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What do you need to do now?
Well the first thing is, don’t panic!
From our experience as we have experienced several changes and cancellations over our 15 years of cruising, what to do next all depends how and what you have booked and with who.
Obviously, the main element of your vacation is the cruise itself.
Many rumours can and do circulate on social media and/or web forums in advance of a possible change or cancellation, with people speculating on what is going to happen. So, it is a perfectly natural reaction to try and contact the cruise line or your travel agent to ask what is or is going to happen. However, please bear in mind that unfortunately the call centre agents or your travel professional most probably cannot confirm what arrangements the cruise lines are putting in place until they are notified themselves.
So, try and be patient. I know from very recent personal experience, that’s hard to do when you think the cruise you have been planning and looking forward to (for most likely such a long time), is possibly going to have to change or heaven forbid, be cancelled. This feels even more stressful when there is only a short time before the date of departure and more importantly when you intended to travel to the port of departure in advance of setting sail.
But before anything else, if you are employed or are running a business and have time booked off, think about how easy (or not in our case!) it would be if you need to be flexible on taking different days away from the workplace. This can prove important in the next few days/weeks. This could influence any decisions you need to make as a result of any changes.
It may also be of benefit to compile a list of alternatives. Be that other sailings with the same cruise line, or with one of their ‘sister’ lines. Don’t rule out competitors or even a completely different kind of vacation.
For any alternatives you consider, check out any official travel regulations that may need to be put in place before travelling. For example, if you only have a couple of weeks to make a change and this involves travelling to a different country than originally planned that requires a visa or travel authority to be in place before travel, if there is insufficient time to obtain these, there is no point in considering that as an alternative.
Always check the official government department of the country you are visiting or to set sail from and ports being visited. Do not just trust the opinions of others online, as helpful as that sounds, official regulations can and do change.
Once advised by the cruise line that your sailing is to be changed or cancelled, if possible, you should be offered an alternative, be that on the same ship, but departing on a different date or lasting for more or fewer days, or on a different ship. If on a different ship, this could be for the same date of your original sailing or departing on an alternative date from another port.
As it could be setting sail from or arriving into a different port than originally planned, bear in mind your flexibility in reaching or arriving back into a different port.
Alternatives offered may comprise of different port stops/stays or the number of sea days during the sailing. If none of these is suitable or convenient then you should be able to cancel for no fee and obtain a full refund of your cruise fare, together with taxes and any prepaid charges such as gratuities or service charges.
Depending on the cruise line policy and the type of booking you have, this can influence the rebooking options/refunds/compensation offered by the cruise line.
For any alternative sailings offered, the type of cabins available and cost can vary tremendously so sometimes cruise lines will offer price protection (meaning the price you paid will be honoured) or compensation given in terms of ‘onboard credit’ which can help soften the impact of any increase in the cruise fare. Please note, none of this is guaranteed.
Bear in mind, that depending on the ship/sail date, your current category of stateroom may not be available but alternatives close to it should hopefully be.
However, in some instances, it may not be possible for the cruise line to offer an alternative sailing as the itinerary you have booked is unique.
For example, a repositioning sailing such as a Transatlantic or Transpacific crossing that only happens once or twice a year is something very difficult for a cruise line to offer an alternative for (as we recently discovered!).
In the case where no suitable alternative can be offered, the cruise line should offer a full refund of all monies paid to date. In addition, some may offer a discount off a future sailing or provide a ‘credit note’ towards the cost of a future cruise. If so, take note of the conditions of the offer, as this could have an expiry date by which it has to be used, it most possibly will list several ‘blackout’ dates when the credit cannot be used such as holidays (Easter, New Year etc).
Other conditions could apply, and this could be different depending on the cruise line, so please check once you receive anything.
So, whether your cruise is being changed or is to be cancelled, then some or all of the following can be affected.
Let’s review the additional things you might have booked to complement your sailing. This is not an exhaustive list so feel free to compile your own! That’s the important thing.
These are the items that immediately came to mind when cruises have been changed or cancelled for us.
- Travel Insurance Pre-cruise hotel reservation(s)
- Car Rental bookings pre and/or post cruise
- Flights to and from the departure city/country
- Post cruise accommodation
- Shore excursions
- Dining and Beverage Packages, On Board Amenities
- Transport to and from the port Baggage delivery/collection pre and or post-cruise
- Pet care whilst away (cattery or kennel bookings, house sitters)
- Childcare provision
At this stage, let me suggest that when booking things such as hotel accommodation, car rental and shore excursions, try where possible to make reservations that can be cancelled without penalty. For example, I never make hotel reservations that require pre-payment unless they are refundable. However, I always check nearer the check-in date for any last-minute deals, even if this means paying upfront close to arrival.
The main thing I found useful was to be able to compile a list of all the ‘ancillary’ services purchased or booked in advance of sailing, together with the method of payment used to either complete or guarantee said bookings and who you booked them with.
This will prove extremely useful when trying to reconcile any refunds you expect, receive or need to follow up.
In most cases, any refunds will be made to the form of payment used for the original booking. Don’t worry if you used a credit/debit card when you made the original reservation that has subsequently expired and been renewed or replaced due to other circumstances. The card issuer should be able to cross reference any old card number used to the one presently valid.
If any of the additional services/items have been booked via a Travel Agent, they will manage a lot of the cancelling and rebooking of reservations and processing of any applicable refunds on your behalf. Please bear in mind any refunds from a travel agent may have a longer lead time than that from the cruise line.
However, if you have done a lot of the arrangements independently, then it will be up to you to manage the cancellation/rebooking process.
Don’t be alarmed, it is fairly easy, you just need to be organised and methodical.
Firstly, review the change/cancellation policies of all the items you have not booked with the cruise line. This can help you organise what needs to be done as a priority and what can be deferred for a short while. This helps take the pressure off thinking you have to change or rearrange everything immediately. Set up daily reminders, it certainly helps organise your upcoming days!
If you have booked things such as dining or beverage packages and paid for them in advance with the cruise line, together with shore excursions or onboard amenities (such as stateroom decorations for a special occasion), you may find these are not transferred to any changed itinerary or sailing. In most cases, the cruise line will just cancel these and refund you what you have paid, and they will have to be rebooked on any alternative sailing.
However, don’t be surprised if these refunds are processed separately by different departments within the cruise line and as a result have different processing times. This can mean refunds arrive at different times, don’t be alarmed, I’m confident that the cruise line will make it all good.
So, let’s look at the items on my list to see what you may have to do, depending on what your plan of action is
Does this need updating in terms of geographic locations covered for any changes to your itinerary?
Can you make any claim for any consequential loss not covered by the cruise line, airline or other transport option booked?
Pre-Cruise Hotel Reservation
Do these need to be cancelled, amended or just extended at the same property?
Do new reservations need to be made at an alternative location?
When do changes/cancellation have to be completed by to ensure you don’t incur a penalty charge?
Remember, in most cases, any changes to an existing reservation in terms of dates, are governed by the cancellation policy. So, if the booking says you can cancel no later than 2 days prior to arrival for no penalty, this is also the deadline for making changes too.
Also make sure there are no penalties for cancelling, even if your reservation says it can be cancelled as sometimes hotels do charge an administration fee.
Make sure that your reservation does not have a minimum stay requirement. For example, if you were staying for 2 nights but now only need 1, as your replacement sailing is departing earlier than planned. If the reservation has a 2-night minimum stay, then to prevent being charged for the full 2 nights, and if the hotel isn’t flexible (if asked nicely), then you will have no alternative but to cancel for no penalty and look for an alternative.
Car Rental bookings pre and/or post cruise
Check what you can and cannot change or cancel. Do you need to extend or shorten the rentals? Do you need to change the pick-up of drop off locations or both?
Considering the above will help you decide whether to cancel completely and rebook elsewhere or even with the same agency for your new requirements.
Now, this can be one of the biggest, longest and most expensive elements of your trip, especially if you have to travel a long distance to meet up with that cruise ship.
In most cases, the cruise line will offer compensation for any change fees incurred by you if you can change your flights to new dates when choosing an alternative sailing.
The amount offered by the cruise line may differ depending if you are changing domestic or international flights and invariably will have a maximum limit. This may also cover cancellation up to a limit if that’s the only option open to you.
If you have made airline reservations via the cruise line, then you will need to contact them for the policies and processes in place for changes or cancellation.
The first thing to do is to check the fare conditions to determine what the change fee is, and if the flight can be cancelled, what, if any, is the cancellation fee. As we all like inexpensive flights, this will mean most likely that they are non-refundable. However, if you do cancel before departure you should be able to obtain a refund of any taxes included in the total fare. Although this can be a pointless exercise with some airlines as they charge an ‘admin’ fee that can be the same or even more than the taxes!
Remember that even if there is a fee to change, this will be in addition to any increase in fare and taxes for any new flight you wish to change to. Also, it is worth noting that even though you may be able to change your flights, some airlines do not allow you to change the route, either the originating airport and/or destination. So, check before assuming your flights can be changed.
Most domestic flights in the US charge a change fee of $200 and this can be (in most cases) more than the original cost of the flight!
Also, bear in mind payments you may have made for advance seat selection or additional baggage are not always refundable and cannot necessarily be transferred to new flights.
Unless part of an alliance, normally you cannot change from one airline to another unless this can be done as part of a codeshare agreement (e.g. some British Airways flights can be booked using American Airlines flight numbers. So, if your original flight numbers start AA…, but the ones you want to change to are only operated by BA, hopefully, those flights should be available with AA flight numbers). This isn’t always guaranteed though!
Once you have all this information, only you can decide if you need to cancel and book new flights with another airline or try and change what you have. This can come down to cost and flexibility.
Some airlines may let you cancel and keep a credit towards future flights, so this may also be an option to consider.
Scheduled airline tickets are only valid for 12 months, so if any replacement flights you want to change to are more than 12 months in the future from the original outbound date, you won’t be able to change.
Like us recently, you could have purchased one-way flights but now need a return option, so the first thing to do is to see if the airline will let you add a return sector to your existing flights because in some cases, especially transatlantic, one-way fares are really expensive with most scheduled airlines.
Post Cruise Accommodation
If you need another place to stay after your new cruise (maybe you get back earlier than the original cruise and before your return flight/transport leaves that you can’t change), check out the numerous price comparison sites to get an idea of prices.
But always check directly with the supplier (hotel chain or resort) where possible, as the prices may be less or additional benefits could be included if booked direct (maybe free Wi-Fi, early check-in or late check out, low deposit, breakfast included, no prepayment, or cancel for a fee).
If booked directly with the cruise line, and already paid for, these will be refunded in full but may take longer than the refund for a cancelled cruise.
Independently booked shore excursions may or may not be refundable, so check with the supplier. Some are excellent and cancel for no penalty, some may just keep any deposit paid or let you transfer to an alternative date.
Dining and Beverage Packages and On-Board Amenities
If these have been purchased in advance of sailing and not included in the cruise fare, then again these will be cancelled automatically by the cruise line if the sailing is cancelled (by either the line itself or you) if there is no suitable alternative.
In this instance, once again, refunds will be processed and credited back to you. Although as mentioned earlier, as these could be handled by different departments, the time taken to process them (in addition to the time taken by your financial institution to credit your account) could vary.
Transport to and from the port
If you have cabs or private shuttles pre-booked to either take you to the ship or pick you up (or both), remember to either change or cancel as soon as possible.
Baggage delivery/collection pre and or post cruise
Any luggage valet services already booked will need to be reviewed and changed accordingly to tie in with any new sailing.
Pet care whilst away (cattery, kennel bookings or house sitters) and Childcare provision
Review any bookings and amend as necessary, and don’t leave it too late as many establishments that board pets can get extremely busy during popular vacation periods.
I know the above could look overwhelming, but trust me, with a little patience, perseverance and organisation, it can be achieved, even in a short space of time! Trust me, it can!
Hopefully, you’ll never have to work through the scenarios described, but ‘forewarned is forearmed’!