Why you’ll get a voucher instead of a refund for your canceled cruise

This is why you'll get a cruise voucher instead of a refund for a canceled cruise in 2021.

A boatload of disgruntled cruise passengers has contacted the Elliott Advocacy team during the pandemic. Their question? How to get a refund instead of a voucher after a cruise line canceled their vacation — more than once.

Unfortunately, the answer to that question is not what most want to hear.

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Without a doubt, 2020 was Armageddon for the cruise industry. The coronavirus created a situation that no one could have predicted, and its impact continues today. Here’s the truth about why you’ll likely only get a voucher instead of a refund for your canceled cruise in 2021 and how you might be able to get your money back — eventually.

The coronavirus shuts down the cruise industry

On March 8, 2020, as the coronavirus continued to spread, the U.S. State Department issued a Do Not Cruise recommendation. And just one week later, the pandemic shockingly caused the entire cruise industry to come to a sudden “temporary” halt.

With thousands of worried cruise passengers wondering what to do, the situation quickly descended into chaos.

At that time, we warned our readers to stay calm and not cancel their upcoming vacations too soon.

Unfortunately, not everyone in the world reads the Elliott Advocacy site — at least not yet. 😜

Just before and immediately after the announcement of limited cruise cancellations through mid-April, many passengers prematurely jumped ship. With fears about the coronavirus growing, a significant number of travelers canceled cruises far beyond that date.

Fact: Cancel your cruise before the cruise line does, and you won’t get a refund

The result? Instead of a refund for sailings that the cruise lines eventually canceled, these passengers only received a voucher. Worse, some cruise lines held passengers to the standard cancellation policies on their contracts.

Of course, no one had any idea that the pandemic would drag on for this long. And so, when the cruise lines started rolling out incentives to encourage passengers to cancel preemptively, many happily accepted.

Our case records show that a large number of these travelers failed to understand the significance of accepting that initial voucher. In fact, the implications of this decision would not become clear to these cruisers until the pandemic forced the cruise line to cancel their rescheduled sailings, too.

Leslie Minor was one of those passengers who only discovered the terms of those vouchers after it was too late.

The cruise line asked me to take a voucher instead of a refund

NCL canceled my cruise in April 2020. The cruise line offered me a 125 percent voucher if I agreed to rebook instead of taking a refund for the canceled trip. I was impressed. But who knew that this pandemic would continue for so long? So I rebooked for April 2021. Of course, NCL canceled that cruise, too, and I asked for a refund. NCL rejected my refund request and said I would only get a voucher. What’s going on here? It’s my understanding that if a cruise line cancels the trip, it owes me a refund. Please help!

When I reviewed Minor’s paper trail, I knew the original cruise voucher’s terms said that she wasn’t eligible for a cash refund. We’ve received tons of similar complaints in the past several months from cruisers who accepted vouchers for canceled cruises last year.

The voucher terms are firm: no cash refund for a rescheduled cruise that is canceled later — even if the cruise line cancels that trip.

However, Minor’s travel agent and Norwegian Cruise Line continued to bounce her refund request between them. It was clear that neither entity wanted to tell her the truth.

This is an unfortunate situation we’ve seen time and again during the pandemic. Many companies, hoping to maintain good relations, will not give their customers the bottom line. So they send these frustrated consumers off on wild goose chases that will never end in their favor —likely hoping that some other company (or a consumer advocate) will break the news, or that the person will eventually give up the pursuit.

Minor was caught in an endless loop between her travel agent and NCL, and it was causing her major pain.

Fact: If you’ve paid for a cruise with a voucher, you won’t get a cash refund

When a cruise line cancels a sailing, it owes the passenger a refund. See:

But cruise lines worldwide always provide that refund to the same form of payment used to book the current trip. So if a customer paid for their current cruise with a voucher, and the cruise line cancels the new voyage, the traveler will only receive another future credit.

Instead of making that clear to Minor, her travel agent and NCL sent her in a new direction. They recommended that she try to file a claim through her travel insurance policy. This suggestion could never have resulted in a positive outcome.

But Minor didn’t know that it was just an exercise in futility, so she focused on her new, complicated mission.

This was a refund pursuit that would prove to be a giant waste of her time.

Fact: Travel insurance will not cover a sailing canceled by the cruise line

Travel insurance covers unexpected events. And most policies issued today provide coverage for only “named perils” — things specifically listed in the document. If something isn’t listed, it will not be covered.

And no policy will cover a cancellation that the cruise line initiated. The cruise line is required to reimburse the traveler in that case.

Note: Remember, when a cruise line cancels your trip, it owes you a refund back to your original form of payment for the particular sailing.

Additionally, even if the cruise line hadn’t canceled Minor’s trip, the reason for cancellation would need to have been named in the policy. Unless a traveler has contracted coronavirus, our team has not seen any insurance policies covering COVID-19 cancellations. In fact, in many policies, a pandemic-related cancellation is named explicitly as an exclusion for coverage.

In Minor’s case, after the cruise line officially canceled her latest sailing, there would be no circumstance in which the travel insurance would have kicked in.

But that didn’t stop NCL and her travel agent from giving her hope that she could file a successful travel insurance claim.

That left it to me to break the bad news.

Fact: You can’t convert a cruise voucher into a cash refund

When Minor contacted our team for assistance, she wanted to know how she could gather all the documentation needed to file her travel insurance claim.

I’m missing several necessary documents to file this claim — including the terms of the cruise cancellation. How do I get this information? Norwegian says to get it from my travel agent. My travel agent says to get it from NCL. It’s very frustrating!

It was about to become even more frustrating for Minor.

I explained why the travel insurance claim would not be successful even if she collected all the documents.

But then Minor had another idea that she hoped would lead to a refund.

“Do I need to book another trip with my cruise credits and then cancel to get my money back?” Minor asked.

This strategy is one that many passengers have asked about, but similarly not one that will lead to a refund. I explained to Minor why rebooking and canceling would not result in a cash refund.

The bottom line: No cruise line allows passengers to convert future cruise vouchers into cash refunds at this time.

If you book another cruise and cancel, you will still have paid for that cruise with a voucher. So you will not be owed a cash refund in that circumstance either. There is no way to convert a cruise credit or voucher into a cash refund at this time. I’m really sorry I don’t have better news for you. (Michelle Couch-Friedman)

The Elliott Advocacy team’s goal is to help everyone

Our team makes an effort to help every consumer who contacts us in whatever way we can. On average, Dwayne, Christopher, and I respond to nearly 1,000 emails per month.

The stories you read about on this site depict just a small portion of the hundreds of pleas for help we receive each week and the guidance we provide to those consumers.

Unfortunately, It’s not uncommon for our team to become the target of a consumer’s anger when we explain why their case is not one we can directly tackle. Christopher wrote about this phenomenon last month.

And earlier this week, a consumer asked our team for help changing the beneficiary on her late mother’s bank account. When I explained that changing legal documents is out of our scope of practice and recommended that she consult with an attorney, she responded swiftly with insults.

What good is your organization? Don’t bother me again and do not use my info for anything else. I think your site IS a scam. And I will review it as such.

FYI: We aren’t lawyers — we’re a consumer advocacy team. We can’t provide legal guidance nor change legal documents. It would be reckless for our team to imply that we could.

But through the insults, we soldier on.

“Thank you.”

So having just endured the last insulting email, I opened Minor’s final response to me with a bit of trepidation. I was pleasantly relieved to read her answer.

Thank you for your patience and clear explanations regarding my dilemma. This has been a learning experience. I thought I was covering all my bases by buying the insurance. I believe that my travel agents were the ones who dropped the ball. My original travel agent no longer works for the agency. So every time I called with a question, I got someone different.

Anyway, I just wanted to thank you because you’ve been the only one who has given me an explanation instead of just saying it’s not possible but not saying why.

With that, Minor intends to end her battle for a refund for the canceled cruise (for now). She’ll accept her cruise voucher and hope for the best for the second half of 2021 — and keep her eye on the constantly changing pandemic-inspired policies.

What to do if you have (or are offered) a cruise voucher instead of a refund

Don’t despair if you’ve received a future cruise voucher instead of a refund. As the pandemic continues to go on, the situation is forcing cruise lines to update their cancellation and refund policies frequently. If the pandemic has taught us anything about the travel industry, it’s that everything is subject to change. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you have a cruise credit (or are offered one), but you’re hoping for a full refund.

  1. Don’t cancel your cruise first
    The coronavirus has shut down the cruise industry for over a year now. Most passengers scheduled to cruise in 2021 likely paid for those cruises with a voucher issued for a previously canceled voyage. But if you are scheduled for a cruise this year and you did not pay for it with a voucher, make sure not to cancel too soon. Wait it out. Remember, the cruise line will owe you a refund to your original form of payment if it cancels first. The order of cancellation is critical.
  2. Refuse the voucher, take the refund
    None of us know when the cruise lines will resume sailing or what kind of restrictions will be in place when that happens. We also don’t know if all the cruise lines will survive the pandemic. A 200 percent bonus to take a voucher instead of a refund is useless if the cruise line goes out of business before you can use it. The cruise industry is in a perilous situation — always refuse a voucher and take the cash refund if you can.
  3. Find out if you can sell or give your cruise voucher to someone else
    We’ve not typically seen cruise lines allow passengers to sell or gift vouchers in the past. But in the second half of 2020, some cruise lines — including NCL — started to allow passengers this possibility. Travelers should check with their cruise line about whether they can recoup their cash by selling their vouchers. You may also get this information from your professional travel agent.
  4. Follow your cruise line’s voucher policy updates
    As the pandemic and its restrictions linger, the cruise lines will continue to update their voucher policies. Enforcement agencies may eventually require the companies to refund your cruise after repeated cancellations. Keep your eye on your cruise line’s website and on our article about coronavirus cancellations, which we will regularly update. We know that at least one cruise line (MSC) allows refunds if you’re not able to reschedule by December 2021. Other cruise lines will likely follow suit.
  5. Can you insure it?
    Finally, many travelers ask our team if they can insure their travel credits (in case the cruise line goes bankrupt). This situation is complicated and you’ll need to speak directly with your insurance provider about it. Whatever answer you get — get it in writing. Remember, you typically have a 10-14 day lookover period after purchasing a travel insurance policy before it becomes nonrefundable. Make sure the contract reflects the coverage you want and need. Otherwise, unfortunately, if it isn’t in the policy, it might only be something said to you by a customer service agent who just wanted to get you out of their hair. (For additional information about finding the best travel insurance for your needs, see Christopher’s Ultimate Guide.)
  6. Contact the Elliott Advocacy team for help
    The rapidly changing situation during the past year has led to many refund and billing errors in the travel industry. If you believe, as Margaret Prendergast did, that your travel agent made a mistake or that the cruise line issued you a voucher in error for a canceled voyage, contact our team for help. Remember, pandemic or not, the Elliott Advocacy team is always here to help. :). (Michelle Couch-Friedman, Elliott Advocacy)