What is there to “consider”? The passenger is dead

Vicki Berkus wants to know how nonrefundable “nonrefundable” airline and cruise tickets really are.

Actually, so do I.

See, when airlines say nonrefundable, they don’t really mean it. See our frequently asked questions on air travel for details. Cruise tickets are typically fully refundable when a passenger expires before the sailing date, but not always.

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Berkus wants me to get involved in her case, but as I review the details, I think it’s possible this one could resolve itself in time. I certainly hope so.

Berkus’ brother had plans to fly to Europe and take an NCL cruise. He died before he could leave.

But this isn’t a cut-and-dried refund case. He was all set to fly to Europe when his flight was delayed, and then canceled. He missed his cruise as a result, and then, unfortunately, he died.

So both American Airlines and NCL would have applied their policies for living passengers to this situation. Berkus’ brother received a flight credit, but NCL offered no refund, in accordance with its rules.

For Berkus, getting refunds for the $5,395 for her brother’s flight and $2,313 for his cruise has proven to be an odyssey. “Every time I call, I am told it is under consideration,” she says.

Under consideration? What’s there to consider? The passenger is dead.

But it’s an interesting dilemma. What happens when someone dies after their travel dates but before they can use their ticket credit? Should their heirs get a full refund? Should they receive a credit? Or nothing at all?

I can certainly see the company’s perspective on this: Rules are rules. You should have bought insurance. Whatever.

But isn’t it also morally wrong to pocket a dead man’s money? Isn’t that exactly what American and NCL appear to be doing?

Stringing a grieving relative along is not the kind of customer service the airline and cruise line want to be known for. It would be helpful if they could give her a definitive answer as quickly as possible.

I’d like to help Berkus, but she hasn’t formally appealed her case to the executives at American and NCL yet. She also needs to give the process a little more time. I believe both companies will still do the right thing, if given the chance. I want to make sure they have that chance.

Should I take Vicki Berkus' case?

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9 thoughts on “What is there to “consider”? The passenger is dead

  1. “But isn’t it also morally wrong to pocket a dead man’s money?”

    The guy wasn’t dead when he bought the tickets, and he wasn’t dead when he *missed* his cruise. It would be entirely appropriate for NCL to use the same policy that would be applied if I’d missed a cruise due to a flight delay (out of luck if the flight wasn’t purchase from NCL).

    Regarding the flight, well…at the time of death he held a credit with AA, not a scheduled flight. I can’t find anything in their FAQ that speaks to that specific scenario, though actual tickets may be refunded if the traveler dies. I would point out that the only reason he wasn’t able to travel on his original itinerary was because of AA’s cancellation/delay.

  2. Many rules are in place because people can and do “game the system” otherwise. Not very many will game the system by dying to get a refund. (Though a death certificate can fairly be expected to be produced to make sure it isn’t a fake demise.) I think the morally right thing for AA to do here is – though perhaps not legally required – to offer a refund to the estate. You’re right that it’s premature to get involved before the process has fully played out. In the case of NCL, he had already missed the cruise while alive. The fact he died later is not relevant to that issue and that matter should be dropped.

    1. Agree – and usually what the airlines end up doing. The cruise was not an item refundable due to his death, as he missed it prior to that.

  3. Without knowing the timeframes involved so far, it is possible that both companies will do the right thing.

    American issues a flight credit and now the person owning the credit has deceased. I know they want a refund, but that is against policy. But the deceased can “use” the credit and “purchase” tickets for someone else.

    NCL offered nothing and that is a whole different battle, regardless of living or dead.

    Let the process play out, like you said. Most likely, this rather rare circumstance is not covered in policy and most likely any changes need to be vetted by whatever corporate mechanisms exist — including legal. Never a fast process,

  4. Why didn’t he get a refund from American Airlines originally? If the flight was canceled by AA he deserved a full refund and not a credit.

  5. When I buy a nonrefundable ticket, that money is spent at the time of the purchase.

    Asking about the morals and ethics is silly: companies are amoral legal constructs that exist to maximize profit. Corporations aren’t “people” by any reasonable definition (although I guess you could consider them to be sociopathic people). Waiting for the outcome of an appeal to the people who can override company policy is the best course of action.

    One can just as easily ask if it is right for the relatives to demand special treatment. Are they morally entitled to the dead man’s spent money?

    1. Considering corporations are legally people, I’d sure like it if we could hold them to that standard! Seems fair to me!

  6. KanExplore says it perfectly: “Many rules are in place because people can and do “game the system” otherwise. Not very many will game the system by dying to get a refund.”

    While I understand that travel providers are selling a service based on space and time – a no-show passenger/guest is usually lost revenue. However, nobody is going to die to game the system, so I think the moral thing to do is refund the estate. But the OP needs to make a good effort before Chris steps in.

  7. Moral is for an individual’s internal guidance – ethics is for guidance with respect to others.
    Non-refundable should be generally unacceptable in goods and services with few exceptions.
    For commercial operation that do not rely exclusively on the sale of the goods or services specifically to you – the loss of unearned revenue if the goods or services cannot be delivered to you is simply their risk of doing business. This is called capitalism. You risk – you earn. If your business relies on shifting its risks to consumers – get out of business.

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