After mom has a stroke, why won’t NCL offer a cruise credit?

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Donna Peacock has a simple question for us today: Why won’t cruise lines offer credit for passengers whose plans change?

It’s a perfectly valid thing to ask. Unfortunately, the answer is: Because they don’t have to. But more on that in a second.

Peacock had to cancel her cruise under difficult circumstances. She and her partner had planned a cruise this month, when her partner’s mother suffered a massive stroke.

“We did not purchase insurance,” she says. “We did not want to cancel the trip — we just wanted to reschedule.”

I can already hear some of you saying:

  • “She should have used a travel agent.”
  • “She should have bought insurance.”
  • “She should have read the cruise contract.”

Truth is, we don’t know if she used an agent (we’re still waiting for the paper trail). We also don’t know if insurance would have covered her (remember, it was her partner’s mother). And how many people actually bother to read NCL’s ticket contract?

Unless you’re a lawyer or a consumer advocate, you probably don’t bother reading one-sided, “take-it-or-leave-it” adhesion contracts.

It doesn’t really matter. Section 15, which deals with cancellations, appears to be written in the Martian language. At least, after reviewing it, you couldn’t be blamed for thinking it was online cancellation policy, written in English by Martians.

My point is, if she was a cruise newbie and didn’t have a qualified travel agent, it was probably fair for her to assume that she could cancel her cruise and receive a credit. You can do that with most other travel products. But that assumption proved to be dead wrong.

Peacock offered to pay a rebooking fee. NCL said no.

She adds,

I tried to emphasize the fact that we did not want to cancel, but simply rebook because I understand if we canceled then we should lose our money.

I believed — and still do — that the insurance is for cancellations, not for those who want to change dates due to an emergency.

I also told them that I could provide any documentation necessary so they would know we are not lying.

NCL refused.

Peacock canceled the cruise as her partner’s mother deteriorated to the point that she has been admitted to hospice.

“Her time is short,” she says.

She hopes I can persuade NCL to either offer a cruise credit or to refund the $1,600 she spent on the vacation she and her partner had to cancel.

“We would love to be able to reschedule our cruise for a later date. At this time our ‘Mom’ is in hospice and her time is short so we were really hoping to take some time in late April for a cruise.”

“We are hoping maybe you could help us get some sort of satisfaction regarding this matter,” she adds. “Please let me know if you think you can help us.”

And I want to help. If I jump in, I’ll probably get an earful from the cruise industry apologists, who will tell me “rules are rules.” Save it, folks. I’ve heard it all before.

The real trick would be persuading NCL to bend a rule for this couple. I think it all hinges on this clause from NCL’s BookSafe insurance policy:

We will pay a Pre-Departure Trip Cancellation Benefit, up to the amount in the Schedule if you are prevented from taking your Covered Cruise Vacation due to your, an Immediate Family Member’s, Traveling Companion’s, or Business Partner’s Sickness, Injury or death or Other Covered Events as defined, that occur(s) before departure on your Covered Cruise Vacation.

I would interpret that to mean that even if Peacock had been insured, the cruise line would have still kept her money. After all, it was her partner’s mother, not hers, who’d had a stroke. But one of our advocates notes that a different part of the contract seems to suggest that she would be covered.

Like I said, Martians.

And big picture: Cruise lines really should offer passengers like this credit, in my opinion. It’s the right thing to do.

Should I take Donna Peacock's case?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on our help forum.

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  • Jeff W.

    I think one important fact was left out of the story before an educated decision could be made. Was it a full month or just a few days between the stroke and the departure date?

    While it would be nice for NCL to accommodate, they should not have to take a loss. If it was only a few days, it would be unlikely that NCL could resell the cabin. If it was a month (or more), I think NCL could probably be made whole or close enough.

    Donna does not want to lose her money. But NCL likes money too. We all do. So if there was adequate time to NCL to possible re-sell — I say advocate.

  • John Baker

    She was offered an option at booking that would have covered this exact case. She had to make the decision to accept or reject that program. She opted not to participate in program but now wants the benefits of participating in it. Giving her a benefit that she had to rejected is not the “right thing to do”

    I feel for her but walk away.

  • John Baker

    Also… Under their policy she would have been covered:

    “Immediate Family Member includes your or the

    Traveling Companion’s, spouse, child, spouse’s child,

    son-daughter-in-law, parent(s), sibling(s), grandparent(s),

    grandchild, step brother-sister, step-parent(s), parent(s)-

    in-law, brother-sister-in-law, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew,

    guardian, Domestic Partner, foster-child, or ward.”

  • sirwired

    I’m confused; from the story it looks like the partner was also going on the vacation. If that’s the case, then the entire booking could have been cancelled under the insurance policy.

    Insurance exists precisely to cover this sort of circumstance and she chose not to purchase it. NCL likes their money just as much as she likes hers, and I don’t see that NCL inherently has a weaker claim to it.

    What happens if the line just throws up its hands and decides to insure everybody? Well, that vacation rental “booking fee” levied against all customers from a few days ago is what happens. No Free Lunch.

  • Michael__K

    No, we don’t know the policy would have covered her.

    There is a Pre-Existing Condition Exclusion.

    Also, you assume she was in the same cabin as her partner. Which I agree is likely, but it’s still an assumption. If they purchased separate cabins she would not be covered regardless of whether the condition was pre-existing.

    Traveling Companion means up to 4 persons whose name(s) appear(s) with you on the same Vacation arrangement and who, during the Vacation, will share accommodations with you in the same cabin.

  • Rebecca

    For me, it isn’t about defending the cruise line. It’s about how unfair it is that when I DO purchase insurance, someone else that doesn’t gets an exception. Basically, I am paying for nothing. If the same exact thing happened to me, we both have the cost of the cruise back so we can take it at another time, but I’m out a couple hundred bucks I spent on insurance. She’s out nothing. That’s entirely unfair and that’s why I always side with the cruise line in these types of cases.

  • Mel65

    I actually didn’t vote although I have to say I lean towards the cruise line here. I have the utmost sympathy for the letter writer; my mother died at the age of 50 of a massive, sudden stroke and we were devastated, so I invite and understand that these things can come on with no apparent warning. But, I’ve also taken cruises. And each time I do a cost-benefit analysis of, ” is it worth it to me to pay X hundred to cover the cruise with insurance or am i comfortable with walking away from X thousand and carrying on understanding that that was my choice.” Every person who cruises makes that same decision and whether it’s fair or not, whether it’s something that should be changed or not, the current state of the cruise industry is that you don’t get the money back and there are no do overs and until that changes then we have to play the game within their rules.

  • John Baker

    Yes but in that case… she gets a 75% (or 90% if she purchases a higher policy) credit so she’s still looking to receive a benefit she specifically said she didn’t want.

  • Michael__K

    What happens if the line just throws up its hands and decides to insure everybody?

    That would be a much better deal for passengers actually. But not as great for the cruise line.

    Cruise lines provide insurance travel protection that is substantially inferior compared to third party insurance policies (e.g. NCL’s BookSafe does not cover pre-existing conditions), and yet the price is generally substantially higher, unless perhaps the passenger is 80+ years old.

    If the cruise line decided to insure everybody, then sure, fares would go up. But not by anything close to the amount they currently charge for insurance travel protection.

  • Michael__K

    FYI, it works out to more like 60% (or 72% if she purchases the more expensive higher policy) after you account for the cost of the travel protection plan. And “Certain restrictions on the use of these cruise credits may apply” (the restrictions are not disclosed in the policy).

    Still better than nothing, but it’s hardly peace-of-mind thorough protection.

  • I typically buy insurance (but payment is never guaranteed) yet I voted to yes to help. No one said life would always be fair.

  • Michael__K

    Part of the problem is the cruise lines sell over-priced travel protection (technically it’s not even insurance) with lousy terms.

    Readers here conveniently assume that these policies are comprehensive and then turn the choice to decline the travel protection plan into some sort of morality judgment.

    Unfortunately, those who pay for cancellation coverage may be paying for very little if not nothing regardless. The policies typically have many loopholes, such as for pre-existing conditions in this case. So we have no idea from the facts at hand if the OP would actually have been truly covered.

    I do believe that all passengers ought to have at least have some protection for the unlikely case they require emergency medical evacuation (which shouldn’t cost much as a standalone coverage as it’s a very rare occurrence). Even there, the cruise lines’ travel protection plans are probably inadequate because of low caps on evacuation benefits ($25K in the case of NCL’s BookSafe).

  • Linda

    Basically, she self-insured and is now whining about her loss. Why should she get an exception that other passengers paid for?

  • John Baker

    Ok… but the point is that she bought NOTHING. In fact, she declined a product that could have helped her in this case.

    Now if she’d purchased the insurance and had an issue with them covering her, I’d be more inclined to help her. The sad fact is that it just isn’t true in this case.

  • Rebecca

    I, for one, so not conveniently assume that. Typical cruise line policies cover 75-90% as a credit. I know that because I’ve looked it up for the forums. I purchase third party insurance. Doesn’t cost much more and it’s much better coverage. My main concern with insurance is that it covers medical evacuation actually. I know someone that had to be flown in on a medical plane after an accident in Mexico.

    Like John Baker said, had she purchased the cruise line offering and been denied, I’d feel much more sympathy. Then, she’s not trying to get the same thing I get for free. That’s really my main argument. Why should she get it for free, and someone else pay to get the same (or less)? That is patently unfair.

  • KanExplore

    If she had bought the insurance, and her claim was now being denied because of obfuscatory language – a chance of which has been hinted at here – then Elliott (or a lawyer) would have a case to make. But that’s a moot point in this situation – she sadly declined to buy the insurance. I think there’s a risk here of promoting the idea of not needing insurance, because you can always take it to Elliott if something happens. Always get the insurance if it’s a costly trip and you could not afford to lose the money if something happens.

  • Michael__K

    This exactly what I mean — you turn the purchase of a travel protection product (again, what the cruise line sells is not even insurance) — which happens to be a terrible value — into a morality play.

    I’m inclined to help anyone who suffers extreme misfortune outside their control like the OP did. Unconditionally. However, the sad fact is that neither of us could help her win an insurance claim if the terms say her scenario isn’t covered.

  • Michael__K

    You say you don’t assume that but you assert: “If the same exact thing happened to me, we both have the cost of the cruise back so we can take it at another time

    Would you feel much more sympathy if the Mom had a pre-existing condition, in which case they wouldn’t be “trying to get the same thing for free?”

    If you want to focus on the 75% credit feature, okay, but don’t confuse that with the cancellation coverage. And let’s explore what the restrictions are attached to that credit (restrictions are referenced but not disclosed in the protection plan terms).

  • Rebecca

    I asserted that because I purchase third party insurance. My parents are frequent cruisers, they go at least once a year. I’ve joined them several times and my mom taught me to buy insurance from a third party site and to make sure I’m fully covered for medical evacuation with no hassles. Like I stated, we know someone that was actually medically evacuated, so I base it on that experience. Honestly, I always use the same company but wouldn’t promote it here because it isn’t right for everyone. Someone that’s 85 doesn’t want the same policy as me, a healthy 34 year old.

    If the cruise line gives her the 100% credit and then my in-laws had a medical emergency and I file a claim, I’d get get the cost of the cruise minus the cost of the policy. So she has 100% and I have about 90%. That is not fair. That’s all I’m saying.

    It isn’t that I don’t feel sympathy for her. Of course I do, I’m human. But I also believe that, on principle, someone that chose not to purchase any travel insurance should not come out above someone that did if every other thing is the same. If companies made exceptions for all of these types of circumstances, that’s negates the purpose of travel insurance (other than medical – I actually completely agree with you it should be mandatory for people travelling to Caribbean cruise ports/Mexico).

  • Rebecca

    Actually, usually bringing it here doesn’t help much. To the best of my recollection, the vast majority of these are turned down anyways.

    I use this example in the forums relatively often when someone is writing to customer service requesting an exception. There are only so many exceptions customer service people can grant. I was the person that supervised them, and had the override capability. Two specific ones I remember were a couple whose child was murdered and a family whose house was levelled by a tornado. While everyone has a sob story, and I’m not minimizing it, customer service people that take these requests see a story like the OP’s multiple times a day. They simply can’t grant every exception.

  • flutiefan

    but she IS trying to cancel — trying to cancel this particular cruise. the fact that she’s “willing” to go later (which is certainly not selfless) is immaterial.

  • Michael__K

    If the cruise line gives her the 100% credit and then my in-laws had a medical emergency and I file a claim, I’d get get the cost of the cruise minus the cost of the policy. So she has 100% and I have about 90%. That is not fair. That’s all I’m saying

    I mostly agree with the gist of what you’re saying there, although 90% cash back might still be more attractive than a restricted, expiring, credit.

    My complaint is generally with this whole paradigm of promoting various insurance (and non-insurance) products to “protect” passenger’s travel investments — products which still leave passengers vulnerable to losing their entire deposits anyway when crazy circumstances not encapsulated in the Covered Reasons arise. That’s “unfair” too IMO.

    And the cost of a third party policy is the same regardless of the flexibility of your particular travel suppliers. Which tends to drive premium prices up to reflect the harshest, lowest-common-demoninator travel suppliers.

    I would prefer to see cruise lines pushed to offer more flexibility to all passengers (for example, with change penalties like airlines). Those who want additional protection can still purchase policies for that — and those policies will cost you less if the carriers’ terms are not quite as harsh.

  • flutiefan

    I agree with you, Rebecca.
    if you fail to insure your car, you don’t get to come to an advocate and get the money back for a new car, or repairs to yours. apples and oranges, perhaps, but getting a benefit that others opted into and paid for — that you specifically declined to opt into — is not right.

    would love to know your insurer, Rebecca, as i’m taking a cruise in a couple months and need to insure it.

  • Mel65

    We don’t know that there was a pre-existing condition. As I said, my 50 year old Mother, never overweight a day in her life suddenly had a massive stroke, entered a coma and died 4 hours later. Nothing would have indicated there was a predisposition there. And, *if* MIL in this case DID have major health issues, then they definitely should have purchased a comprehensive policy that covered them.

  • Michael__K

    Common misconception: It doesn’t need to be a “major health issue” to be a “Pre-Existing Condition.”

    Mild headaches or high blood pressure (for example) could exclude coverage for a massive stroke. And the OP and her partner would have no way of even knowing Mom had any symptoms if she doesn’t talk about her (seemingly) mild ailments.

    We’ve previously seen how a little heartburn can turn stomach cancer into a Pre-Existing Condition:
    http://elliott.org/blog/why-doesnt-travel-insurance-cover-dads-illness/

  • Flatlander

    I feel bad for anyone who has a stroke / terminal illness / loss of a loved one / etc. but getting a refund from an airline / cruise line who is not contractually required to give one doesn’t seem like something that should be high on a list of priorities after a personal tragedy. Of course they are going to keep your money if they aren’t legally required to give it back, they’re a for profit business. You essentially gambled that you would be able to take the trip and lost. I’m sorry, that is a shame but move on!

  • cscasi

    Then, one should purchase a trip/travel policy that has a Pre-existing waiver and this issue would have been mute.
    While I feel bad for the people who experience these issues, I also think that by now, most people would have come to understand that one takes a chance that nothing will happen between the time they purchase a cruise/ trip or whatever and something does happen that prevents them from going. Either be able to accept losing the money invested or buy trip/travel insurance and make certain what you buy protects you from conditions like Donna has experienced.
    I am sorry, but people need to read and understand the rules. If they od not, take a few minutes and call the airline, cruise line, travel agent or whomever and ask the pertinent questions to make certain you have a clear understanding of the rules. It’s not like these rules just came about last week or last month. They have been that way for a long time.
    She stated they did not purchase travel insurance. Then she/they made a conscious choice (might have change their minds if they had consulted with appropriate person/people about what would happen if something unforeseen happened requiring them to cancel).
    I am sorry for their circumstances and I wish them well.

  • cscasi

    So then are you saying that every time someone books a trip, does not purchase trip/travel insurance and something happens that prevents them from going on the trip, we should feel compassionate and do our best to advocate for them recover whatever they paid for their trips? Then, no one would ever purchase any insurance and would expect help any and every time something happened. I am sorry, I do not see how that would work out, nor would it be fair for those who understand the rules and choose either to forgo the cost of the trip if something unforeseen happens to prevent them from going or purchase good trip/travel insurance to cover them.

  • cscasi

    That’s why, if you do not understand the language, you contact the appropriate person/persons and get your concerns answered. Don’t wait until something happens and then plead ignorance.

  • Michael__K

  • Michael__K

    Please speak for yourself only and refrain from putting words in my mouth.

    I’m saying the availability of crappy travel insurance and travel protection products shouldn’t serve as an excuse for draconian change/cancellation policies.

    People will buy travel insurance if it offers better protection than the provider’s baseline at a price their willing to pay. That’s not an excuse for the provider setting their baseline at absolute zero…

  • Michael__K

    What is a non-binding verbal answer worth? Note that the only contact for questions/concerns is a phone number and policies specifically exclude the validity of any commitments outside the policy document.

  • joycexyz

    Absolutely! And I’m tired of hearing from people who are penny-wise and pound foolish when it comes to purchasing insurance. If you can’t afford to lose the cost of the trip, then get a comprehensive insurance policy (research them!). And if you can’t afford the insurance…well, maybe you really can’t afford the trip. I don’t mean to sound harsh, but let’s get real!

  • Lindabator

    Correct – had she booked TravelGuard within 14 days of the deposit on the cruise, she would have had pre-ex waiver, and since it covers the immediate family of you or your travelling companion, she would have been covered — have used this policy for this very reason on multiple occasions, with NO issues when it came to refunding the cruise cost.

  • Michael__K

    If you can’t afford to lose the cost of the trip, then you can’t afford the trip — with or without insurance.

    No insurance is truly “comprehensive.” They cover Named Perils only. It doesn’t take much imagination to identify un-covered perils outside the traveler’s control. Cancel for Any Reason isn’t the answer either because it expires at least 48 hours before departure.

  • Flatlander

    Travel insurance is great on paper but I’m guessing the list of non-covered events is pretty comprehensive. Maybe it would have helped in this case, but maybe not. When you spend money for travel / vacation arrangements there is going to be an assumption of risk. Insurance can lower the risk but not eliminate it. Every day I drive to work I assume the risk that I could be killed in a traffic accident – it’s unavoidable and just the way life works.

  • judyserienagy

    Cancellation penalties need to be set out on the basis of whether the travel provider can re-sell what you have to cancel. If you cancel a flight 30 days out, you should get most of your money back, as the airline can easily re-sell that seat. If you cancel a cruise 90 days out, you should get most of it back as well. But travel providers are not charities, they are in business to make a profit. To assume that they should lose the revenue if they can’t fill you spot is rather naive. I am completely baffled by travellers’ resistance to buying insurance to cover prepaid costs.