Cunard is conducting a review of its final payment notification systems after a star-studded five-suite birthday cruise was cancelled.
Former Play School host Don Spence, his daughter Danielle, Russell Crowe’s former partner, and friends had booked a $200,000 holiday in the line’s Grill Class Suites.
But their book was automatically cancelled by a computer.
It was to have been an 80th birthday celebration for Mr Spencer’s ex-wife, and a meeting with his American friend, as they are both celebrating their 86th year.
But instead of enjoying the hospitality of the line with Royal connections aboard Queen Elizabeth, the group faced rearranging everything on shore.
But today, following calls from Cruise Passenger, Cunard revoked the decision to cancel and reinstated the cruise, giving the man who penned such iconic Australian songs as “Please Don’t Call Me a Koala Bear” and “Thumbs’ Up” a happy ending.
“I am so relieved, and indeed delighted that we learned today that Cunard has been able to reinstate our party’s bookings.
“As a Gold member, I have genuinely always appreciated the quality and service provided by Cunard. They are by far and away our preferred cruise company offering those special elements that sadly so often today are missing,” said one member of the party.
But the story does come with a salutary lesson – always read notices sent by your cruise line.
So what happened with Cunard?
Cunard actually played it by the book. The group paid deposits for the September itinerary and received a final payment reminder for $24,631 for each suite on May 7.
The final Payment Notice states that outstanding charges must be received by June 20th.
But the group expected they would be reminded again.
They didn’t realise the line would automatically cancel their booking if the money was not received on time.
They were stunned when they received an email two days after the June 20th deadline.
The group’s entire booking had been removed from the system.
Mr Spencer originally made a booking with Brian Wrexham, Chief Executive of SkillsOne.
He had booked two Queens Grill cabins for a Barcelona roundtrip on Queen Elizabeth this September, directly through the cruise line.
However, Mr Spencer’s daughter Danielle suggested it would be a good opportunity to celebrate her mother’s 80th birthday.
And the group purchased three more Queens Grill cabins being added for friends and family.
Mr Spencer says he received only one email relating to payment, on May 7, stating that the final payment was due on June 20.
He wrote in an email to Cunard: “Imagine my absolute astonishment when on Tuesday, June 27, I got an email from Cunard Reservations saying that my booking had been cancelled.
“Not just mine, but all five cabins that my family had booked.
“The ONLY payment email received was on May 7 stating that the final payment was due June 20.
“At this time, I was in hospital with a serious ear problem, so I overlooked this email.
“Two of the bookings were made through a travel agent and she said she received NO reminder.”
Both Mr Spencer and Mr Wrexham are gold members with Cunard, with Mr Wrexham left astonished at Cunard’s cancellation system.
“We’ve had good service from Cunard in the past and I was absolutely astonished. It was Don’s 86, so these are well-travelled people and the fact that this has happened when we’re trying to create a reunion, is extraordinary, absolutely extraordinary.”
The cancellation, he said, all happened so fast.
Finally, what are the lessons?
A Cunard spokesperson told Cruise Passenger the line would be reviewing the documents they send to guests to ensure they are clear enough in the future.
The incident highlights the importance of not missing payment deadlines on a cruise.
Ms Spencer was listed as a VIP for the cruise, but received no special treatment after the deadline was missed.