We had “cancel-for-any-reason” insurance. So why won’t Holland America reimburse us?

By | December 15th, 2016

Whenever we publish a cruise cancellation story, it’s a given that someone will claim that the passengers should have had travel insurance — especially coverage of the “cancel-for-any-reason” variety.

Donald Horger and his wife did have it. Yet their cruise company, Holland America, partially denied their claim.

The Horgers’ unfortunate story is a reminder to read the fine print in travel insurance contracts with extreme care, because canceling a cruise or other trip can result in severe financial losses, even with “cancel-for-any-reason” insurance coverage.

The Horgers, who both have four-star Mariner status on Holland America and are experienced cruisers on other lines as well, booked a cruise on the MS Prinsendam which was scheduled for Oct. 20.

They had always purchased third-party insurance coverage for their past cruises. But this time they chose to purchase Holland America’s Cancellation Protection Plan, which Holland America markets on its website as offering the following protections:

  • YOU CAN CANCEL BEFORE DEPARTURE FOR ANY REASON. Even if it’s up to 24 hours before departure under our Standard Plan or right up to departure with our Platinum Plan. Your reservation may be easily cancelled for any reason whatsoever – no claim forms to submit or fine print to review.
  • YOU GET MONEY BACK. Holland America Line refunds 80-90 percent of eligible amounts paid, regardless of your reason for canceling, as long as you cancel more than 24 hours prior to departure (right up to departure with the Platinum Plan). …
  • NO PRE-EXISTING CONDITIONS. Our Standard and Platinum Plans do not contain pre-existing condition exclusions.

Unfortunately, Horger’s wife was diagnosed with cancer earlier in the year, causing damage to her hipbone and then spreading to her lungs and liver. She had to have a partial hip replacement as well as radiation and chemotherapy, and her doctor informed her that she could not travel for at least six months.

Related story:   Can this trip be saved? They overbooked my cruise and all I got was a refund

The Horgers paid a total of $4,757 for their cruise fares, of which Holland America reimbursed $4,228 (88 percent). That left the Horgers with an unreimbursed amount of $529. They asked Holland America to refund this amount as well, but their request was denied.

Horger wrote to Orlando Ashford, the president of Holland America, asking that the cruise line “show a little empathy and compassion to [its] loyal past guests” and refund the remaining 12 percent of his and his wife’s cruise fares. (Executive contact information for Holland America is available on our website.) Ashford did not respond to Horger’s letter. Horger then contacted our advocates for assistance.

Horger admits to misunderstanding the nature of “cancel-for-any-reason” insurance coverage:

Based on our past experiences we assumed that cancel-for-any-reason coverage was primarily offered for those travelers who were not positive they would want to take the trip.  It is offered through third party insurers, but at an additional cost.  We have always declined this type of insurance since we never book a trip we aren’t 100 percent committed to taking and the regular policy covers legitimate medical and other unexpected emergencies at 100 percent.  Therefore, we mistakenly thought that the policy would pay 100 percent if we had a valid, verifiable reason for canceling and 90 percent if we did not have a valid reason or did not want to state it.  I realize I should have researched your policy more carefully.  We are not inexperienced travelers but we made the mistake of making false assumptions.

Nevertheless, Horger characterizes Holland America’s refusal to refund the remaining 12 percent as “extremely unfair”: “I do not understand why Holland America, or any other tour operator, should profit by the misfortune of its customers.  My wife certainly did not choose to get cancer and it seems very unreasonable for her to be charged for it.”

Related story:   He wants a refund plus interest -- is that even possible?

Despite the Horgers’ not actually being entitled to a refund of the remaining portion of their cruise fares, our advocates reached out to Holland America to see if they could persuade the cruise line to issue the Horgers reimbursement for the fares in the spirit of compassion. But they had no more success than Horger.

However, Horger disputed the remainder of the fares on the credit card he had used to pay for the cruise (we don’t know which company), and learned at that time that he had travel insurance coverage through that credit card. The credit card company’s insurance reimbursed Horger for the balance of his and his wife’s cruise fares.

Should "cancel-for-any-reason" coverage require insurance carriers to issue full reimbursement to claimants?

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