Always, always read the fine print.
Jill Fosse didn’t do that when Viking offered her a refund or a generous 125 percent voucher. And now she has a Viking cruise voucher problem that seems unsolvable.
Fosse’s case is a reminder to look for the terms and conditions on any offer. If you find it, read it. If you don’t see it, ask for it. Had she done so, Fosse could have avoided this mess.
What’s the deal with Viking’s future cruise vouchers?
Like most cruise lines, Viking canceled all of its sailings during the pandemic. Fosse’s cruise and land tour to Eastern Europe became a casualty of COVID-19. But all was not lost. The cruise line offered her future cruise vouchers worth 125 percent of her fare.
“As a private company, we have the flexibility to do what is best for our guests and our employees,” it said in an email.
Here are the details:
The Ultimate in Flexibility and Value
125% Future Cruise Vouchers can be applied to a new reservation on any river, ocean or expedition cruise. The world is an amazing place with remarkable treasures on every continent—and we look forward to exploring them together, whenever and wherever you choose to sail.
125% Future Cruise Vouchers are transferable, so that you have the flexibility to gift them to a loved one.
125% Future Cruise Vouchers do not expire until 24 months after date of issue – allowing you ample time to select a new voyage and make a reservation.
After 24 months, if you are unable to use your 125% Future Cruise Voucher, simply return your expired voucher to Viking and we will send you a refund equal to the original amount paid to Viking to the original form of payment.
Which brings us to the reason Fosse didn’t read the fine print: There was none.
Had there been, she could have answered the question, “125 percent of what?”
A “misleading and fraudulent” offer
Fosse and her husband had initially booked a cruise for April 2020.
“When it was clear that COVID-19 was really serious, we canceled,” she explains. Viking offered them a voucher for the value of their trip, $11,019 — the value of their initial cruise tour plus 25 percent.
The Fosses rebooked their cruise for this April. But by then, the price increase had claimed the voucher plus an extra $628.
Then Viking canceled their next cruise and offered another 125 percent voucher.
“Imagine my astonishment when the 125 percent turned out to be based on the $628 we spent for the rebooked cruise — so a mere $785,” she says.
In her view, she’d given Viking an interest-free microloan for a year. Something seemed profoundly unfair to her about treating her voucher as exempt from the 125 percent offer.
Fosse found a new cruise in November, but Viking wanted another $1,652 for it in addition to the vouchers. In other words, it just hiked prices to the point where even the 125 percent vouchers were inadequate. And it did so twice.
She feels ripped off.
“And I have a miserable autumn date to sail on,” she adds.
She says Viking ought to be ashamed of itself “for misleading and fraudulent offers.”
Travel industry math is always in the company’s favor
Travel companies always do the math so it favors them.
I call this travel math.
How do you know a company will use travel math? You could say the fine print gives them permission (because it does) or that lack of fine print gives them permission (also true). But for me, the best explanation is that the company is in business. If it’s taking your money, it’s always going to use math that favors it.
Fosse’s case is a borderline one, when it comes to travel math. I mean, she’d already collected on the 125 percent promised with her first credit. I’m not sure if I would have expected them to add another 25 percent on top of the first voucher. Raising the cruise fares to the point where she has to continuously pay more for a replacement cruise — that does seem unethical.
How to avoid a Viking cruise voucher problem
The next time a travel company offers you a 125 percent voucher, be careful. Ask yourself: Why is it doing this? It seems the cruise industry knew the COVID-19 situation was dire. All of Viking’s competitors made the same offer. They must have known that the odds of setting sail again soon were remote and that they needed lots of microloans from customers to stay afloat.
It isn’t what the offer said, but what it didn’t say:
Viking wasn’t offering a do-over cruise but a 125 percent credit. How do you ensure profitability? Raise prices.
The 125 percent cruise credit had no visible terms and conditions. So Fosse had no way of knowing how they were calculating the percentage.
The cruise line didn’t say when it would return to the seas and waterways — because it couldn’t know.
Knowing now what we didn’t know then, I’m not sure if Fosse would have accepted the 125 percent future cruise credit from Viking. I wouldn’t have.
But let’s say you want to accept Viking’s offer. Then what? Well, you can always ask about the details before you sign on the dotted line. How will you calculate the voucher? Are there any exceptions or exclusions that you should be aware of? Get the answer in writing if possible.
How she fixed her Viking cruise voucher problem
Fosse found the names, numbers and email addresses for Viking’s customer service executives on this site. She sent them a brief email outlining her grievances.
“I thought I should let you know the results,” she told me. “Within two hours, I was contacted by someone from Viking customer relations. A discussion ensued. The end result was that my voucher was increased to reflect 125 percent of all monies paid to Viking.”
She said Viking’s actions took care of the entire cost for her rebooked cruise for November 2022, “with some left over for side trips.”
What was her trick, other than contacting the right person?
“I think copying you on my complaint helped,” she says.
I’m happy that my team and I could assist. But I also think Viking could have done better. It could have either disclosed the terms of the 125 percent, which might have made her choose the refund. Or it could have fixed the problem quickly when she raised her concern. After all, it’s her second Viking cancellation.
Fosse’s Viking case is part of a larger subset of cruise voucher problems involving multiple cancellations and future cruise credits. Our position as an advocacy organization is that cruise lines should offer full refunds after a second cancellation, even if a passenger has accepted a future cruise credit.
Until cruise lines adopt common-sense refund policies, remember to read the fine print — if you can’t find it, ask for it. (Christopher Elliott, Elliott Advocacy)