Reserved a Cruise in 2020 or even 2021? Unless you're a cruise fanatic, chances are you're weighing your cruise's cancellation and refund policies. Even those who would otherwise be willing to cruise are also facing the risk or reality of cancelled flights and closed borders that could prevent the usual ports of call and impact shore excursions.
CDC Recommends Postponing Cruising
While the U.S. CDC Has a Level 4 Travel Advisory, “Do Not Travel” already in effect, even prior to that there was and is a CDC Level 3 Travel Advisory for Cruise Ship Travel, “Avoid Nonessential Travel.” Normally, the CDC advisories are for countries and destinations, not for types of travel, but due to the multiple instances of coronavirus infections spreading on cruise ships such as the Diamond Princess, Grand Princess and others, the CDC has recommended postponing cruises for now.
This has naturally dealt a severe blow to cruise companies, and their resulting cancellation and refund policies are revealing. For those hoping to cruise in the future, take note of which cruise companies have been most customer friendly when it comes to refunds, and which are only extending future travel credits. Just as with airlines, the coronavirus crisis is a good litmus test for figuring out which companies are worth doing business with in the future. Although of course subjective, we've graded the cruise lines on their policies. And if you've had personal experience with one or more of the cruise lines' coronavirus cancellation policies, let us know your experience in the comments.
Should You Wait to Cancel Your Cruise?
If you're outside the entire cancellation schedule such that you're able to get back everything except perhaps an administrative fee, and you know you won't go on the cruise, then it certainly makes sense to cancel and get back most of your deposit. But what if you've put down your final payment or would lose a significant chunk of the total fee for the cruise? In that case, our advice is similar to airlines and coronavirus: don't cancel flights before the airline cancels flights. Cruise lines have tended to work in batches, not cancelling their cruises until they have to, so you want to wait until the cruise line cancels or significantly changes your cruise, as you're far more likely to benefit from a better cancellation and refund policy.
100% Refund or 125% Future Cruise Credit?
Cruise companies, as with the airlines and many hotels, are bleeding cash. That's prompted them to try to encourage passengers to take a future cruise credit worth 125% of the original cruise fare amount, instead of a 100% refund. The issue is that some of the companies may not survive: that's why I've recommended that clients take a full refund, rather than risk their credit being worth nothing, if the company goes under. Plus, even if the company survives, and even if you do want to reserve a similar cruise to a similar destination in the future, it's possible that you'll end up preferring a different cruise company. A cash refund gives you that option, while a future cruise credit for a specific line does not.
Cruise Company Coronavirus Cancellation and Refund Policies
Celebrity Cruises: B
All Celebrity cruises through at least May 11, 2020 are cancelled. Additionally, Alaska cruises through at least July 1, 2020 are cancelled and Canada and New England sailings departing 5/19/20, 5/28/20 and 6/16/20 are being modified. For all impacted guests, Celebrity is automatically providing a 125% future cruise credit valid for sailings departing by 12/31/21, and guests may opt instead for a full 100% refund of the cruise fare anytime until the 12/31/21 expiration date.
Celebrity Cruises guests booked on any voyage departing on or before 9/1/20 can cancel for any reason until 48 hours before departure and receive a future cruise credit equal to 100% of the cruise fare. The cruise credit must be used for voyages departing by Dec. 31, 2021. Note that while Celebrity is a wholly owned subsidiary of Royal Caribbean, the future cruise credit must be for the same brand, so a Celebrity cruise credit must be used on a future Celebrity cruise.
Why Celebrity Cruises Gets a B: Celebrity has a very good refund policy for cancelled cruises, where guests are automatically provided a 125% future cruise credit and can at any time request a 100% refund of the cruise fare instead, up until the 12/31/21 expiration date of the credit.
On the other hand, the “Cruise with Confidence” policy valid until 9/1/20 only provides a future cruise credit if guests cancel, not a refund or part refund, part cruise credit, as with Crystal Cruise's more flexible cancellation plan.
Crystal Cruises: B+
Crystal's current coronavirus cancellation policy for cruises that Crystal has cancelled is one of the better ones in the industry. Crystal has had to cancel its European cruises through at least May 2020, including its river and yacht cruises, due to the coronavirus situation and closure of European ports.
Passengers on cruises that Crystal has cancelled have a choice between a full refund of the cruise or a 125% future cruise credit on a Crystal cruise departing by 12/31/22. If guests are unable to redeem the future cruise credit by that date, they can receive a full refund of the original cruise fare paid. Guests need to let Crystal know their decision before the original departure date of their (now cancelled) cruise.
For guests on other cruises that Crystal has not cancelled that will sail as planned, there is a temporary more flexible cancellation policy:
- >90 days pre-cruise: cancel and receive a full refund, less admin fee
- 90-31 days pre-cruise: cancel and receive a 75% refund + 25% as a future cruise credit
- 30-8 days pre-cruise: no cash refund, 100% as future cruise credit
- 7 or fewer days: no refund or cruise credit
Why Crystal Cruises Gets a B+: Crystal is not only offering a 125% travel credit as an alternative to a refund, but also making the travel credit valid for all sailings through 2022, not just 2021, as with some other cruise lines. Crystal is also enabling guests to still get a refund of their original cruise fare if they're not able to use the credit in time.
The temporary, more flexible cancellation policy also provides a full refund less an admin fee >90 days pre-cruise, and a 75% refund and 25% future cruise credit for 31+ days pre-cruise. We like that there's the possibility of getting a 75% cash refund until 31 days prior to the cruise, with the other 25% as a future travel credit, which is better than most lines, where only a future travel credit is possible for cruises that the cruise line hasn't cancelled. The main thing we don't like is the up to 90 days it can take to process a refund, but we have managed to expedite this for TravelSort clients.
Disney Cruise Line: C
Disney has cancelled all cruise departing through April 28, 2020, as well as all Vancouver sailings through June 2020, since all Canadian ports are closed until July 1, 2020 at the earliest to ships with over 500 passengers. Passengers whose Disney cruise is cancelled are being offered a full refund or a non-refundable cruise credit to use for a future cruise within 15 months of the original sailing date.
Those scheduled to depart on the Disney Magic April 29, 2020 – May 8, 2020 and on the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy April 29, 2020 – May 31, 2020 are able to change their reservation up until the day before departure and receive a 100% cruise credit to be used for a future sailing within 15 months of the original sail date.
Guests currently booked on Disney's European sailings through July 25, 2020 departures can change their reservation up until the day before embarkation and receive a 100% cruise credit to be used for a future sailing within 15 months of their original sail date. The credit is non-refundable and standard prevailing rates will apply. Alternatively, guests currently booked on Disney's July 13, July 18 and July 25, 2020 European sailings may delay their final payment to 30 days prior to their sailing.
Why Disney gets a C: Disney isn't even offering extra travel credit for those choosing the credit over a refund (most cruise lines are offering a 125% credit), so it goes without saying that guests should take a full refund. Also, the future cruise credit is only valid for 15 months from the original sail date, shorter than virtually all other cruise lines, so that makes the credit especially unattractive.
Lindblad Expeditions: B–
Lindblad is permitting guests with new and existing bookings for departures May 1, 2020 – December 31, 2020 to cancel the cruise at least 24 hours before departure to receive 100% future travel credit towards a Lindblad fare for a future 2020 or 2021 cruise. The policy will be valid at least through June 30, 2020.
Guests whose cruise is cancelled by Lindblad will receive a full refund.
Why Lindblad gets a B-: Lindblad's policy to permit cancellation of a 2020 cruise until 24 hours prior is a good start, but it really should extend into 2022, given the uncertainties about when an effective coronavirus vaccine will become available. Since refunds are only given when Lindblad cancels a cruise, wait until as close as possible to the 24 hours prior to the cruise to cancel, if your 2020 cruise isn't cancelled yet.
And for those booking a new cruise with Lindblad, we recommend paying extra for the “Cancel for Any Reason” option for Lindblad's Travel Protection Plus Program, underwritten by Lindblad, which must be purchased by or before the final payment due date.
Oceania Cruises: B
Oceania has cancelled cruises with departure dates through 5/10/20. If guests were still actively booked when Oceania cancelled the cruise, they can choose between a full refund of the cruise fare or a 125% future cruise credit (for Oceania cancelled voyages departing 3/20/20 or later) or 150% future cruise credit (for Oceania cancelled voyages departing before 3/20/20), which must be redeemed within 1 year from date of issue for voyages departing by 12/31/2022.
Oceania passengers that reserve a new cruise by 6/30/20 that departs before 9/30/20 can cancel up to 48 hours before departure without penalty. They’ll receive a future cruise credit that is valid for 1 year from date of issue, for voyages departing by 12/31/2022.
Why Oceania Cruises Gets a B: Oceania has a solid cancellation policy, providing the option of a full refund for cruises Oceania has cancelled, or a 125%-150% future cruise credit that can be used up to December 2022 sailings.
Note, however, that just like most other cruise lines, apart from Crystal, the cancellation policy for new cruises for bookings made up to the end of June 2020 only provides for a future cruise credit if cancelled, not a cash refund or mixture of a cash refund and cruise credit.
Regent Seven Seas: B-
To date Regent Seven Seas has cancelled voyages with departures through May 10, 2020. Guests with active reservations at the time Regent cancelled the voyages were provided with a 125% future cruise credit that must be used within 1 year of issue for voyages departing on or before 12/31/22. Note that guests may alternatively choose a full refund of the cruise fare, but must submit a refund request no later than April 13, 2020.
Guests who have paid in full for Regent Seven Seas voyages that depart on or before December 31, 2020 have the option to cancel up to 48 hours prior to departure date and receive a 100% future cruise credit, which can be applied to any new reservation within one year on any RSSC voyage sailing before December 31, 2022.
Why Regent Seven Seas gets a B-: While it's great that Regent Seven Seas is permitting future cruise credit to be used for voyages into 2022, it's unfortunate that there's such a short time left for guests of cancelled cruises to apply for refunds: they must apply by 4/13/20, otherwise they'll only be left with the future cruise credit.
Seabourn has cancelled voyages through May 14, 2020. Passengers with active reservations at the time Seabourn cancelled the affected voyages can choose either a 100% refund, or a 125% future cruise credit valid towards a cruise that departs on or before 12/31/21. Note that those who want a refund must apply for one before 6/1/20, otherwise they will forfeit that option and only have a future cruise credit. Refunds may take up to 60 days.
Seabourn's temporary Book with Confidence offer allows new reservations made by 7/31/20 to be cancelled up to 48 hours prior to departure and receive a 100% future cruise credit valid for a new booking made by 12/31/20 for a voyage departing by 12/31/21.
Why Seabourn gets a B-: We appreciate that Seabourn states a shorter maximum time for a refund, 60 days instead of the 90 (!) days some other cruise lines state a refund may take. On the other hand, those wanting a refund from a cruise that Seabourn has cancelled must be sure to request one before 6/1/20, otherwise that option is lost. And the temporary “Book with Confidence” offer only provides a future cruise credit that must be turned into a new cruise booking by the end of 2020, and all future cruise credits must be used for voyages that depart by 12/31/21, which is a full year earlier than most other cruise lines, apart from Disney.
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