Cunard cancels Jacque Ewing-Taylor’s transatlantic cruise and promises to reimburse her expenses. But it doesn’t. Can she make Cunard give her a refund?
My husband and I were booked on the Queen Mary 2 sailing from Southampton to New York earlier this year. The cruise line canceled the sailing just before our departure.
A Cunard agent told us to stay on board that night and depart the following day. The cruise line gave us a form to fill out that said, “For any incurred expenses with your onward travel arrangements, these will be covered by Cunard.”
The agents we spoke with three different times could give us no information beyond that statement. So we went ahead and canceled our New York hotel and first-class flight from New York to San Diego, and we booked a flight home on British Airways.
I emailed Cunard with the necessary documentation. I received an email in return, saying the refund process would take some time and asking that I be patient. A few weeks later, Cunard refunded $4,544, yet the cost of the cruise was $6,872. The difference of $2,328 is still owed.
Can you help me get the rest of my refund? — Jacque Ewing-Taylor, Chula Vista, Calif.
I’m sorry about your canceled cruise. Most cruises are canceled long before guests arrive at the port, but it looks like yours was called off at the last minute after you had flown from San Diego to London. What a disappointment that must have been.
Cunard did the right thing by promising to reimburse your expenses. But it should have refunded you for everything instead of shorting you $2,328. The paper trail between you and Cunard offers no clue about the $2,328 deficit.
I have a few theories. At the time of your cancellation, Cunard wanted to ensure everyone got home safely and stress-free, so its offer to cover your expenses made sense. But then the accountants got involved, and they had to decide which expenses were legit and who was taking advantage of a situation. (For example, a passenger who flew to London in economy class but then decided to book first-class tickets home after the cancellation.)
Why do cruises get canceled?
Cruise lines rarely cancel their sailings right before departure. But it can happen. The most common reasons for a last-minute cancellation include:
A broken engine or mechanical problems that would affect the safety or operation of the vessel can force a cruise line to call off a voyage. If it’s not safe to sail, and the ship can’t be repaired, the cruise line will cancel.
A hurricane or winter storm could also cause a cruise line to cancel a sailing. A severe storm could potentially sink the ship, which would not be the ideal way to end your vacation.
Health and safety issues
Cruise lines will reroute or cancel their sailings if there’s a safety concern like an outbreak, an injury to a crewmember or passenger, or the need for an evacuation.
What does a cruise line owe me if it cancels my cruise?
As a general rule, cruise lines will refund your entire fare if they cancel your sailing. Cunard’s passage contract, the legal agreement between you and the company, says “Any person(s) refused booking or passage in advance of the scheduled sailing by Carrier will be given a refund of their Voyage Fare.”
However, Cunard is less clear on any additional expenses incurred by the guest. In fact, in several parts of the contract, it insists it has no liability for expenses you may incur — although that is subject to negotiation. (Also, if a Cunard representative agrees to cover your expenses, that would supersede the contract.)
How to get a cruise line to pay your expenses after a cancellation
I think it’s important to be as specific as possible when making an offer to reimburse a traveler’s expenses. Based on the information you sent, Cunard was perhaps short on detail.
Always get an offer like that in writing to avoid any confusion. And ask the cruise line to be as specific as possible. What will they cover? What won’t they cover? And if you have a question or concern, ask about it then and there. Don’t wait, and don’t assume you know the answer.
You can also appeal to an executive
Still, a promise is a promise. When the company failed to pay up, you could have reached out to one of the Cunard executives whose names I publish on my consumer advocacy site, Elliott.org. I also have some practical tips on how to fix the issue yourself using the Elliott Method.
You tried the executive contacts, but unfortunately, they did not respond. Then you reached out to my advocacy team and we checked in with Cunard on the status of your refund. (Here’s what you need to know before booking your next cruise.)
In response, Cunard sent you a polite email. (Related: He paid Vantage $18,536. Why is it taking so long to get a cruise refund?)
“We are truly sorry that you were not able to experience your cruise vacation due to the voyage cancellation,” it said. “Please know the circumstances are unusual and never what we anticipate for our guests.”
Cunard refunded everything — the cruise and both your plane tickets.
About this story
It’s highly unusual for a cruise to be canceled at the last minute, we our advocacy team was very curious about what happened to Jacque’s sailing. Unfortunately, Cunard would not provide us with many details — only to say that it was sorry for what happened. If you’re ever on a cruise that gets canceled at the last minute, start taking pictures, keeping receipts, and remember that we’re always just a call away. A hat tip to our entire team for the great work on this one. Dwayne Coward and Mel Smith handled the advocacy; Andy Smith and his team edited, and my brother, Dustin Elliott, did the illustration. I’m also deeply grateful to our research team for providing the most up-to-date executive contacts for Cunard.