What happens if your travel agent cancels your cruise by mistake and then quits his job? Unfortunately, Margaret Prendergast knows very well — you can quickly lose thousands of your hard-earned dollars.
Prendergast has been patiently waiting since March for Norwegian Cruise Line to process a refund for a cruise it canceled. But because her agent erroneously canceled her cruise several days before the cruise line, it’s a refund NCL will never send.
Now she’s asking the Elliott Advocacy team if we can somehow retrieve her lost $5,587. Can we do it? (Reprint)
Prendergast’s tale underscores the value of engaging a professional travel advisor who has a proven track record — and Errors and Omissions insurance. If you don’t, you could be in for a giant financial nightmare, just like Prendergast.
Looking forward to a cruise with friends before the coronavirus crisis
In January, before the coronavirus crisis began, Prendergast, her husband and three other couples decided to plan a vacation. The group booked a 7-day cruise through the Hawaiian Islands on NCL’s Pride of America.
For the next six weeks or so, the Prendergasts and their friends were excitedly looking forward to their Polynesian adventure. But then, sometime in February, reports about the coronavirus and its creeping reach began to alarm the group. That’s when they started to question their vacation choice.
Then came March 8.
The Department of State warns against cruising because of the coronavirus
With growing concern and resignation that their Hawaiian cruise was a no-go, Prendergast read the warning:
Passengers on Cruise Ships
U.S. citizens, particularly travelers with underlying health conditions, should not travel by cruise ship. CDC notes increased risk of infection of COVID-19 in a cruise ship environment. To curb the spread of COVID-19, many countries have implemented strict screening procedures that have denied port entry rights to ships and prevented passengers from disembarking. In some cases, local authorities have permitted disembarkation but subjected passengers to local quarantine procedures. While the U.S. government has evacuated some cruise ship passengers in recent weeks, repatriation flights should not be relied upon as an option for U.S. citizens under the potential risk of quarantine by local authorities.
This is a fluid situation. CDC notes that older adults and travelers with underlying health issues should avoid situations that put them at increased risk for more severe disease. This entails avoiding crowded places, avoiding non-essential travel such as long plane trips, and especially avoiding embarking on cruise ships. Passengers with plans to travel by cruise ship should contact their cruise line companies directly for further information and continue to monitor the Travel.state.gov website and see the latest information from the CDC.
Waiting it out — will the coronavirus cause the cruise line to cancel the cruise?
It was now a foregone conclusion that the friends would not be cruising the Hawaiian Islands in April. They all fell into a category of travelers that the U.S. State Department and CDC identified as being at high risk for the coronavirus. But Prendergast also noted that NCL had not yet officially canceled the cruise, despite the coronavirus warnings.
“I did not want to cancel the cruise until I was sure that I would receive a full refund,” Prendergast recalled. “So, I decided just to keep my eye on the situation.”
Prendergast was wise not to preemptively cancel her cruise after the initial coronavirus warning. Canceling any vacation plans too soon is something we’ve been trying to warn our readers about since mid-March.
After she read the warnings, Prendergast knew she wouldn’t be aboard the Pride of America in April. But she also knew that she had time to wait it out and see what NCL intended to do about the cruise.
Unfortunately, her agent wasn’t on the same page as Prendergast, but she didn’t know it — yet.
This is what happens when your agent cancels your cruise too soon
Prendergast was about to find out what happens when your agent cancels your cruise without your knowledge.
Just five days after the Department of State warned against taking cruises because of the coronavirus, the entire cruise industry shut down. The announcement that NCL had officially canceled her cruise brought Prendergast relief. She knew that the cruise line owed her a full refund, and she was pleased she had waited it out.
Since the coronavirus shut down the entire travel industry, thousands of requests for help hit our helpline each month. A large percentage of these requests involve consumers who canceled their plans before their travel provider. Unfortunately, we cannot extract refunds from a company if the traveler initiated the cancellation.
So it’s crucial that before you decide to cancel any vacation plans, that you confirm the terms of the cancellation.
But Prendergast had not canceled her cruise before NCL, so she was confident she would soon receive the full $8,562. A little over 90 days after she received word that NCL had canceled the cruise, she opened her mailbox and found a shocking surprise.
Initially, Prendergast was pleased to see the envelope from NCL after such a long wait. But when she opened it, she couldn’t believe her eyes. The cruise line only refunded 25 percent of her cruise fare plus her prepaid shore excursions. The letter indicated that she had canceled the cruise within a 75 percent penalty phase. As a result, the refund was just $2,975.
What was going on?
“I never asked my agent to cancel the cruise!”
Prendergast picked up the phone and tried to reach her agent at iCruise, the booking company she used. That’s when she discovered that he no longer worked for the company.
“I spoke to someone on the phone at iCruise and explained that our travel companions received their full refunds,” Prendergast recalled. “But we only received a partial refund of $2,975 since NCL says we canceled before it did. I never canceled this cruise and I never had any contact with NCL directly.”
Prendergast says it was impossible to reach anyone at iCruise who could do anything.
“One representative said I would still be getting a full refund,” she reported. “But then, when I called back, another agent said that I would not be getting a refund.”
Trying to follow all the self-advocacy guidance in Christopher’s article, Prendergast sent pleas for help to NCL and iCruise.
She received no response at all from iCruise. But NCL sent an ominous response. That letter reiterated that she should expect no further refund from the cruise line. It also indicated that she should speak directly to iCruise about what happened.
Unfortunately, we cannot discuss further nor assist in your inquiry due to our contracts made with all travel agencies that prevent us from disclosing to a direct guest information on this matter. (NCL to Prendergast)
Now Prendergast was stuck. The agent she believed had canceled her cruise too soon no longer worked for iCruise, and no one else at the company would help. She racked her brain — what to do next. And that’s when she got the idea to ask the Elliott Advocacy team for help retrieving her $5,587.
I did not cancel this cruise. I need my $5,587 refund!
When Prendergast’s request for help landed in my inbox, she was desperate. She had already tried unsuccessfully to escalate her request and find anyone at NCL or iCruise who could help with her refund.
“I didn’t cancel this cruise,” Prendergast insisted. “But I’m being charged a $5,587 penalty. I need help!”
The problem was that she had no correspondence with iCruise. None. I saw no indication that she had canceled the cruise. She also had nothing from her agent showing that he canceled the cruise. In fact, she only had documentation from NCL that clarified that her cruise was canceled before NCL canceled it.
I asked Prendergast to go back through her records and try to find anything from iCruise. She did so but found nothing from the agent except the initial confirmation. But then she asked her friends if they had anything from him.
That’s when it became clear what happened.
iCruise agent: “I’ll take care of this” (canceling the cruise)
“Michelle, I don’t have anything from Juan,” Prendergast told me. “But here is something he sent my friends after they asked him about canceling their cruise.”
The email is dated March 9 and is addressed to Prendergast’s friend, Karen.
I will take care of this. The cruise has been changing their cancellation policies daily. We can’t make any adjustments on any reservations until tomorrow, Tuesday. I will have to contact them tomorrow and cancel the booking. According to what the cruise line is saying is that there will be a full refund. (Juan, iCruise specialist)
The information Juan gave to Karen in this email is incorrect. NCL has not provided refunds for any passengers who canceled before the cruise line officially did. It is unclear where Juan received his information, but when he canceled the group’s cruise on March 10, he instantly put all of their refunds in jeopardy.
Prendergast explained that Karen was not speaking on her behalf, so it’s unclear why Juan canceled the entire group’s cruise.
It was time to reach out to both NCL and iCruise and find out how to make Prendergast whole.
NCL: We processed this passenger’s refund based on the cancellation date
I first contacted the executive team at NCL. After a short time, I received a response that their team had reviewed Prendergast’s case and she had received a refund based on the cancellation date. According to her contract, the $2,975 completed NCL’s obligation to her. The cruise line considered her case closed.
Asking iCruise: Did your agent cancel this cruise by mistake?
Next, I contacted iCruise. Prendergast had virtually nothing to explain what had happened with her case. So the position of iCruise was unclear.
One of your customers, Margaret Prendergast, contacted us. She booked a cruise for April on NCL using a former agent of yours, Juan ####. On March 14, NCL canceled this couple’s cruise, which entitled them to a full refund from the cruise line. I’ve spoken to NCL on behalf of the couple. Their team has confirmed that it processed a refund on June 27. However, the couple has only received a small portion of the total cost of the cruise. NCL says that your agent, Mr. #### canceled the cruise before NCL did. Ms. Prendergast says that she never instructed the agent to cancel the cruise.
As this involves almost $6,000, this is a serious problem that we would like your team to investigate. Does your company have anything in writing that shows this couple asked to cancel this cruise before NCL? If not, does your agency carry Errors and Omissions insurance for errors made by representatives that result in a loss for a customer? (Michelle to iCruise)
Within one hour, Prendergast received a phone call from an executive at iCruise. This person wanted her to call iCruise to discuss. But this time, she knew to stay off the phone. Prendergast sent me a copy of the voice mail from iCruise. The message was polite but didn’t explain the missing refund or Juan’s incorrect guidance to Karen. In fact, the caller insinuated that NCL had mishandled her case.
Prendergast had no desire to go another phone round with anyone at iCruise and declined the call. She now knew the critical importance of keeping a paper trail.
Can Errors and Omissions insurance save the day?
So I reached out to our contact at iCruise again. I explained that Prendergast wanted to keep everything in writing now.
Margaret just sent me a copy of your voicemail to her. We’re recommending that she keep all correspondence with iCruise in writing. It’s unclear to her (and to our team) what the position is of iCruise in regards to her case. I spoke to our executive contact at NCL and so when you say that NCL isn’t handling this properly, I’m unclear what you mean. We really need to know what your company’s position is concerning Margaret’s reservation. NCL says that Juan canceled the reservation before the cruise line did. Margaret has no written correspondence with iCruise about her cruise’s cancellation. But NCL has explained what happened that led to a 75% cancellation penalty.
We need to know: Does iCruise have anything in writing from Margaret asking Juan to cancel her cruise in March? And if not, is there an Errors & Omissions policy that can help here? This is an elderly couple who really need that $6,000 returned. And if it was a mistake of the agent that caused them to lose that money, then hopefully an insurance policy will be able to get it back. Thank you for your help. (Michelle to iCruise)
And soon, things started looking up for Prendergast.
iCruise: We are also advocates for our customers
Our contact at iCruise assured me her team would investigate and find out where things went wrong.
Within a few days, Prendergast’s refund was on the way. iCruise says that Juan did not cancel the cruise on March 10 as his email indicated he intended to do. Their team continues to maintain that NCL made an error and processed a cancellation when Juan was only calling to inquire about a cancellation.
First, I would like to apologize that Mrs. Prendergast felt the need to find an alternative source to assist with this issue. We, too, consider ourselves advocates for our clients and, even though it has taken some time to resolve this issue, we are all fighting for the same result.
It is important to note that our sales agent called the cruise line on March 12 to simply inquire about canceling the reservation. He did not authorize cancellation. We contacted the cruise line on multiple occasions and were advised that Mrs. Prendergast would receive a full refund. (iCruise to Michelle)
The good news: Here is your $5,587 refund for the canceled cruise
The final message from iCruise stated that NCL agreed to honor the refund. NCL has not indicated that this is the case. But what I do know is that iCruise sent Prendergast a refund for the $5,587 balance. She doesn’t care who issued the refund. She’s just happy she can put this awful experience behind her and deposit her check into her bank account right where it belongs.
What to do if an agent cancels your cruise by mistake
- Use a professional travel advisor
Using a travel advisor who specializes in cruises can lessen the chance of mistakes that can cost you money. You can find a professional agent through the TravelSense website, sponsored by the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA).
- Make sure your advisor carries Errors and Omissions insurance
If you’re spending thousands of dollars on a vacation, it’s critical to make sure that your travel advisor carries Errors and Omissions insurance. This insurance protects your vacation investment from any errors that your agent might make — like canceling your cruise before the cruise line while you’re in a penalty phase. A professional advisor will always carry an E&O policy for your protection and theirs.
- Clearly communicate your intentions
In this case, Prendergast did not have much contact with her agent after confirming the cruise. It’s important, especially during the coronavirus crisis, that you clearly communicate your intentions to your agent. It’s best to keep everything in writing so that you have a record of your correspondence. Should a missing refund become an issue later, you’ll need that paper trail.
- Read your cruise contract
Travelers must stay active participants in their vacation planning. Reading the contract associated with your cruise or other tour is critical. You want to make sure that you understand the terms and penalties before making any decisions about canceling.
- Don’t cancel too soon
Prendergast’s friends did ask to cancel their cruise too soon — and they did it in writing. It’s unclear why they received a full refund and Prendergast had to fight for hers. But Prendergast had the right idea. With the travel industry currently in shambles, it’s critical that you not cancel your vacation before the travel provider does. If you make a mistake and cancel even one day too soon, unfortunately, you’re likely to be out of luck. (Michelle Couch-Friedman, Elliott Advocacy)
For more information about cruising, see our ultimate guide: This is everything you need to know about taking a cruise.