Holland America changed our flight home — but didn’t inform us

Allen Mcdowell and his wife book a cruise package with flights. When they arrive at the airport for the return trip, they learn that their flight is changed. But, they aren’t notified of the change and they miss the flight. They have to buy new tickets, and can’t get their money back. Can our advocates help them get reimbursed?

Question: My wife and I booked a cruise package through Holland America Lines that included airfare. The round trip flights were on United Airlines and we paid to upgrade to premium economy seats. After we booked, we transferred the reservation to Cruise Specialists.

When the cruise ended, we went to the airport in Rome to board the United Airlines flight home. At the airport, we learned that our return flight had been changed, and we were rebooked on Delta Air Lines. We went to check in with Delta, but we did not have enough time to get to the gate and board the flight before it took off. The Delta flight had left and we had to buy new tickets to return home. We bought one-way economy seat tickets for the next day, spent the night in a hotel and it cost us $8,000.

I contacted Cruise Specialists and the agent said that they had emailed Holland America with the flight change information. I was told that the Holland America ship crew knew about the change in flights, and should have notified us while on the ship. But the ship crew didn’t convey this information to us.

Holland America denied knowing about the flight change. It offered to refund the $303 per person fare difference between premium economy and economy seats for the return flight. Holland America also offered a future cruise shipboard credit of $200 for each of us. We don’t think this is acceptable. Can you help us get a refund for the new tickets we had to buy? — Allen Mcdowell, Goose Creek, S.C.

Answer: When you booked and paid for your cruise and air package through Holland America, you were entitled to its Flight Ease protection. Flight Ease guarantees you “worry-free booking.” Failing to inform you about a major change in your airline departure schedule resulted in you purchasing extremely expensive last-minute tickets, and didn’t result in “worry-free booking.”

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Your cruise and airline tickets were booked and paid through Holland America. And Holland America was your travel agent. Later you transferred the reservation to Cruise Specialists, and it became your travel agent and took responsibility for your booking. Communication about the flight change clearly broke down. But, to learn from your experience, we should try to understand how it broke down.

We know that Cruise Specialists sent an email about the change to Holland America. Holland America acknowledged receiving the email, but said that the information didn’t make it to the ship. Presumably, had the information made it to the ship, the crew would have informed you.

It’s possible that the ship crew wasn’t aware of the change. Maybe Holland America didn’t convey the change to the ship because once you transferred the reservation away from it, it was no longer responsible for your booking, or changes to it. Because the reservation was initially booked and paid through Holland America, perhaps Cruise Specialists thought it was sufficient to email Holland America, and rely on the cruise line to notify you about the change.

Regardless of which agency was responsible to inform you about the flight change, Holland America’s Flight Ease terms provide that “reconfirming flights prior to trip date is the responsibility of the guest.” So, even had your booking remained with Holland America, it would have been incumbent upon you to reconfirm your flight before departure.

You explained that you didn’t contact either agency about this issue when you were at the airport because you were in a foreign country, without cell phone coverage to the U.S. You said that you didn’t know how to call the U.S. using anything but your cell phone. You were anxious and stressed, and booked the next available flight that the Delta gate agent could sell you.

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It’s a good idea to travel to a foreign country with a reliable way to call the U.S. Even without international coverage, your cell phone is a dependable way to do this. Mobile phone providers typically allow customers to temporarily add international calls and data to their service plans. It’s an extra cost of a limited duration, but well worth the convenience and peace of mind. If you had temporarily added the international coverage to your cell phone, you may have been more inclined to check your email for notifications from Cruise Specialists. Or, you may have felt comfortable calling the agency to reconfirm the flight, prior to your departure date.

Even without the international mobile coverage, you could, and should, have checked your email for flight changes, and called your agent to confirm flights. You could have done this any time during your trip, particularly when in port when cell coverage tends to be more stable.

You certainly have a right to rely on your travel agents and expect them to convey important information to you. That is what you paid for. But, that should em>not replace self-reliance. That means taking a little extra time to independently confirm the booking, and any subsequent changes. As your experience teaches us, not doing so could cost you a lot of money, caught between two agencies that won’t take responsibility for your loss.

Before you contacted our advocates for help, you could have tried to escalate your complaint by contacting Holland America executives for help. We list executive contact information for Holland America on our website. And you could have posted your question to our help forums. Our help forums are staffed by travel industry experts, and they may have had helpful suggestions about how to address this issue with both Holland America and Cruise Specialists.

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Our advocates contacted Holland America about your case. Initially, it repeated the offer of reimbursing you the $606 price difference between premium economy and economy seats on the original United return flight, and a future cruise credit of $400. Our advocates continued their efforts on your behalf and were successful in getting Holland America to refund you the $8,000 you spent to get home.

Diane Perera

Diane and her family love to travel, and they do so as much as they can. Having experienced the downside of travel, and having learned so much from Elliott.org, led Diane to become an advocate and to help fight the good fight. Read more of Diane's articles here.

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