The complaints thousands of cruisers have lodged against cruise lines regarding delayed refunds could soon be addressed.
The Federal Maritime Commission has begun a process that could lead to big changes with regards to how refunds are handled in the future.
Why Cruise Refunds Are Suddenly in the Spotlight
According to a summary of the Federal Maritime Commission’s study, the complaints began to come in after the Centers for Disease Control issued their No Sail Order, triggering hundreds of cruise cancellations.
“This,” reads the summary, “of course led to demands for refunds of monies paid. In many cases, accommodations were made to the satisfaction of the customer.”
In other cases, however, the FMC says, “complaints were filed with various governmental agencies” and eventually found their way to the Commission.
“As a result of these complaints and the numerous stories being circulated in the public square, questions arose as to the overall impact of the current [crisis] on cruise passengers, the cruise industry and the ports that host them.”
It seems safe to say that by “the public square,” the Commission means Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets, all of which have been flooded with refund complaints in recent months.
What A Survey of Cruise Lines Revealed
To get to the bottom of matters, the Commission did a survey of cruise lines in order to gather more information. “Among the more significant observations was the lack of consistency among the [cruise lines] when it came to their ticket refund prices,” reads the report.
“Also of note, but not always the case, was the recognition that said practicers were not always easily discernible by the consumer.”
This confusion often seems to arise from variations of policy within a company. While not named, the study said that one cruise line had “three different [refund] policies; one for its Caribbean cruises, one for a specific ship sailing out of New York and one for all other cruises.”
And at least one cruise line reported that they did not “start issuing refunds to customers impacted by [the crisis] until early May.”
What Changes The Commission is Proposing
In a release regarding the findings and the proposed changes, Commissioner Louis E. Sola said that “for the most part, consumers are satisfied with the responses they have received from the [cruise lines] concerning the cruises cancelled due to the CDC No-Sail Order.”
He added, however, that the commission “discovered some places where we, as a regulator, could improve our ability to protect the consumer.”
As a result, the FMC has proposed the following changes:
- When a sailing is cancelled or a passenger boarding is delayed by at least 24 hours due to any reason other than a governmental order or declaration, full refunds must be paid within 60 days following a passenger refund request.
- When a sailing is cancelled or consumer boarding is delayed due to a governmental order or declaration, full refunds must be paid within 180 days following a passenger refund.
- If, following a declaration of a public health emergency, any consumer cancels a cruise booking of a sailing that may be affected by such emergency after the [cruise line’s] refund deadline, but the sailing is not cancelled, the [cruise line] will provide a credit for a future cruise equal to the consumer’s amount of deposit. In all other cases in which a consumer cancels and embarkation and sailing occur within the prescribed timeline, the cruise line’s rules for cancellation will apply.
- A [cruise line] may set a reasonable deadline for a consumer entitled to a refund to request the refund which shall not be less than 6 months after the scheduled voyage.
- Refunds should include all fees paid to the [cruise line] by consumer to include all ancillary fees remitted to the carrier by the consumer.
- Refunds to be given in the same fashion as monies were originally remitted to the carrier.
The 13-page interim report concludes by saying that Commissioner Sola “believes that by issuing the above-referenced requirements through the rulemaking process, both the industry and the consumer will be well served.”
It adds that a “clear and consistent policy toward ticket refunds as well as the financial responsibility requirements will eliminate uncertainty on the part of the consumer and will provide clear terms upon which [the] industry may plan for future operations.”
The commission is expected to vote on whether to move forward with these measures “by mid-August.”
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