I Missed My Cruise. Here’s What Happened to All the Money I Paid

For many travelers, it’s their worst nightmare. You book a cruise costing thousands of dollars and look forward to the vacation for months.

When I missed the ship, my cruise was canceled and I was hit with penalties on what I paid. So how much money did I get back on a cruise I didn’t take?

But then on cruise day, you wake up sick… or you miss your flight… or a flat tire on the way to the port means you miss the ship.

That begs the question of what happens to all that money you’ve paid if you have to cancel at the last minute? Or even worse, what if you miss the cruise altogether? Is everything you paid just lost? Do you get a refund?

I recently went through this ordeal myself and can tell you exactly what happened. The good news is that while you may miss the cruise and there are definite harsh penalties you’ll pay, you can get back a decent chunk of what you’ve spent.

A Delayed Flight Meant I Didn’t Make the Ship in Time

A perfectly-timed line of thunderstorms delayed my flight by about 90 minutes, meaning a missed connection to the port.

I make my living taking, writing, and talking about cruises. Since it’s literally my business, I’ve taken dozens of cruises over the years. Usually these trips involve flying to departure ports ranging from Seattle to Miami to New York to Los Angeles.

While I always tell people it’s smart to fly in the day before the cruise, I’ll be honest. I almost always fly in the morning of the trip. Given how frequently I cruise, saving on the hotel the night before and having one less travel day adds up for me.

So when I had a three-day cruise aboard Celebrity Reflection booked with my family, we chose an early morning flight from Texas to Fort Lauderdale with a layover in Atlanta.

You can read about the entire ordeal here, but the long story turned short is that a quick-hitting line of thunderstorms was perfectly timed the morning of my flight to cause a delay. That delay in departing meant we missed our connection, and the earliest flight we could get into Florida was 9 p.m., which was well after our cruise ship departed.

Instead, we simply booked a return ticket home and let the cruise line know that we wouldn’t make the ship. Later that evening we returned back where we started the day. The good news? The harsh cruise line penalties on last-minute cancellations weren’t as bad as I thought they’d be.

I’ll show you the actual breakdown of how much I spent, how much I was charged, and how much I was refunded.

Cruise Line Cancellation Penalties Mean Non-Refundable Cruise Fare

First things first, cruise lines charge cancellation penalties that operate on a sliding scale depending on how soon before your cruise that you cancel.

If you cancel well in advance, you may lose only your deposit or have no penalty at all. Within 30 days, it’s typical that the fee for canceling is your entire cruise fare.

For an example, here is the cancellation schedule for Princess as shown on their website:

The cancellation penalties shown here for Princess show that the fees associated rise as the sail date gets closer. Source: Princess.com

When you miss your cruise completely, as my family did, that’s treated as a cancellation of 30 days or less. In that case, Celebrity’s policy says that that cancellation charge is “100% of total price.”

For this cruise, I paid the following for the three-day trip from Port Everglades:

  • Cruise fare: $573.00
  • Gratuities: $162.00
  • Taxes, fees, and port expenses: $369.09
  • Subtotal: $1,104.09
  • Excursion + Wi-fi Access (purchased before cruise): $102.75
  • Grand Total: $1,206.84

You can see the cruise line’s invoice here (which doesn’t include the excursion and wi-fi purchased later):

The good news is that even though the line says the penalty for missing the cruise is all of the “total price,” that doesn’t mean you are out of luck when it comes to refunding some money.

How Much a Missed Cruise Cost… And What I Got Back

While the cruise lines say that the penalty for missing or canceling a cruise shortly before sailing is all of what you paid, the fine print is a little different.

In short, the 100% penalty applies to the cruise fare. However, prepaid items and taxes/fees are refunded to you.

On Celebrity’s website, for example, it says that “in the event of a cancellation of a Cruise or CruiseTour, any applicable Taxes/Fees or Fuel Supplement charges shall be refunded.”

So for our specific cruise, the $573.00 in cruise fare is taken by the cruise line as a cancellation charge. That stings, but it’s less than half of what was paid in total for this cruise.

The gratuities, taxes, fees, port expenses, and the packages pre-booked were all refunded. In this case, the total refunds added up to $633.84.

The refunds can be seen in my accounts here:

Combined, the two refunds total more than $630 of what I paid. In this case, they went to two different accounts since I used different cards for different purchases.

I Received Back More Than Half of What I Paid

On a cruise where I spent a total of $1,207, about $644 — more than half — of that was actually refunded despite missing the cruise completely.

This is a bit of a special case given this short cruise was relatively cheap compared to the taxes/port fees and gratuities. A longer cruise would see a higher cruise fare, and thus more money forfeited by missing the ship.

But in general, you should know that if you have to cancel your cruise at the last minute or you are like me and miss the ship, you won’t be charged everything you pay. Your cruise fare will be the cancellation penalty set by the cruise line. Taxes, pre-booked packages, and prepaid gratuities, should be returned.

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