While many cruise customers are missing out on refunds because of a technicality that says they only get their money back if the cruise line cancels their trip first, those who have been promised refunds have faced extensive waits to receive their money back – well outside the time window in which the cruise lines said their refunds would be processed.
Carrollton, Texas, resident Farah Derebery Miller had booked a Feb. 17 sailing on Norwegian Cruise Line out of Singapore that was canceled on Feb. 13. The voyage had already been moved from Hong Kong to Singapore prior due to port closures.
“We switch[ed] all of our travel plans to Singapore and then they cancel[ed] on us,” she told USA TODAY. “They wouldn’t let any of us cancel leading up to Feb. 13 or said we would lose all our money.”
Her travel insurance wouldn’t cover COVID-19-related cancellations and so she was stuck until Norwegian canceled for her.
Miller was told that her credit card would be refunded automatically. But as of June 24 – 132 days later – she still hasn’t gotten all of her money back. She has received most money back but is still waiting for Norwegian to refund $625.30 of her payment to make her whole. By the time they pay it all back, the total sum she will be refund sum should be $3,028.05. She also hasn’t received the 25% discount voucher promised in the February email that announced her cruise cancellation.
“They have different stories every time you call them,” she told USA TODAY. “Or they tell you the person we need to speak with is out of the office or unavailable.” Getting the runaround has been “beyond frustrating.”
Miller’s story isn’t unique.
Norwegian canceled Shelley Campbell Greenwald’s cruise on March 13 and she requested a refund 10 days later. In the meantime, the Groveland, Florida, resident decided to form a Facebook group to commiserate with other customers in monetary limbo.
“I formed the group because so many were struggling to get information from NCL,” she told USA TODAY. “There was a lot of anxiety, due to the length of time it was taking for refunds to go out.”
A week into the group’s existence, there were around 400 members, all clamoring for their money back. Now, after three weeks, there are more than 900.
Within a week of starting the Facebook group, Greenwald got some good news: her refund was processed June 15.
Norwegian isn’t the only culprit when it comes to being tardy with refunds. Other cruise lines have been slow to process them as well.
Jacquie Tyndall told USA TODAY via Twitter that she has been waiting for a refund from P&O Cruises, a British subsidiary of Carnival Corp., since March 14. Likewise, Helen Gordon tweeted that she has been waiting for a P&O refund since March 30.
And C.J. Hayden and her partner, both from San Francisco, were actually on board the Pacific Princess during a world cruise that departed from Los Angeles on Jan. 20 and went westward toward Asia and Australia, when the remainder of their voyage, set to end May 21, was canceled.
“That was canceled mid-voyage in March,” Hayden told USA TODAY. They disembarked in Fremantle, Australia after spending 18 days at sea without being accepted at any ports.
Princess Cruises promised them a full refund of the missed days on the cruise beginning March 1, when the ship’s itinerary began to change, plus a future cruise credit for 100% of missed time.
“They owe us a total of $37,500 and we have seen none of that,” Hayden said.
The timeline for getting their money back has been murky ever since the refund was announced.
“They have told us a number of things, none of which have turned out to be true,” she said. “Initially, they said two to three weeks, then 30 days then 60 days – after 60 days, [they] stopped making up a new date and started saying we have no estimate.”
Earlier this week, Hayden finally saw the future cruise credit in her Princess account, but still no refund.
What are cruise lines saying about refunds?
For some lines, including Carnival Cruise Line, the delay in refunding customers has been due to the number of requests coming in and an inability to keep up.
Carnival Cruise Line
“Early on in this pause in service, refunds were taking longer than we would have liked because of the sheer volume,” Vance Gulliksen, spokesperson for Carnival Cruise Line, told USA TODAY.
Over time, Carnival has collaborated with their bank processor to distribute the refunds more efficiently. “For the most part, we have worked through the backlog and feel that we can now process and issue refunds in a much more timely manner,” he said.
In a letter, Princess Cruises told their customers that they understand “the frustration over delays” for refunds, according to spokesperson Negin Kamali.
The cruise line offered details in the letter about what it needed to do in order to better keep up with refund requests,such as increasing more staff resources and system capabilities to handle the higher volume and more complexity.
“With a global scope, our refund process is an involved one, dealing with 13 different currencies and various payment methods,” the letter explained.
As a result of the changes, Princess Cruises had completed almost 60% of requested refunds by the time the letter was sent out the week of June 22.
They also let their customers know that refunds and future cruise credits are handled separately so it is normal, as part of their process, to receive them at different times. They also noted that a full future cruise credit could be made up of two or three separate credits in total.
Refunds may also come to Princess customers as a series of payments rather than in one lump sum.
“Although we can’t give a specific date as to when the refund will be received, please know that we’re working as hard as we can to get it to you as quickly as possible,” the letter said.
Jonathon Fishman, spokesperson for Royal Caribbean, told USA TODAY that as of Tuesday, it could take up to 45 business days for a passenger who had a canceled cruise to receive a refund.
“We appreciate our guests’ patience during these times,” he said.
Holland America Line
Erik Elvejord, spokesperson for Holland America Line, echoed Princess and Carnival’s sentiments in that they were not equipped to handle the vast count of refunds that they had been presented with in a timely manner.
“To date, Holland America Line has refunded tens of millions of dollars in cruises and continues to work through outstanding requests,” Elvejord told USA TODAY. “Our reservation and payment systems were not designed to handle the volume of refunds in a short period of time, and it had been taking longer to process.”
Like Princess, Holland America increased the staff supporting the refund effort and modified booking systems.
“Nearly all refunds for guests who were asked to submit their compensation decision by June 1st have been processed,” he added. “Refunds for guests with a June 15th selection date are in process and will be completed in the coming weeks.”
Norwegian Cruise Line
Christine Da Silva, vice president of communications at Norwegian, told USA TODAY. said that the cruise line has canceled an “unprecedented number” of sailings, resulting in a higher than normal volume of refund requests.
“Refunds are being handled by voyage departure date and according to the date that refunds were initially requested,” she said. “Regrettably, we are experiencing delays with our ability to deliver within the 90-day time frame but we are moving as quickly as possible.”
Will there be ramifications for cruise lines that delay refunds?
The timing of a refund from a travel organization is not typically governed by law, Jeff Ment, a travel attorney who practices in New York and Connecticut, told USA TODAY in May.
That’s why some people are being told it could take longer than expected to see a refund.
“There are some obvious reasons for delays: furloughed staff, thousands of refunds and, likely, some cash flow problems,” he said.
Ment said he isn’t holding his breath on any lasting legal changes, either.
“No new, imminent law changes are expected, but consumers could contact their credit card company or local attorney general’s office to lodge a complaint,” he added.
Would cruisers still waiting for refunds sail with assorted cruise lines again?
“Most likely not,” said Greenwald. “My trust in (Norwegian) is lost because how the refund process has been handled up to this point.”
Miller was in the same camp as Greenwald. “Never again,” she said. Her plan is to sell her Norwegian cruise credit to someone else.
“The most frustrating thing about all this is dealing with their lies,” Miller added noting that Norwegian attempted at one point to skirt around her refund by claiming she canceled before they did, which she was able to disprove with an email. “I could never trust a company like this on the open seas with my family if they are this deceptive.”
Source: USA TODAY
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