With cruises canceled around the globe for months due to the worldwide suspension of operations during the coronavirus pandemic, millions of cruise passengers are asking the same question: Where is my cruise vacation refund?
The answer, however, isn’t as simple as a basic refund or standard credit card transaction. Cruise lines and all travel-related businesses are operating under extraordinary conditions, and understanding the current business challenges can help every cruise passenger anticipate their refund patiently.
Cruise Refund Options
Most cruise lines are offering passengers two options if their cruise has been canceled while global operations are suspended. While different lines do have different procedures and the exact terms vary with each cruise line, the default option is generally to receive a future cruise credit or voucher that can be applied toward a future sailing once cruises resume.
This credit is for the full cost of the canceled cruise fare, and some lines are even offering bonuses – such as 125 or 150 percent of the fare – to entice passengers to rebook their vacations. This can be a great option and amazing savings for passengers eager to be cruising again with the same line in the future.
Because this is the default option, passengers do not need to notify the cruise line of their preference. The appropriate credit will automatically be granted to each passengers’ cruise line account, though the credit could take 4-6 weeks to be accessible for future bookings.
Cruise lines are being generous with the rebooking terms, however, and passengers typically have several months or even as much as a year or more to book a cruise using that credit, allowing for great travel flexibility when planning your next cruise getaway.
Passengers can also request a standard refund of their cruise fare for any canceled sailings. While they will not receive the additional bonus, the full cost of the fare will be returned to the original method of payment, such as being returned to the credit card used to purchase the cruise, or returned to a travel agent if other payment methods were used. If gift cards were used to buy the now canceled cruise, new gift cards will be issued in the appropriate amount.
In order to get the regular refund, passengers need to notify the cruise line that they’d prefer the refund instead of the default future cruise credit. Passengers who booked their vacation through a travel agent should also consult their agent about refund procedures and any necessary requests or paperwork.
Similarly, check with refund policies or customer service representatives if the vacation plans were made through any third-party websites or other vacation planners.
Why Is It Taking So Long to Get a Refund?
It can be frustrating to be waiting on a refund, but it is important to recognize that this pandemic is an unprecedented situation for the entire travel industry. Not only must cruise lines process millions of passenger refunds, but they are doing so under extreme conditions.
Typically, a cruise passenger who must cancel their vacation can expect a refund within 30 days of making their request. These pandemic times are not typical, however, and cruise lines are besieged with refund requests and other difficulties that are causing hefty delays.
Some passengers may not receive refunds for as long as 60-90 days after their cruises are canceled, and it is possible that refunds could be delayed even further if cruise lines must extend their suspensions further and cancel even more cruises.
Many cruise lines have been forced to furlough or lay off employees, reducing the number of customer service representatives available to handle refund requests. At the same time those representatives still working are also handling new bookings, fielding media requests, making travel arrangements to repatriate crew members, and answering other cruise-related questions.
Furthermore, because many office spaces are closed, the representatives who are processing refunds may be doing so remotely, working on their home office equipment rather than more powerful, faster equipment that would be available if they were working under regular office conditions.
Because this situation is global, many refunds need to be processed in complicated ways, involving different credit card and payment companies, international currencies, different languages, and multiple time zones. If a passenger also booked shore tours, spa appointments, or other amenities with their cruise fare, the refund could be even more complex, involving arrangements with third-party vendors in addition to the cruise line itself.
Similarly, passengers who booked travel arrangements through the cruise line, including airfare or pre- or post-cruise packages and airport transfers, may also have more complicated refunds.
Even some future cruise credit options are caught up in the refund process, as the credit is only applicable to the cruise fare, which may not be the total payment amount. Port and government taxes, for example, may still be refunded directly to passengers before the future cruise credit is calculated, which means another step in the refund process.
With such convoluted refunds, most cruise lines’ automatic systems are not equipped to successfully coordinate the process. Instead, refund requests must often be manually reviewed, which takes additional time and manpower that is in very limited supply.
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Speeding Up Your Cruise Refund
It can be frustrating to wait on a cruise refund at the same time passengers may be facing their own financial difficulties from lost wages, unexpected expenses, and unemployment. You can take some steps that may help speed up the refund process, however.
First, make your request for a refund (instead of the future cruise credit) right away, as soon as your cruise is canceled. Contact the cruise line immediately, as well as any travel agent or third-party website, to initiate the refund process.
When you are speaking with the cruise line, have your booking confirmation or reservation number available, as well as the travel information for all passengers in the booking. This can allow the customer service representative to more easily coordinate the refund for all parties. Be sure you have your total costs and amount paid available, to ensure the numbers match what the representative is able to process as a refund.
Sign up for email or text notifications from the cruise line so you can stay updated on the refund process, additional cancellations, or other operational changes that may affect how quickly you get your refund. Many cruise lines are also sending email notifications when refunds are processed or future cruise credits are available, and you want to be sure you receive those alerts.
Finally, be patient. Be aware of how long it may take to receive a refund, and do not call or contact the cruise line frequently or well before that timeframe to expect preferential treatment or faster service.
This is a challenging time for everyone in the cruise industry, and the individual customer service representatives you may speak with have never dealt with this type of situation before. Be calm and courteous with every call, online chat, or email, and be aware that there may be lengthy holds or other delays even when you do speak with a representative.
Above all, be aware that refunds are being processed, and the payment will be returned to you. It may not be in the fastest time frame, but after all, every passenger with a canceled cruise had hoped to be setting sail instead of waiting on a refund. With patience, future cruise credits will be issued, refunds will be processed, and cruises will soon start sailing again.