Cruise lines don't have anywhere near the inventory to manage that airlines or hotels have, and they don't offer rooms by the day or departures by the hour. Cruise lines rarely have the cancellation or no-show problems that lead other suppliers — airlines in particular — to systematically overbook so that when no-shows occur, losses don't result.
So it was surprising to see a thread on the Cruise Critic message boards detailing what appeared to have been an overbooked transatlantic departure of the Celebrity Eclipse.
The thread started with a passenger who posted that five days before the April 16 departure she'd been sent an email saying that her booking was canceled because the cruise was oversold.
"Celebrity says there are no cabins available for us now that they have given our cabin to someone else. We never even considered this was even possible," the poster wrote.
The poster said the booking had long been paid for, and she had a specific cabin assignment, not a guarantee for a room in a certain category. The posting was followed by another person in the same situation, and a third who said that they had purchased on a guaranteed basis.
But even without a specific cabin assignment, if the cabin is sold as guaranteed and then is unavailable, "what does a guarantee mean?" the poster wondered.
After a number of pages of back-and-forth, Celebrity put up its own post, which said, "We're sorry about this unusual situation, and we will work with our guests to make this right. This includes providing them with a full refund and a future cruise credit so they may sail with us soon."
I received the same response when I asked Celebrity how the overbooking situation came about.
At the end of the day, it appears that Celebrity found a cabin for two of the passengers who said they had been displaced and arranged for the third to sail on a different ship.
But I still wonder how cruise lines that require full passenger payment months in advance can get into a situation where five days before the departure date they have to juggle to make sure everyone is accommodated.