Holland America changed our flight home — but didn’t inform us

Allen Mcdowell and his wife book a cruise package with flights. When they arrive at the airport for the return trip, they learn that their flight is changed. But, they aren’t notified of the change and they miss the flight. They have to buy new tickets, and can’t get their money back. Can our advocates help them get reimbursed?

Question: My wife and I booked a cruise package through Holland America Lines that included airfare. The round trip flights were on United Airlines and we paid to upgrade to premium economy seats. After we booked, we transferred the reservation to Cruise Specialists.

When the cruise ended, we went to the airport in Rome to board the United Airlines flight home. At the airport, we learned that our return flight had been changed, and we were rebooked on Delta Air Lines. We went to check in with Delta, but we did not have enough time to get to the gate and board the flight before it took off. The Delta flight had left and we had to buy new tickets to return home. We bought one-way economy seat tickets for the next day, spent the night in a hotel and it cost us $8,000.

I contacted Cruise Specialists and the agent said that they had emailed Holland America with the flight change information. I was told that the Holland America ship crew knew about the change in flights, and should have notified us while on the ship. But the ship crew didn’t convey this information to us.

Holland America denied knowing about the flight change. It offered to refund the $303 per person fare difference between premium economy and economy seats for the return flight. Holland America also offered a future cruise shipboard credit of $200 for each of us. We don’t think this is acceptable. Can you help us get a refund for the new tickets we had to buy? — Allen Mcdowell, Goose Creek, S.C.

Answer: When you booked and paid for your cruise and air package through Holland America, you were entitled to its Flight Ease protection. Flight Ease guarantees you “worry-free booking.” Failing to inform you about a major change in your airline departure schedule resulted in you purchasing extremely expensive last-minute tickets, and didn’t result in “worry-free booking.”

Related story:   One year later, our refund is MIA

Your cruise and airline tickets were booked and paid through Holland America. And Holland America was your travel agent. Later you transferred the reservation to Cruise Specialists, and it became your travel agent and took responsibility for your booking. Communication about the flight change clearly broke down. But, to learn from your experience, we should try to understand how it broke down.

We know that Cruise Specialists sent an email about the change to Holland America. Holland America acknowledged receiving the email, but said that the information didn’t make it to the ship. Presumably, had the information made it to the ship, the crew would have informed you.

It’s possible that the ship crew wasn’t aware of the change. Maybe Holland America didn’t convey the change to the ship because once you transferred the reservation away from it, it was no longer responsible for your booking, or changes to it. Because the reservation was initially booked and paid through Holland America, perhaps Cruise Specialists thought it was sufficient to email Holland America, and rely on the cruise line to notify you about the change.

Regardless of which agency was responsible to inform you about the flight change, Holland America’s Flight Ease terms provide that “reconfirming flights prior to trip date is the responsibility of the guest.” So, even had your booking remained with Holland America, it would have been incumbent upon you to reconfirm your flight before departure.

You explained that you didn’t contact either agency about this issue when you were at the airport because you were in a foreign country, without cell phone coverage to the U.S. You said that you didn’t know how to call the U.S. using anything but your cell phone. You were anxious and stressed, and booked the next available flight that the Delta gate agent could sell you.

Related story:   Hey, where's my airline seat?

It’s a good idea to travel to a foreign country with a reliable way to call the U.S. Even without international coverage, your cell phone is a dependable way to do this. Mobile phone providers typically allow customers to temporarily add international calls and data to their service plans. It’s an extra cost of a limited duration, but well worth the convenience and peace of mind. If you had temporarily added the international coverage to your cell phone, you may have been more inclined to check your email for notifications from Cruise Specialists. Or, you may have felt comfortable calling the agency to reconfirm the flight, prior to your departure date.

Even without the international mobile coverage, you could, and should, have checked your email for flight changes, and called your agent to confirm flights. You could have done this any time during your trip, particularly when in port when cell coverage tends to be more stable.

You certainly have a right to rely on your travel agents and expect them to convey important information to you. That is what you paid for. But, that should em>not replace self-reliance. That means taking a little extra time to independently confirm the booking, and any subsequent changes. As your experience teaches us, not doing so could cost you a lot of money, caught between two agencies that won’t take responsibility for your loss.

Before you contacted our advocates for help, you could have tried to escalate your complaint by contacting Holland America executives for help. We list executive contact information for Holland America on our website. And you could have posted your question to our help forums. Our help forums are staffed by travel industry experts, and they may have had helpful suggestions about how to address this issue with both Holland America and Cruise Specialists.

Related story:   Double credit card charge for single rental car booking

Our advocates contacted Holland America about your case. Initially, it repeated the offer of reimbursing you the $606 price difference between premium economy and economy seats on the original United return flight, and a future cruise credit of $400. Our advocates continued their efforts on your behalf and were successful in getting Holland America to refund you the $8,000 you spent to get home.

Diane Perera

Diane and her family love to travel, and they do so as much as they can. Having experienced the downside of travel, and having learned so much from Elliott.org, led Diane to become an advocate and to help fight the good fight.

  • Mel65

    My only question would be how close are they cutting up that once inform their flight has changed they couldn’t get from one gate to the other in time? I don’t know how big the airport in Rome is and how far apart Delta and United’s terminals are of course…

  • El Dorado Hills

    What is the purpose of transferring the reservation to Cruise Specialists instead of working only with Norwegian Cruise Lines?

    Correction: Holland America.

  • Alan Gore

    LW started off doing it right by cooking air through the cruise line. But whose idea was it to change to some other travel agency before taking the trip? Last-minute schedule changes are usually notified by email or text, and the most difficult place to get these services is on a ship.

    It’s great that the advocates were able to get Holland America to admit its mistake and pay up, but this goes into the “asking for trouble” bin.

  • Pegtoo

    Onboard credit or some other perk by using the agency. Unfortunately the $100+/- benefit gummed up communications.

  • Pegtoo

    So I’m thinking this would have been resolved if they contacted Holland America about the problem at the airport, but the story doesn’t give the timeline. HA should help them figure it out, before ponying up $8000 themselves. Not sure if OP gave them the chance. But I fully realize (been there done similar to that) the stress of the situation.

  • Attention All Passengers

    I know people are stressed especially when they are thrown such a monkey wrench right at the airport. However, I wish they would stop and think before they just go ahead and take the first (and only) airfare that the Delta (or other airline) agent presents to them. If you know they are offering you something TOMORROW, then you certainly have time to step away from the ticket counter and give yourself a few times to find a cheaper booking.
    Just googling airlines/ flights that fly from Rome to your destination will bring up numerous options and most of them cheaper than a few thousand dollars per person (even a day before travel).

  • Kristiana Lee

    I thought that too but maybe the other flight had an earlier departure.

  • Annie M

    This makes no sense. WHO CHANGED THE FLIGHTS? When a flight is changed that is booked BY the cruise line, the CRUISE line sends the travel agent the information and the travel agent sends it to the client.

    How did the TRAVEL AGENT get notified of a flight change that was done through Holland America? Something doesn’t make sense here. The sequencing is wrong. There is no reason for the travel agent to be notifying Holland America of a flight change because they shouldn’t be touching the air portion of the booking.

  • Annie M

    But HAL is still the one responsible for the flights – if there was a change, THEY should have notified the travel agent. I don’t understand why the travel agent was involved at all – all they needed to do was tell the client the flight changed because the change should have come from HAL.

  • jsn55

    These travellers are very lucky to have the Elliott team come to their rescue. I cannot understand anyone not double-checking all details of a trip and just assuming that what you were told in the first place is valid. You verify where the ship is docked, you verify your cabin number and FOR SURE you verify your flights directly with the airline. Of course the travel providers are supposed to take care of their customers. When they drop the ball, who gets punished? “Trust but verify” is advice good for the ages.

  • jsn55

    The OPs probably were offered a bottle of wine to transfer their trip to the online booking agent.

  • Mel65

    True, “We went to check in with Delta, but we did not have enough time to get to the gate and board the flight before it took off.” I read this as being around the same time but it certainly could have been an earlier flight…

  • joycexyz

    1. I don’t understand why they transferred the booking from directly with Holland America to another party–and an OTA at that!. Just adds an unnecessary layer to the process. Save a few bucks? Not at the expense of possible error and/or miscommunications. 2. ALWAYS check and double-triple check all reservations. Again, with the added layer, the possibility of miscommunication increases greatly. 3. Arrive extra early at the airport–several hours for an international flight–because stuff happens. 4. The flight change was not just a simple change, it was on a different airline altogether. Why did Cruise Specialists not communicate directly with the OP? Again, an added layer. 4. There are always ways of communicating overseas by cell phone–maybe not cheap, but certainly less than $8000.
    It was very generous of Holland America to take responsibility for this snafu.

  • AgentSteve

    A couple of things just don’t seem to add up. (1) What was it about their flight change that cost $8,000? That does not make any sense whatsoever. I’d like to know what was “included” in that $8K. (2) It’s very strange that Holland would pick up the $8K tab; what flight from Rome to South Carolina costs that kind of money? (3) The assumption is that the OP transfer of the booking to Cruise Specialist was so that the agency would get booking credit? If so, then why didn’t the OP book with them in the first place? (4) Having myself had (poor results with) client issues with HAL, I am totally baffled by them reimbursing the $8K; generosity is not part of the business plan.

    This is an interesting advocacy to me and I’m not confident that all the facts were presented. I’m very suspicious of this scenario; then again, I may be completely wrong. The client still had the responsible for flight verification info and had HAL internet (for a few bucks) available. I’d say that the OP should count his lucky stars, because in my opinion, something ($8,000) just doesn’t feel right. Then again, just my opinion.

  • Michael__K

    What do you expect two walk-up summer-time tickets from Rome to South Carolina to cost?
    For right now [almost Monday morning Oct 2], I’m seeing flights on Delta at 2 x $3364

  • AgentSteve

    I didn’t see any reference to when the situation occurred; which of course, can be significant, in the cost of flights. I stand by my suspicions that we’re not getting the complete story.

  • Michael__K

    One would think this occurred relatively recently. Besides, what winter / off-season cruises ending in Rome does Holland American sell?
    What would you expect the flights to cost, especially given that flights a few hours from now cost 2x$3364?

  • AgentSteve

    I’m certainly not disagreeing with you; however, May is different than July, for example. All I’m saying is that on the surface, the numbers don’t appear to add up. What did the hotel in Rome cost, for one night? What was the cost of getting to/from the airport?

    Each of us on this forum will perceive this situation with some degree of difference, based on the limited info we have. I don’t think it’s really a point of contention between any of us. Again, I’m having a hard time trying to understand the convolution of so many unknowns.

  • Lindabator

    This is completely on the agent – once thy take over a booking, it is their responsibility to take car of the client – why send the info to Holland, and not go the extra step and make sure the client knows? Frankly, if you email the cruise line AFTER a ship departs, its always sketchy if the ship gets the info, but you can spend the extra time (and money) contacting the ship directly in this case. Nice of HAL to pick up the tab

  • Lindabator

    Which was what I found confusing — unless this was a last minute change, and she was the one who made it on their behalf (due to issues at the airport, etc)) – but then it becomes HER responsibility, and no mail to the cruise line is going to cover that – she really dropped the ball on this

  • Lindabator

    true – if their were schedule changes which needed the agent to make a decision, she did a poor job of following up — if you cannot email them on the ship you have to cough up the cost of a call – sorry, comes with the job

  • Lindabator

    they would have had to actually contact the travel agent, but yes, HAL would have been able to assist.

  • Lindabator

    and FIND a way to contact your agent or cruise line FIRST

  • Lindabator

    If it was a last mint cancellation or misconnect, the cruise line will contact the travel agent to confirm any changes she wishes to make for the client – but then she needs to contact the correct desk to let them know the changes, and she needs to cough up the money to call the client on the ship to let them know

  • Lindabator

    very generous — looks like the cruise line went to the agent to have her make a decision on her client’s behalf (that is her job) – but SHE then should have informed the clients (that, too, is her job)

  • Fishplate

    The OP bought flights for the next day, not a few hours from now. Other commenters have reported the price at closer to $1000 each. What does your search show for tomorrow?

  • Michael__K

    I just googled airfares from Rome to Boston or New York or Los Angeles for tomorrow and they all came up between $800-$900 per person one way

    So not on Delta and not to South Carolina and not during peak summer season?

  • Michael__K

    Actually, I searched in the evening and the soonest available flights I quoted at that price were departing the next morning. The last possible itinerary on Delta these days leaves FCO at 12:30pm. At this very moment, the lowest one-way prices for tomorrow on Delta are selling for https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/a88eab6d22782419e56b6f49218ba6ba579d30b77551457dbcd4a3079eff629b.jpg around $2,750 per person. Of course this is for a Wednesday morning in October, and it’s very likely the OP was traveling in peak-summer and not mid-week.
    So precisely which flights are people claiming could have been booked for $1,000 each?

  • BubbaJoe123

    I just pulled up DL FCO-CHS one-way for tomorrow, and they’re €2750 (or about $3200) a seat. So, not crazy that they were close to $8k including hotel, etc. Might well have been a lot cheaper to buy a roundtrip, but unlikely they would have known that. Picking a random day in Feb 18 for the return, you get a roundtrip flight for €1100

  • BubbaJoe123

    One way Rome-Charleston (closest airport to the home city the letter writer lists) on Delta tomorrow is €2750.

  • BubbaJoe123

    For around €1100, you could get on that flight, if you booked it as a round-trip.

  • Michael__K

    Yes, however the agent they were speaking to would of course have known that they they had just missed their flight to South Carolina, and that this was their final destination. And they would be bound by their employers’ rules to refuse to sell them a fictitious itinerary that they obviously had no intention of completing even if they had asked for it.

  • Attention All Passengers

    Still, I’d rather get from one large city to the next and then add on a $300 fare (probably will be less) from let’s say NY to CHS….so it still might add up to $1200 one way……certainly a huge difference from $3200 one way.

  • RightNow9435

    but MUCH less if they bought Rome-NYC and then NYC-Charleston

Get smart. Sign up for the newsletter.