I planned to take a Princess Cruise, not a public bus

Jane Schwalm and her husband had intended to sail from Valparaiso, Chile, to Buenos Aires, Argentina, on a Princess Cruise.Then Princess changed ports, forcing the passengers to travel to San Antonio, Chile, to board the ship. The Schwalms needed transportation to San Antonio – and Princess wouldn’t provide it.

Schwalm contacted our advocates for help after reading about a similar case involving Princess’ sister cruise line Holland America. Unfortunately, Schwalm’s attempt at self-advocacy backfired when she mentioned that other cruisers were facing a similar situation.

Her case stands as a warning that when you’re not a travel agent, it’s important not to come off as though you’re representing other passengers in your communications with a travel company. Otherwise, like Schwalm, you may find yourself marooned in your quest for assistance.

A Princess cruise from Valparaiso

When the Schwalms booked the Princess cruise, they made hotel reservations in Vina del Mar, near Valparaiso, which proved to be nonrefundable. Upon learning that Princess changed ports of embarkation to a new departure point nearly an hour away, Schwalm contacted Princess several times to ask for reimbursement for transportation costs of $100 to San Antonio. She sent the following to Lisa Black, manager of customer relations and communications:

As you remember from a previous correspondence with you, my husband and I and a few of our friends are on the February 14, 2018 cruise out of Valparaiso/Port of San Antonio to Buenos Aires. In addition I am in charge of the Roll Call on Cruise Critic for this cruise.

Despite denials from Princess representatives after many telephone calls, we were recently informed that our port of embarkation has changed from Valparaiso to San Antonio. … Relying on the information you gave us, many of us made nonrefundable hotel reservations in Vina del Mar and Valparaiso prior to our embarkation, positioning us closer to the port. In order to get there we are paying a tour guide for a transfer from Santiago and that transfer for many of us has been prepaid.

Now that [the] embarkation port has changed we find that we will have to pay about $150 to transfer down to San Antonio. … Doing a quick survey through our Roll Call and with the group that I am bringing with me, there are approximately 40 that will need transportation to San Antonio.

I am asking you to consider minimizing our additional expense of getting to San Antonio and offering a complimentary shuttle for my group on February 14, 2018.

I do hope to hear back from you and look forward to working with you in getting us to San Antonio without additional expense to us.

A group advocate?

It’s possible that had Schwalm mentioned only her case to Black and other Princess executives in her communications with the cruise line, she might have succeeded in securing transportation to San Antonio for herself and her husband. But Schwalm is not a travel agent and was not representing the 40 people she claimed would need transportation to San Antonio. Her mention of Cruise Critic may not have helped her case either. Schwalm’s email to Black resulted in a denial of her request for transportation to San Antonio.

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Schwalm then turned to our advocates for help, citing the case we had resolved for Robert Houston, who had faced a similar situation with Holland America. She asked for a small shipboard credit from Princess as a goodwill gesture to reimburse her for her transportation expenses following Princess Cruises’ port changes.

Princess responds

Our advocate Michelle Couch-Friedman reached out to Princess Cruises on Schwalm’s behalf. Princess responded with a recommendation that passengers could take a public bus from Valparaiso to San Antonio for $4. The representative also told Friedman that Houston had received a one-time “special exception” and it would not provide any compensation to Schwalm. Friedman believes that Schwalm’s mention of a large group of passengers led Princess’ executives to believe that granting Schwalm’s request would cause all of the other passengers to make similar requests.

So Schwalm will have to either forfeit her nonrefundable hotel fee in Vina del Mar or take public transportation to San Antonio. Her case is a reminder to advocate only for yourself. If you don’t actually represent other travelers, don’t mention them in communications with your travel company — or none of you will be going anywhere.

Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Elliott.org. Read more of Jennifer's articles here.

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