Help! I can’t make my cruise because of a hurricane

Aren’t you glad you’re not on a cruise?Question: We booked a cruise to Alaska on Norwegian Cruise Line last summer. NCL notified us that we would be sailing a day after our scheduled departure because they had to fix a propeller on the ship. This meant that the ship would not be stopping in Juneau for an originally scheduled excursion.

Then we had to cancel the cruise because of a hurricane that made it impossible to fly. All the airlines canceled their flights and we had no way of reaching Seattle. We had purchased a travel insurance policy through the cruise line.

Our airline gave us a full refund on our tickets, but NCL said we were only entitled to a 75 percent insurance credit that could be used for a future cruise. That isn’t in line with what other cruise lines did. For example, Princess offered a 75 percent credit through for passengers who had insurance and an additional 25 percent credit that could be used for a future cruise.

NCL says I should have taken the 90 percent insurance plan. But the representative never offered a choice of insurance plans when I originally booked the cruise. If I had known about the 90 percent plan, I would have bought it. I would so appreciate anything you could do to help me with this situation. — Debra Weissman, Hartford, Conn.

Answer: If you booked your vacation directly through the cruise line, I don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t offer a full credit.

But that’s not how it works; cruise lines sell expensive, and often highly restrictive insurance policies as add-ons that give you a credit if you have to cancel a cruise – and only under certain circumstances.

I think special conditions applied to your cruise. First of all, NCL already inconvenienced you by changing the date of your sailing. And you were very understanding of that and didn’t ask for any consideration in return.

Second, you booked this cruise directly with NCL. You bought the only insurance it offered. (For future reference, I would recommend shopping around instead of buying the first policy you’re offered. You could have found insurance that covered your entire cruise through another company.)

And finally, this event had nothing to do with you – it was a natural disaster that affected a lot of NCL passengers. While it may be true that NCL only had to offer you a 75 percent credit, I think they could have done a little better.

Your case shows how careful you have to be when you’re shopping for cruise insurance, but it also shows how vigilantly cruise lines are protecting their revenues. If it had been my cruise, I would have asked for a full refund, since I booked my vacation directly.

I contacted NCL on your behalf. As a “special courtesy” it extended an additional 25 percent of your cruise fare as a credit.

Did NCL offer Debra Weissman enough compensation?

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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 Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Steve R

    I guess the lesson here is not to buy insurance from the same company that you”re buying the trip from…their policies are written to favor the company.

  • Steve R

    So I guess the lesson here is not to buy insurance from the company who sells you the trip? Their policies are written to favor the company, not the purchaser.

  • TonyA_says

    I think the lesson here is that cruise lines are much worse than airlines.
    With airlines, even WITHOUT insurance, it is possible to get ALL your money back if the flights are cancelled (or involuntarily changed beyond a certain time frame).
    With cruise lines, even WITH insurance they offer, it is almost impossible to get all your money back.

  • EdB

    I’ll probably be in the minority here but it seems the hurricane did not directly effect the actual cruise. Since that is the case, why should the cruise be on the hook for it? I remember past stories about how the cruise is under no obligation if you don’t make the sailing in time because of transportation issues. So in this case, I think the cruise line did offer enough compensation.

    This seems like another lesson in the importance of shopping for the correct type of travel insurance. My biggest concern though with travel insurance is understanding the policies itself to know what you are buying. For me, seems the safest form of insurance is not to travel to begin with. *grin*

  • Charlie Funk

    In both the examples given, the traveler did not purchase insurance. They purchased a waiver. The distinction is subtle but real. Insurance is exactly that, and in this case weather related issues that made it impossible to join the ship would have been covered on any policy with which I am familiar. On the other hand, cancellation/interruption waivers are not true insurance, may be coverage (of a sort) underwritten by the cruise line itself, and in the main of limited value (75% to 90%) in a few sets of circumstances and conditions.
    The whole travel insurance issue is in a state of flux just now as state insurance commissioners/departments have come to realize that there are those selling/offering trip cancellation/interruption insurance to residents of their state and the seller doesn’t live in their state and/or isn’t licensed to sell insurance in their state. It is seen as a HUGE revenue source now to compel licensing in such situations but in reality does more to put the traveler at risk because the non-resident agent is prohibited from even mentioning insurance unless licensed in that state.
    At best the matter is confusing on all sides and serves no beneficial purpose to either the traveler or the travel professional offering the coverage.

  • Cam

    C’mon. The customer purchased travel insurance through their travel provider, BUT that doesn’t cover them for a hurricane? Sweet baby jesus, what is the world coming to?

  • Kairho

    General rule of thumb is never to purchase “trip protection” from cruise lines, tour companies, or other suppliers. Always purchase from a third party, real insurance company.

  • Charlie Funk

    Based on the description of the remedy offered by the cruise line, they did not purchase insurance, rather a waiver. The clues are partial refund of monies paid in the form of cash or credit toward a future cruise. Several cruise lines offer waivers and buyers infer that it is insurance.
    As a general rule, it is a bad idea to buy trip cancellation/interruption insurance from the travel supplier for too many reasons to list here.

  • Charlie Funk

    If the traveler truly has INSURANCE and the cancellation/interruption is for a covered reason, receiving a refund for penalties/unused portion of a trip is an easy process, one that most travel professionals help affected clients collect by assisting with claim initiation, information provision, etc. In this case I do not believe the traveler had insurance, rather a waiver, regardless of what the traveler inferred about the product or what the supplier implied about the product.

  • NoraG

    Did she know she was buying a ‘waiver’? It sounded to me like she thought she was buying insurance. If NCL always markets waivers as insurance, they are committing fraud.
    I’ve got to wonder how many times passengers cannot use vouchers, either. For many people, cruises are a once-in-a-lifetime dream, taken with ailing family members. It’s difficult to reschedule this kind of event. Money would be much more reasonable than a voucher.

  • BillCCC

    I voted yes only because the hurricane had nothing to do with the cruise. The OP did receive compensation for the cancelled flight.

  • Pat J

    Remember the volcano in Iceland. Well, I had what I thought was 100% coverage insurance which I did purchase through Holland America. AA immediately refunded my air. The very day of the cancellation I spoke with HAL and the rep said if we would immediately chose another date for the Mediterranean cruise, they would simply book us same cabin. So we chose, immediately, the same cruise a few months out in September. They called back the next day and said the rep was wrong. We were getting 75 or 80 percent back, and the cruise in September was going to cost more and we were not guaranteed the same level stateroom. We argued for months and got nowhere. So now I buy insurance outside of the cruise line.

  • bodega

    What the world is coming to is that so many are thinking they know what they are doing when they really don’t. She even called her coverage insurance, when that isn’t what she had.

  • cp556

    Charlie Funk is an experienced cruise agent and knows whereof he speaks. NCL does not offer “insurance”, it’s called “Travel Protection” and there’s a world of difference. Hurricanes are not considered a covered cancellation reason, and the policy clearly states that the guest will receive a 75% future cruise credit (which has restrictions on usage) for cancellations for non-covered reasons. Had they bought the more expensive Platinum coverage (which NCL agents should, but don’t always offer), the 75% would have increased to 90%. Having said that, there’s the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. In the case of the hurricane, NCL could have done better than the 75% they gave the passenger, especially since the cruise line had deviated the departure date. As a note, the passenger is fortunate that the airline refunded them: the NCL policy does not cover airfare booked outside of the cruise line itself. I will now step off my soapbox…

  • cp556

    The NCL agent probably referred to the policy by the name “Book Safe Travel Protection”. It’s not insurance per se, as Charlie Funk has described above. Insurance/travel protection/waivers are indeed a tricky subject and I’m personally in favor of purchasing third party coverage. I agree with Nora that guests should be fully informed that they will receive a future cruise credit (voucher) if they cancel for non-covered reasons. Not all guests can use those vouchers …

  • technomage1

    I agree. Insurance or a waiver shouldn’t even be required in cases like this where a natural disaster or severe weather make it impossible for the traveler to reach the departing port.

  • Daddydo

    There are many types of insurance and NCL does rip you off on theirs. This is one of those situations that you have been preaching for years. Use a real live travel agent when it comes to tours and cruises. We know all of the pitfalls. NCL is not the only cruise line that sells multiple levels of insurance, but travel agents know what is covered and what is NOT! An expensive lesson to learn, but it will help others. USE AN ASTA store front long established travel agent.

  • TonyA_says

    Is this subtle?

    From NCL website

    Pre-Departure Trip Cancellation Benefits
    We will reimburse you, up to the amount in the Schedule for the amount of prepaid, non-refundable, and unused Payments or Deposits that you paid for your Covered NCL Vacation.

    NOTE:As respects air cancellation penalties, you will be covered only for air arrangements booked through NCL and flights connecting to such air arrangements booked through NCL. We will not pay benefits for cancellation charges imposed on any other air arrangements you may book on your own.

    I’m not sure why you say the whole travel insurance sales is in flux. It only is if you don’t get the proper licenses or registration :-)
    In NCL’s case their BookSafe Travel Protecting plan is is underwritten by Stonebridge Casualty Insurance Company. Here in NY State, my travel agency is registered with the NYS Insurance Commissioner’s Office because we sell Travelguard. I think (I could be wrong) that NYS is the only state that requires agents to register to sell travel insurance. Their definition of who needs to register is if you make money or commission from travel insurance then you must register. So we did.

  • TonyA_says

    Hang on a sec, NoraG. NCL is not selling waivers. At least not according to them. Read

    Just because someone here says it is waivers does not mean it is.

    You need to read the policy and then start shooting after.

    The big issue here is the hurricane in Connecticut (or the East Coast) was not a covered reason for failure to miss the cruise in Seattle. But NCL BookSafe will give you a 75% certificate for cancelling for non-covered reasons. That is what she got – 75%.

    Her complaint is she was not offered the platinum plan (for another 50 bucks) where she could have got 90% back on a certificate.

    I do not believe there is anything wrong (or no one has shown why) with NCL’s BookSafe Travel Protection Plan (and I am a usually very skeptical of cruise lines).

  • TonyA_says

    I actually wonder whether an (outside) insurance policy will give you ALL your money back. If the cruise line would give you 80% back in form of a certificate, then the insurance company would argue that you only lost (or were not able to cover) 20% of the cost. Hence only 20% (the portion that is non recoverable and assuming the cancellation is a covered reason) might be paid to you.

  • LadyLightTravel

    You forget one point. They flew a day later because the cruise line asked them to delay due to a broken propeller. They would have been able to fly on the original day and make the cruise. Hence, the delays caused by the cruise line fed into the inability to make the trip.
    If the hurricane occurred on the original day then I agree with you.

  • TonyA_says

    Problem is for (real) insurance travel policies you get NOTHING for a non-covered reason. So in some cases, maybe BookSafe is even better.

  • TonyA_says

    I don’t believe I read that part correctly – that they FLEW a day later causing them to be affected by the hurricane.

  • EdB

    I don’t see where they said the cancellation was because they flew a day later. The way it was worded, it sounded like they still tried to travel on the original airline schedule. There was no mention of having to get the airline to change the date of departure. And even if they did try leaving a day later, again, it is not the cruise line fault for the weather. In fact, in that case I might even side more with the cruise line. They saw the bad weather coming but didn’t take the opportunity of getting out before it hit.

  • TonyA_says

    Do we know if they bought the airline tickets together with the cruise from NCL (and part of the protection plan or insurance or whatever it is called) ? If not, they why should NCL be held responsible for getting the pax to Seattle to take the cruise?

  • TonyA_says

    Can you be more specific why NCL’s BookSafe Travel Protection (itself) is a RIPOFF.

  • MarkKelling

    If the hurricane was in the area where the cruise was to depart from, then the cruise line should have refunded everyone. A refund, not a voucher for a future trip. However, I am unaware of any recent hurricane in or near the Seattle area. The cruise line operating in Seattle cannot be held responsible for a hurricane in Florida or New York, or anywhere outside of the actual cruise area.

    Not knowing the location the OP was traveling from, it is difficult to offer suggested options on what they could have done to still reach the cruise by departure time. If the airports nearby were closed as precautionary measures, the OP and friends could have driven further from the affected area and possibly caught a flight from an unaffected airport. If they were actually in the path of destruction, I can see them not wanting to leave since they would not know when or if they would be able to get back home. Also, I understand that not everyone has flexible vacation time and taking off early to drive to another city airport may not have been an option.

    A better insurance should have been offered by the cruise line, or purchased elsewhere by the OP, that would cover a situation like this.

  • MarkKelling

    I think if it was the cruise line cancelling the cruise a full refund would have been offered. But the actual cruise was not cancelled. But then maybe I’m not living in the real world.

  • TonyA_says

    The OP is from Hartford, Connecticut. So I guess it’s BDL to SEA or cross country just to get to the embarkation point.
    Which brings me to the question – did they also insure the air portion together with the cruise?
    Added: I do not know if by having both air and cruise on NCL’s protection plan would have changed the outcome.
    But it didn’t not seem the OP was interested in getting money back. It looked like she was interested in keeping 100% of her cruise money even in certificates.

  • AH

    The way I read that policy, she could not make the cruise because of a covered event… “Common Carrier delay”, therefore she was entitled to a full refund of the unused portion of her cruise.

  • Michael__K

    weather related issues that made it impossible to join the ship would have been covered on any policy with which I am familiar.

    I’m looking at a “real” travel insurance policy — the Allianz Classic Plan — and I’m wondering if the OP’s could have been much worse off going that route.

    The policy has this covered reason for cancellations:

    “bad weather or FAA mandated shutdown resulting in the complete cessation of services by the airline, the tour operator or the cruise line for at least 24 consecutive hours.”

    Was there in fact a “complete cessation of services” at Hartford airport “for at least 24 consecutive hours?” (Do they count starting from the OP’s scheduled departure time?) If not, I fail to see any other covered reason for cancellation that would apply. In that case, if the OP’s gave up when their flight was cancelled and abandoned their trip, they could have gotten absolutely nothing for their cruise.

    Now, if they instead refused the airline refund and asked to be re-accomodated (and missed their scheduled cruise departure) then it seems they would be covered under the Travel Delay and Missed Connection provisions. They would presumably miss much of the cruise, if they could make any of it all (e.g. Jones Act issues).

    In theory they may be entitled to a pro-rated reimbursement for the missed cruise days in that scenario, BUT:

    1) If the airfare was more than 25% of the cruise-fare (which seems likely) then they probably get less money/credit back in the end than with NCL’s protection plan.

    2) If I’m reading correctly, the total payout for Travel Delay and Missed Connection benefits is limited to the insurance coverage amount. I can easily imagine that cost of chasing last minute transportation to ports like Ketchikan or Skagway to catch a cruiseship (plus overnight lodging costs) could add up and eat in to any cruise reimbursements the travellers would otherwise be entitled to.


  • Charles

    Actually, this is the case for all travel insurance policies. They reimburse for non-refundable expenses. That’s reasonable, though. They are making you whole, not giving you a profit. I don’t know what they do about credits, though, since you are not really getting the money back. But, if my trip is cancelled and the hotel agrees to refund, my trip insurance won’t pay that amount.

    I hate the idea of credits. When we make a trip is often very constrained by work, family, and other issues. If we book a week trip and can’t make it, there is no guarantee that we’ll be able to cram in another week later in the year, so the credits may be worthless.

  • Guest

    Regarding whether the OP had “real” insurance or merely a waiver, how do you know what the cruise line presented it as? Your argument is based on the “description of the remedy,” not what the OP says he purchased, or thought he purchased. As appears usual with the cruise industry, whatever they choose to call it, their “insurance” is designed to protect only one entity: themselves.

  • pauletteb

    Because of the myriad exclusions, I’m sure waivers are more profitable for the cruise line than “real” insurance, and unless the OP specifically requested insurance, the rep was going to offer what was best for the company, not the customer. The rep may well have called it “insurance” — wouldn’t be the first time. Major lesson: Never trust a cruise line or tour operator to do what’s best for you.

  • sunshipball

    Weisman bought insurance for a 75% credit for her cruise. NCL gave her a 100% credit for her cruise. How in the world is that NOT enough compensation? I guess people think she should have gotten the money back in cash, even though that’s not the insurance she bought? Or do you all think that they should have PAID her for not being able to make it to her cruise? Either explanation for the “no” votes seems totally unreasonable to me.

  • Joe Farrell

    Well, any time I need a special courtesy I’ll ask a travel blogger / journalist to get it for me. Since the only time a company offers a special courtesy is when they get called out on their special extra thievery . . . .

  • Joe Farrell

    If you are going buy trip insurance, buy an annual policy and spend the extra $100 per person for cancel any reason insurance without pre-ex conditions limitations – then you can just ignore all this crap.

  • Joe Farrell

    like Charlie says, they purchased [and you can look at it yourself] a cancellation penalty waiver – wherein for whatever the premium was they had the cancellation penalty waived and were able to spend 75% of their fare on another cruise in the future. Its not insurance but its sold as insurance – but I bet that if you recorded a phone call that the NCL would NEVER use the word insurance no matter how much they are prompted . . . once they use that word and can be proven to use that word and the person needs to cancel they will get 100% of their money back –

  • William_Leeper

    Whether the op was fortunate in regards to the airline is all a matter of the airline. Many airlines routinely refund fares when weather causes cancellations. Delays are another story all together, but weather related cancellations are most usually refunded, and most contracts of carriage specify a refund is due. Now with that said, most airlines will initially offer vouchers, and only offer refunds when specifically asked, but it’s not too hard to get a refund either.

  • Lindabator

    Actually, that is because they don’t sell “insurance”, they sell travel “waivers” – not a cash back deal – which is why we ALWAYS sell 3rd party insurance (TravelGuard or TravelEx)

  • Lindabator

    That’s okay – I worked for the airlines for years, and part of the closing spiel was that tickets were non-transferable and non-refundable. They would ALWAYS claim they were never told when they wanted to cancel. Folks only hear what they WANT to!

  • Lindabator

    And they don’t – they always refer to it as their cancellation penalty waiver – but folks here what they want!

  • Lindabator

    That was IF NCL did the airline tickets – she did those on her own, so she needed real insurance coverage. We use TravelGuard!

  • Nathan Witt

    It seems to me that the Cruise Line’s responsibility to the passenger arises in this instance because she purchased something represented as coverage “Just in case.” I don’t care what the fine print says, and you shouldn’t have to, either. This isn’t an instance of a traveler purchasing a non-refundable fare and being upset when the travel provider won’t refund her money anyway. This is a situation where the cruise line offered her an optional extra at additional cost and represented that it was insurance. She paid the extra cost, and is therefore entitled to be insured against loss. Legally speaking, sure, the cruise line can insist that the contractually obligated compensation amounts to a 75% credit toward a future cruise. Ethically, that’s sketchy. It’s just as “gotcha” as the FlyerTalk folks who buy mistake fares that Chris posted about this week.
    In any event, Chris has done us the service of posting this story, and while you argue about who deserves what, I will choose not to do business with a company that treats its customers this way. Done deal.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    For years, I have commented several times on this blog that a traveler should never purchase a travel protection plan (most of the times it is not an insurance policy in order to avoid getting their sales reps licensed as an insurance agent) or travel insurance from the travel provider because the plan or policy is written to benefit the travel provider NOT the traveler. There could be exceptions out there but I haven’t found it yet.

    My recommendation is to purchase travel insurance from a third-party such as InsureMyTrip and Squaremouth not the travel provider or travel agent (unless the travel agent is licensed as an insurance agent and is NOT selling travel protection plans).
    Please remember that insurance is about risk management (reducing the amount that you have to pay out in the case that a risk occurred). It is NOT going to cover everything. For example, getting pregnant and can’t travel is not covered by most if not all travel insurance policies. If it does then you are not going to pay $ 100 to insure a trip with a value of $ 50,000 unless there are hundreds of thousands of people taking $ 50,000 trips AND buying travel insurance.