National Geographic Traveler magazine ombudsman Christopher Elliott is often asked to try and recover canceled cruise fares when passengers suffer serious illness, a death in the family or other misfortune.
All cruise passenger tickets contain draconian terms and conditions, drafted by the cruise line attorneys, which address what happens when a passenger is forced to cancel a cruise because of sickness or death. Depending on when the cruise is canceled, the cruise line will keep all or a substantial portion of the passenger's money.
Mr. Elliott writes about the plight of a couple from Canada who booked what they described as a cruise of a lifetime with Oceania Cruises aboard the Oceania Marina in the South Pacific for $43,000 ($29,000 for the cruise fare and $14,000 for the airfare). But the wife was diagnosed with lung cancer and they had to cancel the vacation. The couple did not buy insurance.
Oceania pocketed the entire $43,000 even though the cruise line sold the couple's cabin to another couple and even though the airline refunded the $14,000 airfare to Oceania.
A cruise line keeping a refunded airfare is clearly illegal "unjust enrichment." I find it outrageous and unconscionable. It seems no different than theft to me, and a theft by a large rich corporation while the victim is in a weak and vulnerable position.
Mr. Elliott was successful in convincing the cruise line to return the couple's airfare. The fact that Mr.Elliott writes a widely-read consumer blog no doubt helped.
Oceania refused to refund the cruise fare. Yes, the couple should have purchased insurance. But I find this scenario repugnant. It may be technically legal but it is still unconscionable and immoral. Oceania promptly sold the cabin to other passengers, remember. Oceania didn't lose a penny. In fact, it obtained a double profit. Cruise corporations should not be permitted to make double profits because of the death and personal suffering of their guests.
Oceania's parent company, Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL), likes to do this too. NCL kept the cruise fare of a passenger whose brother died and the funeral was on the day of the cruise. NCL said "sorry, no refund." The passenger also tried to donate his cabin to a child with cancer, but the cruise line refused that too. NCL then sold the cabin on the Norwegian Sky for a double profit.
Speaking of children with cancer, NCL also refused to return the cruise fare after a family learned that their five year old child was diagnosed with cancer and had to undergo emergency medical treatment. NCL pocketed the family's money and sold their cabin for more profit.
NCL also refused to either refund or credit the cruise fare to a 66 year old passenger and his wife after she was diagnosed with bladder cancer and underwent emergency surgery.
It's cruel, greedy, heartless and outrageous conduct by Oceania and NCL. Yes, it's technically legal. All cruise lines have their lawyers write their tickets to protect only the cruise line's interests. But it's unfair and unjust.
If cruise lines can't apply compassion to situations where their guests are stricken with cancer, and companies like NCL and Oceania are motivated only by money, legislation should be passed to protect consumers when they are in a time of crisis. Cancer victims shouldn't be victimized a second time by a greedy cruise line. They should be entitled to a full refund so they can pay their medical bills and try and beat cancer.
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Photo Credit: M/S Marina - Jordandkatz - licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons