Is this enough compensation? He waited too long to use his cruise voucher

Gregg Brady was looking forward to his February cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Voyager Of The Seas but the winds of fate were about to blow in a different direction. Just before his vacation, he had to be hospitalized and missed his sailing.

He didn’t have trip cancellation insurance, but Royal Caribbean agreed to issue vouchers of $171 per person — the equivalent of his taxes and port charges — for a future cruise. RCCL didn’t specify the duration of the vouchers.

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That was more than three years ago.

You can probably guess what happened next, right? When Brady tried to redeem the voucher, RCCL informed him it had expired. Long ago.

“I was not informed of this one-year expiration,” he says. “Royal Caribbean has documentation of my travel plans and exact monies spent but refuses to give me anything beyond a $50 voucher to use on the ship after I book, and fund, another cruise.”

A $50 voucher, after having spent $1,385 for a cruise, isn’t much. I recommended that Brady contact someone at a higher level at Royal Caribbean. He did.

Here’s the cruise line’s response:

I am apologize for any confusion regarding the credit for a future cruise that was initially offered that the time of canceling, but I am very glad to hear that you are feeling much better at this time.

Please note the initial credit that was offered was in the amount of $171 per person to be used up to a year after its issuing date. This information was relayed to your Travel Agent at the time of issue. Unfortunately, that credit expired on 1/9/2009, and is now unavailable for use.

While we are unfortunately unable to accommodate your request for a full credit for another cruise, due to the inconvenience you experienced in trying to redeem these credits, as a one time exception, I would like to reissue the credits in the amount in which they were initially given at $171 per person.

These credits will be issued for your use on another Royal Caribbean International sailing. Please note that the $50.00 Credits previously offered will be inactivated.

In the future, I would like to kindly advise that buying our CruiseCare Insurance could be very helpful. In addition to offering travel insurance for our guests in the event that a medical illness or hospitalization occurs, it also includes trip cancellation and interruption as well as baggage protection.

Under this CruiseCare coverage, guests’ who elect to purchase the insurance, and find a need to cancel their cruise due to unforeseen circumstances are entitled to a refund or credit of their cancellation fees up to the total cost of the trip.

Alright, aside from this grammatically troublesome reply, Brady is back to square one — with credit for his port taxes and fees.

I like the fact that he tried to ask for a $1,385 credit (after all, you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take, right?). I think RCCL could have offered him some kind of voucher beyond the $171, given that he had to cancel his cruise for reasons beyond his control. I often hear cruise lines saying that to do so would “undermine” the value of travel insurance.

That’s nonsense. Thanks to their fine print, many travel insurance policies don’t need any help from cruise lines in “undermining” their policies. But I digress.

And how about Brady’s travel agency? Tsk, tsk. They should have let him know about the expiring vouchers, don’t you think?

Is getting the $171 back for a year enough compensation?

(Photo: steamboat sorg/Flickr Creative Commons)

49 thoughts on “Is this enough compensation? He waited too long to use his cruise voucher

  1. When I read the subject I thought, there was a 1 year expiration date – that’s pretty standard.  I wonder if he read the fine print, or just assumed because no one told him, that there was no expiration date.  I thought it was very generous of RCCL to give him back the inital voucher. 

    Chris, as for your comments about the initial compensation that should have been taken up 3 years ago.

  2. Is OP out of his mind? Vouchers expire and if you actually bothered to look at them, you would know.
    As for the original compensation, this is what travel insurance is for, and although he certainly can ask for a full refund (or whatever else), he can’t really expect it at all.

  3. I’m with the Cruise line on this one. 3 years is a *long* time to wait to redeem a voucher. Vouchers are like coupons to me so by making that association, I’ve trained myself to treat them as expiring quickly, conditional, etc.

  4. First, it’s not nonsense that giving stuff away for free (in this case, vouchers) undermines the selling of things (insurance) – it’s basic economics.

    Second, you gloss over the fact that this guy used a travel agent (see the cruise line’s response) and that the expiration information was given to the agent. That’s who the OP should be going after (if anyone).

    Finally, I’ve been reading your Troubleshooter column in the Philadelphia Inquirer for years and I’ve been reading you online for a while and something seems to have changed. You used to hold the travel industry accountable for their mistakes, but you’d also call the travellers to task if they had fault or asked for too much. And you’d always make it clear that when the industry offered a “one time exception” when they didn’t need to, the traveller should be thankful. Lately, though, it seems as if the traveller has little to no responsibility and the industry gets a black eye for not bending over backward and holding people’s hands through the entire experience. Maybe my perceptions are off, but is it possible that you’re becoming too invested in one side of the argument over the other?

    1. Not really sure how to respond to your accusation that I’ve gone soft, except to say that this isn’t a Travel Troubleshooter column. That one appears every Friday on this site and Sunday’s in the Inquirer.

      1. Absherlock has a good point Chris.  This one isn’t even close. You appear to be losing the appearance of a credible balance with your comments.  Without care that is a short step from being viewed as shrill and indiscriminately attacking, even when it is not deserved and with that down goes your credibility.

        1. Let me save you and @9403e25da4b7599a4ff7d3b6e8af4a97:disqus some work and repeat the most frequent attacks against me on this blog:

          – I am not a real journalist.
          – I have or am about to lose “all” credibility.
          – I am a paid shill for the industry/consumer interests/foreign powers.
          – My blog used to be so much more interesting than it is.

          Did I miss anything?

          1. “- I am a paid shill for the industry/consumer interests/foreign powers.”
            ——————————————————————-
            Always wondered how you could afford to mediate so many cases!  😉

          2. Chris – don’t get me wrong, I think you generally do a great job or I wouldn’t have been reading all this time. I was just pointing out that I had noticed a more pronounced bias (I realize you’re a consumer advocate, so that’s the side you start from and a certain amount of bias is appropriate). I also pointed out that such bias may not exist and that it just may be my perception. I was simply putting it out there to you as an opportunity to say to yourself “Hmmm…maybe I have moved more to one side or the other than I’d like to be”. You may decide you’re right on target – you may decide you need to make an adjustment. But the fact that you automatically dismiss my comment an “attack” (your word) rather than a possibly valid criticism concerns me.

          3. @9403e25da4b7599a4ff7d3b6e8af4a97:disqus Sorry, didn’t mean to imply you were attacking. Criticizing, perhaps. And I can take it. 

            I do appreciate feedback from you and @2b1c0309a18974250008ad358311c4f1:disqus — actually, it’s what makes this site fun.

            I do read every comment and occasionally take what’s written personally, even though I know I shouldn’t.

          4. Fair enough. I didn’t really mean it as a criticism, more of a “psst – your fly’s down”. Unfortunately, there’s no way to whisper here. If I was out of line, I apologize.

            Like I said – I generally think you do a great job and I’ve learned a lot from you. Thanks for your hard work.

    2. The problem with your post is that it is competely devoid of examples.  That’s why Chris cannot possible respond in a meaningful wayl

      1. Well, I think this specific story is an example. Let’s look…

        – OP gets sick (not the cruise line’s fault)
        – OP has no insurance (not the cruise line’s fault)
        – cruise line offers a minor credit anyway (yay, cruise line!)
        – OP’s travel agent fails to inform OP of limitations on credit (not the cruise line’s fault)
        – OP complains and cruise line offers to reinstate credit (yay, cruise line!)

        And Chris’ response?

        “I think RCCL could have offered him some kind of voucher beyond the $171, given that he had to cancel his cruise for reasons beyond his control.”

        As to the insurance the OP opted not to buy?

        ” I often hear cruise lines saying that to do so would “undermine” the value of travel insurance.
        That’s nonsense. Thanks to their fine print, many travel insurance policies don’t need any help from cruise lines in “undermining” their policies. But I digress.”

        How’s that for an example?

        1. “cruise line offers a minor credit anyway (yay, cruise line!)”

          I just want to echo Mark K’s point that the minor credit was for taxes and port charges which the cruise line presumably no longer had to pay once the OP cancelled.  I would hardly say “yay cruise line” for pocketing funds that were collected on behalf of local authorities and then issuing a “refund” by expiring voucher instead of a cash.

          Of course, I also agree with those who’ve said that the time to complain about RCCL’s offer was in 2008 and not in 2011.

  5. “This information was relayed to your Travel Agent at the time of issue.”
    – – – — – – – – – — –
    Who was the travel agent?  An online agency (i.e. Orbitz, Expedia, etc.)? Or a brick & mortar agent?  Regardless, it was the travel agent who dropped the ball about the vouchers NOT RCCL.  Since the cruise was purchased through a travel agent, RCCL gave the terms of the vouchers, etc. to the travel agent since the travel agent was representating the OP in this matter.  This is no different if you were using a real estate agent, a lawyer, etc., the other party is going to speak with your representation.  It is not the fault of RCCL if the OP elected to purchase the cruise from an online travel agency with their customer service department located in India or the PI or a brick & mortar travel agent with lousy follow-up customer skills.

    How about going after the travel agent?  It is my guess that they don’t have the deep pockets like RCCL.

  6. Funny that even the second time around they didn’t provide an expiration date on the credits (at least not in the correspondence).  Word to the wise Gregg: if you’re going to use them, use them quick!

  7. I think re-instating the vouchers undermined the value of the cruise-line.  But as it is a business opportunity, and will probably net them more money when Brady re-books, I see why they did it.
     
    I have never heard of or seen any voucher that didn’t expire.  A voucher is like an un cashed check, it’s a liability on the cruise lines account.  I applaud companies for giving people a year to use most vouchers, I feel that really does help the consumer as they can re-use it if their vacation time is seasonal.  It also hurts the company to hold outstanding liabilities so long, and makes balancing the books more painful.
     
    I am not sure why there is shame on the agency, for all we know he used some on-line booking site, and whatever information was relayed, fell into cyberspace.  I don’t see how it would be any agency’s responsibility to notify Brady that a voucher that he has in hand, is going to expire.  If Brady has the voucher, Brady should know how to use it, and I don’t see how any reasonable person would think it would not expire.

  8. 3 years is WAY too long to try to use a voucher.  Would you hold on to a gift card for 3 years?  A check?  A credit to a store?  I would think you’d ask what the expiry date is, not just assume it NEVER expires. 

    1. Vouchers for future travel issued by airlines, cruise lines etc, for the most part, are valid for a period of one year from the date of issue. Yes, a few months over that limit the company’s can bend a few rules, however, three years is a stretch. It is unfortunate that Brady lost most of his money due to illness, however, this is exactly what cancellation insurance is for. You just never know what will happen, and playing “Russian Roulette” often backfires as in Brady’s case.

    2. I wouldn’t hold on to a gift card for 3 years, but that’s primarily because I wouldn’t want to risk having the store go out of business. Some states have enacted legislation banning expiration dates on gift cards, which I wholly support. If I buy a gift card and it doesn’t get used for 3 years, the company actually benefits, as $X 3 years ago is worth more than $X is today.

      Now, I wouldn’t say that a voucher issued by a company is the same as a gift card that someone buys. OTOH, I think a similar common-sense conclusion applies: I doubt cruise prices went down compared to three years ago, and I doubt a $171 voucher is worth more today than it was 3 years ago. In fact, I would bet money that it’s worth less.

    3. 1. I live in a state where gift cards are not allowed to expire. So yes, I will hang on to a gift card/coupon/voucher until I need it, or until the coupon/voucher says it expires. No expiration date=No expiration.
      2. This is Greg(g) Brady we are talking about. We know he’s always up to something. 🙂

      1. @217ce5b97d2c79f082c2bfbfa80bf30b:disqus “No expiration date” doesn’t protect you if the company goes belly up or files bankruptcy protection. Hence the reason I try and use a gift card as soon as possible

      1. I am quite sure that isn’t true. I heard from a lawyer that checks are valid indefinitely, but some banks just don’t want to deal with them after a 1 year period and it is just good manners to give someone a heads up when you are about to cash a year-old check.

        I recently cashed a more-than-a-year-old check from my Father (I called and gave a heads up) and my bank didn’t even bat an eye. It just handed me money.

  9. To spin a phrase: “The voucher is evil and must be punished.”

    That said, waiting three years to use the vouchers is excessive. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he was informed of the expiration by his travel agent, but after this much time simply forgot about it.

  10. Had the question been “has he been compensated enough”, the answer would have been no. But Royal Carribean did enough (and then more) for him ! His travel agent , clearly not  !…

  11. Re-issuing the $171 credit was fine.  And he needs to find a new travel agent.

    Don’t beat up on trip insurance so much… using the stats you provided I believe in one of your own articles, around 10-15% of policies result in a claim and around 85% of those claims are approved.  That sounds pretty darn useful to me. If you refuse to buy the policy, and you get burned due to something that would have been covered, I have little sympathy. The cruise line sells those policies for a reason…

    Also, most 1st-party trip insurance policies now provide Cancel For Any Reason coverage as part of the standard package.  That gets you a 75-100% cruise credit if you cancel up to some minimal amount of time before the cruise.  That covers most reasons you might need to cancel.  (Was this the case three years ago?  I don’t know.)

    A hospitalization would be a covered reason under almost ANY trip insurance policy.  And most 3rd-party policies will ignore pre-existing conditions if you purchase the policy promptly after deposit.

    1. Without knowing if the OP was given the information regarding the expiration date, it is unfair to blame his travel agent.  What I find puzzling, is the cruise line’s comment that they told the agent the expiration date.  This is not common practice as a letter usually is sent outlining the rules of use on the credit.  Something isn’t being fully disclosed and perhaps the OP tossed the information given regarding the expiration and IMHO, it is stupid for the cruise line to give out a voucher without this clearly stated right on the voucher.  The last credit I got from RCCL on behalf of a client wasn’t a voucher but a dated letter with all the needed information for future use.

  12. This guy missed the cruise due to illness. He probably had to provide a doctors letter in order to get ANYTHING back. That should have been a red flag for him to ask questions about terms of the refund he was being offered. 3 years later?- give me a break. If he knew enough to write to you, he should know better.

  13. So, let me get this straight…
    He could not sail THREE years ago due to a medical condition, agreed to accept a $171 voucher for taxes and port charges, tries to redeem the vouchers THREE years later, then tries to make a case for a FULL credit for a cruise because he was never told the vouchers had an expiration date?

    That’s ridiculous!

    On a separate note, I agree with Crissy on this one, the question, the issue whether the voucher was enough compensation is old news, should have been addressed 3 years ago, not now.

  14. Don’t moderate this one. One-year expiration dates is standard. Did he really thing he had endless access to RCCL’s vouchers? Let’s be real here… did he realistically think he could have waited 10 or 20 years to redeem them and it would still be ok? It’s his fault for not reading the details, not to pass the buck to someone else saying it’s their problem. Endless expiration should have sounded too good to be true and raised some red flags.

  15. I’ll be in the minority, but he should get a full refund. If you can produce a vetted doctors note for a serious illness, the cruise line should refund the total or offer a full voucher on a case by case basis. Not to people who are trying to game the system, but to those who miss because of valid reasons.

    I don’t think I’ll ever go on a cruise, seems like people have more trouble with them than any other type of vacation.

    1. Why should a cruise line be punished by giving a full refund because the passenger got sick BEFORE he was on the cruise? It’s not the cruise line’s fault or responsibility. The OP needs to learn his lesson here. RCCL was more than generous to offer a voucher in the first place, which they were not required to provide for his non-refundable fare.

    2. Unsold cruise cabins are like yesterday’s newspaper or empty airline seats. Depending on how far in advance the OP canceled his penalty could have been anything from about $100 up to the full price of the cruise. Since he is asking for a full refund I’m guessing that he canceled less than 30 days prior to departure.  Such late notice puts the company at risk of losing all revenue from his booking. As Monica has said, why should the cruise line be punished for his illness and failure to buy travel insurance (preferably from a provider other than the cruise line).

  16. And how does any one know if the travel agent didn’t provided this man with the information regarding the expiration date?  The travel agent obviously went to bat for him and got him these vouchers in the first place.  Could the OP have forgotten this detail that could have been provided to him or tried to go around the expiration because it wasn’t on the voucher and 3 years later it was worth the shot? 

  17. You know, I don’t think Chris has gone soft at all.  I think he tries to be fair, and show both sides of the coin in every post I’ve read.  The fact that he leaves it up to you on if he should mediate in about 90% of the situations shows that he cares about your opinions as well.  Maybe Chris should stop with the polls and leave your opinions out of it.  Personally, I would like to see the polls go altogether when it comes to him mediating a case because I am quite sure that the person coming to Chris for help doesn’t really give a hoot about your feelings on the matter.  The fact that he won’t mediate if the poll has too many no votes should speak volumes to you about how much he values your opinions.

  18. First of all, the taxes and port charges should have been refunded as CASH not useless vouchers.  Since the OP didn’t sail, the cruise line didn’t have to pay those items and this is an unfair enrichment. 
     
    I can agree that, while it is disappointing to the OP that he didn’t receive a full refund when he didn’t sail, it may not have been possible for the cruise line to rebook his cabin before the ship sailed and they would have lost out on that income.
     
    Were the vouchers given directly to the OP or were they sent to the travel agent who booked the cruise?  Maybe the OP never saw the vouchers and was truly unaware of the expiration (although most people are aware that vouchers are not good forever).  Maybe it took 3 years before he recovered from his illness enough to be able to cruise again.  There are a lot of questions unanswered. 

    Trip insurance would have been helpful, but I find it annoying that the cruise line basically said “too bad and you should have spent more on our insurance policy that probably wouldn’t have paid you anything anyway.”  Just another reason why I don’t think I will be cruising any time soon.

  19. At first blush, this is an easy one because the OP got what he originally lost, vouchers for the port fees and insurance.

    However, there was the matter of the illness.  What I don’t understand is why he waited three years to make an issue of this?  Did he just become angry again and decided, “In for a penny, in for a pound”?

    I have to give kudos to the cruise line for the note you included here.  It was obvious they didn’t send a form letter because they addressed his illness.  Nice touch, IMHO.

    I’m left wondering why cruise lines aren’t more like airlines (and I HATE that I’m defending ANYTHING the airlines do) and keep the travel in the form of a credit for a year if you don’t take your flight?  Why is it on cruise lines if you miss your sail date, you miss out on what is always an expensive undertaking and they refuse to return your money, even as a credit for a future cruise?  Unless the OP had an illness for three years that prevented him from traveling, and that’s not unlikely if he had a chronic, serious illness, he should have re-booked within the one year time frame.

    1. With an airline if you miss your flight, there is the possibility that somebody, like a business traveler, could walk up and purchase that seat (or they could give it away to a standby passenger last minute).  With a cruise, that’s not a possibility due to DHS rules on when the manifest must be submitted.  Even if you cancel a few days in advance, it’s not common for people to have the time or money to book a cruise last minute, so the possibility of reselling the cabin is slim to none.  And unlike with an airline, where the seat is most of the revenue, with a cruiseline, the cruisefare isn’t the only revenue they miss out on if they can’t resell the cabin.  It’s also any onboard spending, so usually it’s much more than just the $1000 you paid for the cabin that the cruiselines are out. 

      And cruiselines do have cancellation policies where you can get your money back or at least part of your money back up until a certain date.  It’s just that those timelines are geared to at least give them a chance to resell the cabin (usually full refund before final payment which is typically 60-70 days out, certain percentage back until a few weeks before the cruise).  Sometimes they will bend the rules and give refunds for various legitimate reasons reasons, but the more people complain when they are given refunds they aren’t entitled to, then the less likely it will happen to the next person who might have a reasonable excuse.

  20. I note a lot of the comments include the word “obviously.”  Sorry, but there’s not enough information for anything to be obvious.

    The question is whether getting his $171 voucher reinstated is sufficient compensation.  I say yes — he’s certainly not entitled to anything more than he had before!  Whether or not he should even get that much is not the issue.

    We don’t know whether he’s in physical possession of the voucher, if the voucher actually has an expiration date on it, whether there’s a physical voucher at all or just an electronic credit, whether or not his travel agent told him what he needed to know, whether the cruise line actually did relay the information to the travel agent, or even whether the travel agent is still in business!

  21. Three YEARS?  Does anyone really think that a voucher is good for YEARS?  Ask the OP what about a decade?  What about a voucher from 1976?  Does it need to be increased for inflation?  C’mon – Chris – this one is over the top. 

    What did the voucher say on it?  Thats what is controlling – it probably also has other details like the code to input to get credit that he was not told about when he got it – over the top. 

  22. I never thought I’d say this, but the cruise line has been more than fair. If he canceled last minute due to illness, that makes it difficult for the cruise line to re-sell his room. This is what travel insurance is for. RC has been more than fair, he’s asking for way to much, and I don’t think this one even needs a write-up.

  23. SO TIRED of hearing from these people who refuse to buy travel insurance and then can’t understand why their travel vendors refuse to refund their non-refundable fees.  

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