When Jeff Allen falls and breaks his tibial plateau just before a Carnival cruise, the company offers him a 50 percent cruise credit. But he thinks the company should let him redo the cruise after his surgery. Who's right? And is there anything he could have done to avoid losing his vacation?
Q: My partner and I were recently booked on a cruise to the Caribbean through Carnival Cruise Lines. It was to be our first cruise and we were so excited. Unfortunately, we had some extremely bad luck. We flew to Miami two days early to spend some time there before the cruise. That first evening, I slipped and fell on some wet plywood that had been placed in a public park.
I broke my tibial plateau into several pieces -- an injury that required immediate surgery. So we had to cancel the cruise and fly home.
We had booked the cruise through an online travel agent and they advised us that we would need to write Carnival a letter explaining the circumstances and inquiring about rescheduling the cruise or getting a refund. We did that in early May. We just found out that Carnival has decided to award us half our money back in shipboard credits if we book another cruise with them.
I find this "resolution" utterly unacceptable. I find it inconceivable that a company would willingly alienate a customer. We are not asking for special treatment; we just want to go on the vacation that we paid for. Can you help Carnival realize the error of its ways?
-- Jeff Allen, Denver, Colorado
A: Ouch. It sounds like you took a painful fall in Miami, and Carnival's response only added insult to an agonizing injury. In a perfect world, the cruise line would have offered you either a full refund or a redo of your cruise.
Unfortunately, it's not a perfect world. Carnival's ticket contract -- the legal agreement between you and the cruise line -- is clear about your rights. Check out paragraph six. "No refunds will be made in the event of "no shows", unused tickets, lost tickets, interruptions, partially-used tickets, or cancellations received late or after the start of the cruise," it says, adding, "Carnival strongly recommends the purchase of trip cancellation insurance from your travel agent." (Here's a copy of the contract on its site).
Would travel insurance have helped? Without a doubt. A fall like this would have almost certainly been covered by your policy, including your return airfare, any medical attention you received in Miami and your cruise fare. Your travel agent should have recommended a comprehensive insurance policy, and in your case, it would have been a sound investment.
I remember there was a time just after 9/11 when cruise lines routinely made exceptions to their nonrefundability rule. That's no longer the case. There's a good business reason why a cruise line would deny a request like yours: It can't resell your cabin when you're a no-show, meaning that it's basically offering you a free cruise.
But there's an equally compelling customer-service reason to cut you a little slack. The goodwill would go a long way to ensuring you're a repeat cruiser. You would also tell your friends and family about how compassionate Carnival was, and that may persuade them to try a "Fun Ship" cruise.
Someone at Carnival apparently thought a compromise would work best -- neither a redo, nor an outright denial of your request. I thought it was a good offer, but could Carnival do better?
One of the hardest parts of my job is knowing when to push, or when a company has done enough. This was a borderline case, but I still thought it was worth asking Carnival about it, knowing that it had already done more for you than it would for the average no-show passenger.
When Carnival re-examined your file, it found that it had miscalculated your refund, which gave you a $545 cruise credit instead of a $528 credit. That's the good news. The bad news? It's sticking to a 50 percent refund toward a future cruise, arguing that if it went any further, it would "undermine the integrity of purchasing travel insurance."
I'm not sure how issuing a full credit would undermine travel insurance any more than giving you half a refund. You're not happy with this resolution, and I'm not sure I am, either. But I think it's Carnival's final answer.
(Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. You can read more travel tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at email@example.com).
COPYRIGHT 2010 CHRISTOPHER ELLIOTT, DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.