If you hate your shore excursion, should the cruise line refund the money you spent on it? Joseph Campo believes so. After Princess Cruises refused a refund request for his disappointing salmon-fishing excursion in Alaska, he disputed the $520 charge. And when his credit card company told him that he won the chargeback, Campo assumed that settled the matter.
It didn’t. Not even close.
Campo’s tale is a lesson in the correct use — and the limitations — of credit card disputes. Winning a chargeback does not necessarily end the battle — it only ends the involvement of the credit card company. As Campo found out, merchants can always choose to pursue the debt in other ways. And in this case, that’s precisely what Princess Cruises did.
An unpleasant shore excursion during this Alaska cruise
Last July, Campo and his wife celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary on a 14-day Alaskan cruise with Princess Cruises. Toward the end of their adventure, the couple took the unpleasant shore excursion.
The problems with the half-day excursion started immediately.
“First, we showed up ready to go at the scheduled time of 12:45 p.m.,” Campo recalled. “After some time, a Princess representative told us a new pick-up time of 2 p.m. The excursion operator finally came for us at 2:05 p.m.”
The couple said they were surprised that there were six other participants not from the Princess Cruise on the van. Things seemed a bit disorganized.
“An excursion operator commented to us that they don’t do a lot of business with Princess Cruises customers,” Campo recalled. “He said they had received a late phone call to pick up two ‘guys’ from Princess.”
The van then traveled for 1 ½ hours through the Alaskan wilderness. Once they arrived at the river, an insurmountable problem came to light — one that ultimately ruined this cruise excursion for Campo.
A salmon fishing excursion without the proper equipment
“Hip boot waders were provided to the other six fishing customers who were staying at the excursion operator’s own fishing camp,” Campos complained. “When I asked where our fishing waders were, one of the excursion operators named Mike yelled ‘back off sir we are unloading the van.’”
Unfortunately, the excursion operator had not packed all of the equipment needed for the “two guys” from Princess.
Campo asked the excursion operator how he and his wife could properly go salmon fishing without the proper equipment.
He said we had no choice but to fish without hip boots. He suggested that we could stand on rocks. The other six customers, who they supplied hip boots to, would fish from the river at water’s edge. Obviously, without hip boots, my wife and I had limited access to the river fishing.
The couple felt like outcasts, standing on the rocks above the water while everyone else waded into the river. And the attitude of the excursion operator only made things worse. The couple tried to make the best of it, but their shoes, socks and pants became soaked as the day progressed. They bitterly noted that the other participants were staying warm and dry in their boots.
It was a relief when the tour operator finally alerted the group that it was time to leave. The Campos couldn’t wait to get back to their cruise and away from this unpleasant experience.
But Campo’s frustration continued to build during the soggy ride back.
I hated this shore excursion. I want a refund.
After returning to the Princess Cruises Lodge in Copper River where they were staying for the night, Campo contacted the cruise’s excursion director. He conveyed all the disappointing events that had transpired that day. Campo ended his complaint with a request for a full refund for this cruise excursion that he had thoroughly hated.
Campo did not receive the response that he wanted to hear. Instead, he received a “we’ll look into it.” And so the disgruntled couple completed their cruise with no resolution. But when they arrived home, Campo began his refund campaign in earnest.
Unfortunately, Campo had not read this article by our publisher Christopher Elliott about fixing your own consumer complaint. As a result, he shot off complaints in many directions at once. Campo also filed a credit card chargeback at the same time.
This approach was a mistake.
Before initiating a dispute, it’s critical that you’ve first made every effort to resolve the problem directly with the merchant. A credit card chargeback should always be a consumer’s last resort. The results can be disastrous to the consumer if misused.
- Here are the disastrous results of making a chargeback error
- Here’s why you should never report a credit card charge as fraudulent when it isn’t
The Fair Credit Billing Act
If you use a credit card, the Fair Credit Billing Act is your friend. It protects consumers against billing errors. There are a variety of things that qualify as a billing error as detailed in the FCBA:
- Charges for items that a consumer never received
- Charges for items that the merchant did not deliver as described
- Items in which the consumer asked for an explanation of the charge, but the merchant refused
- Errors that involve the cost of the item (For instance, your receipt shows one price and your credit card invoice shows another)
- Fraudulent or unauthorized charges
Campo believed this terrible shore excursion qualified for a dispute. After all, the operator of the fishing expedition had not provided the necessary equipment. So he filed the dispute while he was still trying to negotiate with Princess Cruises.
After the cruise line received Campo’s complaint, a Princess representative called him to address his concern. This executive explained that hip waders were not a required item for this fishing excursion. Campo’s assertion that all other participants on this fishing excursion received the waders did not change the stance of Princess.
Campo hung up the phone more frustrated than ever about the salmon fishing debacle. But he still hoped that his credit card company would side with him.
He won the chargeback battle. Princess Cruises intends to win this $520 war
A merchant has 30 days to respond to a chargeback dispute. If it does not answer the credit card company within that time, the consumer will win by default.
If a company doesn’t agree with your bank’s decision, it can always send you to collections. The ending of the dispute only ends the involvement of your credit card company.
Princess Cruises never responded directly to Campo’s credit card company. And so, about three months after he initiated the dispute, Campo received the “good news” that he won the chargeback case. The $520 in question would remain as a permanent credit on his account. He had won the dispute by default.
Unfortunately, Princess Cruises would soon let Campo know that the matter wasn’t settled. He owed the cruise line for the unpleasant shore excursion and the credit card chargeback put the couple into a breach of contract.
Win a credit card dispute, but end up in collections
This turn of events was a giant surprise for Campo. He believed that a credit card chargeback decision was binding for both sides.
In fact, there are no federal laws or regulations that require a merchant to drop its pursuit of a debt just because your credit card sides with you.
In this case, Princess Cruises disagreed with the final decision of Campo’s bank. After Princess received word that the charges were refunded, it sent his account to collections. The cruise line expected to be paid for the fishing trip whether he enjoyed the excursion or not.
Campo thought about all the implications. Not only would his credit rating take a hit, but with a balance owed to Princess, he realized he could be banned from future sailings on the cruise line as well.
Campo was right to be concerned about Princess placing him on a Do Not Sail list. We know from experience that cruise lines are more willing than ever to ban problematic customers.
Not wanting this situation to spiral any further out of control, Campo contacted the Elliott Advocacy team.
Asking for too much can doom a request
When I read through Campo’s complaint, I agreed with his argument that something went wrong with this shore excursion. I’m not a fisherman (surprise!), so I don’t know if hip waders are required for salmon fishing. But if other participants had these waders, then this couple should have had them as well.
However, I noted that asking for a full refund for a shore excursion that Campo did take was overreaching. In fact, he told me he had caught two king salmon during this adventure. So the outing was not a complete washout. Asking for a full refund wasn’t a reasonable request.
We know that when a consumer overestimates the value of their complaint, it typically leads to an unfavorable response. It’s imperative to be reasonable when requesting compensation from a company.
Princess Cruises: Hip waders are not necessary for this fishing excursion
I reached out to our executive contact at Princess Cruises about this fishing fiasco. Specifically, I wanted to know about those hip waders: Are they a necessity for this type of fishing?
After a short investigation, Princess Cruises gave me the answer to my question. Our executive contact also formally responded to Campo’s complaint.
Thanks for your patience as we investigated the matter. Please see below a description of the tour Mr. & Mrs. Campo took. Based on the details, it appears the tour operator fulfilled their obligation in reference to the tour description. Therefore, the request for a full refund was declined.
Our customer specialist was never able to speak directly with the guest. He left two voicemails advising that his request for a refund was respectfully declined, that the tour operator indicated the waders were not part of the tour description and not necessary. He also advised that Mr. Campo did catch two king salmon and the tour operator provided all services advertised. The specialist also left his contact information. Mr. Campo did not return a call to discuss.
The details of this shore excursion do not mention anything about hip waders. In fact, it says, “You will be fishing from shore and footing is uneven and can be slippery.”
It was time to break the news to Campo, the facts did not seem to support his complaint. It’s unclear why the excursion operator provided the other participants with hip waders. But I suspected it might have had to do with the fact that they were coming from a fishing camp.
Hate your shore excursion — you still must pay for it
Campo is not satisfied with the outcome. But he has come to terms with the fact that he will need to pay for this unpleasant excursion. In his final comments to me, he says that this is an example of a “bait and switch” and that Princess should have supported his complaint.
I greatly appreciate all you have done in investigating the excursion complaint issue. However, I have to emphasize again that we were told by the Princess Copper River Lodge excursion desk personnel that we would receive waders and that is why they asked us for our shoe sizes before the excursion. The excursion description they provided is a basic overview and also does not mention the excursion includes fishing rods, bait, lures, waders, etc. all of which are expected for a paid guided river fishing excursion.
I certainly have become a more informed consumer after participating in this Princess complaint issue process while fully appreciating and recognizing the need for your Elliott Advocacy team help.
What can you do after an unpleasant shore excursion?
- First, make sure that you familiarize yourself with all the guaranteed details of your shore excursion before you purchase it. This will decrease the chances of finding yourself on a shore excursion that doesn’t suit you.
- Keep your complaint short and pleasant. Many consumers allow their frustrations to boil over into their grievances. This is not an approach that typically leads to positive conflict resolution. Try to set a friendly tone in your email and stick to the facts — those are the letters that are most favorably received by company executives. Remember: you want to make the reader of your complaint want to help you.
- Make sure your desired resolution is reasonable. We see time and again that when consumers make unreasonable resolution requests it dilutes the strength of the complaint. Most of these inflated compensation requests are simply “overlooked” by the company.
- Many consumers misuse credit card chargebacks. If you escalate your case to your credit card company, be aware that this may not be a permanent solution. If you’ve misused the dispute process and win by default, you significantly increase the chances that the company will pursue you for the debt outside the bounds of your credit card company.