Carnival Australia president Sture Myrmell has prioritised fixing refunds and future cruise credits after a wave of protests over payment delays.
Lines like Carnival are acutely aware they will rely on past passengers to fill their ships when cruising returns, but refunding fares has proved to be a massive and complex task.
Passengers across all lines have been filling social media with angry protests, and now Mr Myrmell is among the first to acknowledge the problem and tackle it.
In a statement to Cruise Passenger, which has carried a number of articles on the subject, he said this morning: “Our current priorities are managing the unprecedentedly complex task of processing refunds and future cruise credits for guests whose cruises have been cancelled and repatriating crew on board our ships.
“It is encouraging that many guests have chosen the option of future cruise credits which signals the fact that there is a vast reservoir of experienced cruisers who will return to cruise holidays when the time is right and they feel safe to again gather.”
Mr Myrmell was speaking to a worldwide problem created by the coronavirus pandemic hitting a travel industry – not just cruise – built to take fares and spread them across hundreds of suppliers across the globe.
P&O Cruises UK president Paul Ludlow said the company is asking P&O UK passengers to wait up to 60 days to see any money. His message: be patient.
“I understand that some of you see us as a big business ‘holding on to your money’ as some of our guests have been commenting publicly, but I assure you I am very aware of the financial constraints everyone is under at the moment and we are not delaying this intentionally,” he wrote.
“The first cruises were cancelled due to Covid-19 in the middle of March and whilst we expected to process the first refunds sooner, we revised that to ‘up to 60 days’ when we realised the impact the pandemic was having on our wider business and teams.”
Royal Caribbean’s Richard Fain also said during a webinar for travel agents that many employees are working from home, and they were not ready for the large increase in cancellations and refunds.
“The volume simply exploded. We simply weren’t prepared for it. And, by the way, this requires more training than other things,” he said.
“We also found that the credit card companies weren’t equipped to handle this as quickly as we thought. And in some cases, we would send them a notice to put a credit on somebody’s account. And it was taking up to 10 days to actually get posted through again. Once we understood it and we really dealt with it, that we were able to deal with.”
One Australian travel agent from South Australia and chair of a suppliers organisation took to video to explain why refunds weren’t coming through (see below). It took more than six minutes.
All of this has so far failed to placate Aussie cruisers.
“My cruise was March 16, still no refund. Told in early April it would be seven to 10 days, still nothing and no one can tell me when,” writes Cate Rowley on P&O Australia’s Facebook page.
Kevv Walter from Tasmania cancelled his 14-day November cruise on Sapphire Princess on March 24. He is waiting on a $1,800 refund from his travel agent.
“We were informed by Ozcruising on the 24th of March that the refund would take up to eight weeks. Yesterday we received another update from our agent stating the refund would now take another 90 business days to receive.”
So why is it taking so long?
Cruise line refund systems are extremely complex.
Cruise fares are made up of government charges, port taxes, the cruise base fare as well as any add on extras like drink packages, specialty dining, shore excursions as well as onboard credits. And these are all accounted for separately in many cruise line systems. The result is, that cruise line needs to account for all parts of the total cruise fare to be accounted for. And, government charges and port taxes are refunded separately.
With such convoluted refunds, most cruise lines’ automatic systems are not equipped to successfully coordinate the process. Instead, refund requests must often be manually reviewed, which takes additional time and manpower that is in very limited supply. Carnival reported that they cut their staff by 20 per cent. So there is currently less manpower to process the bookings.
If you booked through your travel agent, there may be an additional delay as the agent waits for funds from the cruise line to be processed into their bank account before they can pass it on to you.
It would also be helpful to note that cruisers who book with agents may face additional wait as the agent might have booked your cruise through a wholesaler to take advantage of exclusive prices. However, this would mean that your refund would have to be passed down a few parties before reaching your hands.
If you used a credit card to pay for your cruise, that has since expired or been lost, the cruise line will automatically refund the original form of payment. Check your credit card details and ensure they are identical to what was given originally. If the cruise line refunds your card, the bank will receive it and then take additional time to send it back to the cruise line, where you will have to wait for the process to begin again.
Others though, are starting to see the refunds and have shared gratitude with the cruise lines.
“Our folio balance was finally received yesterday from our cruise back in January. So, it’s obvious that you’re doing your best — no complaints here!” writes Dennis Rainwater on Princess Cruises Facebook page.
“Thank You Princess, we received our cheque today for the remaining money from our cancelled Feb. Majestic Princess Cruise. Would have been on the Sapphire Princess at the moment but was not meant to be. So looking forward and counting the days till we sail with our Princess Family again,” said Carolyn Le Leu.
“Thank you for finally commenting on refunds. So many stories have been told by others…. refunds are given by the order cruises were cancelled. ….30days to received ….. then it was 60 days for refunds….. now it is 90 days. Some people even say call your credit card and they will give you your refund. It would be nice if Princess could explain procedure and if it is by cruise date, give all of us a weekly update as to which cruise dates are being processed now. I believe this would put many minds at ease and keep people from listening to rumours,” writes Donna Knox.