One of the cardinal rules of my consumer advocacy practice is to never get between a travel agent and a cruise passenger. Agents, and especially cruise specialists, tend to react defensively, take my interest in the problem personally, and the result is almost never a happy ending.
But when has a rule ever stopped me? Which is why I’m asking about Sally Radicali’s Holland America cruise to Tahiti.
From the beginning, things didn’t go as planned. Her home-based agent never sent her a receipt for the $3,500 deposit. And then, a few months ago, she tried to cancel her cruise because of a work-related issue.
“I talked to the agent twice, and she assured me I would receive a full refund,” she says.
Didn’t happen. Turns out the agent had misinformed her on several fronts. First, she gave her the incorrect deadline to cancel without a penalty, missing it by about a week. She also provided the incorrect deadline for her second payment, and assured her (incorrectly) that she could buy insurance by that date.
As a result, she says she lost $3,500.
“This was handled so shabbily,” she says. “Although we have sailed with Holland America twice before and enjoyed the services, we will never sail with them again unless this is settled in our favor.”
Radicali turned to everyone involved in the transaction for help. Holland America told her it couldn’t change its deadlines, even if her travel agent misrepresented them. Her agent says there’s nothing she can do, either, but that Holland America might be able to help. But revisiting the issue with the cruise line just leads to more frustration — and denials.
If I jump in and ask the travel agent, here’s what’s likely to happen: She’ll tell me (very defensively) that she was just doing her job and that she represented the rules and restrictions as she understood them. And besides, why am I picking on her? The real bad guy is Holland America, for having its absurd rules and refusing to be flexible.
And then the agent will go into radio silence. Why? Because that’s what incompetent, home-based cruise specialists tend to do when their competence is questioned.
Holland America will probably tell me that its deadlines are published on its website and that Radicali could have familiarized herself with its rules, rather than take her agent’s word for it. And that is certainly true. But her $3,500 still remains lost — an unfortunate casualty of poor communication. Holland America could help if it wanted to. But it doesn’t want to.
If nothing else, this underscores the value of a qualified travel agent. Sure, agents earn a generous commission from the sale of a cruise, but they work for it. One of their services is sending you accurate information about your upcoming vacation. A qualified agent also is insured against errors and omissions, and can help a client like Radicali when things go wrong.
I’m not sure if this Tahiti cruise can be saved.