Is a cruise itinerary change worth $4,000? This Regent passenger says it is
When he was told about some unusual itinerary changes to his upcoming luxury Baltic Sea cruise aboard Regent Seven Seas Splendor, Rick Miller was disappointed. Then, when Regent Seven Seas Cruises proposed compensation for the altered schedule that Miller found unacceptable, his disappointment turned to anger.
He says the cruise line reduced the number of nights of the voyage and skipped one port entirely. In return for these itinerary changes, Regent offered him just $500 in onboard credits.
Based on Miller's calculations, however, Regent owed him $4,000 for the missed night of sailing. The cruise line disagreed. That’s when Miller asked TPG to investigate his complaint.
Does Regent owe Miller $4,000 for the itinerary changes to this sailing, and will the cruise line pay up?
First, pandemic delays
In the fall of 2020, even as the pandemic still had the entire cruise industry shut down, Miller and his wife began planning a voyage.
“We booked a 13-night Baltic Sea cruise for August 2021," Miller recalled. "We figured the entire pandemic would be gone by then.”
That, of course, turned out to be an incorrect assumption.
Just a few months later, Regent gave the Millers the bad news. They wouldn't be cruising in 2021 after all.
“Regent told us it canceled our cruise because of COVID,” Miller said. “We received a full refund but still wanted to plan a cruise.”
When the couple discovered that Regent had scheduled an almost identical 12-night cruise for August of this year, they quickly booked it, paying nearly $50,000 for a Grand Suite on board Splendor. Their itinerary would take them from Southampton in England along the coasts of Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Latvia and Estonia before terminating in Copenhagen.
With their new cruise confirmed, the couple planned their shore excursions and looked forward to this long-awaited adventure.
It wasn't until six weeks before the cruise's departure date that Miller would find out about a surprising change to the trip's itinerary.
'We've modified this cruise'
In notifying the Millers of the change, the cruise line couched the announcement of Splendor's altered schedule in an email framed as feel-good news about Regent's commitment to sustainability:
"Our company is committed to driving a positive impact on society and the environment. As part of our global sustainability program, Sail & Sustain, we are continually seeking opportunities to reduce our overall carbon footprint and recently committed to pursuing net zero greenhouse gas emissions across our operations and value chain by 2050.
“As part of our effort, we are in the final stages of commissioning shore power on Seven Seas Splendor. This important sustainability initiative will provide infrastructure for Seven Seas Splendor to connect to an onshore electrical power grid to supply much of the power needed while docked.
“To facilitate this, we will be modifying your upcoming cruise by remaining in port overnight in London (Southampton), England, on Aug. 7, and sailing instead on the morning of Aug. 8. In addition, we will be replacing the call to Skagen, Denmark, on Aug. 9 with a day at sea.
Thank you for your understanding and support of this important initiative, and as a token of our appreciation will provide guests with $500 shipboard credit per suite.
Should you have any questions, please contact your Travel Advisor or Regent Seven Seas Cruises' reservation department.”
When Miller finished reading Regent’s message, he had questions. From his perspective, the cruise line was cutting the sailing by one night and offering $500 in onboard credit in exchange.
Many cruises spend the first night in port when passengers embark and the experience starts then, with meals, an overnight on board, and the rest of the cruise experience except sailing. To Miller, though, it sounded like he was paying to spend an extra night on the ship when he could just book an inexpensive hotel for that evening instead.
He tried reaching out to the cruise line to see what other compensation they might be willing to offer.
Not a standard itinerary change
After Miller's pleas resulted in no response from Regent, he decided to send his complaint to firstname.lastname@example.org. His request for help soon landed on my desk.
"Why would I want to spend $4,000 to board a cruise ship going nowhere the first night?" Miller pondered. "I would rather stay the night in a hotel somewhere and get on the ship the day it's actually embarking." Miller’s quibble was with the fact that he did not want to board until the day of departure or to pay for what he perceived as an extra day on board given the later departure date. However, that’s not always possible in instances like this.
I read through Miller’s paper trail and agreed that the itinerary change did seem unusual, but I needed to dig a little further to see what the exact circumstances were and determine whether Miller and the other passengers scheduled for this sailing should have been given the chance to decide for themselves if they would have liked to board the ship (and pay for) the night before the official departure.
As it turns out, everything was in the timing of the departure and the logistics of embarkation and sailing.
But can a passenger opt out?
I reached out to our executive contacts at Regent Seven Seas to get some clarity about this cruise. These are point persons for media and consumer advocates like myself and not public-facing customer-service representatives that travelers can get in touch themselves with to resolve issues. Here is what I wrote:
"Mr. Miller has expressed that he doesn't want to spend nearly $4,000 for a night on board the ship when it isn't going anywhere. He would like to board the cruise on the day it is actually sailing and be refunded for the missed night.
Mr. Miller is also disappointed with the missed port of call (Skagen). I am aware that missed ports of call are not something that a passenger should expect to receive compensation for (although small goodwill gesture vouchers are often offered by cruise lines in these circumstances) and I will explain that detail to him. But the monetary compensation for the reduction in the number of nights of the cruise seems like a reasonable request from a loyal, high-spending customer.
Please let us know if that is something Regent can approve. Thank you. 😊🚢
Very soon, Miller emailed me to let me know that he had received a call from another executive at Regent.
"She tried to convince me that people like a night in the port before sailing," Miller reported to me. "This representative of Regent told me that no one else on the entire cruise had complained but me."
That seemed unlikely, given the last-minute communication about the change. That said, many luxury cruise passengers do enjoy having an extra night on board before sailing to enjoy the ship’s amenities a little longer or to have extra time in a marquee city like London.
However, I followed up with our executive at Regent — and it soon became clear the cruise line was standing its ground on this one.
Regent stands its ground
When I asked Regent for further clarity about Miller's request, our contact at Regent told me that the couple could not join the cruise on the actual departure day.
With the ship sailing from Southampton at 8 a.m., Aug. 8, 2022, all guests must embark Seven Seas Splendor on Aug. 7, 2022, as is standard procedure. While we sympathize with Mr. Miller for the cancellation of the call to Skagen, Denmark, as you say below, a missed port of call is not something a passenger should expect compensation for. We feel that our goodwill gesture of $500 on board spend is generous. Furthermore, overnight stays in port are common, often sought-after itinerary features and, again, are not something that guests would expect compensation for.
Though we do have the most inclusive cruise experience, there are a number of ways that the $500 onboard spend can be enjoyed, for example, in the spa, on a special bottle of wine from the Connoisseur wine list, in the boutique or in destination on a Regent Choice shore excursion.
Best wishes, (Regent executive contact)"
This response closed the door on any possibility of further compensation for Miller or any other guests on board this sailing of Splendor. The new departure time required that passengers be aboard the night before so the ship could sail on time at 8 a.m. the following morning due to the logistics of the embarkation process and port facility hours.
Unfortunately, Miller was not satisfied with the result and the lack of clarity around the changes to his itinerary and has decided he’ll be taking his future business elsewhere.
He told me:
"Michelle, thanks again. I am canceling an 18-night cruise I had booked with Regent and will never board another of their ships. That cruise fare is over $75,000, so they can just [deal with that]."
What should passengers really expect?
Cruise ship passengers beware: Your ship's originally scheduled path may or may not resemble where you actually go. The good news is that most of the time, your itinerary will be navigated as scheduled. But if you board your cruise knowing that itinerary changes are always possible, you'll be much less prone to disappointment should your voyage get hit with an alteration.
Here's what to keep in mind before you plan your next cruise:
Read what your cruise contract says about itinerary changes
Every cruise line across the industry includes a clause about the possibility of itinerary changes. Along with that information comes the standard disclosure that the cruise line owes the passenger nothing if this happens on your journey. Knowing what's contained in that contract is your first step to a successful cruise experience.
Buy a cruise, not a destination
Never, never book a cruise based on a port of call that you absolutely can't miss. If you'll consider your vacation ruined if you miss any part of your cruise's itinerary, that's a recipe for potential disaster. Always remember the captain of your ship can change some or even all of the ports of call on your cruise for nearly any reason. So if you really have your heart set on a specific destination, an air/land/hotel vacation would be a better choice.
Consider travel insurance that provides coverage for missed ports
Cruise ship passengers should always carefully consider their need for travel insurance. Some policies will provide a cash benefit if your cruise skips a port of call. If you splurge on a cancel-for-any-reason insurance policy, you'll have the luxury to decide if you want to take a cruise or not if the itinerary changes dramatically before embarkation.
Purchase medical insurance for your cruise
Did you know that many domestic health insurance policies do not cover you for medical treatment on board a cruise ship or in a foreign country? It's true, and treatment on a cruise ship can be very expensive. Purchasing a comprehensive travel insurance policy with medical coverage can ensure you don't get stuck with the bill for unexpected illnesses or injuries during your next cruise. Use a site such as InsureMyTrip.com to compare insurance policies across the industry and pick one that fits your needs.
Pay for your cruise with a credit card that provides travel protection
The next best thing to purchasing a comprehensive travel insurance policy is paying for your cruise with a credit card that provides travel protection. As TPG reader Brett Smith recently found out, the included insurance protection provided by credit cards such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve can be a welcome relief if you get hit with unexpected delays and expenses. Make sure to acquaint yourself with all your cards' membership benefits before you decide which card to use to pay for your next adventure.
Don't book nonrefundable excursions
Because your cruise itinerary is always subject to change, it's never a good idea to book third-party, nonrefundable shore excursions. If your ship skips the destination where your activity is planned, you'll have no recourse with the cruise line or the excursion provider. This is one of the reasons it can be a good idea to book cruise line-led excursions.
Don't cruise without a passport
This advice may be a bit controversial. But as a consumer advocate, I've seen the awful results when things go wrong and a passenger doesn't have a passport. Remember, you can't fly internationally anywhere without a passport. So if you get injured or sick or have an emergency and need to fly home, you can't do that with a birth certificate or passport card. And if your ship changes its itinerary and offloads you and all the other passengers in a foreign country, as Norwegian Escape did last March, your situation will be immensely more complicated if you don't have a passport with you. If you keep in mind that significant itinerary changes are always a possibility, you'll realize just how precarious it is to cruise internationally without a passport – even on a closed-loop cruise.
Pay attention to onboard announcements concerning schedule changes
Yes, your cruise ship will leave without you if you aren't on board when it's scheduled to leave. The passengers most at risk of getting left behind? The ones who ignore the daily onboard updates and announcements. Those messages will always inform passengers of any changes to call time back to the ship, and as a passenger, you should never overlook them — unless you don't mind getting left behind in your bathing suit and flip-flops as you watch your cruise ship sail away without you.
Significant alterations to a cruise schedule are rare. Small itinerary changes to your cruise ship's ports of call are more common. But no matter what kind of shift your cruise ship encounters, ride that wave and roll with the punches — because in the end, a day on vacation always has the potential to be a great day no matter where your cruise ship takes you (or doesn’t).
If you or anyone you know has encountered a problem with a cruise line, airline, hotel, vacation rental company, car rental agency or credit card, send your request for help to email@example.com, and I'll be happy to investigate and help you, too.