Our ship sailed, but we weren’t on it. Are we out of luck?

Jo Peckinpaugh and her husband were looking forward to a relaxing Caribbean cruise. Then their flight was canceled and they couldn’t make it to the ship on time. Can we help save their vacation?

Question: We booked a seven-day Royal Caribbean cruise to the Western Caribbean through Costco. Costco contacted Royal Caribbean to book the round-trip airfare. The ship was departing from Tampa at 4 p.m. We were confirmed on a Delta Airlines flight that arrived in Tampa an hour before the ship began boarding.

The day before our departure, we searched online and discovered that our flight was canceled because of severe weather. Delta had rescheduled us on a flight that would arrive in Tampa three hours after the ship had sailed. We immediately notified Costco that the new flight arrangements were unacceptable.

We were then scheduled on an American flight that arrived in Tampa in time for us to board the ship. But, that flight also was canceled due to the same severe weather. We contacted Costco again and were rescheduled on another American flight that would, once again, arrive in Tampa after the ship sailed.

Costco told us that Royal Caribbean would contact us directly and find a way to get us there. Royal Caribbean never called us, so we called them. Without fail, every time we called we were told that the representative we were talking to couldn’t help. We would be transferred to another representative who would tell us to call Costco. Costco told us to call Royal Caribbean.

Over the course of the day and after numerous calls to Royal Caribbean and Costco, Costco told us we could be booked on a later cruise. But, Royal Caribbean refused to book us on another cruise. Royal Caribbean told Costco that we should take the last flight, assuming it too wouldn’t be canceled, and arrive in Tampa after the ship had sailed. Royal Caribbean agreed to pay for a hotel for one night. But, not food or hotel for the following night. Royal Caribbean also wouldn’t pay for us to fly to Honduras, two days later, to meet up with the ship. Royal Caribbean wouldn’t give us any credit on our cruise cost and told us we were “on our own” after one night in the hotel.

Related story:   A canceled flight, a missing refund

We used Royal Caribbean’s Air2Sea program and understood that Royal Caribbean had to schedule our flight because that was the only way it would guarantee that we would make it to the ship on time.

Royal Caribbean could not get us to the ship prior to sailing and said it wasn’t responsible for the two lost vacation days and extra costs associated with meeting the ship in Honduras. We asked to cancel and were told we couldn’t cancel because it was less than 24 hours prior to sailing. But, when we first contacted Royal Caribbean, we were more than 24 hours away from sailing.

After six hours on the phone with Costco and Royal Caribbean, we were beyond frustrated. We are losing $4,000, plus an onboard credit our daughter bought us for this cruise. We have tried everything to work this out. Sadly we are unable to do so. Can you help?– Jo Peckinpaugh, Hixson, Tenn.

Answer:If Royal Caribbean guaranteed that it would get you to your ship on time, it should have done so. And, if it couldn’t because of reasons beyond its control, it should have rebooked you on another cruise. Royal Caribbean should absolutely not have left you to find your way to the ship, at your own expense.

Royal Caribbean’s Air2Sea guarantee promises that

[w]hen your vacation comes around, you don’t want to miss the ship because of flight delays or cancellations. Book airfare through us and we guarantee our travel experts will get you to your cruise. Plus you get all the peace of mind of assured arrival to your ship and 24/7 support from our air specialists.

Every promise Royal Caribbean made to you, it didn’t keep. It didn’t get you to your cruise and it didn’t give you 24/7 support from an air specialist. It left you “on your own” and it kept your money.

Related story:   “I wish I had never heard of Allegiant!”

And, Costco, your travel agent, did nothing to help you, either. Costco merely referred you back to Royal Caribbean. Costco travel advertises its vacation service as the “vacations you want at the value you expect, with the highest level of quality and service.” You didn’t receive anything resembling service from Costco. And when our advocates tried to contact Costco on your behalf, it never responded.

On the advice of our advocates, you posted your dilemma to our help forum. Our forums are staffed by volunteer travel industry experts and are read by many company executives. It can provide a wealth of helpful information.

Our forum advisers suggested that you politely email company executives about rebooking the cruise. We list executive contact information for Royal Caribbean on our website company contacts. Our forum advisers also suggested that you contact Costco about obtaining a flight credit for the canceled flights. You can also find Costco contacts on our website.

Our forum advocates also suggested that, in the future, you avoid flying into a port on the day the ship departs, and purchase insurance that covers trip interruptions and cancellations.

Our advocates contacted Royal Caribbean on your behalf. Its representative disputed that they refused to get you to the ship, and told our advocate that they had offered to fly you to Honduras to meet the ship. That included airfare, hotel and transportation. The Royal Caribbean representative told our advocate that Costco declined the offer and cancelled your cruise. Once the cruise was canceled, there was nothing Royal Caribbean could do to assist you.

Related story:   I wanted $2,400, but United gave me $38! Is this fair?

Ultimately, Royal Caribbean gave you a full credit and an additional $50 onboard credit. We hope you enjoy your future cruise.

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. Read more of Diane's articles here.

  • Mel65

    Glad this worked out for them, at least for a future cruise, if not the one they planned on. Sounds like they were let down all the way around by both RC and COSTCO.

  • Bill___A

    Glad they got it somewhat sorted BUT I have a very difficult time understanding that if the travel agent booked a flight through the cruise company how they would have picked a flight which arrived one hour prior to the ship boarding. That is setting things up for failure. Is this common?

  • Kerr

    The original itinerary was crazy. Arriving in Tampa an HOUR before boarding the ship began? That’s insane. The number of possible problem they could encounter that would prevent boarding the ship is innumerable. Can’t control weather but flying in a day earlier would have given them more flexibility.

    P.S. Is the LW’s husband’s name Sam? ;)

  • sirwired

    Well, boarding often goes on for 6-8 hours, so if you aren’t flying in the night before, an hour before boarding even starts is perfectly reasonable.

  • sirwired

    What a mess; either Costco or RC is lying. RC says they offered to put the couple up in a hotel and fly them to Honduras, Costco says they didn’t.

  • Dutchess

    Wow, arriving on the ground ONE HOUR before boarding your cruise? That’s cutting it a bit close. I understand vacation days are limited but I would never shell out $4k for a cruise and then plan on arriving minutes before the cruise starts boarding. Arriving the night before would have prevented a lot of this headache. Glad it worked out for them.

  • sirwired

    Boarding goes on for many hours, leaving a total cushion that’s not too bad. Not as good as the night before, but doable.

  • Hanope

    If one flight couldn’t get into Florida in time because of severe weather, its very likely other flights couldn’t as well. It seemed that nothing would get the couple to their cruise in time.

    I could put some blame on the cruise line and Costco for booking them on a flight landing only an hour before boarding began, even if boarding went on for several hours. Most people should know that its much safer to flight in the night before and get a hotel, so you just have a taxi ride to the ship, which can be done in almost any weather, and provides some cushion of time in case the flight is delayed/canceled.

    I guess the issue is did Costco/Royal offer a flight the night before that was declined by the customers? I don’t know if that information is saved. But I would say whoever made the decision as to the flight should bear the cost.

  • greg watson

    No reply from Costco ! hmm. I think that speaks for itself !

  • DChamp56

    I think when Costco heard they wouldn’t make the ship, they cancelled the cruise which cancelled RCI’s contract to get them to the ship.

  • SierraRose 49

    Just read the forum again for this fiasco of a trip and was so happy to learn that the Pecks HAVE booked another cruise and yes, they have purchased travel insurance; and yes, they are going up a day or two early. Jo Peck heaped lots of praise on all the Elliott advocates and reiterated how much she and her husband have learned … as many of us readers. The Pecks had not traveled in over 10 years and came to discover what many of us now know – travel by air, ship, train has changed dramatically. Having the right kind of travel insurance is a must. A great travel agent is even better. I learn something new every time I visit elliott.org. Thank you Elliott Team.

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    I totally understand the fly in a day ahead thing, but it isn’t always possible. On our only recent cruise (since our honeymoon decades ago), we flew in the morning of the cruise on a direct flight because we couldn’t leave the day before for work reasons. Fortunately, we made the cruise, though we weren’t as worred because it was a cruise only in Hawaii, so we could join the boat in Maui, if necessary.

  • The Original Joe S

    Salmonella Boat Rides! An extra bonus: Legionnaire’s Disease!

  • JewelEyed

    Assuming nothing goes pear-shaped. But if it does, it creates quite the ugly mess, as we’ve seen.

  • JewelEyed

    I hope you enjoy the cruise you’ll be taking with the credit! And yes, yes, I would strongly recommend you read everything this site has got on air travel, hotel accommodations, and cruises. I own Chris’s book on traveling and there’s a reason it lives in my designated carry-on bag.

  • JewelEyed

    But based on the guarantees that Royal makes, it shouldn’t have mattered. They should have taken care of this just as they promised. If they wanted to, they could only offer those guarantees to people who fly in the day before, but they don’t. While I think flying in the day before is advisable, companies should keep the promises they make, full stop.

  • joycexyz

    RC claims they offered to fly the couple to Honduras, which I believe is normal when booking the flight through them, but that Costco turned down the offer. Rather odd.

  • joycexyz

    I’ve had that experience also–the cruise rep trying to book a flight with very little room for unforeseen circumstances. But I told him that the time frame was too short, and he booked a more reasonable flight. You need to speak up–sometimes you get a rep who’s not thinking logically.

Get smart. Sign up for the newsletter.