A Southern California couple is blaming a cruise line’s strict booking policy for adding a sour note to their long-planned vacation.
Eleven months ago, Christian and Traci Howard booked passage on a Royal Caribbean Alaska cruise, setting sail the week of July 6, 2015.
When Christian lost his job in January, they immediately asked Royal Caribbean to downgrade their “balcony view cabin” to a less expensive “ocean view” accommodation.
“The difference in the cost of that would be $1,300,” Traci told the NBC4 I-Team. “We told them we didn’t want a refund, if they could just provide credit toward (shipboard expenses), that would be great, instead.”
The Howards called Royal Caribbean’s resolution line, but a supervisor refused to switch their cabin because “it goes against the cruise line’s ‘best price guarantee’ policy,” Traci said.
“It’s kind of ridiculous,” Christian said.
The I-Team looked up Royal Caribbean’s “Best Price Guarantee” policy on its website, and found no mention of refund policies regarding downgrades.
"I don’t think the policy is fair. Hotels do it. If you have to cancel a room 24 hours in advance, you can. I don’t understand why that wouldn’t apply to a cruise line, especially in extenuating circumstances,” Traci said.
In response to NBC4’s questions, a Royal Caribbean spokeswoman said:
"Our revenue management system is more like an airline than a hotel. Because of how the system works, with different categories of staterooms that depend on cabin location (deck, front, back, etc.) we have policies regarding changing stateroom categories once final payment has been made. We regret that we were unable to provide these guests with an alternate cabin for their cruise."
"While (customer service) can’t downgrade them to a lower category of cabin," she said, "we have provided them a refund of the beverage package they purchased."
That saves the Howards $200, about $1,100 shy of what they hoped to save.
Tama Taylor Holve, manager of Willet Travel in Studio City, says purchasing travelers’ insurance, through the cruise line or an independent insurance provider might have spared the Howards this experience.
"In fact, there are policies that will protect a person for job loss, or if their boss all of sudden says,' You can’t leave,'" Holve said.
In addition to travelers’ insurance, consumer advocates say sometimes having a third party, like the LA Bureau of Consumer Affairs or Business Consumer Alliance, negotiate with the service provider can help end disputes in favor of consumers.
Cruise expert The Cruise Guy offered these tips:
Research, but don't book online.
Many deals, including specials for residents, military, seniors, etc., may not be available if booked online. Beware of sales and restrictive offers where deposits are nonrefundable.
Always use a cruise agent; don't book direct.
An experienced cruise agent can provide objective advice and match you with the best ship and deal. They may be aware of even better deals on similar ships and sailing dates.
Be flexible with your dates.
Cruise prices may vary by ship and sailing date. If possible, check a few dates before and after your desired sailing date to ensure maximum savings.
Book early. Book now. Don’t wait.
Book your cruise as soon as possible. Some of the most desired specialty itineraries like Europe and Alaska require you to book in advance to avoid paying higher air and cruise fares. Best cabins are first to go. The difference can easily be thousands of dollars.
Consider travel insurance
A cruise is an investment of money and time and should be protected. Besides providing protection for cancellation, policies also cover interruption and travel delay and worth serious consideration. Purchasing travel insurance isn’t necessary on most cruises until final payment time as there is no risk up until that point. Consult your agent for details.
More travel insurance resources: