Note: Cruzely.com nor the author are insurance professionals. Be sure to review any policy and ask your insurance company any questions you might have.
We are an affiliate of InsureMyTrip, linked below. We receive a small commission if you buy travel insurance through the links included in this article, at no cost to you.
While most people imagine a cruise starting when they first step onto the ship, the vacation actually begins with getting to the port.
For many people, that means heading to the closest airport to catch a flight somewhere with a cruise port like Los Angeles, Miami, or Orlando. Most times that goes off without a hitch. And while we always suggest flying in the night before just to give you time in case there is a delay, many people (us included!) fly in the morning of your cruise and still make the ship in plenty of time.
However, flight cancellations do happen, as we saw in late 2022 when Southwest Airlines — one of the most popular carriers in the country — canceled literally thousands of flights, leading to stranded passengers and ruined travel plans.
So what happens if you are flying in for a cruise, but your flight is canceled, meaning you aren’t able to get to the port on time and the ship leaves without you?
Don’t Make the Port? Cruise Fare Could Be Forfeited
Let’s say you are sitting in the airport the morning of your cruise about to board your flight to Miami, and the gate agent says the flight has now been canceled. As a result, you aren’t able to make it to the port before the ship departs.
First things first, if you won’t be able to make it to the cruise, you should let the cruise line — or your travel agent — know immediately. They can work through your options with you, and let you know specifically what will happen with the trip and the money you paid.
Unfortunately, you are likely to take a financial hit. Most cruise lines have cancellation penalties in place that gradually increase to 100% of the cruise fare paid. For instance, Royal Caribbean’s penalty becomes 100% of the cruise fare paid 30 days prior to sailing. Carnival’s turns to 100% 14 days before the cruise.
And even though you aren’t willingly canceling your trip, these penalties still apply.
The good news is that what you paid for the cruise isn’t all cruise fare and you’ll almost surely get some money refunded. Refunded amounts include things like port fees, taxes, and prepaid expenses like gratuities.
For example, we have an upcoming cruise that could be impacted by a flight cancellation. We called Carnival to discuss options if we aren’t able to make the cruise, and the agent explained that the full cruise fare would be forfeited if we didn’t make the ship. However, many other expenses paid would be refunded:
So on a cruise totaling about $1,500, we would still lose the $887 in cruise fare if we aren’t able to make it to the port on time, but the rest of the money would be returned.
I Have Travel Insurance. Doesn’t That Cover Me?
Many people buy travel insurance for exactly this sort of situation. And in many cases it can help. But travel insurance is very specific what it covers. In the case of the strange Southwest Airlines situation, it may not offer much help according to an agent we talked to.
We called InsureMyTrip, a travel insurance broker offering plans from a number of different travel companies. The agent we spoke with told us that as it specifically applies to the Southwest situation, a new policy bought today wouldn’t offer protection. That’s because travel insurance is for unforeseen incidents, not those presently happening.
Interestingly, she also mentioned that most policies wouldn’t likely cover missing your cruise due to the situation at Southwest, even if it was bought well in advance of the upheaval.
Looking at the fine print of several policies, they all set out specific circumstances when they will cover a financial loss during your travel. They can range everything from a death of a family member to being fired from a job. But there are also clearly defined situations for flights.
As an example, when it comes to a flight cancelation impacting your vacation, one plan lays out the following circumstances under “Covered Events”:
“Common Carrier delays and/or cancellations resulting from adverse weather, mechanical breakdown of the aircraft, ship, boat or motor coach that you were scheduled to travel on, or organized labor strikes that affect public transportation”
So if the weather causes a cancelation, you’re covered. If the plane breaks down, you are covered. However, in the specific case of Southwest Airlines, while a winter storm might have started the current issues, it then spread well beyond that. Many flights were canceled where there were no weather issues at all. Meanwhile, the canceled flights also weren’t due to mechanical issues or an organized labor strike.
The result? While travel insurance can help cover you with many flight cancellations leading to a lost cruise, in this case you might have a hard time being reimbursed.
“Cancel For Any Reason” Coverage Should Offer Protection… If Bought Early
If you want to make sure you have some sort of coverage for your cruise in case of any flight cancellation, there is a solution.
Travel insurance — and many of the plans sold by cruise lines when booking your trip — offers “cancel for any reason” coverage. As the name implies, if you have to miss your cruise — no matter the reason — then you have some protection offered.
For instance, Carnival offers “Carnival Vacation Protection” that offers the following:
“If you need to cancel for some of the most common reasons (severe weather, illness, etc.) you’ll get 100% of the cost of your trip back, in cash. If you need to cancel for any reason not listed in the plan — any reason at all — you’ll get 75% back in a Future Cruise Credit Certificate.”
Third-party travel insurance can offer similar “any reason” coverage. There are some things to know. First, this sort of insurance is typically more expensive than traditional coverage since it offers more protection. As well, it often needs to be purchased shortly after the booking date of your trip.
Even so, if you want the most “foolproof” way to make sure you are covered for your cruise — no matter the reason that your flight is delayed or canceled — then it’s your best option.
To explore travel insurance options, you can visit InsureMyTrip.com.
More in protecting your cruise investment:
- Answered: How Much Does Cruise Insurance Cost?
- Explained: Cancel For Any Reason Cruise Travel Insurance