Think having your cruise cancelled due to the health crisis creates a headache? Imagine being on the other end of that cancellation.
Not only are cruise lines at the mercy of the pandemic as to when they can sail again, but when they cancel, they also have to manage the reservations of thousands upon thousands of customers.
Adding to the complexity is that the lines are offering special deals to keep passengers cruising in the future.
Namely, many are offering you the choice of a full refund, or a cruise credit for what you paid, plus a sweetener like onboard credit or 25% bonus to put toward a new cruise.
These generous policies can be pretty good for those that know they want to sail again. It’s essentially free money.
With all those refunds, however, there are bound to be some hiccups. You need to only look at social media or message boards to get a hint that at least some passengers are having issues with their cancellations.
If you’re a Carnival cruiser, then I can tell you firsthand about the experience I had when my cruise was recently cancelled when the line extended its suspension until at least September 30, 2020. It should give you a better idea of what you might experience.
An August Cruise Gets Cancelled
When Carnival announced weeks ago that they were planning a gradual return to sailing, I was hopeful. At that time, coronavirus cases were still trending down, and while I knew there was still a chance it would be cancelled, I booked the first cruise I could.
The five-night trip on Carnival Sensation sailed from Miami on August 1, sailing to Grand Turk, Half Moon Cay, and Nassau.
All told, booking an interior room with pre-paid gratuities cost $778.59 after port fees, taxes, and gratuities. Of that amount, I paid $558 for the cruise fare.
While I was excited to sail, it was short-lived. Just weeks after booking, I found out the trip would be cancelled.
How I Found Out the Cruise Was Off
On Friday, June 19, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) announced that all its member lines were extending their suspensions through mid-September. Since Carnival is part of this industry group, that meant my trip was included in this round of cancellations.
However, it took until the next Monday before I heard anything from Carnival itself. At that time I received an email that explained the cancellation and the options for getting my money back.
As with other Carnival cancellations, I had two options:
- 100% refund of what I paid OR
- 100% future cruise credit, plus onboard credit for the future cruise
Carnival offers $300 in onboard credit for cancelled trips of five days or less. They offer $600 for trips of six days or more that were cancelled. It doesn’t matter the length of your next cruise. So if the case of this trip, since the cancelled cruise was five days, I would receive $300 in onboard credit, even if I booked a longer trip with the cruise credit.
Within the email there was a link to this page to fill out and make our choice online.
One thing to note is that even if you choose the cruise credit option, you’ll still get some money back as a refund. As Carnival explains:
“Regardless of the option you choose, your taxes, fees and port expenses, Carnival Vacation Protection, pre-paid gratuities, pre-purchased Carnival shore excursions, beverage and Wi-Fi packages, and Fun Shop purchases will be automatically refunded to the original form of payment.”
Given that I obviously plan to cruise again, I opted for the cruise credit and onboard credit. After filling out the form, I received an email confirming my submission.
Mystery Email With Penalty for Cancelling?
Despite the slight delay in hearing from Carnival about the cancelled cruise after the industry as a whole extended the suspension, the process so far went smoothly. But then came a few hiccups.
On Friday afternoon, I got a blank email with the following PDF attached:
Obviously it jumped out that the letter showed a $279 penalty assessed for the cancellation. That’s despite the fact that Carnival cancelled the sailing, not me. Searching around the Internet, I found that some other people had questions about this same letter when they received it.
Given that it was a Friday afternoon when I got the letter, I decided just to sit tight and see if there was a follow up email to explain the issue. After a weekend and no word about the penalty, I called Carnival on Monday to ask about the penalty, make sure I was getting my credit, and re-book a cruise.
More Money Refunded Than Expected
Calling Carnival led to a lot of good information, but also showed that the transaction wasn’t quite what I expected.
First things first, if you want to re-book a cancelled cruise, then you have to call Carnival and speak with a representative. At this time, you can’t do it online. Fortunately, I was able to get through quickly with minimal waiting.
Talking to the representative, I asked about the letter saying there was a $279 penalty assessed. I was told to simply disregard that message.
I then asked for details on how much credit I had and was told I had $279 in cruise credit. If you remember, my cruise fare was actually $558. It means instead of a 100% cruise credit, I received 50% of my fare as cruise credit.
It turns out that Carnival was refunding nearly $500 to the card I was paid. The amount was equal to 50% of my cruise fare, plus the taxes, port fees, and gratuities I paid.
While this change doesn’t put me out of any money, it did cause some confusion. Fortunately, it’s actually a good thing. I get more of my money back as a refund instead of it being held by Carnival. Even so, the representative told me that I would still have the $300 in onboard credit for booking my cruise.
Getting My Refund & Re-Booking a Cruise
Given the hiccups in the refund process, I decided to hold off on re-booking until I for sure had the money Carnival was refunding in my account.
The refund hit my bank account on July 3, or about two weeks after Carnival sent me the original cancellation notice.
After that, I called back and re-booked another sailing date. The entire process went smoothly, but you should know that you can’t use the cruise credit as a deposit on the future cruise. Instead, I had to pay the deposit with a credit card and then apply the credit to the remaining fare.
Bottom line: Carnival made me whole after the cruise was cancelled, but not without some confusion along the way… and it all worked out in my favor.
While I expected to have my entire cruise fare as future credit, I actually received half of it back as credit, and half as a refund to my card. That gave me more of my money back, instead of having it tied up with Carnival.
If you’ve had a cruise cancelled, hopefully this gives you an idea of what could happen. My suggestion? Know there might be some bumps, but you’ll be taken care of. The process may not be perfect, but it’s an unprecedented situation. A little patience will go a long way.