Holland America changed its schedule and left me high and dry

When Holland America changes the departure port for a Chilean cruise, Robert Houston and his wife have to scramble to change their tickets. Should the cruise line help them, or are they on their own?

Question: My wife and I are booked on a confirmed, prepaid Holland America Antarctic cruise from Chile to Buenos Aires in December, which was advertised as leaving from Valparaiso. Recently we received a letter from Holland America announcing that for “operational reasons” the port of embarkation was being changed to San Antonio, Chile, some 90 miles away.

Wanting to visit Chile for a few days before embarking, we made nonreimbursable hotel reservations in both Santiago, where our flight from the U.S. arrives three days before sailing day, and Valparaiso. Both our travel agent and we have contacted Holland America, pointing out that their plan to transport passengers directly from the Santiago airport to the new departure point on sailing day will not work for us, since our airline reservations cannot be changed, and will result in our losing the funds we have paid for our hotels, not to mention our lost few days in Chile.

Holland America’s response has been, “Sorry, if you read the fine print we’re within our rights to make itinerary changes. You’re stuck.” I could understand if weather conditions or such made a change necessary after we’re on board, but “operational reasons” doesn’t have much validity.

We would be satisfied if Holland America were to offer to make arrangements for, or at least offer to pay for, transportation from Valparaiso to the new, distant departure port, versus just say, “Tough luck,” and wash their hands of the matter. Cruise lines should be responsible for their arbitrary decisions, or acknowledge they’ve advertised falsely. — Robert Houston, Tucson, Ariz.

Answer: You’re right, Holland America should help you get to your new port of embarkation. It’s the right thing to do.

Related story:   Holland America kept 100 percent of my airfare -- can it do that?

This is a case where Holland America appeared to be violating its own ticket contract, the legal agreement between you and the cruise line. If a schedule change is within the cruise line’s control, and the scheduled port of embarkation is changed, “Carrier shall arrange transportation to it from the originally scheduled port.” It doesn’t say “take it or leave it” — it says “shall arrange.”

Interestingly, Holland America addresses the potential loss of your hotel rooms: “Under no circumstances shall the Carrier be or become liable for consequential or other damages of any kind sustained by any Guest except as expressly provided herein.” So it seems the company’s attitude was, “We’ll transport you to the new port on our terms, and you can take us up on the offer, or not.”

I find that attitude frustrating. To fix this, you could have sent a brief, polite email to one of the customer service executives at Holland America. I list them on my consumer advocacy site.

I contacted Holland America on your behalf. The company agreed to provide you with either the cost of the transfer or an onboard credit.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • Alan Gore

    Good Save! Holland America undoubtedly thought it could stick LW with one of those one-way contracts in which the customer is nailed to the wall if he misses a specified deadline, but the line can change its departure point and schedule whenever it cares to. Because this took place at a foreign port, the threat of social media shaming is the only leverage we have.

  • AJPeabody

    Every time I get the brief urge to consider a cruise, an article like this appears and cures me.

  • Steve Rabin

    Unfortunately, this is becoming the new norm in the entire travel industry. It’s not just the cruise lines.

  • LDVinVA

    We have taken a couple of dozen cruises over the years with no issues other than twice missing a port – once for weather and once for some kind of harbor issue. Have enjoyed every one of them.

  • Bobby Dale

    Cruises are an excellent way to get an overview of an area, though I might recommend avoiding lines under the Worlds Leading umbrella.

  • Blamona

    Okay, they’ll be in chili 3 days before. It’s 90 minutes away. Other than transportation to San Antonio do they really deserve more? Even if on their own (and assuming air and hotel were separate) they’d still make it on the Cruise, and are entitled to transfer only anyway. Why would they ask for cancelation, hotel and air? Throw in the kitchen sink why don’t you?

  • Bobby Dale

    The transfer from Valparaiso to San Antonio should cost about USD 40 per person.

  • pauletteb

    I’d rather have a root canal than cruise unless it is the ONLY way to visit a destination . . . and even then I’d hesitate. I find absolutely nothing about the concept appealing.

  • pauletteb

    They only asked for more than transportation after the cruise line blew them off.

  • Marc

    I am on the last night of a 7 day cruise as I write this. We took a holiday cruise with 26 members of our family, and everyone reported having a great time. We were even surprised by some family members who are first time cruisers and were skeptical, now talking about a next cruise after saying they had a great experience on this one. It’s not for everyone, just as any vacation destination or activity isn’t for everyone.

  • exactlywatt

    90 miles, not 90 minutes

  • Bob Curtis

    Read David Foster Wallace’s essay “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again”, and even those brief urges will go away.

  • jsn55

    Since cruising is the last bastion of the good travel agent, it is surprising to me that people keep making their own cruise arrangements. Cruise lines pay commission to TAs for bookings, unlike airlines. A good TA would have fixed this in 24 hours. She also would have found hotel rooms bookable with a deposit and not totally non-refundable. I am a recent convert to a cruise-expert TA, I had no idea what a difference she would make to our trip.

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