A new luxury line with a familiar name woos cruisers whose vacations were sunk
A lifeline is coming today for Crystal Cruises customers who lost money during the line's collapse in 2022.
The new owner of the brand will offer them an opportunity to get their money back in the form of credits for future cruises.
In an exclusive interview this week, A&K Travel Group CEO Cristina Levis told TPG that former Crystal customers who lost deposits for canceled cruises after the line shut down can apply for credits starting today.
The credits will be good toward sailings on a new version of Crystal that A&K Travel Group is launching in July.
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The Exceptional Initiative, as the company calls it, is unusual in that A&K Travel Group has no connection to the old owners of the brand and is under no obligation to give credits for money the old owners owe to passengers.
The high-end travel company bought the Crystal Cruises brand name and its two biggest oceangoing ships, Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony, from the liquidators of the old Crystal last year with plans to launch a new line that would use a version of the brand's name. But as is typical in such bankruptcy-related asset sales, it did not assume the old Crystal's liabilities.
"In our memory, no other cruise lines that have acquired assets from a bankruptcy ... have offered an initiative like this," Levis said.
Levis noted that the credits could be worth "tens of millions" of dollars. "It's really a huge financial commitment, but [one that] we feel we need to do. We want to do our part and give back to those customers that have lost their money," she said.
Some customers who lost money during the collapse of the old Crystal Cruises have already gotten all or part of it back by filing claims with their travel insurance companies and credit card companies. But some still are waiting for refunds that could come as part of bankruptcy proceedings for the old Crystal that are ongoing.
The latter group of customers had to file claims with an assignee of the court handling the case by June 11, 2022, and the amount of the loss they eventually will get back remains unknown. It'll depend on the amount of money available to creditors after all the assets for the old Crystal are sold.
It is the latter group of customers to which the new Crystal is offering the credits.
The fine print of the offer
Under the terms of the offer, almost any former Crystal Cruises passenger who holds a verified claim in the bankruptcy case can apply for the credits.
However, there's one major caveat: Only customers with claims related to bookings on the two ships that the new Crystal will be operating — Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony — will be eligible for the credits. Still, that's likely the majority of customers with claims for lost money related to the Crystal bankruptcy.
The two ships represented the bulk of the capacity of the former Crystal. The line also operated a much smaller oceangoing vessel designed for expedition cruising that was sold to Silversea Cruises as part of the bankruptcy process, as well as five small river ships sold to other cruise brands.
One other notable caveat: To qualify for the credits, customers must book a cruise with the new Crystal by July 1.
Both caveats will be included in the fine print for the offer, which will note the following conditions that must be met for customers to qualify for the credits:
- Customers must have filed a valid claim in the Crystal Cruises bankruptcy for amounts owed related to cruises on the two ships.
- The amount of the credit will be restricted to the outstanding balances owed to the passenger minus any funds that have already been refunded. In other words, you can't "double dip" by getting a credit for money you've already gotten back from, say, a credit card company.
- The credit will be split into five installments to be applied toward five future bookings.
- The first booking must be made by July 1.
- All five credits must be used for voyages departing on or before Dec. 31, 2025.
- Future bookings must be made for trips on Crystal Serenity or Crystal Symphony.
As part of the initiative, travel agents who are owed commissions for sailings booked with the old Crystal and have filed claims with the court will be eligible to earn full commissions on their clients' future bookings.
Notably, the credits will be available retroactively to anyone eligible who booked an upcoming Crystal trip before the new initiative was announced.
More details on the specific terms and conditions of the initiative, along with a FAQ page, will be posted today on Crystal’s website.
Related: Why I was so devastated when Crystal collapsed in 2022
“What Crystal has decided to do with this gesture is remarkable partly because they had no obligation to do it, but mostly because it gives customers another alternative to recover funds lost in the shutdown,” Mark Healy, an executive at Michael Moecker & Associates, the company handling the liquidation of the old Crystal, said in a statement sent to TPG.
Michael Moecker & Associates is the assignee in the bankruptcy case. It will be responsible for paying out refunds to customers who have made claims through the court handling the bankruptcy — something that could be just months away.
“We are also working to analyze all the claims we received and believe that by the end of the summer, we will be in a position to release the first reimbursements," Healy said.
A nod to Crystal's fan base
A goal of this credit program clearly is to help A&K Travel Group win the loyalty of past Crystal Cruises passengers, who were unusually devoted to the brand. At the core of Crystal's business was a loyal group of repeat customers who booked again and again with the line.
Many of these loyal customers understand that the new Crystal isn't related to the old Crystal Cruises other than sharing a name and operating two of the same ships, and that it doesn't have their deposits from before the bankruptcy, Levis noted. But others have refused to book with the new Crystal until they are paid back for their lost bookings, even though refunds will come through the ongoing bankruptcy process related to the old company, not the new cruise line.
The old Crystal was owned by Genting Hong Kong, which collapsed in early 2022 after revenues plummeted due to COVID-19 pandemic-related shutdowns.
Levis said she understood the anger that some former Crystal customers had about not getting refunds after the company collapsed. The anger was justified, she suggested, and that's one reason why A&K Travel Group wanted to help these customers with the credits, even though the new company was not technically responsible for making these travelers whole.
"We want to go the extra mile for those customers. We are really sympathetic with them," she said. "[If] I put myself in their shoes, I would be as upset, right? [If] somebody took my money and didn't give my money back, obviously I would be mad."
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The new Crystal's credit offer could even result in some former customers getting more than they are owed back. That could occur if a customer gets a credit from the new Crystal and is later reimbursed by the court handling the bankruptcy.
Levis said the above is one reason why the company is offering the credit in five installments applicable to five different sailings. As passengers book each successive cruise to collect the five credits, the new Crystal will check with the bankruptcy case assignee, Michael Moecker & Associates, to see if the passenger has gotten a refund that would make them whole. If they have been made whole, they would no longer qualify for the credits.
Everything you loved and more
During the talk with TPG, Levis said that Crystal fans would find a lot that is familiar if they return to the brand.
For starters, many of the staff who worked on Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony under the brand's old owners are returning. Levis put the percentage around 80%. That's a big deal, as the staff on the ships, many of whom had been with the company for years, were credited with being the key element of the brand's reputation for the best onboard service in the cruise business.
Customers who return to the brand "will find the same butler, the same waiter, the same suite attendant," Levis said. "So, they will receive the same level of service they were used to. They will eat the same amazing food that they were used to eating before. They will be entertained by the same amazing entertainment staff that they had before. All the things that made Crystal great will still be there."
But the brand won't just be the same as before, but better than before, Levis suggested.
Both ships are undergoing massive refurbishments that will increase the size of many suites and cabins and reduce the total passenger capacity. These changes will make the ships more luxurious than they were before.
After the refurbishment, Crystal Serenity will hold 740 passengers, down from 980 before the old Crystal's collapse. Crystal Symphony's capacity is being reduced from 848 to 606 passengers.
The two ships, which were originally built in 2002 and 1995, respectively, also are getting upgraded spas and fitness centers.
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As a result of the reduction in passenger capacity, the ships will now sail with nearly one crew member for every passenger on board. That'll give them some of the highest staff-to-passenger ratios in the cruise business.
Additionally, Crystal customers will have access to new pre- and post-cruise tour programs curated by Abercrombie & Kent, the upscale tour company also owned by A&K Travel Group. It's a brand known for top-of-the-line tours.
Levis said customers of the old Crystal were already returning to the brand in good numbers.
"We are really pleased with the amount of bookings and with the positive feedback we have been receiving," she said.
For many, it's a situation where "they couldn't wait for Crystal to be back," she noted. "They cannot wait to be back on board."
A&K Travel Group, meanwhile, is no stranger to high-end cruising. The company was involved in cruising before it purchased the Crystal assets through high-end voyages it offered through its Abercrombie & Kent tour brand. Additionally, the company is controlled by one of the longtime leaders in luxury cruising, former Silversea owner Manfredi Lefebvre d'Ovidio.
The new Crystal's 1st sailings
The new Crystal, under the ownership of A&K Travel Group, is scheduled to launch on July 31 with a 12-night Mediterranean sailing out of Marseille, France, on Crystal Serenity. The one-way voyage to Lisbon, Portugal, will feature stops in France, Monaco, Italy, Spain and Portugal.
Crystal Serenity will then operate voyages to the United Kingdom and Iceland in August before heading to North America in September.
Crystal's second ship, Crystal Symphony, will resume operations on Sept. 1, with sailings in the Mediterranean.
Among other notable changes, the brand will now be known simply as Crystal, rather than its previous name, Crystal Cruises.
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