A Canberra pair are claiming they are out of pocket $46,000 after a cruise line refused to refund their European cruise and tour.

The story of Andrea Twell, 64 and Chris Nichols, 73, is becoming an increasingly familiar one as the complexities of the refund system – and the terms and conditions used by cruise lines – continue to sour relations with literally thousands of cruise fans.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is investigating 10,000 travel refund complaints – not all, of course, from the cruise industry.

But it is still a hot button issue among Cruise Passenger readers, with many lines affected.

Today, the ACCC issued a statement saying it was closely monitoring what cruise lines are doing.

“The ACCC is currently investigating whether some cruise companies are misleading consumers about the remedies they are entitled to, or the cancellation fees that can be applied. We are continuing to engage with these companies to ensure they are acting in accordance with their obligations to consumers under the contract and the Australian Consumer Law.”

The Canberra pair spent $23,000 each for a Scenic luxury river cruise down the Rhine as well as a tour to see the famous Oberammergau Passion Play, an event which happens only once every 10 years.

The friends, who both have health issues, were told that when they first booked in September 2019, that if they cancelled, they would have to forego just $1,000.

However, due to the pandemic, the cruise was postponed until 2022.

When Ms Twell and Ms Nichols sought advice from Flight Centre, with whom they made their booking, after COVID-19 halted travel, they were then told they would lose $4990.50 in “third party costs” in addition to the $1,000 and $500 airline cancellation fee.

“We booked and paid in full 10 months ago for this luxury trip. As we both have health issues, we wanted to book the best in case we had any problems while we were on holidays. We would at least be in good hands,” said Ms Twell.

“When we booked, we understood we would have lost $1000 in the event of a cancellation, 60 days prior to our holiday. But the issue we have with Scenic is that we feel like there was a lack of transparency around the cancellation fees.”

“We were told the option of the refund minus $6000 each was only available when we were 60 days out from the cruise. Our only option for a refund now is to wait until 30 June 2023. We will get a refund then.”

The costs of the play, hotels and transfers – amounting to $6000, which includes a standard Scenic cancellation fee – couldn’t be recouped from the organisers and therefore wouldn’t be repaid.

Ms Twell and Ms Nichols were told by Scenic they would be able to use their future cruise credit voucher until 2023. But, if they wanted the full refund, they would have to wait until 2023.

Ms Nichols, who is a self-funded retiree and Ms Twell who has metastatic cancer and is currently undergoing radiation, said they wanted answers from the Australian luxury touring group on why they are not eligible to receive a refund now.

“We both have to be realistic. We might not be around for the next two years to cruise and especially for me, as a self-funded retiree, $23,000 is a lot of money to lose,” said Ms Nichols.

Scenic told Cruise Passenger: “Our passengers were extremely excited about the Oberammergau Passion Play and it’s extremely unfortunate that the play has had to be postponed, the first time in 180 years.

“But the situation is that it’s currently not safe to travel and once it is, we will be ensuring that those who have booked to watch the Oberammergau Passion Play will be able to do so.”

Meanwhile pressure is building for better protection for cruise passengers – and travellers in general – caught up in this type of situation.

Consumer advocate Adam Glezer, leader of the Facebook advocacy group Travel Industry Issues – The Need For Change for Australians, has sent a draft plan for legislation change to government bodies and community groups spurred on by scores of angry consumers.

Mr Glezer said that customers should be entitled to see where their money has been spent by travel providers for third party incurred costs.

“If funds are being held back, a customer is entitled to a full itemised invoice upon request according to the latest ACCC best practice guidelines. And if a customer doesn’t receive this, how are they to know where their money is gone,” he said.

“If the travel provider says that these are unrecoverable costs, a customer has every right to know what these unrecoverable costs are. Basically, this all comes down to a lack of transparency across much of the industry.”

The ACCC’s statement says:

  • The ACCC is also aware of concerns that have been raised in relation to the future sale of cruises, particularly given the government restrictions on cruises that remain in place.
  • The ACCC has engaged with several major cruise companies regarding this issue, to ensure they are aware of, and comply with, their obligations to consumers and communicate properly with them regarding the remedies they will provide should these cruises be cancelled in the future. We are also continuing to actively monitor cruise sales practices.
  • When businesses sell future cruises, the ACCC expects that they will clearly advise consumers whether they will be entitled to a refund and whether there are any cancellation fees if the cruise does not proceed due to government restrictions.
  • Consumers should be aware that if they cancel the cruise, rather than the operator cancelling the cruise then their rights to a refund may be limited.
  • Before making any cruise bookings, we recommend that consumers:
  1. Ask directly whether they are entitled to a refund if the cruise does not proceed;
  2. Understand the terms and conditions of the booking;
  3. Ask directly about when payments are due and look for businesses that offer payment closer to departure when there’s more certainty about the cruise proceeding

You can talk to the ACCC here: