When war broke out in the Middle East, Eileen Ng’s cruise got a major itinerary change, and she wants to cancel her vacation. But can you get your money back or a credit when your cruise line changes course?
Yes, you can — and I’ll show you how.
A lot of folks are in Ng’s boat. When the recent Israel-Hamas conflict erupted, many cruise lines dropped ports of call near the conflict zone. Some of them have offered a future cruise credit. Others have stuck to their strict cancellation policies.
Their experiences raise several questions:
- What are the cruise line cancellation policies when there’s a war?
- What are your rights when a cruise line makes a significant itinerary change?
- How do you resolve a cruise line itinerary problem?
But before we get to the answers, let’s find out what went wrong with Ng’s cruise.
What happened to Ng’s Middle East cruise?
Ng’s itinerary change was significant. Oceania dropped the one port Ng was most looking forward to — Haifa, Israel.
In fact, her cruise line steered clear of all ports that came anywhere close to the Mideast conflict, substituting days at sea and new ports in Santorini and Heraklion, Crete.
“We have been to Turkey and the Greek Isles cruise twice before already,” says Ng. “I was interested in going to the Holy Land, Egypt and Jordan.”
So Ng decided to cancel.
Oceania initially offered her a future cruise credit she could use through 2025. But then she heard back from her travel advisor that Oceania had changed its mind. Her upcoming cruise was a “use it or lose it” proposition.
“If we don’t go on the scheduled Holy Land cruise, our $15,000 cruise plus the excursion money will be forfeited,” she says.
My advocacy organization is handling dozens of cases like hers, where a cruise line refused to offer a future cruise credit or refund for passengers affected.
Can they do that? Unfortunately, the answer is yes.
What are the cruise line cancellation policies when there’s a war?
Cruise line policies for passenger cancellations vary. Many cruise lines will offer a refund depending on how close you are to your departure date.
For example, here’s Oceania’s refund policy:
- 180-151 days before departure — full refund minus a $500 administrative fee
- 150-121 days before departure — 25 percent of fare
- 120-91 days before departure — 50 percent of fare
- 90-61 days before departure – 75 percent of fare
- 60-0 days before departure — 100 percent of fare
Oceania’s ticket contract — the legal agreement between you and the cruise line — does not specifically address a rescheduling due to war. However, it establishes the cruise line’s right to change a port without offering compensation or a refund.
We reserve the right at any time, without notice or liability for refund, payment or compensation of any kind or credit, except as otherwise required by law, to cancel any Cruise or CruiseTour, change or postpone the date or time of sailing or arrival, change the port of embarkation or final destination, shorten the Cruise or substitute the Ship, change or substitute any component of the CruiseTour including but not limited to aircraft, other transportation or any hotel at which you are scheduled to stay. (Emphasis mine.)
Other cruise line contracts handle cancellations in more or less the same way. You can get a refund, or a partial refund, if you ask far enough in advance. But if you’re within a month or two of sailing, you won’t get a cruise fare refund, even if there’s an itinerary change due to war. (You’ll probably get your taxes, fees and shore excursions reimbursed.)
Bottom line: When there’s a war, cruise lines are allowed to skip a dangerous port — and like it or not, they’re allowed to keep your money.
What are your rights when a cruise line makes a significant itinerary change?
Your rights to a refund are limited when a cruise line changes its itinerary.
- If a cruise line shortens or terminates your cruise, it will usually offer a cruise credit or a partial refund. It might also transfer you to a different ship to continue your journey. These rights are usually outlined in your cruise contract.
- You usually have the right to a refund of your taxes, fees and shore excursions. Read your cruise contract for details.
- You have the right to a full refund for a trip that is canceled by the cruise line because of a mechanical failure, or a partial refund for voyages that are terminated early due to those failures. You can find that under the International Cruise Line Passenger Bill of Rights, a document voluntarily adopted by the major cruise lines to avoid regulation.
Passengers are often shocked when they learn they have no right to a refund or even a cruise credit when their cruise line makes a significant itinerary change. But it’s all in the ticket contract, the cruise line’s terms and the Passenger Bill of Rights — or more to the point, it’s not in there at all.
You are at your cruise line’s mercy. Or are you?
What if the cruise is not as advertised?
But wait! What if a cruise line sells tickets for a “Holy Land” itinerary but then changes its schedule so that the cruise is unrecognizable? Does that make a difference?
The answer is no, according to the many line cases my advocacy team and I have mediated. When a cruise line reserves the right to change its schedule at any time and for any reason, it is deadly serious.
Oceania framed this as a security issue but remained firm on its cancellation policy when my advocacy team reached out to the company.
“The safety and security of our guests and staff is our utmost priority and we have adjusted itineraries as necessary given current events,” it said in a prepared statement. “Our cancellation policy remains per our terms and conditions.“
The implication seems clear: A cruise line can advertise any type of itinerary it wants, but it reserves the right to change its schedule, and it does not have to offer its passengers anything outside of the cruise contract.
We’re seeing that across the board with other cruise lines. They don’t want to bear the cost of offering refunds or future cruise credits, and they don’t have to.
Would travel insurance protect you from a cruise cancellation due to war?
Yes and no. A regular cruise insurance policy would not protect you against an itinerary change such as the one Ng experienced. Standard travel insurance protects you against unforeseen events like lost luggage, a trip interruption or a medical emergency.
However, a more expensive “cancel for any reason” policy would have allowed Ng to cancel her cruise and receive anywhere from 50 to 70 percent of her prepaid, nonrefundable expenses back.
How do you resolve a cruise line itinerary problem?
You don’t get what you deserve with cases like these. You get what you negotiate.
Why did Oceania backtrack on its offer? The cruise line explained its reasons to another reader:
We made an open-ended offer for Future Cruise Credits (FCC). This was offered on a first come basis. Unfortunately, this offer was oversubscribed, and a decision was made at the enterprise level to sunset the offer of FCC.
Please be advised that if you decide to cancel your upcoming voyage at this time, the standard penalties will apply. We are not offering any compensation or issuing any Future Cruise Credits for any reservations that are canceled.
Just one problem: Oceania never told anyone that its future cruise credits offer might expire or that it was being offered on a first-come, first-served basis.
That left Oceania with a lot of disappointed customers.
Surely, Oceania knows that it is doing something its passengers will not like. And I’m sure it is bracing for a wave of credit card disputes. Under the Fair Credit Billing Act, you can reverse a credit card charge for a product that was not delivered as advertised, and these rescheduled cruises probably fit the bill.
A gentle nudge can help move things in the right direction. Ng’s travel advisor contacted Oceania to ask it to reconsider, and I also asked Oceania to take a look at her case. After all, Ng had an offer in writing to give her a future cruise credit. Oceania had gone back on its word.
Finally, we reveived some good news.
“Oceania Cruises called our travel agent and told him they will issue us future cruise credits!” she told me.
The credits expire in 2025, by which time hopefully cruise ships will be returning to Haifa.
These are uncharted waters. Don’t give up!
These wartime cruise reschedules are highly unusual in the sense that they are testing the limits of the cruise contract. Can a cruise line offer a significantly different itinerary — effectively removing the “Holy Land” from a Holy Land cruise — and get away with it?
They shouldn’t. You can apply gentle but firm pressure to a cruise line like Oceania to do the right thing, or at the very least to keep its promises. I publish the executive contacts for Oceania on this site.
I wouldn’t be surprised if this ended up in court. But in the meantime, if you have an upcoming Middle East cruise that you’d rather not take, my advice is to be persistent. Our team has advocated dozens of these cases, and we’ve seen some flexibility in offering future cruise credits when customers refused to take “no” for an answer.
You have to keep pushing. Use our self-advocacy methods to nudge the cruise line in the right direction. And never give up.
About this story
Our advocacy team has been hit with dozens of cases like Ng’s. Remarkably, some cruise lines are taking a hard line on refunds. Others are quietly granting future cruise credits or refunds. There doesn’t appear to be any consistency. Hopefully, this story will help you get the credit you deserve. This article was researched, written and edited by Christopher Elliott. Dwayne Coward and I advocated Ng’s case, Andy Smith and his team edited this story and Dustin Elliott illustrated it.