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Legal advice: cruise refund complaint

The tide turned on this refund complaint when Which? Legal stepped in. Here’s how we were able to help a member get their money back in good time.

Which? Legal member Barry faced waiting up to four months to get his deposit back after a cancelled cruise.

Barry booked to go on an American Waterways cruise, which was due to depart in September. He and his wife put down a deposit of £3,334 – with half paid directly to the operator, Fred Olsen Cruises, and the rest to a travel agent, Readers Offers Ltd (ROL).

The pandemic meant the operator was forced to cancel the cruise in July, and it advised Barry to get in touch with ROL to request a refund. ROL said that it could take up to 16 weeks for the refund to be processed.

Package and Linked Travel Arrangements

Barry benefited from protection under the Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations 2018.

Under Regulation 13, when a package travel contract is cancelled, even for extraordinary circumstances, the customer is due a full refund.

Regulation 14 also states that the refund is to be provided within 14 days of the cancellation date. A short delay would be tolerated, but a 16-week wait would be considered unreasonable.

We advised Barry to make a formal complaint to the travel agent and cruise operator, setting out his position under the legislation and to request that the refund be processed in a more acceptable timeframe.

Just over a week later, he had received a refund of the deposit in full.

No quibbles

ROL told us:

“At the time, we advised that refunds could take up to 16 weeks, but we were able to process the customer’s full refund in just over eight weeks. We sincerely apologise for the delay he experienced”

Fred Olsen Cruises said:

“We have a ‘no quibble’ refund guarantee for cruises affected by COVID-19 and we promise to refund monies as soon as possible. Generally, this has been in under eight weeks, including the refund for this guest”

Have you ever followed up a refund request by formally setting out the applicable regulations? If so, how did the company react?

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Comments

I use Which Legal Service a lot. Their travel lawyers are particularly impressive. I issued two County Court claims against airlines last year, for which Which Legal gave me plenty of useful advice, not only about the merits of my claims but also court procedures, e.g. obtaining judgments in default and opposing defendants’ applications to set aside those judgments.

But the waiting times to speak to lawyers are getting ridiculous. When I first joined Which Legal Service in 2006, I could get through to a lawyer whenever I phoned. Then they had to call back later the same day. Then it got even worse, calling back the next day. Now it can be several days or a week later. Which Legal Service continues to take on more customers when it has insufficient laywers to service its existing customers. This poor management is in contrast to the excellent quality of the legal advice.

Dear NFH

Thank you for your feedback and your continued support of the Which? Legal service.

We have seen an unprecedented demand for legal advice since the outbreak of Covid 19, particularly in the areas of holiday and travel, landlord and tenant and consumer law, with more people seeking advice from us.  We have therefore recruited and trained additional advisers to help meet the demand and reduce the wait times in these challenging times.

Kind regards
Catherine

Barry’s trouble in getting a refund from ROL travel and the information given to him ie that a refund would take 16 weeks struck a note with me, it is identical to the information I was given, I paid ROL £3,778-00 for a trip to Norway with Hurtigruten which was cancelled, rearranged , then cancelled again, they then offered to rearrange but I would have to pay extra for flights which previously had been inclusive I cancelled the booking due to this unacceptable situation, asking for a refund, I have contacted ROL twice now asking for the refund to be paid, the latest offer from them being 16 weeks to process, they blamed Hurtigruten, I am in a situation where I am uneasy with ROL’s manipulation of the situation Currently NOT a company I would book with again.

We are in unprecedented times, to use a cliche. At this point in time I am waiting for my money back for the collapse of Cruise and Maritime, money back for a cancelled cruise departing in April from Sydney to Hawaii, and have a ‘credit’ with Cunard for an aborted World Cruise I was on in March this year. Totals amounting to £20+Ks. All were booked with ROL but I am not going to defame them. Sure I could argue my legal right to get my money back in the specified time, but if everybody does that there is a chance that the firm may go under and then there will be an even longer delay in getting your money back. As we are finding with the demise of C&M. I have found ROL most efficient in being the agent for my holidays, it is not their fault the World is in lockdown.

I don’t go cruising myself as I just can’t get on with people, as well as it being far too expensive if you’re alone. But I’d like to warn anyone considering going cruising to make sure they only go with a proper reputable company with a proven safety record as there are some dodgy firms out there with knackered old ships sometimes sailing under a flag of convenience, and while their old ships are often ok in calm weather they can sometimes totally lose power in rough weather which can be fatal as a ship must NEVER lose power when it’s rough as then it can be rolled over and sunk very quickly with little or no chance of getting off it and getting rescued, so beware.

I think there’s a bit of scaremongering there. It’s like saying an aircraft must never lose power otherwise it will drop out of the sky. There are a lot of old aircraft flying just as there are a lot of older ships at sea. The chances of a complete power loss is very remote for ships or aircraft as they both have multiple back up systems if the main system fails. The Viking Sky has been the only cruise ship recently to suffer the problem you highlight and this ship was relatively new. The cause was found to be a design fault where the lubrication oil tank sensors shut all the engines down because of low oil level in the tanks. The tanks had the required amount of oil in them but the pitching and rolling of the ship in stormy seas caused the oil level to swirl about in the tanks causing the sensors to shut the engines down when the oil level swirled below the sensors trigger point. An problem not factored in at the design stage by not putting any or enough baffles in the oil tanks to reduce the swirling. There is an element of risk in all forms of travel so one should always be aware!!!

Generally, cruise travel is relatively safe. Apart from the recent over-turning of the Costa Concordia [due to navigational negligence], there have been very few major safety incidents involving cruise ships, even the smaller and older ones operated by some companies. The itineraries are usually adapted to suit the properties of the ships. Incidentally, the death toll on the Costa Concordia was surprisingly small given the size of the ship showing that compartmentalisation and buoyancy are major safety features.

People who particularly wish to cruise the more hostile waters, or sail round the Horn in the winter, are probably up for that sort of experience and regard it as the essence of the holiday.

The marine insurance industry maintains very tight controls on the sea-worthiness of vessels and the functioning of their propulsion systems. Passengers are more likely to suffer a bout of norovirus or sunburn than anything more worrying.

Of course, if you can’t get on with other people, then a cruise holiday is not for you at any price!

The point I was making is the albeit remote possibility of some old ships which are not properly serviced and are more likely to lose power in rougher weather and are registered in disreputable countries where there’s less control. And have you seen some of the cruise videos on you tube with all manner of dangerous heavy furniture sliding about all over the place in rough weather? Surely that stuff should be thoroughly fastened in place as it could not only cause injuries but could in some circumstances make the ship a bit more unstable. Everybody knows what happens at sea, especially shipping operators so there’s surely no excuse. It looks like dreadful negligence to me, and some folk on you tube say the same. And I’ve always wanted to experience some proper rough weather at sea as I find it exciting but instead what do I get? Just forcibly lumbered with the worst appalling disabilities of all making such a trip impossible.

patrick taylor says:
7 January 2021

A point worth making is that older ships were actually built for Atlantic service unlike cruise ships which are not and are more seaworthy. In fact one of the modern Cunarders had to get a variance in current cruise ship design requirements to allow life-boats to be carried on a higher deck as winter storm waves in the Atlantic were calculated to be able to rip the lifeboats from their davits. It may be both the QE2 and the QM2 have this arrangement as the only cruise ships that do cross in winter.

Modern mega-cruise ships are primarily floating theme parks/hotels and need to avoid bad weather that is why they actively avoid areas with stormy weather.

In 2019 the oldest ship in cruising, Astoria, was based on the hull of the Stockholm dating from 1948. She was laid up in 2020 when C&MV stopped operations; so 72 years of service at sea.

I think some of the oldest vessels in cruise use nowadays are in the Saga fleet [appropriately enough] and were originally with Union Castle Line and designed for the South African trade. Fred. Olsen Line also has a few oldies but I have no reason to doubt their sea-worthiness for the voyages on which they are deployed.

I have never been on one of the ‘floating theme parks’ as their contents have no appeal for us, but hundreds of thousands of holidaymakers joined them every year [pre-Covid] for enjoyable and entertaining times without actually having to set foot on foreign soil while getting the maximum exposure to the sun.

Modern stabilisers and multi-thrust propellers can cope with most adverse weather conditions so seeing chairs and tables flying about must be a rarity now. Extreme turbulence on a flight is more disturbing.

Crusader says:
9 January 2021

“Maximum exposure to the sun”? I can never understand why on EARTH anyone would spend thousands on going somewhere full of absolutely INSANE brutal frying HOT sun. Every summer even here in east lancs. I have to totally shut down and sit down shirtless on a chair all day in front of a dirty great big powerful fan or else I absolutely DROWN in absolutely APPALLING profuse sweat and I’m absolutely sick and tired of it never being recognised as a disability which it most definitely IS! It’s absolutely appalling, it’s an absolutely brutal crushing, crippling, immobilising and paralysing condition which is never taken remotely seriously because far too many have bodies just like reptiles, all so cold-blooded and so desperately craving insane heat. And it’s their sort who keep fitting stupid insane skylights on the buses and far too many public buildings and then insisting that they’re fully “disability compliant” when they couldn’t be more the complete opposite! Every summer whenever there’s a wretched brutal heat wave I have to get up ridiculously early in the morning and dash out and get my shopping and then get home again quick before the insane heat starts and no-one ever knows or cares, all they ever do is keep maximising EXclusion and so selfishly glorifying the brutal heat all over the media. Honestly it’s just like someone’s gone and let off some kind of alternative nuclear bomb which fills all the air with brutal burning hot radiation every summer. The instant the hot sun touches me even here in Lancashire it instantly burns no matter what I’m wearing and it’s absolute torture, so going anywhere so insanely hot is absolutely unthinkable. It’s just like being attacked with a giant sized hot air paint stripper for crying out loud! My idea of a holiday would be somewhere wild and windswept where I could get lots of wild rough sea trips, like between islands somewhere, just like some of the sea trips shown on you tube.

Patrick Taylor says:
9 January 2021

Not as rare as you might hope as cruise liners with thousands on board to be off-loaded and a new batch brought aboard have to carefully consider the costs of stabilisers in use versus economic cruising speed and to arrive on schedule.

A failed turn-around for a 5000 passenger cruise ship is hugely expensive and a logistical nightmare. Avoiding bad weather and turning back are tactics even for the largest ships. I had one cruise slightly spoiled by it going via the Azores instead of sailing to Halifax across the track of a hurricane moving up the east coast of America. The damage in St. John Newfoundland from the storm was impressive.

Here is a video of the Anthem of the Seas in a storm. It weighs in at 168,000 tonnes
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthem_of_the_Seas
youtube.com/watch?v=o9waSshoWOc

Crusader – I sympathise with you but think you have to accept that the heat intolerance condition from which you suffer is extremely rare so unlikely to receive the consideration you expect.

Personally, I have never seen such skylights on buses and public buildings. I assume they are well-intentioned attempts to improve day-lighting of interior spaces and ventilation. Overall, this country has a temperate climate and the number of extreme heat days is moderate, but rising as a result of global warming. Over time, building design and public transport provision will adapt but the cycle of change is measured in decades.

All I can advise is to stay indoors in very hot weather, avoid the midday sun, wear lightweight cotton clothing, and have your shopping delivered during the evenings. Cool showers and frequent drinks of cold water might also help. There might also be some barrier creams and perspiration control treatments available.

I expect you have received the best advice your doctor can give so please do not expect any effective remedies from this site although I am sure we all appreciate your feelings on the matter.

Crusader says:
9 January 2021

Good grief! Where have you been all your life? I can’t even begin to comprehend how you could possibly miss the skylights, they’re everywhere, on shopping centres, supermarkets, train and bus stations, health centres, libraries, museums, etc. many of which certainly DO heat up to absolutely insane sky high temperatures in the summer sun, and not just in heat waves neither, but even when it’s only moderate, making such places totally INaccessible, all in total breach of the so-called “equality” act of course! And severe heat intolerance is not rare, you only have to look it up on google to find that out. You only get halfway entering your search and it completes the rest on it’s own. There’s several million sites dealing with it as it’s a MAJOR health problem for people all over. And I’ve already spent well over a decade seeking medical help with no progress, and now I know why as it’s not caused by anything which can be treated by anything man made and it’s beyond medical help. Honestly you’d have to live in some remote jungle or bushlands all your life to miss such things, either that or you must spend all your outdoor time looking at the ground. There’s an absolute obsession with turning all manner of public buildings into giant greenhouses. Folk like me ARE severely disabled and I fully intend to make it recognised as disability which is NOT all “white sticks and wheelchairs ONLY”. For far too long there has been far too much propaganda spread around in the media that all disabled folk live such rip-roaring joyride lives and it’s leading to all manner of appalling maximised EXclusion because so many of those in power and control are so miles out of touch with reality because of all the gross discriminatory propaganda. There is a real deadly serious dark side to disability which utterly destroys entire lives and it has been far too suppressed for far too long and it needs to CHANGE urgently! People like me are not an exception to democracy and are not an exception to humanity. And I bet low floor buses and level and ramped access to public buildings was once seen as some kind of nonsense but are now used all over and are a legal requirement.

Crusader – I obviously do not see the issues as clearly as you do so I feel we have to agree to differ. I shall not comment further on this but will remain interested to see how the Conversation develops.

Crusader says:
9 January 2021

I’ve been across the north sea to Holland and Belgium in the winter a few times in the vain hope of a rough ride as that sea is so notorious for rough weather but it never was whenever I went. Instead all I got was forced to stop going because of so many selfish loudmouths lurching into insane raucous hyper-hysterics both on the ferries and on the coaches. That was on the old north sea ferries before they were bought out by p&o. And I once got some bored middle-aged bint inviting me to sleep with her on one of the voyages. It’s really crap being on a ship in flat calm weather all the time, just like being on a great big oversized train. Although a bright red sunset at sea in calm conditions is an awesome sight as I once discovered on the way back from a trip to the isle of mann. That really is a sight to behold.

I agree with you that the North Sea crossings are not noted for their luxury and sophistication but they meet a market demand at an affordable price. The freelance companionship offers might be considered a bonus by some!