Q: Our agency is encountering a new phenomenon that I will call "FCC fatigue," where the same clients have had several consecutive cruises canceled and have thus been unable to use their future cruise credits, leading to the point where the clients just want their money back. In many cases, the prospective passengers have become too ill to travel or have undergone other life changes that make cruising no longer desirable or even possible. Do the clients have a legal right to a cash refund at this point? If not, could our agency have any liability for encouraging the clients to take an FCC in the first place? Isn't there a government agency with a rule requiring cruise refunds in certain cases?
A: Because there are no laws or government regulations covering this subject, any right to a refund would be a matter of contract law. Most FCC agreements did not expressly provide for a later-refund option, even for multiple cancellations by the cruise line, so the issue is whether such an option was implied in the credit agreement.
Most cruise lines are taking the position that no such option was implied, and I have been unable to find any emails or webpages that would provide evidence to the contrary. So, if a cruise line refuses to provide a refund at this point, your clients probably have no legal rights to get one.
I did find exceptions to the rule:
- Viking's published policy for FCCs issued before April 6 has been that, "After 24 months, if you are unable to use your 125% Future Cruise Voucher, simply return your expired voucher to Viking and we will send you a refund equal to the original amount paid to Viking to the original form of payment."
- Norwegian has changed its policy and now offers a refund if the "guest has been affected by two or more suspensions." Interestingly, one condition I feel is quite onerous is that you must not have filed a credit card dispute, apparently even an unsuccessful one.
- Royal Caribbean was offering a refund if you used an FCC to book a bunch of canceled cruises. Unfortunately, that refund had to be requested by June 30.
In last week's Legal Briefs column, I covered the question of whether your agency could be liable for recommending a future travel credit for tours, and my answer for cruises is similar: A disgruntled client could conceivably allege that it was negligent for an advisor to recommend an FCC instead of a refund, if a refund was available, but the client would have to prove that the advisor should have known that a given future cruise would not operate.
Since the cruise lines themselves thought that the rebooked cruises would operate, the client could not prove that you knew more than the cruise line knew, so I would not worry about liability for recommending an FCC.