If you hate your next shore excursion and the cruise line refuses your refund request, don’t expect a credit card dispute to save the day. It won’t. Joseph Campo can tell you.
After a salmon-fishing excursion in Alaska went all wrong, Campo asked Princess Cruises for his money back. When that didn’t happen, he filed a chargeback with his credit card company — and won. So he assumed that settled the matter.
It didn’t. Not even close. (reprint)
Campo’s tale is a lesson in the correct use — and the limitations — of credit card disputes. Winning a chargeback does not necessarily end the battle — it only ends the involvement of the credit card company. As Campo found out, merchants can always choose to pursue the debt in other ways. And in this case, that’s precisely what Princess Cruises did.
The shore excursion that turned out all wrong
Last July, Campo and his wife celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary on a 14-day Alaskan cruise with Princess Cruises. Toward the end of their adventure, the couple took the shore excursion Campo says they truly hated.
The problems with the half-day fishing trip started immediately.
“First, we showed up ready to go at the scheduled time of 12:45 p.m.,” Campo recalled. “After some time, a cruise representative told us a new pick-up time of 2 p.m. The excursion operator finally came for us at 2:05 p.m.”
The couple said they were surprised that there were six other participants not from the Princess cruise on the van. Things seemed a bit disorganized.
“An excursion operator commented to us that they don’t do a lot of business with Princess customers,” Campo recalled. “He said they had received a late phone call to pick up two ‘guys’ from Princess.”
The van then traveled for 1 ½ hours through the Alaskan wilderness. Once they arrived at the river, an insurmountable problem came to light — one that ultimately ruined this cruise excursion for Campo.
This cruise fiasco: a fishing excursion without all the equipment
“Hip boot waders were provided to the other six fishing customers who were staying at the excursion operator’s own fishing camp,” Campos complained. “When I asked where our fishing waders were, one of the excursion operators named Mike yelled ‘back off sir we are unloading the van.’”
Unfortunately, the excursion operator had not packed all of the equipment needed for the “two guys” from Princess.
Campo asked the guide why he and his wife did not have the same equipment as the others on this fishing excursion.
He said we had no choice but to fish without hip boots. He suggested that we could stand on rocks. The other six customers, who they supplied hip boots to, would fish from the river at water’s edge. Obviously, without hip boots, my wife and I had limited access to the river fishing.
The couple felt like outcasts, standing on the rocks above the water while everyone else waded into the river. And the attitude of the guide on this cruise excursion only made things worse. The couple tried to make the best of it, but their shoes, socks and pants became soaked as the day progressed. They bitterly noted that the other participants were staying warm and dry in their boots.
It was a relief when the tour operator finally alerted the group that it was time to leave. The Campos couldn’t wait to get back to their cruise and away from this unpleasant experience.
But Campo’s frustration continued to build during his soggy ride back.
“I hated that shore excursion! I want a refund”
After returning to the Princess Cruises Lodge in Copper River where they were staying for the night, Campo contacted the cruise’s excursion director. He conveyed all the disappointing events that had transpired that day. Campo ended his complaint with a request for a full refund for this shore excursion promoted by the cruise line that he had thoroughly hated.
Campo did not receive the response that he wanted to hear. Instead, he received a “we’ll look into it.” And the disgruntled couple completed their cruise with no resolution. But when they arrived home, Campo began his refund campaign in earnest.
Unfortunately, Campo had not read Christopher’s article about fixing your own consumer complaint. As a result, he shot off complaints in many directions at once. Campo also filed a credit card chargeback at the same time.
This approach was a mistake.
Before initiating a dispute, it’s critical that you’ve first made every effort to resolve the problem directly with the merchant. A credit card chargeback should always be a consumer’s last resort. The results can be disastrous to the consumer if misused.
What’s the Fair Credit Billing Act?
If you use a credit card, the Fair Credit Billing Act is your friend. It protects consumers against billing errors. There are a variety of things that qualify as a billing error as detailed in the FCBA:
- Charges for items that a consumer never received
- Charges for items that the merchant did not deliver as described
- Items in which the consumer asked for an explanation of the charge, but the merchant refused
- Errors that involve the cost of the item (For instance, your receipt shows one price and your credit card invoice shows another)
- Fraudulent or unauthorized charges
Campo believed this terrible shore excursion qualified for a dispute. After all, the operator of the fishing expedition had not provided the necessary equipment. So he filed the dispute while he was still trying to negotiate with Princess Cruises.
After the cruise line received Campo’s complaint, a Princess representative called him to address his concern. This executive explained that hip waders were not a required item for this fishing excursion. Campo’s assertion that all other participants on this fishing excursion received the waders did not change the stance of Princess.
Campo hung up the phone more frustrated than ever about the salmon fishing debacle. But he still hoped that his credit card company would side with him.
He won the chargeback battle, but Princess Cruises intends to win this $520 war
A merchant has 30 days to respond to a chargeback dispute. If it does not answer the credit card company within that time, the consumer will win by default.
If a company doesn’t agree with your bank’s decision, it can always send the debt to collections. The ending of the dispute only ends the involvement of your credit card company.
Princess Cruises never responded directly to Campo’s credit card company. And so, about three months after he initiated the dispute, Campo received the “good news” that he won the chargeback case. The $520 in question would remain as a permanent credit on his account. He had won the credit card dispute over the much-hated shore excursion by default.
Unfortunately, Princess Cruises would soon let Campo know that the matter wasn’t settled. He owed the cruise line for the unpleasant shore excursion and the credit card chargeback put the couple into a breach of contract.
How winning a credit card dispute can cause you more trouble
This turn of events was a giant surprise for Campo. He believed that a credit card chargeback decision was binding for both sides so he didn’t expect any additional trouble.
In fact, there are no federal laws or regulations that require a merchant to drop its pursuit of a debt just because your credit card sides with you. And, unfortunately, we’ve seen first hand the many consumers who have been blindsided by hits to their credit rating and other repercussions after “winning” a chargeback dispute.
In this case, Princess Cruises disagreed with the final decision of Campo’s bank. After Princess received word that the charges were refunded, it sent his account to collections. The cruise line expected to be paid for the fishing trip whether he enjoyed the excursion or not.
Campo thought about all the implications. Not only would his credit rating take a hit, but with a balance owed to Princess, he realized he could be banned from future sailings on the cruise line as well.
Campo was right to be concerned about Princess placing him on a Do Not Sail list. We know from experience that cruise lines are more willing than ever to ban problematic customers.
Not wanting this situation to spiral any further out of control, Campo contacted the Elliott Advocacy team.
Asking for too much can doom a request
When I read through Campo’s complaint, I agreed with his argument that something went wrong with this shore excursion. I’m not a fisherman (surprise!), so I don’t know if hip waders are required for salmon fishing. But if other participants had these waders, then this couple should have had them as well.
However, I noted that asking for a full refund for a shore excursion that Campo did take was overreaching. In fact, he told me he had caught two king salmon during this adventure. So the outing was not a complete washout. Asking for a full refund wasn’t a reasonable request.
We know that when a consumer overestimates the value of their complaint, it typically leads to an unfavorable response. It’s imperative to be reasonable when requesting compensation from a company.
Princess Cruises: Hip waders are not necessary for this fishing excursion
I reached out to our executive contact at Princess Cruises about this fishing fiasco. Specifically, I wanted to know about those hip waders: Are they a necessity for this type of fishing?
After a short investigation, Princess Cruises gave me the answer to my question. Our executive contact also formally responded to Campo’s complaint.
Thanks for your patience as we investigated the matter. Please see below a description of the tour Mr. & Mrs. Campo took. Based on the details, it appears the tour operator fulfilled their obligation in reference to the tour description. Therefore, the request for a full refund was declined.
Our customer specialist was never able to speak directly with the guest. He left two voicemails advising that his request for a refund was respectfully declined, that the tour operator indicated the waders were not part of the tour description and not necessary. He also advised that Mr. Campo did catch two king salmon and the tour operator provided all services advertised. The specialist also left his contact information. Mr. Campo did not return a call to discuss.
The details of this shore excursion do not mention anything about hip waders. In fact, it says, “You will be fishing from shore and footing is uneven and can be slippery.”
It was time to break the news to Campo, the facts did not seem to support his complaint. It’s unclear why the excursion operator provided the other participants with hip waders. But I suspected it might have had to do with the fact that they were coming from a fishing camp.
Hate your shore excursion — you still must pay for it
Campo is not satisfied with the outcome. But he has come to terms with the fact that he will need to pay for this shore excursion that he truly hated. In his final comments to me, he says that this is an example of a “bait and switch” and that Princess should have supported his complaint.
I greatly appreciate all you have done in investigating the excursion complaint issue. However, I have to emphasize again that we were told by the Princess Copper River Lodge excursion desk personnel that we would receive waders and that is why they asked us for our shoe sizes before the excursion. The excursion description they provided is a basic overview and also does not mention the excursion includes fishing rods, bait, lures, waders, etc. all of which are expected for a paid guided river fishing excursion.
I certainly have become a more informed consumer after participating in this Princess complaint issue process while fully appreciating and recognizing the need for your Elliott Advocacy team help.
What can you do if you hate your shore excursion?
- Carefully read the description.
First, to decrease the chance that you’ll hate your next shore excursion, make sure you read all the details of the activity. It’s critical to do this before you purchase the adventure. This will increase the chances that your expectations will align with the tour.
- Confirm that you have a valid complaint.
If you believe that a tour operator omitted a guaranteed part of your cruise’s excursion, verify that you’re correct before setting off on a refund mission. (See: My luggage went missing on the way to my cruise. I’m owed a refund, right?) Keep in mind, that if something is not listed in the summary of your adventure or on your contract, your refund mission is likely in vain.
- Ask your travel advisor for assistance.
If you’ve used a travel advisor to book your cruise, this person can also assist you with arranging shore excursions that match your expectations. He/she can help make sure that you do not end up on a shore excursion you might hate. Your agent can also be your advocate when things go wrong and help mediate a satisfactory resolution to the problem. You can find a qualified, ASTA-recommended professional who specializes in cruises here.
- Keep your complaint short and pleasant.
Many consumers allow their frustrations to boil over into their grievances. This is not an approach that typically leads to positive conflict resolution. Try to set a friendly tone in your email and stick to the facts. Those are the type of letters that are most favorably received by company executives. Remember: you want to make the reader of your complaint want to help you.
- Make sure your desired resolution isn’t over-inflated.
We see time and again that when consumers make unreasonable resolution requests it dilutes the strength of the complaint. Most of these inflated compensation requests are simply “overlooked” by the company.
- Do not misuse a credit card dispute.
If you escalate your dispute to your credit card company, be aware that this may not be a permanent solution. If you misuse the dispute process and win by default, you significantly increase the chances that the company will pursue you for the debt outside the bounds of your credit card company. (Michelle Couch-Friedman, Elliott Advocacy)