Is this enough compensation? My wife broke her neck, but my cruise line will only give me a 25 percent refund

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By Christopher Elliott

Jerry McClure and his wife were looking forward to a seven-day western Caribbean cruise on the Holland America Ryndam late last year, when disaster struck. McClure’s wife fell and broke her neck less than a month before they were scheduled to fly to Tampa to board the ship.

McClure believed Holland America would have a heart and allow the couple to reschedule their vacation without paying a penalty on his $1,154 fare. After all, he’d given the company nearly an entire month’s notice of his wife’s medical condition.

But the cruise line had other ideas. In a phone conversation with Holland America, a representative dropped some bad news on an even worse situation, informing McClure they’d have to pay a 75 percent cancellation penalty because they were already into the 28-day cancellation period.

Holland America’s policy stands firm

How about a rain check? No, replied Holland America, this time in writing. The penalty was non-negotiable.

“I was extremely disappointed by that response,” says McClure. “Holland America’s mission is, ‘We not only do things right, we do the right things.’ The right thing would have been to at least give us a rain check on a future cruise. They’ve lost a customer.” (Here’s our guide to resolving your consumer problem.)

True, a 25 percent refund is laughable. But is it wrong?

Technically, no.

The accident happened Dec. 27, and the McClure’s were scheduled to sail Jan. 23. If McClure phoned Holland America on the day of the accident, then he would have missed the 75 percent cancellation window by just a few hours.

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When my advocacy team and I ask cruise lines to bend one of their own rules, we typically get one of two responses: In Holland America’s case, the answer is usually nothing. The company appears to strongly dislike any media meddling in its customers’ affairs, a policy that, although short-sighted, I can understand. (Related: When Holland America says “no problem” maybe there’s a problem.)

The other answer is “no,” but for reasons you might not guess. Cruise lines say making an exception to their policies — even a small one — would “undermine the value of travel insurance.”

Is it enough?

In other words, if cruise lines started bending their rules, then that would remove the incentive for other passengers to purchase cancellation protection plans that are highly profitable for cruise companies.

McClure might have been able to avoid some or all of his problems if he had booked his cruise through a travel agent (some agents have special relationships with cruise lines they can leverage to get a more favorable outcome) or purchased travel insurance (he could have made a claim and salvaged his cruise).

Still, I can see his point of view. He had every intention of making the cruise. Holland America could have easily resold his cabin with 27 days’ notice, which suggests that they might have profited from his wife’s misfortune.

And even if Holland America couldn’t resell his stateroom, what’s the harm in giving this couple a full credit for a future cruise? Given their health problems, it’s the right thing to do, from a customer-service perspective.

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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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