This is what happens when a cruise consultant makes you miss your cruise

If a cruise consultant makes a mistake and you miss your cruise, can you get a refund?

What if a cruise consultant makes a mistake and you miss your cruise because of it? That’s what Linda Combs wants to know.

Her recent unpleasant experience included not just one, but three errors by her travel planner. And it ended with Combs and her husband standing on the dock as they watched their ship sail away.

So why was Combs’ refund request to Norwegian Cruise Line rejected?

This tale is one that underscores the importance of concise and polite communication when attempting to resolve a problem. If you forget this basic foundation of problem-solving, even the most resolution-worthy request can get rejected. Combs’ case was almost one of those.

Planning a cruise aboard the Norwegian Gem

Several months before this missed-cruise fiasco, the couple had been busy planning an adventure to commemorate their 52nd wedding anniversary. They decided that a cruise to New England and Canada would be the perfect way to celebrate this happy event.

Norwegian Cruise Line’s 10-day cruise from New York City to Quebec City on the Norwegian Gem fit the bill. Once they made their decision, the couple finalized the plans with an NCL-approved agent called a Personal Cruise Consultant. This consultant put all the finishing touches on their itinerary, including arranging airport transfers, trip insurance and shore excursions.

The couple booked their own flights into New York, and everything was in order.

Or so they thought.

Discovering the Personal Cruise Consultant’s mistake #1

On the day of the cruise, the couple excitedly boarded their flight bound for New York City’s JFK airport. They were particularly pleased that no delays were on the horizon. And they landed right on time.

They had three hours to make it to the cruise terminal on the west side of Manhattan. In typical traffic, this 17-mile journey can take 1 to 1 ½ hours. But anyone who has lived in New York City knows that this is a tricky traffic corridor. And the couple was cutting it a little too close for comfort.

However, Combs and her husband had never been to New York City before, and they weren’t familiar with the risky nature of their flight schedule. And besides, they had booked the NCL transfers to the cruise terminal. So as they gathered their luggage and started searching for the NCL transfer station, no alarm bells were going off.


NCL does not pick up passengers at JFK

It soon became quite apparent that something was very wrong. The couple couldn’t find the NCL transfer area at JFK. Combs called her Personal Cruise Consultant and asked for further information.

When the agent returned her call, he expressed surprise that the couple was at JFK. And that’s when he broke the news to Combs that NCL does not provide transfers from that airport. Shocked, she asked him why he had charged her and given her a transfer voucher if no NCL transfer possibility existed from JFK.

Now he told me that NCL does not pick up at JFK. He said he had told me NCL does not pick up at JFK. NOT TRUE! I state again when making the reservation, he said it was further out than the other airport and there would be an additional charge. Think about it! Why would I choose to fly into the incorrect airport into a city that I do not know???

Now the couple had two hours to make it to the cruise terminal or they would miss the cruise. So they asked their agent what to do next. And that’s when their Personal Cruise Consultant’s mistake was compounded by a new error.

Their Personal Cruise Consultant’s mistake #2

The couple still had a chance of making it to the cruise terminal in time to avoid missing the cruise. But they needed to act fast.

Their consultant should have recommended that they take an NYC taxi straight to the cruise terminal. From JFK there is a flat rate of $52 into Manhattan (plus tolls and tips) — they could sort out the refund later.

If all went well, in about an hour, they could have made it to the Norwegian Gem.

Their missed cruise was the result of a personal cruise consultant's mistake. Michelle Couch-Friedman, author.
JFK airport to the Manhattan cruise terminal. This should be an hour or so drive. 

But that isn’t what their Personal Cruise Consultant recommended. He advised the couple to take a NYC taxi to LaGuardia Airport, on the other side of Queens. There he said the couple could find the official NCL transfer to the cruise terminal. As the couple was completely unfamiliar with Queens traffic or the logistics of what the agent was suggesting, they took his advice.

While a taxi into Manhattan from JFK is a flat rate, the 10-mile ride from JFK to LGA is not. So that fare can end up costing more than the trip directly to the cruise terminal. This route also covers congested areas, and it’s not unusual for this trip to take upwards of an hour.

More bad advice from their personal cruise consultant ended with the couple missing their cruise. Michelle Couch-Friedman, author.
The heavy-traffic journey from JFK airport to LGA airport. 

A race against the clock to avoid missing the cruise

Now the elderly couple felt the full impact of their situation. The clock was ticking. It was almost 2 p.m. as Combs and her husband pulled up to the LaGuardia Airport with all their suitcases in tow.

The two made their way to the official transfer area for NCL as quickly as possible. And a wave of relief hit the couple when they saw the familiar NCL logo. They presented themselves to the representative who was making the final boarding call for the transfer bus.

And that’s when their Personal Cruise Consultant’s mistake #3 revealed itself. And this one ultimately sealed the fate of this couple’s chances of cruising on the Norwegian Gem that day.

The NCL representative at LGA told Combs that no one had put their name on the list for transfers to the cruise terminal. The transportation was full.

“We were in so much distress!”

Combs says that she showed the NCL employee proof of their paid airport transfers. But the representative said she would have to call a supervisor. Combs called their Personal Cruise Consultant again, who now refused to pick up the phone or return her call.

The exhausted couple watched in desperation as the NCL bus left and headed to the cruise terminal without them.

“We were in so much distress,” Combs recalled. “We couldn’t believe what was happening. Now, this agent told us she would call us a new taxi to go straight to the cruise terminal.”

By now, it was already 3:15 p.m.

NCL requires all cruise ship passengers to be checked in and onboard the ship one hour before departure. At this point, the missed cruise was a foregone conclusion. But when the NCL representative recommended they take a cab to the cruise terminal, Combs says she thought someone had instructed the ship to wait for them.

So they braved the NYC traffic one more time, hoping to be soon relaxing onboard the Norwegian Gem.

Multiple mistakes caused them to miss the cruise.
The route from LGA to the Manhattan cruise terminal. NYC traffic can definitely lead a traveler to miss their cruise.

It wasn’t to be.

Too late! This ship has sailed

In about 45 minutes the duo arrived at the cruise ship terminal. Their hopes soared.

There was the Norwegian Gem!

But it was too late. Combs describes that moment:

We arrived at the cruise terminal at 4 p.m. We ran inside. They told us it was too late. The captain had already pulled the gangplank. We could not board the ship. We were just sick!!!!!!!!! The ship sat there for about 15-20 minutes before it ever left!

Airlines will hold planes for a late passenger! Why can’t a captain wait 10-15 minutes?

After they watched the Norwegian Gem sail away without them, they called NCL to find out what to do about the missed cruise.

At that time they were told that they could fly at their own expense to Halifax and catch up with their missed cruise there. Not wanting to spend any more money on this fiasco, the couple finally threw in the towel.

“We were just so disappointed that we decided to fly back home,” Combs recalled. “Then once we got back to the airport, we had to spend the night in the terminal because our flight was at 6:45 a.m. We didn’t know what else to do.”

Asking for a refund for the missed cruise

As soon as the couple returned from their ill-fated anniversary trip, Combs composed a novel-length complaint letter. And then she sent it as a blast email to multiple executives at Norwegian Cruise Line — including the CEO. She requested a replacement cruise plus airfare.

The office of the CEO of any company is not the most efficient place to send your initial complaint letter. In general, a CEO does not handle customer service. And once your complaint has hit the top of the executive chain — there’s nowhere else to go with it. If your letter is unsuccessful, you can’t escalate your problem anywhere.

A well-executed self-advocacy mission can benefit from the helpful guide our publisher Christopher Elliott has written about fixing your own consumer problem. Combs definitely had not checked it out before creating her appeal for a refund to NCL.

NCL quickly answered her blast email and rejected her refund request. In its response to Combs, NCL made it clear that her missed cruise was not the responsibility of the cruise line. She would not be receiving a refund nor a replacement cruise.

NCL: It’s the passenger’s responsibility to get to the terminal on time

The letter from NCL reminded her that it is the passengers’ responsibility to get to the terminal on time.

To comply with new Government regulations governing guest departure
manifests, our Port Operations and Port Clearance Administration, along with
U.S. Customs and Border Protection requires that all guests complete check-in at
the cruise terminal at least two hours prior and be onboard the ship no later
then one hour prior to the departure time as noted on their cruise documents or
they will not be permitted to sail.

Given this information and the information contained on NCL’s website about check-in cutoff times, it seems that the couple should never have been sent from LGA to the cruise terminal. By the time they left LGA, they had already missed the cruise check-in cutoff time. That journey was an exercise in futility.

The response from NCL infuriated Combs. So she sent more emails to NCL. These similarly did not endear her to any of the executives on her list.

“I just cannot believe that your company would not compensate us with another trip of equal value!” Combs complained. “What in heaven’s name does it cost NCL? Nothing but good PR for you to comply.”

This email did not lead to the favorable response that Combs hoped for. In fact, there was no further response. Her complaint had reached the top of NCL, and now there was nowhere else to go.

Or was there?

Asking the Elliott Advocacy team to mediate a refund

Not sure where else to turn, Combs sent a plea for help to the Elliott Advocacy team.

Combs’ complaint landed in my inbox on the same day I had just finished writing about the somewhat similar mishap of Earl Wentz and his missed cruise.

That case was the West Coast version of the race to the cruise terminal — fighting against the clock and heavy traffic. Unfortunately, Wentz and his family didn’t make it in time either. And they also watched as their cruise ship sailed off into the sunset without them.

Wentz had contributed to his problem by scheduling his flights with virtually no room for error. So when his plane experienced a 50-minute delay, his family’s cruise prospects were doomed.

But Combs had allowed a slightly wider margin with her flight, and it had landed on time. The NCL-branded Personal Cruise Consultant’s mistakes — the initial one and then the cascade of additional ones after the couple landed — caused their missed cruise.

So I was surprised to see Combs’ paper trail included NCL’s swift rejection of her refund request for the missed cruise.

Keep your complaints short and sweet

Unfortunately, cruise lines (and consumer advocates) receive hundreds of complaint letters per week. To give yourself the very best chance of getting your complaint received favorably, it’s critical to keep it short and sweet. Get the facts out immediately — and don’t add extraneous details.

Combs’ email to the executives told a long, drawn-out story that I suspected no one had read in its entirety. It also focused on the wrong part of her story. She was angry that the NCL representatives wouldn’t let her board the bus at LaGuardia.

But the most critical part of this case was that Combs had paid NCL for a transfer. The transfer voucher sent to the couple from her Personal Cruise Consultant confirmed their transportation. This consultant’s mistake was that he never made any arrangements for the couple. And then he sent them on wild goose chase from airport to airport and again didn’t confirm their transfer.

After all that, he refused to answer their calls and explain himself.

Asking NCL to refund this missed cruise

Since this missed cruise was caused by NCL’s Personal Cruise Consultant’s mistakes, I was sure that Combs and her husband were owed a refund.

I know the NCL resolution team to be helpful and reasonable. So I sent their team a very condensed version of this cruise catastrophe and included the transfer voucher.

Here's the useless NCL transfer voucher given to the couple by their NCL personal cruise consultant.
Here’s the useless NCL transfer voucher given to the couple by their cruise consultant

Good news from NCL: Here’s your refund

And the next day came excellent news for Combs and her husband.

Combs had asked to be provided a new cruise with airfare so that she and her husband could celebrate their anniversary properly. The NCL resolution team went above and beyond what Combs had initially requested.

Combs was thrilled to receive an apology and a refund of all fees associated with the missed cruise.

We sincerely apologize for the confusion regarding the airport ground transfer which caused you to miss your cruise aboard Norwegian Gem, and assure you that this situation is a rare occurrence. As a company, we are committed to continuously improving customer satisfaction. Recognizing the inconvenience and disappointment you experienced, we have requested a refund in the amount of $3,348.00 to your Visa. This represents your voyage fare and ground transfers. On September 30, a refund in the amount of $1,890, representing your shore excursions, service charges and government taxes was also processed.

And finally, to show that NCL was genuinely committed to making this right, the cruise line gave the couple $3,200 in cruise credits to be used in the next two years.

Combs and her husband say that this resolution more than makes up for their inconvenience and they are busy planning their replacement anniversary cruise. And despite this fiasco, the end resolution from NCL has secured lifelong fans in Combs and her husband.

How to avoid missing your cruise

Here are a few tips that could help you avoid missing your cruise.

  • DO NOT BOOK A FLIGHT THAT ARRIVES ON THE SAME DAY AS YOUR CRUISE SAILS! I repeat — don’t do that. You can dramatically cut back on the chances of missing your cruise by giving yourself at least a one day buffer. Fly into your cruise departure city the night before.
  • When flying into an unfamiliar city that has multiple airports, check Google Maps. Familiarize yourself with the route from the airport to the cruise terminal. Make sure you have a backup plan in case you miss the cruise line’s transportation (or a travel consultant’s mistake leaves you with no transportation at all).
  • If you’re booking your own flights, make sure your travel agent or cruise consultant has your information. Your voucher should mention the specific airport where you’ll be picked up. Many major cities have multiple airports so to avoid confusion — confirm, confirm, confirm.
  • Be aware of check-in cut off times: Remember, the embarkation time of your cruise is not the same as the check-in cutoff time. So when arranging for your transportation to the port, keep the cut-off time in mind. Your cruise contract will have that information. (Michelle Couch-Friedman, Elliott Advocacy)

*This article was last updated in Dec. 2019

Underwritten by

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by

With nearly 20 years in the industry, over 128 airport covered in the U.S. and Canada, and over 1,000 Hotel and Parking Partners-we provide travelers the best options on how to get to the airport when flying. Whether you want to; drive yourself and park near an Airport (Airport Parking), stay the night before your flight at an airport hotel and leave your car (Hotel and Parking Package), or take a shared Shuttle/Private Car/Limo to the Airport- we got you covered. The best deals can be found online, and booking a reservation has never been easier. You can explore all of our options by visiting us at,,, and

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Generali Global Assistance

Generali Global Assistance has been a leading provider of travel insurance and other assistance services for more than 25 years. We offer a full suite of innovative, vertically integrated travel insurance and emergency services. Generali Global Assistance is part of The Europ Assistance (EA) Group, who pioneered the travel assistance industry in 1963 and continues to be the leader in providing real-time assistance anywhere in the world, delivering on our motto – You Live, We Care.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Seven Corners

Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by

Since its inception over three decades ago, G1G has continued to revolutionize the travel insurance industry by being the only aggregator to operate a customer portal, placing all of the user's primary needs in one place. We have continued to innovate and disrupt the market by reimagining the way travel insurance can be delivered to the end user in ways no competition can. Simply put, no one knows the market as well as its founders and no one else shares G1G values and mission.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Arch RoamRight

Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

VisitorsCoverage is one of the world’s most trusted providers of travel insurance for millions of global travelers in over 175 countries. Working with top-rated travel insurance partner providers, VisitorsCoverage’s award-winning search, compare and purchase technology simplifies the travel insurance process and finds the best deals for the coverage you need to explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at VisitorsCoverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International,, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.