Norwegian cancels William Boucek’s Hawaii cruise after the COVID-19 outbreak and offers him a refund. But United Airlines will only give him a credit. Does he have no choice but to accept?
Q: My wife and I booked a trip for the whole family to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary on the Norwegian Cruise Line’s (NCL) Pride of America last summer. After that, we had plans to fly to Maui, Hawaii, for a week, where we would meet our other daughter.
We canceled five flights on United Airlines to Honolulu for an NCL cruise which was canceled. On May 18, the governor of Hawaii extended the state’s mandatory 14-day quarantine order at least through June 30, and later extended it to Sept. 1. So we could not fly to Hawaii at all without quarantine.
We filed a claim with Travelex, our travel insurance company, but have not heard anything back. United responded that our tickets were nonrefundable but offered us a voucher for future flights. I would like to get our $10,112 back that we spent on our plane tickets instead of a voucher. Can you help? — William Boucek, Frankfort, Illinois
A: United Airlines should have refunded your tickets. You canceled your anniversary cruise to keep your family safe and because of government quarantines. The airline shouldn’t punish you for that by keeping your money.
Your travel insurance company might have also helped you, depending on the type of coverage you had. Specifically, a “cancel for any reason” policy would have allowed you to cancel your cruise for any reason and receive anywhere from 50% to 75% of the cost of your trip refunded.
The good news: It looks like NCL refunded your cruise fare. That was the right call since it canceled the cruise.
Airlines treated pandemic-related cancellations no different than other cancellations. If the airline cancels, you get a full refund. If you cancel, you get an expiring credit. It doesn’t matter why you cancel — your reasons might be excellent. You still get a credit. I disagree with this; I think that if you cancel your trip because of a government advisory, the airline should offer a full refund. But it doesn’t have to, at least under current law.
I list the executive contacts for both United Airlines and Travelex on my consumer advocacy site, Elliott.org. You might have also reached out to one of them to make sure they didn’t overlook anything.
But in the end, resolving this case came down to patience. It turns out Travelex was processing your claim, along with tens of thousands of others. And in the end, after four months of waiting, the travel insurance company cut you a check for $10,112.
No one wants to wait for a refund, and frankly, no one should have to wait. But these are challenging times, and unfortunately, it takes time — sometimes a lot of time — to process everything.