My cruise ship broke down and left me high and dry

Ritu Manoj Jethani /
Ritu Manoj Jethani /
Douglas Kauffman had the misfortune of being booked on the Celebrity Millennium. You may recall the propulsion problems that caused a string of cancellations late this summer.

Well, one of them was Kauffman’s.

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.

Cruise lines like Celebrity have a customer-service protocol that they follow in the event of a cancellation. While these standards address almost every vacation, there is no one-size-fits-all fix. Someone inevitably feels they’ve been short-changed, and that’s why Kauffman contacted me.

He spoke with a Celebrity representative after learning the Millennium had broken down. “I was told that the offer was $200 per person for airfare change fees and 25 percent of the current cruise cost towards a future [airline] booking,” he says.

That doesn’t really work for him. Kauffman, who describes himself as a “DIY” traveler (which means he booked without using a travel agent and didn’t buy the cruise and airfare together) was taking the cruise as part of a three-week vacation to Alaska.

I’ll let him explain:

The cruise was a one-way cruise from Anchorage to Vancouver and our flight back to the States was originally on Air Canada. Now we will be spending the first week of our trip in and around Anchorage as planned and will need to fly home from there instead of Vancouver.

But ticket restrictions mean that he can’t fly back home directly. Air Canada will only change his ticket to a domestic destination in Canada.

“The cruise line has offered to compensate us for part of the airline ticket change fee, but the credit I will receive from Air Canada must be used for booking a flight prior to the end of October 2013 — one year from the date of the initial booking,” he says. Kauffman has no plans to return to Canada that soon.

Unless Celebrity refunds his airline ticket, he will lose it. So he asked Celebrity to make an exception to its refund offer.

He did so in writing. Here’s Celebrity’s response:

We appreciate you for taking the time to contact us regarding your canceled Celebrity Millennium sailing. Please accept our deepest apologies for this unfortunate situation. We sympathize with your frustration, as we fully intended to provide you with an exceptional cruise vacation. It is extremely disheartening that, due to unforeseen circumstances, we were denied the opportunity to do so.

We understand that it may be difficult to re-use your airline tickets given the circumstances outlined in your correspondence. Regrettably, we are not providing guests with refunds of air tickets.

Kauffman still has a few options, but they aren’t ideal. He can completely forfeit the Air Canada ticket or he can take Celebrity up on its offer to cover the change fee and try to book a long weekend trip to Canada in the near future. But something about this just doesn’t seem fair to him. After all, he didn’t cancel the cruise — Celebrity did.

A look at Celebrity’s ticket contract — the legal agreement between Kauffman and the cruise line — leaves little doubt that the company can do whatever it wants. Have a look at paragraph 6:

Carrier may for any reason at any time and without prior notice, cancel, advance, postpone or deviate from any scheduled sailing, port of call, destination, lodging or any activity on or off the Vessel, or substitute another vessel or port of call, destination, lodging or activity. Carrier shall not be liable for any claim whatsoever by Passenger, including but not limited to loss, compensation or refund, by reason of such cancellation, advancement, postponement, substitution or deviation.

Similarly, the new cruise line “bill of rights” offers no hope of an airfare refund. Paragraph 2 offers the right, “to a full refund for a trip that is canceled due to mechanical failures, or a partial refund for voyages that are terminated early due to those failures.” No word on reimbursed airfare, though.

Of course, Kauffman could have avoided much of this unpleasantness by using a travel agent and buying an insurance policy that covers cancellations. But I also think Celebrity might want to consider making an exception to its “no refunds” rule on this one.

Should this cruise be an expensive “lesson learned” for Kauffman, or should I get involved?

Should I mediate Douglas Kauffman's case?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

59 thoughts on “My cruise ship broke down and left me high and dry

  1. You know, every time I hear another one of these cruise debacle stories, it just builds on the mountain of disdain I have for Cruise Lines. But I digress.

    Air Canada, of course, can’t fly him from Anchorage to the lower 48 due to cabotage laws, but could codesharing bail him out. What if Air Canada re-booked him on a codeshare flight operated by a US airline? Would that still run afoul of the cabotage laws?

    If I was this guy, I’d take my refund from the cruise and book a trip to Hawaii in January. I’m assuming the cuise line DOES actually have to refund the money when they don’t actually take a customer on a cuise, right. Since we’re dealing with a cuise maybe that’s not a given. The “refund” might be in funny money vouchers.

    1. Air Canada cannot be anywhere in the mix when flying from ANC to the rest of the US, not even as a code share participant. The flight must be booked and flown on a US based airline if it is ticketed as a single itinerary. Nothing says he can’t book a flight from ANC to YVR separately and then take his original flight from there.

      1. Depending on where he lives, it could be cheaper to fly one-way from ANC to his home airport than to fly ANC to YVR. (Interestingly, NYC, ORD, DEN, SFO, LAX all seem to have cheaper one-way fares from ANC right now than YVR).

          1. If the $200 change fee offer is economically worthless to the OP, then I think it’s reasonable for the OP to ask Celebrity to substitute something else of equivalent value.

  2. He also had the option to use the $200 airfare credit from the cruise line to book a flight from Alaska to Vancouver and just take his original flight home.

    It sounds like the traveler made the trip and the expiring Air Canada credit more complicated than it needed to be.

    1. He also had the option to use the $200 airfare credit from the cruise line to book a flight from Alaska to Vancouver and just take his original flight home.

      How do you know this? If it was literally “a credit for change fees” how would that work exactly? How do you even book service on Air Canada from ANC to YVR (not to mention the likely scenario that his final destination was in the USA)?

      1. Not to be a smart-alec, but try the AirCanada website. It shows that they fly ANC to YVR. Not sure about availability but since we don’t have a particular date in October, that’s all up in the air. {sorry, couldn’t help the pun}

        1. According to flightstats, the last AC flight on that route took place on Sept 18. I don’t see any further scheduled flights since then or available for future booking until May 16 2014.

          1. Good detective work! I did go back and re-read the story. The OP booked in October 2012 (since the credit expires 1 year from the initial booking, hence the October 2013 mention in the story). I don’t know when the cruise itself was supposed to take place – prior to Sept. 18th or not. Matter of fact, I don’t know if all of the story is now in the past and the OP is now back home and now he’s just looking for reimbursement for a solution he created for himself.

            I’m confused, and I did have my caffeine. Going to be a looong day!

          2. No you are not confused. Air Canada had nothing to do with the cruiseline’s cancellation.
            Seems like he bought AC tickets from Vancouver where the cruise was supposed to end to wherever the OP is from.
            I guess they planned to fly to Anchorage and use the cruise to travel from Anchorage to Vancouver.
            When the cruiseline cancelled, the OP had to find a way to either go from ANC – YVR, or ANC to back home.
            Well unfortunately his airline tickets are not linked with the cruise so sorry.
            That’s the risk one takes when cruising.

      2. “How do you even book service on Air Canada from ANC to YVR?”

        How about you go to the Air Canada web site and enter in your starting and ending destinations and select the day you want to fly?

        AC only offers seasonal service between those airports and not 7 days a week anyway, so depending on when the actual days are the OP needs to fly this might not be an option. But there are other airlines that make the trip (Alaska Air for one). Whether or not he gets the $200 from the cruise line in a useable form to apply to the new flight is another issue.

  3. I’m not sure about this one. If he has $200 + 25%, why can’t he use that to fly from Anchorage to Vancouver? I would think that would cover it, problem solved.

    I do feel bad for the guy, honestly. But it isn’t fair to the people that purchased insurance to get the exact same thing he does. That defeats the purpose of insurance. I see a lot of those types of stories on here. The people that didn’t bother to purchase insurance want exactly the same resolution as those that did. And I just don’t see that as fair.

    1. Does Air Canada serve ANC->YVR? Could he use the change fee credit to buy a new ticket on another carrier? How much is a new one-way ticket on another carrier from ANC to YVR?

      Which insurance policy would have covered him? Cancel for any Reason doesn’t come with a full refund. If he bought a typical plan like TravelGuard Platinum, it would contain an exclusion like this one:

      The following exclusions apply to Trip Cancellation and Trip Interruption:

      Benefits will not be provided for any loss resulting (in whole or in part) from:
      (a) travel arrangements canceled by an airline, cruise line, or tour
      operator, except as provided elsewhere in the plan;

      So which Covered Reason for Trip Cancellation would apply? Celebrity didn’t go bankrupt, the passenger didn’t get sick, there was no weather event or natural disaster….

      1. That’s funny since my Gold policy reads the following

        Under trip cancellation:

        mechanical/equipment failure of a Common Carrier that
        occurs on a scheduled Trip and causes complete
        cessation of the Insured’s travel and results of a Loss of
        50% of the Insured’s Trip length;

        and Common Carrier is defined as

        Common Carrier” means an air, land, or sea conveyance
        operated under a license for the transportation of
        passengers for hire.

        This cancellation was directly due to a mechanical failure not a charter. The OP would have been covered under my reading

        1. That’s a good catch, though I’m still not convinced if it qualifies. What qualifies as a “scheduled Trip?” Is it not limited to the trip(s) the OP has declared and insured? The failure occurred in August, and Celebrity seems to have retired the ship for the rest of the season.

          Also, other insurers — like Allianz (Access America) — don’t have a mechanical/equipment/failure clause as far as I can tell.

          Added: this is how TravelGuard defines “Trip”:

          “Trip” means a period of travel away from home to a
          Destination outside the Insured’s City of residence; the
          purpose of the Trip is business or pleasure and is not to
          obtain health care or treatment of any kind; the Trip has
          defined Departure and Return dates specified when the
          Insured applies; the Trip does not exceed 365 days; travel
          is primarily by Common Carrier and only incidentally by
          private conveyance.

          1. I actually thought you were right and went to the DOC to see if there was any wiggle room. I was shocked to find the two above.

          2. It’s good to identify and highlight which plans would help and which plans wouldn’t help in a scenario like this.

  4. Mr. Kauffman purchased one-way transportation from Seward, Alaska to Vancouver, B.C. While Celebrity might have the right to cancel the particular sailing, and might have the right not to refund a fare, but Celebrity still had the obligation to transport Mr. Kauffman from Seward to Vancouver. Perhaps by bus, perhaps by airplane, perhaps by another sailing. But I did not see anything in the contract relieving Celebrity from its obligation from providing transportation from Seward to Vancouver. (And, of course, once in Vancouver Mr. Kauffman could use his Air Canada ticket to fly to the United States.)

    1. Actually no they don’t have that obligation since they refunded fare. Just like an airline. They can cancel your flight and refund your money without any further obligation

      1. My understanding was that Celebrity was refusing to refund the fare of the transportation from Seward to Vancouver. That was based, in part, by Mr. Elliott’s recitation of the portion of the contract of carriage that he describes as “leav[ing] little doubt that the company can do whatever it wants,” which I took as meaning that Celebrity was keeping the fare paid without refund, and only paying out the very limited compensation described. Of course, if that understanding is wrong, and Celebrity is refunding the fare, then my comment is not applicable.

        1. @LFH0 Based on the way Chris wrote this one up, I assumed that this was a cancellation before the cruise commenced. Under the stories I saw on the internet regarding this fiasco and their obligations under CLIA’s passenger bill of rights, he should have received his fare back. In addition, they offered the 25% off a future cruise and the airline change fees as a service recovery measure (ie not required by the CLIA bill of rights). If it was during a cruise, the CLIA bill of rights would have required getting him to his port of debarkation. (With two cruises scheduled in the near future, I watched the story closely and read up on the CLIA bill.)

          Edit: During the cruise, it would have required a partial refund for unused days too

    2. They are not obligated to do this it a passenger handled their own air. If you buy an airline ticket, you need to think down the road about any issues and reuse. This is something, as a travel consultant, I go over with clients.

      1. The fact that this passenger self-arranged transportation from Vancouver to his home city is irrelevant. Celebrity has the obligation to get him from Seward to Vancouver, from which point he can then continue with his own self-arranged transportation. Whether Celebrity fulfills its obligation by operating its vessel, by providing alternative transportation, or by refunding the fare collection so that the passenger can arrange for his own alternative transportation, is a detail, but nonetheless an obligation of Celebrity.

        1. Show us in writing their obligation? If the OP had used the cruise line ‘air, all this would not be an issue. But when you piece meal your travel, which isn’t a negative, you have the obligation to consider the what if’s BEFORE making any payments.

          1. To see something “in writing” you have to look at a specific individual ticket to see what transportation Celebrity has promised to provide to any particular passenger. In this case, the individual ticket would have specified that one-way transportation was to be provided from Seward to Vancouver. If someone makes a promise, in exchange for valid consideration, that promise is generally enforceable. Moreover, if you look at the general contract terms, at paragraph 5 where Celebrity states its disclaimer for performance liability, Celebrity specifically exempts from its disclaimer transportation “other than on the Vessel or on any Transport owned or operated by RCT in connection with
            a RCT Land Tour . . . .” Here, for failing to transport the passenger from Seward to Vancouver, Celebrity should be liable, at a minimum, to refund the fare such transportation not provided.

          2. If the cruise line had handled the air, then they would have been responsible for it. But when passengers decide not to use the cruiseline’s air. they take that on the chance of something happening and are the responsible party for their own air booking. The cruise line is offering the change fee as air is reuseable for up to one year from the time of issue. The OP can get a flight from ANC to YVR and make a vacation on both ends so not all is lost.

          3. If the OP had used the cruise line ‘air, all this would not be an issue.

            Can you show us where THAT commitment exists in writing? I grant that’s probably the case in practice, but I’m unable to find such a guarantee in any of Celebrity’s contracts.

            And I’m not even sure which Celebrity contract applies. The cruise contract Chris cites has 6,252 words. The only contract I can find linked on Celebrity’s website if I go through the motions of booking an Alaska cruise (for 2014) has 2,323 words. (And that 2,323 word contract is not linked until the final page where you must enter credit card information.)

        2. Well, I am not sure leisure cruise lines define themselves as a common carriers, like ferries, that transport people from A to B. (PS they are common carriers.) By cancelling the “tour” and returning your money I am not sure what else is their obligation to a poor traveler. Your vacation is ruined, so what, we don’t care. That’s the prevailing attitude.

          1. But if the OP had taken the cruise line’s air, everything would have been handled with the cruise line. But when you do it all separately (I do this of my own travel) you have to take responsibility for what you booked away from the cruise line.

          2. I think that might be true for many (even most) cruise line passengers, but not all. Some people do not use air transportation, and transportation by sea is the alternative. The days of ocean liners crossing the seas largely passed some 40 years ago, and in most cases only cruise liners can provide this necessary transportation. Of the many cruises I’ve taken, all have been used to provide one-way transportation; none have been round-trip “excursions.” In one case, I had business in California, and traveled westbound across the country via Amtrak, and eastbound via Celebrity Cruises, the one-way cost being about the same in each direction.

            Unlike the largest cruise market–the Caribbean–many other cruises are one-way, including Panama Canal journeys, fall foliage cruises between Montreal or Quebec and Boston or New York, and Alaska cruises between Vancouver and either Seward or Whittier. In connection with the Alaska cruises many passengers remain in Alaska for an extended period of time in order to engage in overland sightseeing. The same could be true with other one-way cruises. Such vacation (or even business) travel is not completely “ruined” by the failure to receive transportation by sea, and such transportation could be easily replaced with motorcoach transportation between Vancouver and either Seward or Whittier, whereupon the vacation or business travel can be resumed with minimal inconvenience. Thus, such one-way travel is little different than arranging for, say, an Amtrak trip across the country.

            Finally, when you look at the laws and regulations involved (especially those relating to cabotage) there is no distinction between ferries and cruise liners offering one-way journeys. Nor do I see a reason for making a distinction.

            I think there is some merit in your thoughts with respect to round-trip cruise “excursions” organized for the purpose of vacationing. That is, where there is no desire to go to a particular place as a destination of indeterminate duration. And if that was the only element of a vacation, its cancellation would, of course, “ruin” the vacation.

  5. Sorry… The OP decided to save a little money and book his cruise and airfare separately. If he buys them together and Celebrity won’t refund the airfare portion, I have a problem. He didn’t. Whenever you book an unjoined itinerary, you probably save some money but you assume some risk. In this case, it ended up costing him additional money. (PS… Like the OP, I almost never buy my airfare from the cruise company. However, I understand that I am then assuming any risk if the ship is late due to storms etc or if the cruise is cancelled).

    Furthermore, I just checked one-way tickets from Anchorage to Vancouver. Two week from today, they are $277 a piece. So absolute worse case, he can take his cruise refund and spend an extra week in Alaska and then take his $200 is airfare to fly down to Vancouver (or spend the week in Vancouver). Net cost is only $77.

    I also checked and he would have been covered under the trip insurance policy that I normally buy since it was a mechanical failure of a common carrier (cruise lines count in their definition).

    All in all, the OP assumed lots of risk on this trip. He didn’t purchase his airfare from the cruise line and didn’t purchase trip insurance. Unfortunately for him, the risk caught up with him. I say take a pass Chris.

    1. I also checked and he would have been covered under the trip insurance policy that I normally buy since it was a mechanical failure of a common carrier (cruise lines count in their definition)

      Five days later, Chris has documented a travel insurance case which illustrates why this would NOT generally be covered by the language of travel insurance policies:


      Like CSA, TravelGuard (which you’ve indicated elsewhere is your normal policy) does cover mechanical equipment failure — if the failure:

      occurs on a scheduled Trip

      The problem is that when the equipment failure has already occurred– as it did in this case — long before your insured trip, then that doesn’t meet the “scheduled Trip” criteria:

      “Trip” means a period of travel away from home to a Destination outside the Insured’s City of residence; the purpose of the Trip is business or pleasure and is not to obtain health care or treatment of any kind; the Trip has defined Departure and Return dates specified when the Insured applies; the Trip does not exceed 365 days; travel is primarily by Common Carrier and only incidentally by private conveyance.

  6. There are risks in every travel mode. What about relying on flight schedules and then having last moment delays that seem forever? Why so silent here? Any one who takes a cruise must realize it has downside potential too. If in the middle of the ocean and one gets a heart attack, getting a plane to transport to a hospital is very hard too. Don’t use a mode unless one can afford the both sides. Also, travel insurance might have helped. He should stop complaining. There is no sympathy here

  7. Yet another reason not to rely on a cruise line to take you from point A to point B. They Fail.
    Imagine this, you plan a European vacation. And on one part of your itinerary you inserted a cruise from Venice to Barcelona (instead of flying or rail). Your beloved cruise lines cancels on you. So now you are stuck in Venice and you need to figure out a way to get to Barcelona.
    How do you insure against such things? Well, thanks to Vueling Airlines you could fly direct VCE-BCN. They take credit cards 🙂 Now you understand why I hate cruising and do not rely on them to take me anywhere.

    1. Since the cruise was going to be least a week long, you have plenty of time to see Italy by rail or car and get to BCN. I actually had this happen to a client and they just picked up a car and made a driving trip of the time that their cruise was going to take place. BTW, it was reverse for me. I had handled the air, they had purchased the cruise via a fundraiser. The cruise line contacted them of cancelation before they left as the ship got chartered and all booked passengers were canceled.

      1. Also, as I am reading this, the cruise was cancelled before he started his trip. Tge cruse lines pays for the change fee as fares are reusable. This is where understanding air and air carriers is really important before you buy a ticket. If something came up, would you be able to travel on that carrier again? These are points we go over with clients so they make the best decision not only for what they hope is going to be their trip, but in case they can’t travel after they make their purchase.

  8. If he didn’t take the precautions or buy insurance, he has made the decision to “self insure”. So I think he can pay this himself.

  9. I’d be interested to know when Chris got this letter. The trip was booked a year ago and his Air Canada credit runs out the end of this October. And, assuming Chris takes the case, he’s still going to need to wait a while longer to see how that turns out. He isn’t going to have much time to utilize that credit if it comes to that. Seems like he has really limited his options by waiting this long.

  10. Boilerplate contracts of carriage are rarely upheld in court. I realize y’all make extra profit when u sell insurance, but ‘we can cancel at any time for any reason’ clauses are nonsense, and contrary to public policy

    1. You do realize that the cancellation was due to engine problems and the ship had to go to dry dock so they could work on one of the two pods that move the ship through the water. Yes? You realize that the OP got a full refund, 25% off his next cruise and $200 for airline change fees.

  11. I voted no. I think it was more than fair that Celebrity refunded the cruise, offered plane change fees, and a discount on a future cruise. He booked the cruse in the middle of a larger vacation schedule. He booked each part of his vacation separately, so how is it the cruise line’s responsibility to fix it? Since he didn’t use a travel agent or a package, and didn’t purchase insurance, he opened himself to this situation.

  12. Mr. Kauffman should have purchased trip insurance to cover the unexpected. However, in this instance the unexpected is the fault of the cruise line. They should refund the cost of the airline ticket and not just the change fee. Mechanical problems do happen and Celebrity was able to notify many passengers in advance. But, as you note, the one-size-fits-all approach does not work in all instances, especially when he cruise is only one part of a longer trip. You should mediate as Celebrity has not done the right thing in this instance. Though I am curious as to why he did not fly from Anchorage to Vancouver to pick up his original flight. He might have enjoyed a visit to the city. It is a wonderful place to visit.

    1. He purchased the air on his own – so why should they cover it? And if he decided to cancel the rest of his trip, should they be on the hook for his nonrefundable hotel bookings, too? The fact they were willing to assume the change fees on a ticket they NEVER issued is going above and beyond.

      1. Why (if you’re just applying the minimum requirements of their one-sided contract at face value) should Celebrity cover it even if he purchased air through them?

        The willingness to assume “change fees” is worthless to the OP if the carrier operating his original return flight is not allowed to fly him from Anchorage to his home.

  13. I made travel arranagements and had to choose amoung different carriers and chose mostly based on cost. I knew my trip was nonrefundable when I bought it. I decided against insurance because I’m trying to save money. Now something happened and I’m suffering a negative consequence. Would you kiss the boo boo and make it okay.
    yea I know this is the cruise line that cancelled on him but seriously haven’t we as readers had enough? So many companies are truly wronging people and this is what is we’re reading about? Again? This is not consumer advocacy.

  14. I voted no. As others have noted, the cruise line has no control over or responsibility for the air travel.

    If he’s planning on staying in and around Anchorage then leaving from there, why can’t he book a one-way ticket from Anchorage to Vancouver and still use the original flight he has from Vancouver to home? I priced flights for a variety of days and found them from $278 and up. He could ask Celebrity to give him the $200 they’re offering as a credit on the airline of his choosing and he can eat the rest of the ticket cost himself. It could be a small price to pay to salvage the vacation and the original flight. Next time, he’ll plan better.

  15. I vote NO. He made the choice to DIY his trip and neglected to protect himself. Sometimes one can be too smart for one’s own good. Take Celebrity’s offer – as the Magic 8 Ball says, “The odds are not in your favor.”

  16. The airline has absolutely nothing to do with the cruise line, so Air Canada is off the hook. Celebrity is off the hook as they had nothing to do with the airline. They could have, but DIY (ers) love to cry the blues when things do not go their way. If Celebrity would make one exception to the rule, then approximately 10,000 other people over the last 3 years deserve the same courtesy from the cruise lines. Prince broke down in Europe today and is moving 1000’s of passengers, cancelled more for the future cruises. All have air tickets involved. I am not sure why travelers today think that they are smaller than a good real up close human travel agent. I like to look the person that I am spending money with straight in the eye. Douglass, who are you looking at?

  17. I would have taken my refund a tried to book the cruise on another cruise line. Princess also does one way cruises and likely would have been a good substitute.

    It’s my opinion that Celebrity should take care of ALL the air costs associated with their cancellation.

    1. Why??? They had nothing to do with the ticket – they are only responsibilbe for what you booked thru THEM – they could have booked a motorhome rental, nonrefundable hotels, etc – not the cruise line’s problem.

  18. I had Celebrity cancel a cruise two days before we were to embark. We simply kept all our flights which we had booked ourselves, not through Celebrity. We made a land trip out of it.
    We just had to book flights from San Diego to Maui and then from Maui to Honolulu since we already had the Honolulu flight back home already. We had a wonderful time and Celebrity refunded the money for that cruise and gave us a credit for an equal number of days on another Celebrity Cruise.
    It seems like the OP should try to get a refund on the cruise, use the flights and have a land vacation booking flight from Anchorage to Vancouver. He should already have the other connecting flights.
    Celebrity should give him a free cruise for an equal category and refund the money for the cruise he missed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: