Navigating Covid Rebookings and Cancellations in 2021

Even as the vaccines are rolling out, cruise lines and tour operators are cancelling (suspending) more cruises and trips in 2021.  This is due to many factors, and much like the stock market, the logistics are playing out further in advance than you may expect.

This has resulted in vacations and cruises that were originally booked for 2020, then cancelled, later cheerfully rebooked for 2021, that are now being cancelled outright (suspended) through March, April, and even May of 2021. No one is happy about that from the guests to to travel agencies to the tour operators and cruise lines. Covid rears its ugly head again.

Some travelers are understandably losing their patience and are becoming frustrated with the cancellation process. Of course the process can vary greatly among cruise lines and tour companies, but I will try to be cover them in general.

Can you get your money back in cash?

This depends partially on if YOU cancel the cruise preemptively, or if you are booked on the cruise (or trip) and the cruise line suspends the sailing, meaning THEY cancel outright.

The next factor is how your cruise is currently paid for. Meaning is it a rebooking from an Future Cruise Credit (FCC), or is it cash that you’ve paid. Have you paid in full or do you only have a deposit?

If in 2020 if your cruise was cancelled by the cruise line, most lines offered a choice of a cash refund or a bonus incentive of something like a 125% Future Cruise Credit (FCC). The bonus incentive is a good value, and you get 25% on your money, so long as you know you want to cruise in the future.

In some cases with certain cruise lines, if you selected the 125% bonus incentive and you never apply it to a future cruise, it will revert back to cash (on the original form of payment). However, once it has been applied to a new booking it irrevocably becomes a credit. In most cases, once the FCC is accepted, it no longer has a cash value. That is not true of all cruise lines: some are offering cash refunds of the original amount paid to guests who have had two cruises in a row suspended by the cruise line.

If you canceled your cruise voluntarily, and were covered by a “Cruise with Confidence” or “Risk Free Guarantee” (RFG), it can depend on when you booked the cruise. For example at Viking, if you booked your cruise by May 31st, 2020, you have a RFG-1 voucher and you may be able to ultimately get a refund if you wait until the voucher expires. If you booked your cruise after that date, you have a RFG-2 voucher. That voucher is not refundable but it is transferable.

If you booked your cruise not that long ago, and have only made a refundable deposit and are not in 100% penalty, you may be able to cancel and some or all of your money back under normal cancellation terms. This is why most lines have added the Cruise With Confidence and Risk Free Guarantee, is so that you can be confident in making final payment. You can cancel with just a few days before the cruise departs, and get a Future Cruise Credit that is good for a vacation further out. Normally if you did that you would lose all of your money! In this case you get the value of a FCC.

Because the pandemic has gone on so long, we are now getting a new round of cruise line cancellations. If you are one of those that had rebooked this 2021 cruise using an FCC, you do not have as many options as someone who paid in cash. Here are the options for everyone:

Scenario: The cruise line has not canceled or suspended the cruise (or the tour operator has not suspended) but YOU want to cancel:

  • request a refund (assuming you are not in penalty and paid for this cruise with something other than a cruise credit)
  • you are in normal penalty but use the Cruise With Confidence or RFG to request a cruise credit, in the form of a 100% voucher
  • select a new date to cruise, in 2022 perhaps, and move the money or FCC to the new sailing
  • select a new destination to cruise, in 2021 perhaps, and move the money or FCC to the new sailing
  • sit tight and see what happens – maybe the cruise line will cancel – or maybe things have drastically improved and you will want to go on the trip – in the meantime you are covered by Cruise With Confidence or perhaps haven’t had to pay the final payment yet

Scenario: The cruise line has suspended the cruise meaning THEY canceled:

  • The cruise line will offer you a choice
    • a refund of the way you paid for this cruise – credit card refund for credit card, e-check for e-check, voucher for voucher, FCC for FCC
    • a bonus incentive of up to 125% of the amount of actual $ paid on this cruise, in the form of an FCC voucher

In other words, if you used an FCC to book the cruise in question, it is very unlikely that you will get a refund in cash; the most likely scenario is that you will get another FCC. Again, this policy varies by cruise line.

If you used a form of cash to book this latest cruise (not an FCC), then you will choose from the 100% refund or a bonus incentive FCC. If you are an avid cruiser you may want to take advantage of getting 25% on your money. However, you should keep in mind that there could be future cancellations and will then have future cruise credits, not any other form of reimbursement. Here are many of the specific cruise line and tour company policies.

See also: Specific Alaska & New England Cruise Concerns for 2021

Do you have an FCC or travel credit that you’d like some help with? In rare instances, we may be able to obtain a special exception.

What our clients said about this topic (see below).

Follow up from real life clients:

Here is how one couple made the choice.

How We Decided: Control. The refund returned control of our vacation to us in light of the potential for nonrefundable, serial Future Cruise Vouchers and their sequential deadlines. Covid Virus. The virus continues to mutate with no sign of stopping, and the mutations have been found to be more infectious and deadly. This was not the time for us to be in an airplane for many hours with hundreds of other people. While we would feel safe on the ship, we would inevitably come in contact with local people and other tourists who might be carriers from different countries. Covid Culture. There is no evidence that Americans who either refused to wear masks or refused to abstain from partying last Spring and Summer have gained any wisdom.

More people are Covid weary and will probably join those partying this Spring and Summer, causing additional Covid surges, both here and abroad. This, in turn, will likely cause future cruise cancelations from which there would be no refund option. No one knows when this will end. Our age. My wife and I are both 73. While we are relatively healthy now, that may not be the case by the time Covid and the Covid Culture concerns subside. Our option was to cruise two years from now, but if subsequent cruises are canceled, we could be looking even further out.

Our health is not guaranteed 2, 3, 4 or 5 years from now. That diminishes the chance of us ever sailing or getting a refund. Family transfers are impractical for us. Price considerations. Accepting a voucher locks in current price. Opting for the refund makes us vulnerable to price hikes. Viking airfare is almost always deeply discounted, commonly to ca 65%. That would likely remain somewhat constant. Viking can raise Stateroom rates, particularly on the Explorer and Veranda Suites as money for those customers may not be a significant factor (or they would not be in those suites).

There is, however, a subjective ceiling on how much they can raise rates on the Standard and French Balcony rooms, lest Viking prices itself out of the modest-traveler market. With very modest savings over the next 3-4 years, we can accommodate those modest price increases. Current Promotions. Accepting the voucher also locks in the current promotions. If better promotions are forthcoming, they would be unavailable to us, since our promotions would be locked in with our voucher. Future Promotions. (This is a hybrid consideration.) There is a good possibility that the mutations of the virus and its increased severity will continue for at least several more months. That will lead to more cruise cancellations and more sequential vouchers. They, in turn, will lead to more customer frustration and possible abandonment of future cruising for a considerable period. This weakened demand may lead to additional promotions that are not currently available. 

To be sure, this scenario will be somewhat negated by the build-up in demand from previously canceled cruises.  If the Covid mutations and the behavior of Covid Culture people continue, however, that pent-up demand will start walking away from a cruise dream that had been spawned 3, 4, or 5 years earlier…when the dreamers were younger. Additional promotions will therefore likely be needed to restart the cruise industry.

Simplicity vs Complexity. If you walk into a doughnut shop, you want to buy a doughnut. You do not want to take a survey from a bread distributor, get pitched by a timeshare salesman, or be offered some free doughnuts for sitting through a presentation about development in the doughnut shop area. You want a doughnut. We are very happy, previous Viking customers. We are sympathetic with their health and safety vs business predicament. The restrictions they place on refunds and promotions do not seem unreasonable. In the end, this is not about Viking. This is about getting a doughnut…or not. Right now, a simple doughnut is not available. Viking would love to sell a simple doughnut to us; we’re game. Covid and the risky behavior of millions of people have tied Viking’s hands.There are no simple doughnuts. 

After much difficult deliberation, we decided that we’ll come back when Viking has some simple doughnuts —M.&R. O.

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