“Apparently with Carnival, the passenger does not always come first”

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By Christopher Elliott

Kristen Hernandez thought she’d found a bargain on the Carnival Breeze next month. Or, to be more precise, she thought her travel agent had found one.

She booked two separate balcony cabins for her 8-night Eastern Caribbean cruise for $3,440 each.

Turns out she and her travel agent were wrong

“After researching the Internet, we found out that Carnival Cruise Lines had slashed the prices due to the fact of the many mishaps,” she says. “Yesterday I went online on the Carnival website and found out that the balcony cabins are now selling for $2,319. That is a difference of over $1,100 per cabin.”

Hernandez assumed that Carnival would adjust the rate on her cruise, so she contacted the agency through which she’d purchased the vacation and asked for a partial refund.

“I was informed that they have a contract with Carnival Cruise Lines stating that they are not allowed to change the rate,” she says.

Disappointed, she sent an email to Carnival asking it to reconsider. Here’s its response:

We are truly sorry to disappoint you and your clients by not being able to provide a rate adjustment on their reservations for the June 22, 2013 sailing of the Carnival Breeze. I hope that by providing you with an explanation you will better understand why we cannot honor your request.

In 2009, we introduced a pricing program called Early Saver that provides an attractive fare with a price protection feature for guests who book early and purchase this promotion. This means that if a lower fare is offered on the sailing (up to two business days prior to sailing), Early Saver guests are eligible to receive the difference as an On Board Credit. The program, however, does have certain restrictions like a non-refundable deposit and admin fees if changes are made to the booking.

Global Rescue is the world’s leading provider of medical, security, evacuation and travel risk management services. Founded in 2004, Global Rescue has exclusive relationships with the Johns Hopkins Emergency Medicine Division of Special Operations and Elite Medical Group. Global Rescue provides best-in-class services that identify, monitor and respond to client medical and security crises. Learn more about Global Rescue.

Early Saver is a very successful program because our guests really value the price assurance feature. In order to protect the integrity of the Early Saver program, we are obligated to our customers not to make price adjustments to bookings made on non-Early Saver fares (including Past Guest fares).

Despite our best efforts to anticipate demand, at times we are forced to lower fares closer to sailing. Nobody dislikes the lower prices more than we do, but occasionally our “crystal ball” is a little cloudy. Regrettably, this means that guests who do not purchase Early Saver are not eligible for a price reduction, onboard, or any other compensation for the decrease in rates.

The promotion is available up to 5 months prior to sailings that are 6 nights or longer; the Early Saver promotion was available at the time your booking was made on November 21, 2012. However, the booking was made under the Group rates and promotion that your agency was able to secure for the group. Since the Early Saver promotion had not been selected at the time of making this booking, or had not been changed to the Early Saver promotion at any time that it was still open on the sailing, we cannot apply the price protection feature to this booking, as it is only applicable to those guests who accepted the harsher terms and conditions associated with this promotion in exchange for the price protection feature.

We certainly understand any disappointment it may cause when rates are decreased, Ms. Hernandez. We value your business and hope the next time you consider booking with us, you will be sure to make reservations under the Early Saver promotion so you are able to utilize the price protection feature.

In closing, we ask that you not let this experience color all the fun that is in store for you when you sail. We appreciate your support and would very much like to count on your continued loyalty.

That didn’t sit well with Hernandez, who appealed the decision in writing to Carnival and also contacted her local newspaper, the Miami Herald. The Herald’s business editor referred the case to me, and I circled back to Hernandez.

“What’s more upsetting than writing e-mails to Carnival Cruise Lines and not getting responses?” asked Hernandez. “Finding out that the balcony you overpaid for is the most basic balcony available. I have been trying to get my issue resolved with Carnival, yet I have not heard a satisfying response. Apparently, with Carnival, the passenger does not always come first.” (Related: Did Carnival do enough for their Destiny passengers.)

We receive many complaints about Carnival. The terms and conditions of Carnival’s Early Saver offers are spelled out clearly on its site. But did Hernandez’s travel agency take the time to explain the rules of her cruise fare? Perhaps not as clearly as she would have liked it to.

Dynamic pricing

This case offers two important lessons. The first is the importance of communication. Travel agents do their best to disclose the terms of everything you buy, but they don’t — they can’t — explain everything verbally. It’s up to you, the customer, to review the fine print and ask any questions you might have.

The second lesson? Never look back. Hernandez’ enjoyment of her Caribbean cruise has been tarnished by the knowledge that someone else paid more than one grand less for the same cabin. But thanks to dynamic pricing used throughout the travel industry, rates can change minute to minute. That’s why you should never look back, especially when it’s your vacation. (Here’s our ultimate guide to taking a cruise.)

That said, I can’t blame Hernandez for doing what she did. I probably would have checked the rates too, just out of curiosity.

My advocacy team and I contacted Carnival on Hernandez’s behalf to see if there was any kind of goodwill adjustment to her fare it might make.

A Carnival supervisor called her and restated the company’s position. “In his words, ‘How fair would it be if I did this for you and not the other thousands that are having the same problem?’,” she says. “I was appalled at that answer. They do not care for the average Joe. I’m very upset.”

Should Carnival have turned down Kristen Hernandez' request?

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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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