When Valerie Kilmartin tries to change cruise itineraries, she’s foiled by a change fee. Is there any way to throw her a life preserver?
Question: We booked a cruise on the American Queen Steamboat’s American Queen last year for an October 2016 sailing. We want to change to any cruise in October on the sister boat, American Empress.
This would be our sixth cruise with the American Queen Steamboat Company. They insist on a cancellation fee of $250 per person. I have spoken to a supervisor. Same answer.
I’d like to change the reservation to an American Empress cruise with a reasonable change fee. It is more than 100 days out for the trip. Can you help me? — Valerie Kilmartin, Guilford, Conn.
Answer: Technically, you weren’t being charged a change fee. This is an “administrative” fee, as outlined in the cruise line’s terms and conditions:
Days prior to departure Per Person Cancellation Fee
Up to 91 days $250 per person Administrative fee
90-61 days 50% of gross fare
60-31 days 75% of gross fare
30-0 days 100% of gross fare
What, exactly, is an “administrative” fee? Well, normally companies call something administrative when they can’t find a better word for it. Basically, the American Queen Steamboat Company wants to be compensated for its staff time and paperwork for your canceled cruise. Whether you rebook on a different ship or not, it doesn’t care. It wants your money.
The company is entitled to write whatever terms it wants and can hold you to them. But just because it can doesn’t mean it should. I look at your rebooking differently. You’re a frequent American Queen customer and wanted to change your itinerary — not cancel it. The cruise line wasn’t losing any of your money.
Our advocacy team recommended you appeal this case to an executive at American Queen. You sent an email to the president. He responded almost immediately, handing you off to someone in the customer service department.
Initially, the company refused to waive the cancellation fee, instead offering you a two-for-one cruise in 2017. You declined that offer and said you would cancel your entire cruise — a move that would have definitely cost the cruise line business.
An hour later, you received a call from a vice president who said they had “reconsidered the situation” and that the language in their contract wasn’t clear.
The cruise line allowed you to make a change to your itinerary at no cost. Lesson learned? If you think you have a good case, be persistent.