Since the coronavirus started sinking the cruise industry, we’ve seen travelers make some pretty expensive cancellation mistakes. But Joan Kellert’s story is one of the worst. She lost nearly $9,000 when her travel agent canceled her upcoming cruise before any coronavirus cancellation waiver existed.
Now she wants her money back. But is that even a remote possibility?
Kellert’s tale underscores the coronavirus cancellation confusion that’s rampant not only in the cruise industry but throughout the traveling world. During these bewildering times, it’s more important than ever that consumers educate themselves and become active participants in their travel planning. Unfortunately, as this case will show, even travel professionals may fail to understand the rapidly changing policies.
Planning a cruise before coronavirus appeared on the scene
Last year, long before most travelers had heard anything about the coronavirus, Kellert and her husband decided to take a Caribbean cruise. They booked their journey with a local travel advisor. They decided to splurge and booked the Haven Suite aboard Norwegian Cruise Line’s Epic.
After the couple booked their cruise, they tucked away their confirmation and looked forward to their adventure.
Unfortunately, the coronavirus was already beginning its worldwide devastation and would cause the eventual cancellation of this cruise. But there was no way for the couple to know what was brewing.
Media reports about the dangers of coronavirus — especially on cruises
Sometime in late February, Kellert says that the increasing media reports about the dangers of the coronavirus gave her pause for thought.
“I have medical concerns that would make cruising unwise during the coronavirus pandemic,” Kellert explained. “I decided to call NCL and my travel agent to discuss.”
Kellert called both Norwegian Cruise Line and her agent and asked if any current coronavirus cancellation policies would address the growing problem. At the time, there were none. NCL referred Kellert back to her cruise contract. And when Kellert contacted her travel advisor, she got no more clarity.
Kellert’s travel agent, Lisa, told her that she would check into the problem and get back to her later. Instead, the agent made what proved to be an irrevocable and expensive mistake. In response to Kellert’s coronavirus concern, she processed a full cruise cancellation.
At that time, coronavirus or not, Kellert was in a 100 percent cancellation penalty phase for her cruise.
Kellert had no idea what her travel agent had done until several weeks later.
NCL announces new cancellation waivers
Kellert says she was watching the continued coronavirus cancellation waiver updates in the cruise industry in early March. Suddenly on March 10, she saw what she was looking for. Almost all cruise lines began offering travelers who were concerned over coronavirus cancellation policies that allowed for future cruise credits.
“That sounded great to me,” Kellert recalled. “When NCL offered a future cruise credit for anyone who wanted to cancel their trips, I was ready.”
But when Kellert contacted her travel agent this time to get this deal, she was confronted with bad news.
Her travel agent informed Kellert that she had canceled her cruise weeks before. Now, there was no cruise to cancel. There would be no refund and no future cruise credit.
Who made this coronavirus cruise cancellation mistake?
Kellert says she was incredulous.
“I never told Lisa to cancel our cruise,” Kellert explained. “I simply asked her what our options were when we first became concerned about coronavirus.”
It would appear from the paper trail that a massive misunderstanding occurred at some point during that telephone call. That confusion caused Lisa to cancel Kellert’s cruise even though it was already in a 100 percent penalty phase.
But why would Lisa have canceled this cruise at that point?
Asking the Elliott Advocacy team for help
When Kellert’s plea for help landed on my desk, I was immediately intrigued by her predicament. I reviewed her entire paper trail, and it was clear that she had only been asking for some information from her travel agent. She was concerned about the coronavirus and wanted to know what would happen if it forced her to cancel the cruise. Kellert was not asking to cancel the cruise.
I was perplexed as to why Lisa would have immediately canceled Kellert’s cruise. After all, that cancellation led to a 100 percent penalty. There was no possible benefit for Kellert to cancel at that moment. Lisa should have known that and advised her client not to cancel.
Fact: The only entities that would benefit from this premature cruise cancellation would be NCL and possibly the travel agent.
Something wasn’t adding up. First stop: Lisa, the travel agent.
Canceling this cruise was a mistake from the start
When I reached out to Lisa, I asked her for an explanation for why she canceled Kellert’s cruise on March 2. This was before any coronavirus cancellation waivers were in place and clearly not the time to cancel a cruise.
We’re working on a case that involves your customer, Joan Kellert. She booked a cruise through your agency on NCL scheduled for April 4.
As you know, that cruise is now canceled and all passengers are being offered a full refund OR a future cruise credit with additional onboard credits to be used by December 31, 2022. Ms. Keller is reporting that you told her that she isn’t entitled to any of those choices and that she actually has to pay a full penalty to cancel. Can you please review this case and let us know if you’ve made an error with your response to your customer?
Soon I heard back from Lisa. She said that it was her understanding that Kellert had asked her to cancel the cruise because of her coronavirus concerns.
I asked Lisa for the documentation.
All of our conversations were verbal. She [Kellert] actually called me early on a Sunday morning regarding the need to cancel the cruise because of the coronavirus. I believe there was a lot of confusion when she contacted NCL herself on that day and the information they were giving her and they were giving me was very conflicting. She made several calls to them and it sounded to me that very often they were telling her what she wanted to hear about refunds and options. I know when she called me regarding the cancellation that there was not going to be much in the way of options since she had not purchased travel insurance.
Still, I was hoping to give her the opportunity of rebooking the cruise for a future date and had actually set that up for her for next year. The cruise line denied it and said that was not an available option to her according to the cancellation guidelines in place when she booked the cruise. Unfortunately, the only option she had was to cancel or go on the cruise and risk her health. I hope that helps!
Unfortunately, this response didn’t really help. Kellert did not ask for a cancellation of this cruise. Then just days after Lisa canceled the cruise, NCL offered a very generous coronavirus cancellation policy that would have covered Kellert’s cruise.
New coronavirus cruise cancellation policies for all cruise lines
To add insult to injury, a few days after the 100 percent cruise credit that NCL started offering, the cruise industry screeched to a halt. Every cruise that was scheduled throughout March and into April was canceled. Kellert’s cruise was officially canceled by Norwegian Cruise Line. The travelers who had not previously canceled were owed full refunds from the cruise lines.
Even still, Kellert only was asking for a future cruise credit equal to what she paid for her April adventure. As a long-time cruiser, she was sure that she would be cruising again soon. Unfortunately, because of the cancellation that Lisa processed on March 2, when no coronavirus waivers were in place, Kellert was owed zilch.
Coronavirus fears: Don’t cancel your cruise or any other travel plans too soon
As we’ve repeatedly warned, travelers should not preemptively cancel future trips. If you receive no benefit from your cancellation, then you must let it ride. Wait it out.
Be careful travelers; it’s you against them. Every travel provider is trying their best to keep your funds in their pocket. It’s survival of the fittest. Or a game of chicken, whichever you prefer. If you don’t mind leaving your funds with your travel provider, then please do. But some consumers, especially the ones with giant deposits like Kellert, need a refund.
I first reached out to NCL. Their team is always reasonable and helpful when something has gone wrong on their end.
But in this case, the travel agent who made the mistake was not an NCL consultant. I was just hoping for a goodwill gesture.
Unfortunately, that did not result in a successful outcome. With the thousands and thousands of legitimate cancellation requests hitting the cruise industry during coronavirus, goodwill gestures are impossible to obtain.
So I went back to Lisa. To her credit, she did the right thing.
Errors and omissions insurance can protect the travel advisor and traveler
In the end, errors and omissions insurance saved the day here. This type of insurance protects travelers and travel advisors against mistakes.
Let’s face it; everyone makes mistakes from time to time. If you’re employing a travel advisor, you want to make sure he or she carries errors and omissions insurance.
Although Lisa maintains that she did nothing wrong — she still believes that Kellert told her to cancel the cruise — she agreed to file a claim with her company.
I apologize as it has been a crazy week canceling literally every single vacation for 2020 due to the virus. I believe my host agency does carry errors & omissions insurance.
And so I encouraged Lisa to make that claim since it appears she had canceled this cruise prematurely. That was a mistake that cost the Kellerts almost $9,000. And this is a perfect illustration of the importance of errors and omissions insurance.
The good news: You’re getting a refund for your canceled cruise!
In a few weeks we received the good news:
Good news. I am getting $6,758 from Lisa’s insurance company!!!
How can I thank you enough. Without you, this would not have been.
Again thank you so much for all your help.
Best regards. Joan kellert
And with that reimbursement plus an NCL refund for the refundable parts of the cruise, Kellert has received almost a full refund. Success!
Make sure you don’t make an expensive coronavirus cruise cancellation mistake
There are several things you can do to make sure that you don’t end up in this predicament.
- Make sure your travel agent maintains errors and omissions insurance
This is critical. If you’re planning a vacation and relying on a travel agent to book your trip, please check that he/she maintains this insurance. Everyone makes mistakes from time to time. Errors and omissions insurance protects you the traveler and the agent from the devastating impact of human error.
- Do not cancel too soon
Unfortunately, we are all in a strange limbo. None of us, at this moment, knows when the coronavirus restrictions will be lifted. It is essential that, as travelers, none of us cancel before the travel provider does if we want a full refund. You may wish to bookmark the article in the following link so that you can check the major travel providers’ coronavirus cancellation policies daily.
- Do not cancel if there is no benefit to you
Please do not cancel your cruise or other travel plans if there is no benefit to you. Many travel providers seem to be encouraging their customers to cancel before they must do so. Don’t fall into the trap. Only cancel if you can get a refund or future travel credit.
- Make sure to communicate clearly in writing
Stay off the phone when communicating with your travel provider. You need to make sure that you are clearly communicating all your intentions in writing. In this case, there was a “she said/she said” situation. That problem would have been completely eliminated if all communication had been in writing. (Michelle Couch-Friedman, Elliott Advocacy)