In a world of conglomerates and conflicts of interest, sometimes you have to report on yourself. So when Franz Schneider asked me about his ill-fated National Geographic cruise, my first reaction was to cringe. After all, I’m National Geographic Traveler’s ombudsman.
But then I listened to his story. Last October, he’d seen an ad in National Geographic for a Sea of Cortez cruise via Linblad Expeditions. It looked like an adventure, so he made a deposit.
Early this year, he went online to book seats on Linblad’s recommended flight from Los Angeles to La Paz in Baja California, where he would start the tour.
Oops. The flight was fully booked, and had been for some time.
“It seems our tour coincided with Spring Break for a number of schools,” he says. “I suspect we would have had the same problem if we’d booked the cruise for one, two, or even three weeks later, but who knows?”
With only a few weeks before his departure, Schneider was getting nervous.
I called an AAA travel agent. After a lot of work she found us a route via Guadalajara, Mexico.
It involved a midnight flight to Guadalajara, a four-hour layover, and a six-hour wait in the La Paz airport, but it was the only option.
We showered the agent with thanks, made the reservations, bought the tickets, and made the final payment on the cruise itself.
He also made sure he bought travel insurance, just in case something went wrong. That’s always a good idea when you’re booking a cruise, which can have extremely restrictive terms.
And you can probably guess what happened next, right?
For a variety of reasons, including a some codeshare confusion, delays, immigration problems and other logistical snafus, he missed his connecting flight.
A United agent gave him more bad news: There was absolutely no way he could reach the ship before it sailed.
Linblad was “very sympathetic” and told Schneider he could file a claim for with his trip insurance carrier when he got back to California.
“When we got home we notified TripMate, the travel insurance carrier. We submitted the necessary forms and copies of our flight itineraries,” he says.
TripMate denied his claim. His loss: $14,468.
I suggested he appeal the denial, and he did. He also mentioned that he was in touch with the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler, which he says may have affected the outcome.
(I hope he means that in a good way.)
Although TripMate’s denial stuck, the cruise line offered him a voucher for the full amount of the cruise. So he’s only out $1,584 in airfare.
Is that enough?
Schneider’s insurance turned him down because he missed his cruise for a reason that wasn’t covered in his policy. Lindblad’s actions are exceptionally generous, considering the fact that other cruise lines routinely adopt the “too bad, so sad” approach to refunds or credit — by which I mean, if you miss a cruise, you’re just out of luck.
Then again, Schneider took the precaution of insuring his cruise. Shouldn’t he get all of his money back?
I don’t know. Maybe in this case, I’m the wrong guy to ask.