Help! American Queen Voyages canceled my cruise but kept my $10,126

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By Christopher Elliott

Carolyn Hoke has been waiting more than a year for her refund from American Queen Voyages for a canceled cruise. Why is it taking so long — and how can she speed up the process? 

Question

I booked a seven-night river cruise from St. Louis to Minneapolis with American Queen Voyages. But it was canceled in November 2022. I requested a full refund, but as of today, I have not received it.

The American Queen Voyages representatives are very apologetic when I call them. I’ve escalated my request to the cruise line’s accounting department and have written to the American Queen Voyages contacts listed on your consumer advocacy site. I’ve also complained to the Florida Division of Consumer Service, since the company is headquartered in Florida. It has forwarded my request to the company.

I would like a full refund of the $10,126 I paid to American Queen Voyages. I have been waiting more than a year. Can you help me?  — Carolyn Hoke, Dallas

Answer

American Queen Voyages should have promptly sent you a refund for the canceled cruise.

The company has a reputation for taking its time with refunds. I’ve had multiple cases where a process that should have taken a few days extended for months. 

Why? The company wouldn’t say. The innocent explanation — and the one I had hoped would be true — is that the company simply had a backlog of refund requests and was taking a while to work through them.

But I had also seen this type of foot-dragging with other cruise lines, and it was a precursor to a bankruptcy filing

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And that’s exactly what happened. A few weeks after I wrapped up this case, American Queen Voyages ceased operations.

How do you get your money back when a cruise line goes bankrupt?

Here are some ways you can salvage your deposit when a cruise line goes under:

Buy travel insurance

But not just any policy. You need insurance that specifically covers bankruptcy or insolvency. Some of the policies offered by cruise lines are self-insurance, so they will not cover a bankruptcy. If you’re booking with a cruise line that is already sailing through troubled waters, make sure you don’t buy its optional insurance. You will almost certainly not be covered. (Related: Where’s my refund from American Queen Voyages? They promised to send it months ago.)

Pay with a credit card

A credit card can protect you. Under the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA), you can dispute your purchase and get a full refund, even months after your booking. Unfortunately, many weaker cruise lines offer discounts for customers who pay by cash or check. But paying by cash, check or debit card is highly risky, since those purchases are not covered by the FCBA. Always pay by credit card. Always. (Related: I paid an extra $1,796 to get to my cruise. Why won’t NCL reimburse me?)

Know your rights

Cruise passengers have virtually no rights under federal law, but the Federal Maritime Commission requires cruise lines to have a bond or other financial surety available to refund passenger deposits. And even if you didn’t pay by credit card, you may be able to contact your bank and get the transaction reversed under Regulation E. However, these are both long shots.

But you had no way of knowing American Queen Voyages was about to go bust. When you contacted me, the cruise line was still afloat — but barely.

How to get a refund from a nearly dead cruise line

How do you get your refund faster from a cruise line that’s about to go under? By being persistent and polite (two essential ingredients of the Elliott method for fixing a consumer complaint). It looks like you found a way to escalate your complaint to the accounting department. You might have also applied gentle and continuous pressure on the American Queen Voyages executive contacts I publish on this site.

If you paid by credit card, you can also push for a quick refund by contacting your credit card provider. If you show them a written promise to refund the cruise, your bank will regard that as a credit memo and might issue a refund.

Executives do read their emails, and if they see someone popping up again and again, asking for a refund, they might eventually call the right person and say, “Cut Carolyn a check!” (Related: Do travelers deserve bad customer service?)

You asked my team for help. I contacted American Queen Voyages on your behalf. A few weeks later, I received an update from you. You had received a $9,126 refund from the cruise line. But where was the rest? You reached out to Florida regulators and to the company to find out.

“It took a couple of weeks, but the balance is pending on our credit card account as of today,” you reported.

About this story

This story came together just as American Queen Voyages was falling apart. The company must have known that it was running out of cash even as it pushed the button on Hoke’s refund. I feel relieved for her but also upset for the many other readers who have contacted me in the last week, asking how they could get their refund. (Quick answer: Submit a claim through this form.) I’m grateful to my entire A-Team for helping me with this case: Dwayne Coward and Mel Smith in the advocacy department, Andy Smith and his editing team, Will Leeper in the forums, Dustin Elliott in our art department and Avinash Srivastava in our production team, and who finally convinced me to stop writing my stories at the last minute. We have the best team of advocates in the world. I can’t say that enough.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Panamá City.

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