Is this cruise promotion a classic bait-and-switch?

United Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Lines emailed Evelyn Jaffe with a promotion for “free” gratuities on a Hawaiian cruise. Why wasn’t the money credited when she booked the cruise?

Question: I called Norwegian Cruise Line to book a cruise to Hawaii and the representative suggested that we hold my reservation with a completely refundable deposit if we were to cancel before Dec. 31. He also said that the booking could be transferred to my agent at United Cruises, which I wanted to do to give her my repeat business.

I wanted to take advantage of the offers of free prepaid gratuities, onboard credit, and perhaps the specialty dining perks which I received in emails as being offered for this cruise. All the offers noted were on the website for this 11-night sailing specifically.

I sent all these promotional offers to my agent, who apparently did not receive these messages. I never heard back from her regarding the promotions.

I called my agent and she spoke to a supervisor about the promotions I told her I had received. Apparently the supervisor checked and said that the promotion was applicable to my sailing. He gave my agent the appropriate code to apply to the booking.

Once it was too late to cancel, my agent informed me that the promotion was not valid. She told me that the promotion offer for free prepaid gratuities was for the seven-night cruise, not the 11-night on which I was booked, despite my having sent her many times the ads showing the bonuses available specifically for my cruise.

My agent had been given incorrect information and therefore, I was misled about the expenses for this trip. This is really most disconcerting. She knew I was very unhappy about this last-minute change in information and offered to cancel the trip if I wanted.

By this time it was really too late to cancel. I had airline tickets for the four of us, arrangements for transportation, transfers to the ship port and airport and many logistical arrangements at home. She said she would take up the issue with her supervisor.

This issue seems to smack of incompetence at best and “bait and switch” at worst. It is like seeing a sale sign on an item at a store, but the offer is not in the register when you go to pay.

I have called the cruise line and the travel agency many times and have been bounced around between United Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Lines, with each telling me that the offers were coming from the other, and I end up getting nothing. I’m really not at all happy about this whole process.

United Cruises is offering $100 each cabin for booking on a future cruise with them. This is the same offer all the cruise companies provide if a customer is unhappy with a booking for any reason. I have received four such statements from different cruise companies. This is a marketing “carrot” to entice you to book another cruise with them.

I am writing to you because I have exhausted my options with personnel at United Cruises regarding an issue that involves misleading advertising and misinformation, causing me considerable consternation. I have spoken and written to my travel agent at United Cruises (an affiliate of World Travel Holdings) many times. I have worked with her since 2011 and have booked five cruises with her. She has taken the issue to her supervisor, who kept repeating the same comments without really hearing my side and concerns.

I decided to do what you always suggest and contact the executive management of the company. I was not able to find a name of the executive officers at United Cruises, but they are affiliated with World Travel Holdings (WTH), so I wrote to the co-chairmen/CEO of WTH three weeks ago. I have not received a reply.

Thank you for any help you can give me in trying to get a fair and appropriate resolution. — Evelyn Jaffe, Tiburon, Calif.

Answer: How frustrating it must be when your travel agent does not live up to her promises. What is the value of using a travel agent if she does not help in a situation like this — when she simply throws up her hands and says, “too bad, you have to pay more.” Your travel agent owed you a better response. After all, she is being paid a commission.

In our mission of empowering consumers, we are proud that you started e-mail correspondence with executives at World Travel Holdings, the owner of United Cruises. You must have learned this the first time you needed our help.

When you got no response from World Travel Holdings, you might have contacted executives at Norwegian Cruise Lines. After all, your odyssey began with them.

But you raise an interesting question: Should a company be required to honor an agreement it makes in writing? In most circumstances, the answer is “yes.” This was a reasonable offer made through a conventional booking channel, so our advocates thought you had a strong case. (Had United Cruises offered you a $0 cruise, we might be having a different conversation.)

When you received no response from World Travel Holdings, you contacted us. Our advocates reached out our contacts at United Cruises. The company reviewed your case and agreed to honor your prepaid gratuities as well as an onboard credit of $150 per person.

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