Several days before Thuan Bui’s Carnival cruise, most of his scheduled ports of call are canceled by the cruise line. So he cancels his trip. Now he wants a full reimbursement for the cost of the cruise, travel insurance and airline change fees. You might think you know how this one ends — but you might be wrong.
Question: We booked a cruise with Carnival Cruise Lines to sail on Nov. 19, 2016, from Galveston to Puerto Rico, Grand Cayman, Jamaica and Mexico. We had to fly from Sacramento to board the ship.
On Nov. 11 we received an email from Carnival stating that they had experienced technical difficulties, and the ship would not be able to go as fast or as far. So the destinations were now only in Mexico. They gave us an option to cancel with a full refund plus any fees for canceling the airplane tickets.
We received the refund for the cruise, minus the insurance that we bought. We feel that the insurance should have been refunded as well, since we only canceled the trip because of their troubles.
On Nov. 15, I sent a certified letter with all the documents required for the refund.
On Dec. 29, I contacted Carnival because I had not heard from them. I was told they did not receive any correspondence from us. I was transferred to a guy named Enrique. He told me to email him the same packet and that he would call me back the next day.
I called him on Dec. 30 because he hadn’t called. I was told to call back after the holidays since the Guest Administration department was closed.
I called back on Jan. 5, 2017. He said he’d get back to me in a little while, because he was in the middle of a reservation. He still has not called.
We feel that they are only stalling to “wear us out.” They’ve refunded the cost of the cruise, but can you help me get a refund of the $400 “reissue fee” imposed by United Airlines for cancelling the flights and $190 for the insurance that we had purchased? — Thuan Bui, Orangevale, Calif.
Answer: We’re not sure if Carnival was trying to wear you out, or just focused more on the holidays than their customers, but it’s clear that the response to your request should have been faster and less complicated.
I found it interesting that you sent in your documentation for the refund by certified mail, and they still had no record of receipt. Someone must have signed for that letter, and you shouldn’t have needed to go through the extra hassle of resubmitting everything by email.
Fortunately, you had a letter from Carnival stating that you were entitled to a full refund of the cruise plus all associated airline fees. This is a little unusual because we have seen many cases where the cruise lines change the itinerary and passengers are not offered a refund. This case was unique because Carnival knew far in advance the ship would not be able to make the full cruise due to circumstances that were “within Carnival’s exclusive control.”
If the itinerary change is for reasons within Carnival’s exclusive control, guests will have the opportunity to cancel their booking without penalty prior to sailing and within 24 hours of the guest notification, and in such an instance, guests will have the option to receive either a cash refund or a future cruise credit.
Lucky for you, because that same legal notice from Carnival points out the many circumstances where passengers will not receive a refund:
Due to the nature of a cruise vacation, itinerary changes sometimes become necessary for safety, weather or other reasons beyond the control of Carnival. If the itinerary change is for reasons beyond Carnival’s exclusive control, including but not limited to safety, security, weather, strikes, tides, hostilities, civil unrest, port closings, emergency debarkations of guests or crew, late air, sea, car or motor coach departures or arrivals, mechanical breakdowns or problems not known to Carnival, itinerary changes consistent with U.S. State Department travel warnings / advisories or other applicable US or foreign governmental advisories, guests will not be provided any compensation. Guests electing to cancel will be subject to the standard cancellation terms.
Nor in many cases, will the cruise line offer refunds for related costs:
Carnival shall not be liable to guests for any charges, fees or expenses paid or owed to third parties by guests (such as air travel booked by a guest directly with an airline) in connection with a cancelled cruise or an itinerary change for any reason.
So what can other travelers learn from your case?
First, it’s important to know your rights. Members of the Cruise Line Industry International organization, have voluntarily adopted a Passenger Bill of Rights, which spells out the cruise line’s responsibility to passengers when various things go wrong.
Itinerary changes sometimes happen, for reasons that are beyond the control of the cruise lines. I recently had a port canceled on a Mediterranean sailing, because a crew member was killed in an accident during a training drill. The ship was held in port an extra day while French authorities investigated the accident. As happens in many such cases, we were offered an onboard credit as an apology. But the cruise line is under no legal obligation in these cases.
If you book your connecting flight through the cruise line, getting a refund may be easier, but this also can be covered by travel insurance.
If you do run into a snag, like a changed itinerary, it can’t hurt to ask for some sort of compensation. Even if the cruise line isn’t legally obligated, they may do something in the interest of customer relations. You’ll find executive contact information for cruise lines on our advocacy site.
We’re pleased to report that Carnival did respond to our advocacy efforts on your behalf and has issued refunds both for the travel insurance and airline change fee.