My husband died. Can I get my $5,398 cruise refunded from Viking?

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By Christopher Elliott

Frances Kennedy was looking forward to her Rhine River cruise on Viking. But before she could take her vacation, her husband died. Now she wants to know if she can get a refund of the $5,398 that she spent on her vacation.

The answer is complicated. And because we’re dealing with Viking, a notoriously secretive company, we might not even get a response. But I’ll try.

Kennedy’s tragic case raises a few questions:

  • Does travel insurance cover a cruise voucher or future cruise credit?
  • Can you get a refund for your cruise fare if a spouse or travel companion dies?
  • How do you get a refund for your cruise when a loved one dies?

And we’ll get to those as soon as I tell you what happened to Kennedy.

They paid more but got nothing from Viking

Kennedy and her husband had originally booked their European river cruise in 2021. They had made an excellent choice — an eight-day cruise from Basel to Amsterdam in March 2022. These early spring cruises are a hidden treasure. All along the Rhine, you can see blossoms emerging along the shoreline. It isn’t tourist season yet and the weather is typically mild, so you have the place to yourself.

But then Kennedy’s husband fell ill and had to be close to home to receive chemo treatments. Viking offered the couple a future cruise credit, which they optimistically accepted. They even paid Viking an extra $221 as a price difference to upgrade to a Seine River cruise later that year. (Related: Will Viking cover her airfare cost after a surprise portable oxygen problem?)

It appears Viking also offered the couple a discount if they paid by ACH instead of by credit card. But they used a direct money transfer, which means they could not dispute the charge by credit card or get any potential insurance coverage from their credit card. 

The Kennedys had taken out insurance on the first cruise, and they did on the second one as well, because they knew there was a possibility they would have to cancel the next sailing. (Related: Viking cruise voucher problem: Don’t forget to read the fine print!)

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Unfortunately, they did.

Just before the trip, Kennedy tested positive for COVID. She recovered within five days.

“But my husband was hospitalized twice,” she says. “Finally, when my husband was in ICU and in too much of a weakened condition to travel, I canceled the cruise.”

A few days later, her husband died.

A travel insurance claim — and a terrible surprise 

Amid her grief, Kennedy submitted all paperwork to Viking and to Trip Mate, her travel insurance company. 

“I was expecting to get back one-quarter of travel payments since Viking was notified between 30 and 49 days before the cruise was scheduled to depart,” she says. “I was also expecting to get a refund from Trip Mate.”

But no.

Viking told her that the vouchers had no value and were not covered by insurance.

But wait? Didn’t she have insurance for the second cruise? Yes, but it only covered the cash value of the upgrade she’d paid for the new cruise. Viking refunded her $221 and Trip Mate refunded her $531, leaving her $5,398 poorer. (Related: Help, my Viking River Cruise transfers are sunk.)

Kennedy is shocked and saddened at the loss of her husband and now at Viking’s refusal to refund her cruise. After all, she thought she had taken every precaution she could to protect her cruise. She bought Viking’s insurance twice through Trip Mate.

“At the very least, the vouchers of $2,724 each should not be considered to have zero value,” she says. “I was never told this until after I canceled. Of course, I also thought they were insured since that was never made clear when I was persuaded to take the vouchers.”

Does travel insurance cover a cruise voucher or future cruise credit?

Travel insurance generally does not cover vouchers or future cruise credits. So when you accept a future cruise credit, you can’t insure it.

Traditional travel insurance covers your prepaid, nonrefundable expenses. 

If your cruise line says your future cruise credit has zero value, then there is nothing to insure. However, your cruise line should also clearly disclose this before you accept the vouchers or pay extra for a new cruise. (Here’s our guide to resolving your consumer problem.)

Had it done so with Kennedy? It’s impossible to know because she made her arrangements by phone. There may have been some pro forma disclosure during or after the call, but she does not recall being told about it.

Ultimately, that is all that matters. Had she known that the future cruise wasn’t insurable, she would have accepted Viking’s offer of a full refund.

Can you get a refund for your Viking cruise fare if a spouse or travel companion dies?

But hang on. Don’t cruise lines offer refunds to passengers when their travel companion or spouse dies before the cruise? Unfortunately, no.

There was a time years ago when refunds on compassionate grounds were fairly routine. I can recall several cases where a cruise line offered a refund to a passenger whose spouse or partner died before their vacation.

Cruise lines used to allow refunds on a case-by-case basis. But now, they almost never do. And if you think about it, there’s a good reason to refuse: The more passengers that get ensnared by a strict no-refunds rule, the more insurance a cruise line will sell.

Cruise insurance does cover the death of a spouse. Many policies will also apply to a relative, partner, or travel companion’s death.

I could tell, based on the correspondence with Kennedy, that she was afraid of losing everything and chose to buy travel insurance, believing it would cover her. But she didn’t understand what her policy covered — until it was too late.

How do you ask for a refund for a Viking cruise when a loved one dies?

Losing a loved one is an emotional journey. But there are steps you can follow to get a refund during a difficult time.

Let the cruise line know right away 

The sooner you let the company know about your loved one’s passing, the greater your chance of receiving a refund or future cruise credit. I’ve dealt with people who waited until months after the cruise to do something, but by then it’s too late.

Send the required paperwork

Pull together the paperwork you’ll need, including the death certificate, medical reports and any other relevant paperwork. These will validate your claim and hopefully expedite the process.

Review the cancellation policy

You need to know what’s in the cancellation policy so that you can file a claim that’s likely to be honored. Will you receive a partial credit? A full refund? Or nothing at all? You can find the answer in your ticket contract, the legal agreement between you and the cruise line.

Ask for help

If you booked through a travel advisor, ask your agent to assist you with your refund request. If not, you can reach out to my advocacy group. We’re always happy to assist.

Don’t forget to use the Elliott Method to receive a resolution to your consumer problem. But be patient — these types of refunds can take weeks, if not months.

Viking: “We wish you well”

Kennedy pleaded her case to Viking. She explained that she had no idea her future cruise credits weren’t covered by insurance. She shared the receipt for the second cruise, which made no mention of the restrictions. And she asked the cruise line for some compassion during this difficult time.

Viking refused.

Kennedy appealed and said that at a time like this, she really needed a refund and that she had no future plans to take a cruise.

Here’s how Viking responded:

We’d first like to offer our deepest condolences to you during this time. Thank you for taking the time to write in.

Upon review of your booking, an email was sent to you to advise you of the opportunity to protect your vouchers in case of any unforeseen circumstances. The calculations that were listed on your attachment included your vouchers; this is where the discrepancy occurred. The voucher value was lost when the booking was cancelled so any refunds by Viking or Tripmate are based on the difference that was paid by ACH. 

While we are saddened to hear that you won’t be booking with Viking again. We wish you well wherever your next journey takes you and hope to have the opportunity to welcome you on board in the future.

In other words, you misunderstood what we were saying when we offered the opportunity to protect your voucher. We meant the new voucher, not the old one. And good luck with, you know, everything.

This kind of corporate intransigence really steams my dumplings. 

What Viking should have done about this refund request

From my point of view, Viking should have refunded Kennedy for everything. She’d been so accommodating to Viking. She bought the extra insurance. She allowed it to keep her money when she had to cancel. Then she paid extra to upgrade to a new cruise. She paid by ACH, which allowed Viking to keep her money and ruled out a credit card dispute. In other words, Kennedy was a great customer.

Now, I realize there are some cruise fans, travel advisors and rules-are-rules folks who will disagree with me. That’s OK. 

But remember, we’re dealing with Viking, one of the most secretive travel companies around. It loves to put nondisclosure agreements in front of its customers, especially when the media call. Anything to quash a negative story about the company. So chances are, we’ll never know the outcome of this case. 

Or would we?

Viking doesn’t want us to know this, but we do

After she reached out to my advocacy team for help, I contacted Viking on Kennedy’s behalf. And, of course, here’s what happened next.

Kennedy: Thank you for all your help. Viking has reached out to me with a settlement. The letter of acceptance commits me to no discussion and to confidentiality. Thank you again.

Me: Please let me know what you agreed to do before you sign. That is allowed. This is very important information to us and allows us to continue our work advocating for you.

Kennedy: I agreed to accept $4,810 total in two vouchers of $2,405 each to be booked within a year. One can be transferred to a travel companion at the time of booking. I have not signed it yet.  They would like it signed today. It says I agree to take all steps reasonably necessary to protect the confidentiality and to prevent the settlement agreement from falling into the public domain. 

Me: OK, thank you.

Kennedy’s dilemma is fairly standard for Viking. It puts these settlement offers in front of customers and tells them to sign now. Of course, you can disclose the settlement terms before you sign, but not afterward. 

Kennedy did the right thing by letting us know about Viking’s offer. Telling her story in a public venue ensures others know what to expect when push comes to shove with Viking. She performed a valuable public service during a difficult time in her life.

But that leaves just one or two more questions. Should Kennedy have held out for a full refund? Should Viking have offered her one? I lean toward a full refund — but then, I’m a consumer advocate. What do you think?

Should Viking have offered Frances Kennedy a full refund?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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