I paid an extra $1,796 to get to my cruise. Why won’t NCL reimburse me?

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By Christopher Elliott

After Elaine Simmons’ flight reservation is lost, she pays an extra $1,796 to get to her NCL cruise. Why won’t the cruise line help her recover the money?

Question

I recently took a Western Mediterranean cruise with my family, which included flight arrangements made through Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL). On the morning before our scheduled departure, we tried to check in online, but the first leg of our flight was not showing up on the Delta Air Lines app. 

We contacted the NCL air department. A representative said they needed to reissue the outbound tickets and send us new air confirmations. She told me to go to the airport in the morning and resolve the situation at the Delta check-in desk. 

When I arrived at the airport, the agent could not find our reservation. At that point, Delta only had four seats remaining on the flight, so I purchased the tickets so I would not miss the rest of the flight and the cruise.

I have asked NCL to reimburse us for the $1,796 we had to spend. NCL asked us to file a claim with AON, the travel insurance we had purchased through NCL. AON has turned down our claim. We’ve also disputed the charge on our credit card, but lost. 

At this point we have exhausted all of our known options in resolving this case ourselves. We would be very grateful if you would consider mediating on our behalf. — Elaine Simmons, Walnut Creek, Calif.

Answer

NCL’s Air Sea program, which allows you to book your flights with your cruise, promises “greater peace of mind” when you’re traveling. Unfortunately, you got the opposite of that when you booked your flights to Europe.

Needless to say, NCL should have given you valid airline tickets. And if there was a last-minute glitch, it should have taken care of you instead of sending you to the airport to negotiate with Delta.

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My advocacy team and I have been getting quite a few complaints about airline tickets booked through a cruise line. They look a lot like yours. There’s a ticketing glitch, and passengers have to buy new tickets to get to their cruise or to get home. The cruise line refuses to cover the extra costs, pointing to the strict terms and conditions on its site.

What kind of problems do passengers have with NCL’s Air Sea program?

If you’re thinking of taking an NCL, you might be tempted to book your airfare through their Air Sea program. NCL says the program offers convenient booking and travel planning options, as well as competitive fares from over 200 departure cities across North America. 

But that’s not all. Here are some of the problems passengers have reported:

Lack of control over flight schedules and times

Unless you pay a deviation fee, NCL reserves the right to choose the air carrier, routing, and city airport from each gateway city. You may end up with flights that are not the most direct and that may involve connections, layovers, and involuntary overnights. You may also have to arrive or depart at inconvenient times, such as very early in the morning or very late at night. (I experienced this myself when I arrived in Barcelona for a Mediterranean cruise on NCL.)

Difficulty in making changes or cancelations

The airline tickets issued by NCL are based on fares that are capacity-controlled and highly restrictive. You may not be able to reissue or exchange them for another carrier or routing. If you need to make any changes or cancelations, you may have to pay hefty fees or penalties. You may even lose your entire airfare. Another reported problem: Getting in touch with the Air Sea department when you’re flying internationally and are in a different time zone from the United States. (Here’s our guide to taking a cruise.)

Higher fares than booking directly with the airline

Even though NCL claims to offer competitive fares, you may find that booking directly with the airline or through a third-party website may be cheaper or offer more benefits. For example, you may be able to earn frequent flyer miles, choose your seats, have a checked bag included in the price of your flight if you book directly with the airline. You might also have more flexibility and options if you book your own flights, such as choosing different airlines or airports. (Related: Do travelers deserve bad customer service?)

How to handle a problem with NCL’s Air Sea Program

If you have already booked your airfare through the NCL Air Sea Program and you encounter any problems or concerns, here are some steps you can take to fix them:

Check your reservation confirmation and flight itinerary

As soon as you receive your reservation confirmation and flight itinerary from NCL, review them carefully and make sure they match your preferences and expectations. If you notice any errors or discrepancies, contact NCL or your travel advisor immediately and request a correction. Keep all your receipts and documents as evidence of your booking and payment. (Related: Here’s how to make your NCL complaint get lost at sea.)

Call the airline directly

If you have any questions or issues with your flights, such as seat assignments, baggage allowances, or special requests, you may be able to resolve them by contacting the airline directly. You’ll have to provide your airline confirmation number, which may be different from your NCL reservation number. You may also be able to check in online or print your boarding passes through the airline’s website.

Get professional help 

If you’re unable to resolve your issues with NCL or the airline, or if you feel that you’ve been treated unfairly or charged incorrectly, you can get help from consumer advocacy groups or agencies. Filing a complaint with the Federal Maritime Commission may nudge NCL in the right direction. You can also contact our advocacy team for help.

Who was responsible for your flight?

In your case, there were also some crossed wires. As I reviewed the correspondence between you, the cruise line and the travel insurance company, it’s clear there was a misunderstanding of what happened — and who was responsible.

NCL was acting as your travel advisor when it booked your tickets. It is responsible for ensuring that the tickets actually get booked. And when it fails, it needs to find a way to get you to your destination at its expense. Again, leaving you to fend for yourself at the airport is not my idea of excellent customer service. (Related: This is an NCL cruise bait and switch — or is it?)

But should you have booked your tickets on your own? If you hadn’t, you probably would have missed the start of your cruise. NCL would have attempted to rebook you on a flight that would have allowed you to catch up to your cruise at the next port of call. That’s an inelegant solution and a shorter cruise, but you would have incurred no out-of-pocket expenses.

It looks like you tried to contact one of the NCL executives I publish on my consumer advocacy site, Elliott.org. You also called your credit card company for help. Your card’s dispute department should have tried to assist you instead of simply denying your claim. 

You reached out to my advocacy team. I contacted NCL on your behalf. NCL contacted you, asked you for receipts for the additional flights, and worked with Delta to reimburse you for the extra flights you had to book. “We are very grateful to you and your staff for the advocacy work you do,” you said. “You get results!”

About this story

There’s a special place in hell for travel companies that leave their customers stranded in the terminal with nowhere to go. The whole shrug, “not my problem” attitude infuriates me and my entire advocacy team. And it makes us reach for our capes. In this case, our A-Team deserves a round of thanks. Dwayne and Mel in advocacy, Will and his team in our forums, Andy and his team in the editing department and Dustin with the illustration. A special thanks to Avinash and his team of producers for working on this story at the last minute. I never grow tired of saying this: You are the best advocacy team in the world, and I am lucky to work with you.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Panamá City.

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