Chicago Tribune (Sunday)
Help! Carnival cruise credit offer is sunk.
Q: Last year, I paid a $750 deposit for three tickets on a Carnival cruise from Los Angeles to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. After the COVID-19 outbreak, Carnival canceled its cruises. Carnival refunded one of the deposits. It sent me a letter stating we had until May 2021 to decide whether to accept a full refund or reschedule a cruise and get $500 additional cruise credit.
But somewhere along the line, they decided to change the offer without informing their customers. When I asked, a representative said they had an internal email that they decided to deny refunds to anyone who had canceled more than 90 days before the cancellation. Now they are refusing our refund. Can you help me get my $500 deposit back?
— Bessie Walker, Waipahu, Hawaii
A: Carnival, like all other cruise lines, suspended operations during the pandemic. It offered a choice of a refund or a future cruise credit. The offer changed over time, which led to some confusion for the cruise line, as well as travel agents and passengers. Yours appears to be one of those cases.
Carnival’s records show that you canceled your booking 68 days before it suspended its operations. It offered you no refund but said you qualified for a $150 “early saver credit” for each booking.
However, your phone records suggest you contacted Carnival on April 18, more than a month after it announced its suspension. You indicated at the time that you intended to accept the future $500 onboard credit offered by Carnival.
Here’s the problem: Carnival’s emails to you were clear about its refund process. It had “fully automated” the refund and credit process, “avoiding the need to call us.”
“We urge you to carefully review this information and follow the online process, as calling us will not expedite your request,” it added.
I’m not sure if Carnival wanted you to call. Phoning it may have led to some confusion about the timing of your rebooking request. And since a phone call generates no paper trail, it’s really Carnival’s word against yours.
You said it should be Carnival’s responsibility to provide an exact date and name of the person you called and canceled the booking, as well as a transcript. But unfortunately, that’s not how it works. Although companies like Carnival have sophisticated call center technology that generates transcripts and tracks each conversation, the only way to access it is with a court order. And no one is going to hire a lawyer over a $500 deposit; it’s not cost-effective.
I recommended that you reach out to one of the cruise line’s executive contacts. I publish the names, numbers and email addresses of Carnival’s managers on my consumer advocacy site at www. elliott.org/company-contacts/carnival-cruiselines/.
You emailed Carnival’s executives, as I suggested. Separately, I also reached out to Carnival on your behalf. It reviewed its records, including its phone logs, and fully refunded your deposit.
Christopher Elliott is the chief advocacy officer of Elliott Advocacy, a nonprofit organization that helps consumers resolve their problems. Elliott’s latest book is “How To Be The World’s Smartest Traveler” (National Geographic). Contact him at elliott.org/ help or email@example.com.