Cruise passengers refused refunds after itinerary changes due to coronavirus

‘If you wish to cancel your booking at this stage this would be at your loss,’ one passenger was told

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Wednesday 12 February 2020 12:51 GMT
About turn: as with many cruise ships, Sapphire Princess has changed her planned voyage
About turn: as with many cruise ships, Sapphire Princess has changed her planned voyage (Princess Cruises)

As cruise lines make drastic changes to Asian voyages because of the coronavirus, dozens of passengers have contacted The Independent to say that their travel firms have refused refunds.

Yet for anyone who booked the trip under the protection of the Package Travel Regulations 2018 – through a travel agent or direct with the UK sales operation of the cruise line – the law is clear: their planned trips have changed significantly and they are entitled to all their money back.

Due to the spread of Covid-19 in China, many cruise lines itineraries have been changed to operate to or from Japan. Others have been diverted to avoid east Asia entirely: Celebrity Constellation has turned around in Sri Lanka and is sailing back to Dubai rather than continuing to Singapore.

This legislation stipulates that in the event of a significant change to a holiday, customers must be offered a full refund of the entire cost of the trip.

The travel firm or cruise line can offer an alternative holiday – but must pay the money for the original trip back if that is the customer’s preferred option. While cruise lines' terms and conditions typically say they can change itineraries at will without recompense, the Package Travel Regulations overrule such clauses when changes are significant – such as changing the country of departure or arrival.

Yet many travellers report that they have been told they will lose some or all of their cash if they terminate the contract.

Gillian Willgoss and her partner were booked on a Sapphire Princess cruise from Singapore to Shanghai, departing on 16 April.

They were then booked to stay in the Chinese city for two nights.

The cruise line, Princess Cruises, has changed the itinerary so that the final destination is Yokohama, the port for Tokyo.

The Independent advised Ms Willgoss that this constitutes a significant change and that they were entitled to a full refund.

But a representative from Iglu, the tour operator who sold them the cruise, told the couple that they would get only 30 per cent of their money back, saying: “If you wish to cancel your booking at this stage this would be at your loss.

The email to Ms Willgoss continued: “This is as we have not received an official notification via the cruise/airline that your holiday has been affected by the ongoing health issues.”

Yet Princess Cruises has already notified all passengers of the change, telling them to rebook their flights home from Tokyo, and is advertising the new itinerary on its website.

A spokesperson for Iglu said: “We are in constant communication with our cruise line partners, including Princess Cruises, to obtain further insight into the arrangements being made, ensuring that we will be able to update our customers with the most up-to-date information.

“Where changes are significant, we will be offering a full refund, in accordance with our obligations.

“We have set up an internal specialist team to handle this situation. This team has the most up-to-date and accurate information on the ever-changing situation and are best placed to advise our customers on what this means for their bookings.

“They are currently carrying out outbound calls, assisting those on holiday or due to go on holiday in February and that have been affected by a change of arrangements.

“Those travelling at a later date, on sailings that we know to have had amendments to the itinerary, including those travelling on affected sailings aboard Sapphire Princess, will then be contacted individually by this team to discuss their booking.

“This process will commence once all customers travelling imminently have had their booking serviced.”

Many more passengers who had booked through other travel firms say that they have been told that they must accept what is often a drastically revised itinerary or risk losing some or all of their money.

But the Package Travel Regulations make it clear: “The traveller may, within a reasonable period specified by the organiser accept the proposed changes; or terminate the contract without paying a termination fee.”

If the customer does not wish to make the revised journey, they are entitled to receive a full refund – within two weeks.

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