the air portion of one couple is a full year out of sync with the cruise booking.

  • Monica Lynn Kennedy

    They got the money back for the cruise, so they are not entitled to a free cruise on top of that. It would be different if they were reimbursed in the form of a voucher.

  • Mel65

    I am very confused! When I print a boarding pass for a flight I simply enter my credit card or my confirmation number and it prints– I don’t answer any additional information and I certainly don’t enter a date . I realize this was a cruise not a flight but why would the boarding passes for the cruise not be linked to the initial booking and Confirmation which they say have the correct dates on it?

  • Tigger57

    This is definitely the travel agents fault. Dates are so very very important in our business. It perplexes me how this got this far. Has anyone actually seen the original confirmation? Why wasn’t the cruise booked as a group – then this problem would not have happened. Plus clients have to check dates, ships etc to make sure the agent didn’t make a mistake

  • Daddydo

    Wow??????????!!!!!!!!!!! I guess this why you get the big bucks. If this were a group booking, then all of the names are submitted as a group on a set manifest. If the bookings were made 1 by 1 then the agency may have made an error, but all of the paperwork shows 2016? (according to the article) up until the bag tags were printed. Now I cannot even print Carnival Corp. documents and bag tags that far in advance, so there is another peculiar situation.
    If I were the travel agent, the check would have been issued for the full refund and provable losses along with 1000 apologies. Yes I have made errors and refunded or adjusted on the spot.
    But how could have happened within the limits of this article…..I don’t see how.
    Innocent until proven guilty, that would be the Zalkins. If I had the original conformation in my hands and all was correct, there would be no reason to assume errors occurred later on that changed my date.
    Guilty is the agency until they can prove their innocence. I would have had Mickey Arrinson (yea, I know he’s retired) on the phone if I could have proven that I had booked this correctly, but the customer needed compensated immediately.

  • John McDonald

    yet, why wasn’t this picked up earlier by Z’s ? 2017 would have been all over the paperwork.
    Also have noticed lately the use of terms 12am & 12pm, when there are obviously no such times.
    Probably due to many computers clocks, not being able to handle such things.
    There’s 12 noon(midday) & midnight, but airlines use 24 hour clocks & never use term midnight, as midnight does not belong to either day.
    Any flights eg. close to midnight will either be sometime like 2359 or 0001, with the former being one day & the latter being the next.

  • Michael__K

    Some additional compensation for wasted time and inconvenience is appropriate for the same reason that compensation for getting bumped from a flight or cruise or hotel is appropriate.

    Vacation time is a precious and limited resource for most people and they can’t get this time back.

  • The Original Joe S

    Samonella Boat Ride Company! Free Imodium for all travelers!

  • The Original Joe S

    I bet they were condescending, denigrating, indifferent and rude.

  • Kristiana Lee

    I agree with that, just not an entire new cruise on the house. Some money from the travel agent (since it was most likely her mistake) toward a future booking would be nice and it’s what I would have offered had I been the travel agent.

  • Hanope

    Perhaps the TA didn’t “link” the booking numbers and booked the airfare separately?

  • PsyGuy

    Getting greedy, a few days frustrations and packing is not worthy of a free cruise.

    TA’s aren’t the magic solution, they make mistakes too, and that TA was appealing to emotions claiming it would have to come out of their pocket, well that’s what happens when you make mistakes, you become liable for them. Bad TA.

  • PsyGuy

    Agreed this was the TA’s error entirely.

  • PsyGuy

    They want pain and suffering and emotional distress.

  • PsyGuy

    Actually you can.

  • PsyGuy

    Sure, you can pay in advance in full. A cruise line saying no to hanging onto money a year in advance. They aren’t saying no to that.

  • Lindabator

    This still makes no sense, unless was never actually booked as a group, but as individual bookings. NOT Carnival’s fault, but the agent’s.

  • Lindabator

    Carnival did nothing wrong – the AGENT booked online – Carnival had nothing to do with the booking. It was booked incorrectly by the agent, and the fault lies with her, and her alone. And you CAN get your boarding passes that far in advance – as long as it is paid in full and you are pre-registered. They just probably felt really bad for them in this case as the other 17 couples sailed without them!

  • Lindabator

    not true – cruises can be paid in full at time of booking, 18 months in advance. And the terminal and embarkation times are set up 24 months in advance, so they can open to sell right after.

  • Lindabator

    they refunded, because the couple were not even in penalties at that time, and they must have felt sorry as the others all sailed away without them!

  • Lindabator

    was never BOOKED as a group — she did them all individually – she screwed up (TA) plain & simple

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