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 Oceania MS Marina 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

  • JTC

    Under a contract to provide a service that was not provided is theft of services even when the purchaser did not attend. Can’t they be sued under that rules. the contract was not canceled until paid services are refunded.

  • Many if not most cruise lines are guilty of this practice.

  • kathy

    Thats why i keep cruising with RCCL, never a problem, they are honest and upright and thats why ive done over 25 cruises with them.

  • Ben

    This is not a problem. Just buy insurance!!

  • Mary Ohms

    If you read the rules when you purchase a cruise or airfare either together(Oceania) or separate (Norwegian), it is very clear exactly what to expect. Whether or not to purchase insurance is totally up to the individual. I have taken 10 cruises in less than 3 years and I have 2 more coming up. My favorite cruise lines are Oceania and Norwegian so you probably won’t use my comments. My advice is, read the fine print before you commit.

  • Teresa

    Although I have cruised many times, my question is “Why do we the paying public continue to support these cruise lines”…it isn’t only the rare passenger that gets totally abused when ‘illness/or a disaster strikes’, but every single day there is a crew that is totally abused…under paid, over worked, etc. While we the paying public indulge ourselves, and by doing so, continue to support such practises. These injustices will only stop, when there is no one supporting the cruise lines due to their unacceptable practises. Although I have been guilty of many cruises, each time I read situations such as this, or crew stories, I ask myself, “What type of person am I?” I am contributing to the abuse by giving my money to the cruise industry…and I believe it will only change when paying passengers say “Enough is enough…until this changes, we won’t cruise”. You only need one medical evacuation to realize that you put your life at risk every time you board a ship, to say nothing of your finances, as well as contribute to the unsavoury practices towards the crew, of the cruise lines. I am trying to ‘stay strong…and OFF the ships’…even though I love cruising, but my consciences are starting to bother me too much…and I simply can’t ‘support the practices of all the cruise lines’. Is anyone else ready to join me with the boycott?

  • Jerome Goldchain

    Why am I not surprised! All Oceania cares about is the money and they can’t be trusted:
    We were on the Caribbean cruise of December, 2014 that ended with an onboard fire and death of 3 people. We were subsequently interviewed on National TV, National News Radio and Newspapers about our ordeal. While in the warehouse in Saint Lucia we were given a document signed by the Vice President of Oceania that stated “we would get a 50% future cruise credit”. When we got to the hotel in Miami, I asked one of your representatives what the terms of the discount were and were told that we would get 50% off what ever the price of the future cruise was even if it was a discounted price. We are now told that the discount is 50% of what we paid for the ill-fated one. This is not what we were told or what the document stated.

  • John Smiskl

    Simply a comment regarding the thieving Frank del Rio and your posting about Oceania receiving excess profits. When they keep the fare for a cancellation and then resell the space, the cruise line makes much more than double profit. They make single profit on the cancelled passenger and then they make profit consisting of the total amount paid by the new passenger since costs were covered by the cancelled people. While I agree that should the space not be resold, the money need not be returned, when the space is resold and probably for more than the original price paid, the first person is due a full refund just like with the airfare unjustified enrichment.

  • Diane

    If for any reason someone can’t make the trip and they don’t have insurance, they have every right to request that the room they have paid for stays empty. If the cruise line fills that room, after the request (in writing), then the purchaser has every right to sue them.

  • Vanessa White

    While I feel for this couple’s plight, what on earth happened to personal responsibility? Since they wrote the ombudsman, I’m guessing that 43K was not simply chump change for them. Nor would it be for me. But how on earth do you book a 43K trip and NOT buy insurance? Further, one of 2 scenarios is happening here, either their travel agent is at fault for not informing them they need insurance (a TA was recently sued for this very thing, and lost), or, they went out on their own to book it without researching one iota to determine that, for a trip with this bottom line cost, insurance is virtually mandatory! I’m sorry, but in the end, unless they have a negligent travel agent, this falls on their own responsibility.

    I’m not an attorney, nor do I make a living bashing the travel industry and making a profit off of the “plight” of others who cannot take personal responsibility for themselves (recall, if these people sue and win the attorney gets about a third). But it seems to me that common sense says that the cruise lines attorneys were right to build this type of language into their contracts to protect them from just this type of thing, people not taking ownership of their own mistakes. Can you even fathom what a nightmare it would be if any travel service had to take this kind of ownership? Many businesses would fold and those that survived would charge thousands of dollars for their services (think $500 a night at a Motel 6) because they had to compensate for the mistakes of others.

    Sorry, I’m not buying it. Own the mistake as a costly one and move on.

  • Niki

    It’s just a shame ( insurance. No insurance. Legal. Not legal) that our world is only driven by greed and money and “fine print”

    Have you ever tried to get out of your cell phone company.
    “Fine print ” at it finest.

    I would like to return to the past where people were first and kindness was Genuine.

    Meh. But. We’re stuck with this world we’ve created ourselves.

    So. Read the fine print. Take a day off work. Grab a coffee and read the fine print.

    Sorry to hear about the people who have suffered and lost all their money.

  • No one can guarantee that during the cruise there may be unforeseen problems which would cause one to cancel. I hate to buy insurance, but I do. It covers more than just the cruise fair, it covers emergency medical evac/costs which will bankrupt you in a heartbeat. We have insurance against loss on our vehicles and home, why wouldn’t someone insure a $43,000 vacation against loss?

  • Ellen Pearson

    My dream trip was Mediterranean cruise. With all the political unrest over there that one is out. Stories of people going overboard (willing or not), people being murdered, or seriously beaten by unsavoury characters. All the stories of people getting sick in ms numbers, ships who lose their power, this makes a ship set up for disaster situations. We have all seen this on TV so don’t try and say that is all lies. Now hearing about what happen to folks, in getting back any money for having to cancel, for whatever reason. I think I have decided to pick another kind of dream vacation. I will be sure to read the fine print!! Happy sailing to you all!!

  • tinikini

    This is a sad story. But unfortunately, it happens all the time. In my opinion in this day and age travel insurance is a must. Life can be so cruel and uncertain you have to protect yourself and your money. In 2011 I bought my parents and I a cruise of a lifetime through the Panama Canal at the cost of around $30,000.00. We went first class. I paid about $400.00 per person for insurance. No way was I going to lose my money.

    We just returned from Playa Del Carmen, Mexico and traveled with a couple who own a timeshare there. Her mother has MS and has complications and there is always the possibility that our trip could be cancelled. We actually found insurance that would cover us if they could not go, due to her mother. It cost us $89.00 a person to insure a 2 week, $5000.00 trip. We insure all of our trips as we feel we work way to hard for our money and the opportunity for first class vacations only come around so many times. Do I like spending the extra, no, but I know I am covered no matter what.

    It is unfortunate that these folks will learn the hard way. I can see both sides of the situation. If you bend the rules for one you have to bend the rules for everyone, which in return will cost us all more to travel in the end. However I can see it from a moral standpoint as well, it just seems really wrong.

    Jim…I would love to know if Diane’s (not picking at you, just a interesting comment) statement is true…can you really request that your room stay empty and it has to stay empty and if so, how would you ever know whether they did or did not rebook it to sue???

  • Martin

    The answer is legislation that the cruise line cannot make a double profit on a cabin, airfare or any other service. Is there any Congressmen working on this type of legislation?

  • Norman Hoffmann

    I have just had a similar experience with Cunard. We were booked for 17 days in a Princess Grill suite on the Queen Mary 2 from Hong Kong to Brisbane only to discover two weeks in advance of embarkation that my wife has Cancer and we needed to cancel. Although the ship was heavily booked, we were able to retrieve only $3,3000 of $12,600 fares. I recovered the rest on travel insurance but clearly Cunard were able to sell our cabin again and should have a policy that recognises such a situation.

  • Brian Long

    If you can afford a $49,000 cruise you can afford insurance. If the cruise lines had to refund every difficult situation because of moral grounds the cost of cruises would sky rocket because nobody would buy insurance.

    I cruise frequently and every time I buy a cruise ticket I decide if I am willing to give up the fare or buy insurance in case of emergency. Sometimes I buy, sometimes I do not.

    It’s a gamble. A gamble I can’t blame on the company if I decide to take the risk.

  • John Goldsmith

    This topic AGAIN????.
    I recently had to cancel my cruise for business reasons. I purchased insurance at the time of booking a received all my funds back. Cost for insurance? $69.00. Cost to cancel without insurance $ 1625.00.
    Do the math. If I rent a car, I buy insurance, If I rent clubs at a golf course, I buy insurance, When I travel for the company, they but insurance…
    This topic has been beat to death. Buy insurance…

  • Teresa

    Everyone is ‘supporting insurance’, but there are just as many clauses there that one discovers they aren’t covered, when they actually go to claim. As on gets ‘older’…it is hard to have a 100% clean bill of health, with no prescription changes, pending tests, waiting for results, in the midst of treatment etc. for 12 months. And that is when you book the trip…so if one books 18 months in advance, then it is an 18 month clean bill of health…with technically almost not even visiting one’s Dr., which into one’s 70, 80, & 90’s is pretty rare. I know some policies have different ‘existing health conditions’, but sadly it is very much ‘interpretation’…so ONLY when you make a claim, do you know ‘how they have chosen to interpret it’. So as much as I support the idea of insurance, when you look at the age of many cruisers, it may not be an option, and they very well maybe prepared to take the risk on many things, but a surprise diagnoses of Cancer, or a death in the Family (as an example) I believe becomes more of a ‘moral/ethical’ issue…regard the responsibility of the Cruise Lines…otherwise they continue to live up to their reputation as all “About Money”.

    What is interesting is they now oversell by about 10% like the airlines, since they know there will be approximately that many that won’t make it…but they are still selling the cancellations a second time…which is how their ships are always sailing ‘FULL’.

    Many years ago there used to be space on the ships, but not now…totally sold out.

    As I said, “I feel the need to boycott them because of all their practises, and if the public as a whole would do that…then the practises would have to change”.

  • Maria Irwin

    I agree with Teresa and Niki above. This is pure, unconscionable, shameful greed. If the airline could refund the fare, why wouldn’t the cruise line? They sold the cabin, didn’t they? And enough about insurance – the insurance money doesn’t go to the cruise line, it goes to the insurance company (the biggest leaches of all) which the cruise line pays even if the passenger did not buy the insurance. The cruise line is insured for everything and rest assured this is already included in your cruise fare. I hope whoever took the bonus from that scheme (it wasn’t the crewmember who served the cabin) chokes on it, literally.

  • That is disgraceful…specially from a company that size. Plus the fact that generally they are appealing to the older demographic who chances are when booking a cruise that far in advance may encounter medical problems – it happened to one of my own parents.

    This coupled with the fact that a lot of older passengers are unable to get travel insurance because of their age makes this a double whammy.

    keep up the good work fighting for the cause.

  • Frank Maldonado

    I bought insurance and the claim was denied. My wife was diagnosed with a tumor after we had purchased the cruise. Claim denied due to pre-existing condition clause. Is there any way of getting some tax relief from the loss.

  • Mr Brian Mitchell

    i was due to go on a cruise with my friend and carer and the week before we was due to go my friends wife was diagnosed with cancer, again no joy of any refund. I have a suggestion for all holiday firms to make life a little easier. If you are 65 or over (suggested age) the holiday firm or insurance take out additional insurance to cover cancellation for any reason then everybody is happy. Brian

  • Mr Brian Mitchell

    Easy solution, especially for pensioners. The holiday firms or the travel insurance firms to add a second insurance cover to cover any cancellations due to illness. As a 75 year old pensioner myself and love to travel would make life easier because a pensioner never knows how they are going to be from one day to the next. I’m sure most holiday makers would be wiling to pay this extra charge especially pensioners

  • Erika Montoya

    I understand they won’t do a refund if you cancel the trip, however why they won’t even allow you to transfer the ticket to someone else?

    We have scheduled a trip for March, 2017, one month prior to it my husband got a medical emergency and his foot had to be amputated. Why is it Oceania Cruises not even allow us to transfer the cruise to someone else in the family? That is just taking advantage of the customer.

  • Paul Woodman

    I have a slightly different issue. My wife became a ‘no show’ for our cruise because of an injury. I expected to forfeit the fare and I sure did. The issue becomes the tax and port fees paid. Does Oceania pay the tax on a forfeit fare ? I think not. I expect to get a refund on the tax. We will see.