There is good news for anyone planning on taking a cruise this summer: New rules are now in place that entitle cruise customers to a full, cash refund if an operator delays or cancels a trip.
The new rules come after hundreds of cruise customers nationwide were left stranded during the COVID-19 pandemic when operators canceled or prolonged planned voyages.
The Federal Maritime Commission – the agency tasked with regulating U.S.-based sea travel across the globe – believes the rules put in place better protections for consumers seeking cash refunds, as opposed to future voyage credits issued by the operator.
FMC Commissioner Louis Sola told NBC 5 Responds the rules are a major win.
“It's the first time that the law has been changed since 1881, since the California gold rush,” Sola said, referring to the Passenger Vessel Act. “People can be confident moving forward.”
Cruise customers were rocked in 2020, and not by the high seas.
As the pandemic spread, and "No Sail Orders" were issued, cruise operators began to delay expeditions, and in most cases, cancel them altogether.
Many of those cruise operators were quick to issue customers cruise credits towards a future trip.
Getting a cash refund on the other hand, was a hard sell.
NBC 5 Responds heard from many frustrated passengers who failed to get refunds on their own.
“They were offering 100% cruise credit,” said cruise customer Joshua Smith. “We were extremely frustrated.”
An untold number of customers across the U.S. found themselves in the same boat. So many in fact, calls were pouring into the Federal Maritime Commission’s Washington D.C. offices.
“I was stuck here in Washington, I couldn't go home. So I would work the phones,” said Sola.
That’s when the FMC came to a realization that with the variety of companies operating cruise voyages, so came a variety of refund policies.
“As far as consumer protection goes, what we found is that almost every single cruise line had a different refund policy.” Sola said.
The FMC launched a fact-finding investigation into whether stricter rules on cruise line refund policies were needed. The answer: a resounding yes.
Now, as of April 18, these new rules are in effect. The new rules go into effect just in time for the summer traveling season, as the CDC recently lifted its risk advisory for cruise ship travel after two years of COVID warnings.
Representatives of the cruise industry did not respond to NBC 5 Responds’ request for comment on the new rules. Sola believes the new rules will make a major difference.
“After a two-year rulemaking process, we've finally got across that hurdle,” Sola told NBC 5 Responds. “It takes a long time for government to move the ship, so to speak.”
New Cruise Refund Rules
The new FMC rules include the following:
- Defining “non-performance” as a cruise canceling or delaying a voyage by three or more calendar days.
- In the event of a cruise operator’s “non-performance”, passengers are entitled to a refund of all money down, including ancillary fees
- Cruise lines are now required to publish clear instructions for obtaining refunds on their websites
These new rules are not retroactive, and will apply for any cruises scheduled after April 18, 2022.
To read more about the FMC’s new rules, or to file a complaint with the FMC over a cruise operator’s refund policies, click here.