They missed their New Year’s Eve cruise by a whole year. Are they entitled to restitution?

Sara Zalkin planned a special New Year’s Eve celebration with her husband and 16 friends aboard the Carnival Conquest, and they booked through the travel agency Legendary Journeys. But when the group arrived at the embarkation terminal, Carnival refused to allow them to board the ship: Their boarding passes were for Dec. 31, 2017, instead of Dec. 31, 2016.

They missed their special cruise and want a refund — but whose fault is it, and who owes them the refund? This case is a reminder that even when using a travel agent, you must double-check everything, lest you find yourself at home watching New Year’s Rockin’ Eve instead of dancing the night away on the high seas.

The Zalkins used one of Legendary Journeys’ travel agents to book their group’s New Year’s cruise. When they received their confirmation and invoice from the agent, Zalkin says she checked the paperwork and the embarkation date was listed as Dec. 31, 2016. But she never double-checked the boarding passes and luggage tags that came after final payment was made.

Their friends checked in at the port and were allowed to board the ship, but what Zalkin missed, because she didn’t confirm the dates, was that her and her husband’s boarding passes and luggage tags showed the correct month and day of boarding, but the year was listed as 2017. Carnival refused to allow them to board with their friends. Zalkin says they were “humiliated” by the Carnival staff and suffered “exhaustion from mental and physical anguish.”

When she returned home, Zalkin contacted their travel agent, who blamed the error on Carnival. If you read our site regularly you know what’s coming next: Carnival blamed the travel agent for the error.

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Zalkin could have used our contacts for Carnival Cruise Lines to appeal for a refund, but instead she contacted us after Legendary Journeys and Carnival started the blame game.

Many people choose to book through a travel agent because they need help with a complicated travel plan, are unfamiliar with their destination, are not computer-savvy, or simply want an advocate in case something goes wrong. In the case of the Zalkins and their friends, it was a group of 18 people who wanted to travel together, and asking an agent to book that many people as a group can result in better pricing and additional amenities.

Although Carnival includes an option on its website to find a travel agent who can assist you with your booking, its cruise ticket contract terms distances itself from any responsibility for errors by the agent you select:

Any travel agent or sales agent utilized by the Guest in connection with the booking of the cruise, or this contract is solely the agent of the Guest and not Carnival. Carnival is not responsible for the financial condition or integrity of any travel agent utilized by Guest.

It’s clear that someone made a mistake on this booking. All the correspondence from the travel agent lists the year of departure as 2016, and since the original confirmation showed the correct year, it seems that the mistake would be Carnival’s.

But Carnival disagreed. When we reached out the company, its representative told us that the travel agent made the reservation online, with “no human interaction with anyone at Carnival when the reservation was made. This was entirely the travel agent’s mistake and Ms. Zalkin needs to work this out with her travel agent.”

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In the state of Florida, a travel agent must be both licensed and bonded. Agencies are supposed to be insured for omissions and errors, but when Zalkin contacted the Travel agent she used, the agent told her any reimbursement not covered by Carnival would have to come out of the agent’s own pocket.

Travel agents can be extremely helpful in booking travel and negotiating with travel providers when something goes wrong. But as with any other business, it is essential to understand what protections you have if something goes wrong. Asking for proof that the agency is insured can give you peace of mind that you are working with a solid, reputable agency, and that you have recourse in the event of an error such as the one that ruined the Zalkins’ cruise.

Some travel insurance policies also cover errors and omissions made by agents and operators. The terms of the policy will disclose if errors are covered.

The best way to ensure that you never need to invoke an agency’s insurance (or your own travel insurance) to cover an error is to review all of your documentation immediately upon receipt, and to notify the seller or provider if you find an error.

The agency and Carnival finally reached a resolution, with Carnival reimbursing the Zalkins for the missed cruise. The Zalkins also wanted the expenses they incurred getting to the port to be reimbursed. Carnival refused. The agent again reiterated this money would have to come out of her own pocket, but the Zalkins persisted. After promising a $300 gift card, the agent eventually sent them a $250 check.

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The Zalkins have received reimbursement of the money that they spent for the cruise and for their expenses getting to and back home from the port. But Zalkin asked us if they are entitled to restitution. In addition to the way they were treated by Carnival at the port, she says they “wasted a few days packing, and lost a day traveling back and forth to Ft. Lauderdale,” and wants Carnival to also give them a free cruise.

We’re running this story again because our advocacy team doesn’t want your New Year’s cruise — or any other holiday purchase — ruined by a lack of attention to detail. Please. Pay. Attention.

Are the Zalkins entitled to additional compensation in the form of a free cruise?

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Michelle Bell

Michelle worked in the travel and hospitality industry for almost two decades. Born in Germany, she has lived in 15 states and two foreign countries, and traveled to more than 35 countries. After living and working in Southeast Asia for several years, she now resides in New Orleans. Read more of Michelle Bell's articles here.

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