The Travel Troubleshooter: Help, my river cruise transfers are sunk

Question: My wife and I are booked on a Viking River Cruise. We plan to go from Washington to Moscow three days early, take the river cruise to St. Petersburg and remain there for three days before going on to a four-day stopover in Paris en route home. It is because of the diversions and deviation that Viking is attempting to set aside its responsibility to comply with what its literature apparently states.

The problem: Viking does not want to be responsible for the ground transfers in Moscow and St. Petersburg, despite the fact that we have purchased a Viking Air Package.

At the outset — this trip was booked nearly a year ago — Viking summarily denied any responsibility for transfers and stated that we must make transfer arrangements on our own, even though the cruise line’s literature states that if air is not purchased from Viking, transfers may be purchased separately.

Furthermore, it has been difficult to get anyone on the phone at Viking at a level to discuss the matter further. Shouldn’t Viking’s literature mean what it says? — Robert Brown, Silver Spring, Md.

Answer: If Viking includes ground transfers with its air packages, then you should have received them. But I’m not sure if it explicitly promises the transfers.

At the time you made your purchase (the language has since been modified, but I’ll get to that in a moment) the promotional copy might have left you with the impression that transfers were included. But anyone with a working knowledge of the cruise industry, like a competent travel agent, would have known that’s not necessarily the case.

A closer reading of Viking’s terms would have revealed that transfers do not apply on non-embarkation days or dates that don’t coincide with tour dates. Nor do they apply to non-Viking-related hotels, such as the properties you planned to visit in Russia.

You had two things in your favor: First, the vagueness of the promotional language, and second, the apparent difficulty you had getting a clear answer to your request.

I think this could have been avoided by reading Viking’s terms closely or working with a qualified travel agent, who could have advised you about the transfers. In reviewing your correspondence, I see you spent a fair amount of time on the phone, too. When dealing with this type of request, it’s usually best to make your request in writing. That way, you’ll have a paper trail if there’s ever any disagreement with the company.

I contacted Viking on your behalf. In addition to taking care of your transfers as “an exception” to its policy, a spokeswoman told me Viking is reviewing its terms and conditions as it applies to transfers and will “update it accordingly to ensure the verbiage is as clear as possible.”

(Photo: jimg 944/Flickr)

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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  • Yvr1xx

    There we have it again, not accepting responsibility for ones actions. In this case not reading the terms and conditions put forth by the cruise company. The brochures that cruise lines put out state that transfers will not be included unless passengers arrive on date of embarkation or if they have purchased a hotel package and coincide with the cruise departure date. So here we have another idiot that expects someone to fight his battles for him because he is stupid. I get so tired of people like this and I have no sympathy for them.

  • Kairho

    Is it really that difficult to arrange for one’s own transfers, upon arrival if necessary?

  • Clare

    In Russia?  Absolutely!  Getting in a taxi–or a car which says “taxi” on it, which definitely doesn’t mean it’s a real taxi–especially in an airport or some other touristy-area in Russia has the potential to be EXTREMELY dangerous, especially if you’re a foreigner who doesn’t know the language. 

    This is one reason why travel agencies that focus on Russia-travel always (at least in my experience!) put a big emphasis on transfers.  You want to arrange in advance that somebody who isn’t a criminal-thug is going to meet you and really take you where you’re supposed to go!

    I once got stuck in a 5-star hotel in St. Petersburg, waiting for my transfer to the airport.  The car never came.  While I was standing there, with all my luggage, one screaming-obvious mafia guy after another kept pulling up and coming into the lobby–evidently they were having a meeting there.  And I was right there in the middle of it all, with all my bags… nice.

    But I speak Russian, and was able to get the bellhop to find me a reliable cab.  He got his friend, who was parked nearby (an illegal cab, but at least not someone planning to murder me), to take me to the airport for a pre-negotiated rate.  My story ended safely and at a reasonable price, but only because I was able to talk to them!

    (And my TA apologized profusely and later refunded me the transfer-fee, of course.)

    So in short, the answer to your question is YES, if you’re in Russia.  They like to pretend that they’re part of Europe.  Believe me, they’re not.

  • Eric

    There are cabbies in Russia who’ll drive you to the middle of nowhere and steal every thing you have, right down to your underwear.

  • Backpackersantiago

    Sounds like this has happened to you….Details? ha ha ha

  • Brooklyn

    “…or working with a qualified travel agent,”

    I’m sure they would have treated the travel agent better.  Not.

  • Grimm

    Maybe this should be retitled, the Stupid Travel Troubleshooter?  Nah, can’t fix stupid.

  • Arizona Road Warrior

    We do take tours from time to time and we always arrive early (i.e. 2 to 5 days) before the tour starts and stay after (i.e. 2 to 5 days) the tours ends so that we can do independent travel on our own as well as have plenty of time if our flights are delayed, luggage got lost, etc.

    All of the tour packages that we have been on as well as the several tour packages that we looked at over the years, it was clearly stated that transfers to and from the airport are 1) only available on the date the tour starts and ends and 2) sometimes it stated that you must have booked your air with them. 

  • Charlie

    I wonder if anyone has taken, or has, time to evaluate these reports over the last year or so and see how many of them would have been avoided outright, or tremendously reduced the time the traveler had to invest in resolving a problem, if they had used a competent, local, professional travel agent.

    Chris notes that in this case Mr. Brown apparently spent HOURS on the phone trying to resolve the issue.  Does he place ANY value at all on his time?  My inference is that he booked the cruise directly with Viking River.  And that leads us to the kicker – he didn’t save a penny by doing so.  Nada.  Zilch.  Zero.  If I can afford to spend $6,000 – $15,000 on a river cruise (depending on category chosen) and travel like that often, I make enough money that MY time is valuable enough not to use it on something that a professional travel agent does, ESPECIALLY if it doens’t cost me anything.  If that amount of money is REALLY a lot to me, I cannot afford to risk having a problem like this come up that will cause stress in my life.

    Oh, and the Viking River brochure is clearly explicit that transfers apply ONLY to day of cruise and/or hotel packages that they, Viking River, booked on behalf of the client, to reinforce a reply from another respondent.

    Sure, you could do it yourself, but WHY?

  • Arizona Road Warrior

    This is why we have not traveled to Russia yet.

  • Arizona Road Warrior

    Charilie, I agree with you that the OP booked this tourcruise directly with Viking River and he didn’t save a single penny by booking directly with Viking River.  If he had dealt with a professional travel agent, it would have been pointed out the issues with transfers before it was booked or an alternative option for transfers would have been arranged.

    Also, I agree with you that a lot of the articles that Chris has written over the years were inexperienced travelers that dealt directly with a tour operator or cruise line (didn’t saved a single penny by booking directly) which they could have avoided their problems by dealing with a competent, professional travel agent.

  • Fred Munroe

    My comment has been a longtime coming, but I needed to speak my mind.  Chris you do great work and offer a very realistic picture of broad issues in the travel world.  But, I think that providers ofter make exceptions for YOU and not clients in the real world, because they cannot afford the “bad press” you give to providers who do not deliver.

    I just reread Viking’s terms and it is very clear that this passenger was
    owed nothing.  I have a client on a Viking cruise next fall under
    similar circumstances and as their travel agent I will arrange private

    Viking did not make an exception because they should have.  They made an exception because your forum hurts them if they don’t.  While I don’t see you as a bully, in the open market of your blog, bullying suppliers is exactly what is happening here.  So the traveling consumer begins to believe that “rules do not apply to ME”, because the rules do not apply to Chris Elliott.

    I arrange for special consideration and attention for my clients all the time, but I do not ask suppliers to make exceptions because I will make them “pay” if they do not.  Some day I may have a client who says, “Chris Elliott can get them to make an exception for me.  Why can’t you?”  The answer will have to be, “because what you want is not fair or realistic and I am not willing to bully them to get you an exception that is truly only valuable to them to avoid ridicule in a public form, not in the real business world.

    Viking is one of the top river cruise operators and offers a near flawless product.  A traveler who can afford a Viking River Cruise, along with 7 extra days in Russia, can afford the cost of transfers.  Frankly, the time they spend arguing with Viking and complaining to you, likely cost them more productive time than the value of the transfers.

  • Dave

    I wanted to arrange my own transfers, i.e., time of pick-up, etc. I asked Viking who the used in Russia, MIR travel and contacted them directly by email and set it all up.

    No Fuss

  • Guest

    This, times one thousand.

  • Lindabator

    Get a good travel agent — I make all the arrangements for my clients in advance — have never had a problem.  (I also have several contacts on the ground in Moscow and St Pete, so i know who to use and who to trust)

  • Lindabator

    But the travel agent would have KNOWN you cannot book transfers with the cruise operator outside of the actual travel dates, and they could have made separate arrangements.

  • Christopher Elliott

    I’m not sure I agree. Do some travel companies fold when I approach them with a problem? Maybe. Do they all (ie, the rules do not apply to Chris Elliott)? Nope. Read the Thursday post (case dismissed) if you don’t believe me.

    In this case, the brochure and terms were vague enough to make the customer believe he would be getting the transfers. The terms have since been tightened up. Viking River saw that the language was problematic, fixed it and helped the customer.

    By the way, I never ever tell a company how to resolve a problem, and I never threaten it with a bad story. I wouldn’t have lasted long in this business by throwing my weight around like that. Besides, it’s not who I am.

  • Tony A.

    I get Viking River Cruise literature regularly (for years now). I have been to Moscow and St. Petersburg.  I have taken river cruises before but not this particular one. If one purchases an Air Package from Viking, they include a meet and greet plus transfer (to the port where their ship is docked).

    I believe the OP got confused that Viking would provide Airport to hotel and hotel to port transfers if he arrived earlier and stayed later. Unless this kind of transfer is clearly indicated in the ADD ON, then it is not. I think the additional stop in Paris does include airport transfer (assuming one buys the air ticket package from Viking).

    For unseasoned travelers, the main difference between buying the transfer from the cruise company versus getting one from elsewhere is that the cruise company will be responsible for delays. If you get your own transfer and you miss the boat, then you are SOL.

    All the OP needed was good and clear advise before and while he was shopping. If he did not understand Viking’s brochure, it did not mean that Vikings was deliberately misleading him. What he was buying will usually be listed clearly in his itinerary, so if there was anything missing there he should have spotted it before he paid. If he didn’t understand what transfers were included then he should ask.

    I don’t believe Viking should have given him extra transfer because it is unfair to all the others who bought similar air packages and did not get extra transfers. After all he clearly did not pay for it.

  • Tony A.

    It would probably be a good idea (a positive one at that) if Chris can print pointers to travelers. Maybe a link to a library of LESSON LEARNED on the side of this page would be great. Most people are not dumb. They just need a check list and know the right questions to ask.

  • djp

    There is being stupid to a point….This kind of stuff should not be buried in the fine print of a legal document.  This is something that should be clearly dislosed.  Its a natural to have transfers on travel….included or not in the package should be something stated in an obvious matter.

  • sirwired

    Come ON!  Usually cruise transfers involve the cruise line having a rep standing there at the airport holding a sign and herding people into the correct shuttle bus/van.  (Which, by the way, usually goes to the ship, not a hotel, unless the cruise line also books the hotel.)  We cannot seriously expect the cruise line to send someone to the airport three days early for a single transfer to a random hotel.

    This is common sense, and I don’t blame Viking for not feeling the need to spell this out ahead of time. 

    I’m not saying the OP is a moron for thinking otherwise if he’s an inexperienced traveler or suffering from a brain fart, but he should have folded once the reasoning was explained to him.

  • Charlie

    This kind of stuff should not be buried in the fine print of a legal document. 

    In this case, it isn’t.  That said, there is, of necessity, a LOT of information in ANY vacation brochure because we are such a litigious society and because the supplier must disclose everything required by law and more to protect themselves.  WHERE the information is disclosed is not the issue.  The problem is information overload.  Case in point –  how many computer users EVER read the eula agreement that comes with any software program or application?  For that matter, how many Facebook users really read all the terms and conditions of use before they checked “accept”.  Publishing information assures nothing.  As one poster and comedian Ron White is wont to say “You can’t fix stupid.”  You can’t fix ignorant either.

  • Lindabator

    It is clearly disclosed – the client just didn’t like the answer.  He even stated that he was told from the outset – just another example of those who want Chris to bend (BREAK) the rules for them. 

  • Lindabator

    Amen!  Again, the client stated he was informed from the outset – he just didn’t like the answer and got Chris to bully them into giving him what he was never entitled to.  Its a shame when people do NOT get what they are entitled to, but WORSE when they get what they do.  The next REAL client will find them a lot more stringent. 

  • S E Tammela

    I don’t think I’m the only one who is tired of over-entitled-traveller stories on here. Every second story seems to be about someone who made a mistake or had an unfortunate run of bad luck, then stamps their feet and demands the world from a company for no other reason than “because I’m a customer, that’s why, damnit!”

    Please, please, start posting less cleuless-customer stories and more people-who-actually-got-ripped-off it. Is it too much to ask?

  • Kevkev

    The problem is because they are cheapskate and the sad thing is somebody is willing to be on their side and bullies the cruise line.

  • Nancy Dickinson

    This one confuses me to the nth degree.  The OP booked a cruise about a year ago and waited this long to make sure everything was as he/she needed it to be?  The OP was told he would have to arrange the transfers (TOLD!) and they still think the cruise line should take care of it, so much so they did nothing?

    If there was any confusion whatsoever about any part of an obviously expensive trip, the phone calls and e-mails should have started about the same time the trip was booked, not long after.  However, even the OP states he was TOLD by Viking they didn’t take care of the transfers he needed.  IMHO, the next step wouldn’t have been to do nothing but to start doing what needed to be done to arrange the transfers.  Getting upset with the cruise line for not doing what it SAID it wouldn’t do accomplishes nothing.  

    If there is a problem, standing back and waiting for magic fairies to take care of it doesn’t get the problem solved.  It just has you waiting for the magic fairies.

  • Marcin Jeske

    I think readers may be confusing the timing… as I understand it:

    1 year ago – OP selects a Viking River Cruise along with an Air Package and agrees to the price with the assumption that transfers between components of the package are included. This assumption seems primarily based on the Viking literature saying that if you did not book an Air Package, you would be responsible for booking transfers separately, implying that transfers are included with the Air Package.

    Shortly after booking the trip, OP checked with Viking and was informed no transfers were included, contradicting what OP thought they agreed to… apparently due to contract terms which exclude transfers when hotels are not booked with Viking.

    At that point, if I had been the OP, I would have reevaluated whether I was still getting a fair price (I assume with the cruise booked more than a year in advance, it could be canceled at no cost). For whatever reason, OP did not cancel the cruise, but felt that the exclusion of transfers was misrepresented and attempted to resolve the issue with Viking.

    The OP then spent months trying… I can imagine it could have looked like the time I tried to port my telephone number (every week or two I would call and be told to wait for someone to get in touch with me) or like when I try to get a free computer from Apple (every time a firm polite response: “No sir, we do not give out free computers.”)

    Honestly, with the trip more that a year off, I assume the OP made infrequent efforts every few weeks, waiting a few weeks for response, and so on. The OP obviously felt after many months of being told ‘no’ that the company had misrepresented the package at the time of purchase and finally contacted Chris Elliott in frustration.

    I hate booking giant tour packages for many reasons, but among them is that it is terribly difficult to ascertain exactly what you are paying for from the literature unless you step through the entire itinerary with an agent and note everything down. The few times I booked a package I have done exactly that, and you could always tell how annoyed the agent was. Also, make sure to read carefully through the entire terms and conditions, asking plenty of questions and clarifications) as the agent waits for you to sign and pay… they love that.

    While a reasonable person will recognize that “small print” terms require complicated legalese to accurately represent the contract under law, there is also an expectation that the “large print” literature accurately represent what the “small print” means.

    In this case, I would summarize by saying that a customer found the “large print” misrepresented the “small print”, notified the company with Chris Elliott’s help, and the company improved the “large print” and made an exception for the customer in deep appreciation for helping improve the experience for all customers and avoiding such misunderstandings in the future.

  • Charlie

    Marcin wrote – unless you step through the entire itinerary with an agent and note everything down. The few times I booked a package I have done exactly that, and you could always tell how annoyed the agent was.

    The problem is with having the WRONG travel agent, not your desire to be thorough.  We train our agents (and my wife and I train other agents and agency owners all over North America) to be sensitive to a client’s needs and to over inform and over serve.  Clients signal if we are being intrusivley thorough.   

  • IGoEverywhere

    Travel Agents….ASTA travelagents would have been responsible for this mis-interpretation. They would have known up front the rules and regulations. Did you book it yourself? I know that Viking has very specific rules for their transfers. I would also caution the clients on having the correct Russian Visas. They are way way way nasty.

  • Gitesd
  • Lindabator

    No, Chris clearly states they knew from the outset – they just didn’t like the answer!

  • Charlie

    Surely you’re not suggesting someone would try to game the system with selective comprehension and recall or try to find an “in between” for undeserved benefit.