Our Celebrity cruise sailed without us — 3 hours early!

Donna Klemond’s Celebrity cruise departs three hours early – just as she arrives at the port of embarkation. Neither Celebrity, her travel insurance company nor her travel agent will help compensate her for the cost of the cruise. Can our advocates get them to weigh anchor on issuing her a refund?

Question

My husband and I purchased a cruise vacation on Celebrity Cruises through AAA Travel, as well as a Celebrity CruiseCare travel insurance policy from Aon, for $8,637. We were told to arrive at the embarkation port at Cape Liberty, N.J., at 2 p.m. on the day of departure last Labor Day weekend.

We arrived at the port at 2 p.m. on that day and found that our cruise sailed without us! An agent of Celebrity Cruises met our taxi at the port and told us that the ship had left early because of Tropical Storm Hermione. The agent told us that Celebrity Cruises had notified AAA of the schedule change. But our AAA Travel agent never notified us because she was away that weekend and did not check her messages.

The Celebrity agent advised us to travel to Boston, the next port of call, and board the ship there, but U.S. maritime law would require us to disembark in Nova Scotia. She told us that Celebrity would not be responsible for transportation to Boston or from Nova Scotia if we did this.

After spending two hours on the phone with Celebrity, we had no choice but to return home to Minnesota. Celebrity’s customer service agents assured us that our travel insurance should compensate us for our cruise fares.

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But when we filed a claim for the fares, both Aon and Celebrity denied the claim. AAA Travel has not been helpful either; our agent there has not responded to any communications from us.

I tried disputing the cruise fares through my credit card company, but Celebrity responded that we were being charged a $4,443 penalty with no explanation. Celebrity offered us a $1,973 credit for a future cruise, but I rejected it because it doesn’t come anywhere near close to making us whole.

I filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau about Celebrity’s offer. We eventually received $1,000 from Aon and $2,765 from Celebrity in response to my complaint, but we shouldn’t have to forfeit $4,443 because of Celebrity’s failure to notify us of their schedule change. My husband and I are in our eighties and may never travel again. Can you help us get the remainder of our cruise fares back? — Donna Klemond, Perham, Minn.

Answer

What a sad cruise vacation story. You should have been notified of the schedule change to arrive at the port in time to board your ship.

Cruise changes such as departure times, ships assigned to cruises and itinerary changes are often available on cruise line websites. You told us that you don’t know much about computers or websites, so this wasn’t an option for you, but we strongly advise cruise passengers to regularly check them up to the departure time.

But all three of these companies could have helped you out instead of brushing you off with silence and denials of responsibility.

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No notification of schedule change

Celebrity could have been more helpful since your travel agent didn’t notify you of the schedule change. Telling you to go to the next port of call to board the ship, but leaving you to fend for yourself in getting there and returning to the U.S., was not a passenger-friendly course of action.

Unfortunately, Celebrity’s cruise ticket contract indicates that

Carrier may for any reason at any time and without prior notice, cancel, advance, postpone or deviate from any scheduled sailing, port of call, destination, lodging or any activity on or off the Vessel, or substitute another vessel or port of call, destination, lodging or activity. … Carrier shall not be liable for any claim whatsoever by Passenger, including but not limited to loss, compensation or refund, by reason of such cancellation, advancement, postponement, substitution or deviation.

So Celebrity had the right to reschedule the cruise departure and treated your failure to be on board the ship when it departed as a cancellation. Celebrity’s cancellation policy indicates (buried in small print) that for holiday sailings, cancellations made less than 21 days in advance of the ship’s departure are subject to penalties of 50 percent of the cruise fares.

Does insurance cover this missed cruise?

“Cancel for any reason” insurance coverage, which you apparently didn’t have, would have covered the 50 percent penalty. Aon ultimately paid you $1,000 after initially denying your claim based on Celebrity’s position that you canceled your cruise by not being on board when the ship sailed.

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Celebrity and Aon might have backed down with advocacy from your agent at AAA Travel, who should have designated someone to take her messages and work with you if she was not going to be available to help you at the time of your cruise. Her failure to do that, and AAA’s subsequent silence when you contacted it for help in recovering your cruise fares, is inexcusable.

A tough road to a resolution

You might have appealed your case to higher-ranking executives at Celebrity, Aon, and AAA Travel using the contact information on our website, but you asked our advocates for assistance.

For months, our advocacy director, Michelle Couch-Friedman worked on your case. She reached out to Celebrity and AAA Travel. Both companies told her they were “investigating” while pointing their fingers at each other. Celebrity maintained that it owed you no more than $2,765 in cash and refused to budge from its position.

But your story has a happy ending. After several months of waiting for Celebrity and AAA Travel to conclude their “investigations,” Friedman sent one last email to both companies. AAA Travel notified her that it had persuaded Celebrity to refund the balance of your cruise fares. And the refunds have now appeared on your credit card statement.

Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Elliott.org. Read more of Jennifer's articles here.

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