My mother is terminally ill — why won’t Princess refund her cruise?

by Christopher Elliott on July 2, 2013

ocean


Question: I am currently sitting on a deck overlooking a park at a hospice facility while my mother lies in her bed taking a morphine nap. She will die in a couple of days.

My mother was diagnosed with soft tissue sarcoma last year. We had expected that she would be around for at least another couple of years. But last week we discovered that the tumors she had more than tripled in size and a week later she was given a few days life expectancy.

That bucket list cruise to Alaska which is scheduled for next week ain’t happening. In an effort to reduce debt I tried to cancel her trip. My mother says, “Don’t bother canceling. They’ll keep your money and then book someone else in my room making double what they should!”

So I called the airlines she was scheduled to fly on. They were more than accommodating. They said they simply needed a letter and some other details pertaining to her death, and I was told a refund would be no problem.

I called Princess Cruise Line and they told me that they would not refund her cruise for any reason. They stated that if she bought the travel insurance they offer, she could get some money back as long as it was not within two weeks of travel. It is within two weeks of her trip, so that wouldn’t have helped.

Is it true that Princess will now get paid twice for the cruise that my mother could not get reimbursed for? By canceling the cruise, they are informed that she will not be there and they now have the opportunity to resell this space even if it is at an incredible discount. This seems a bit unethical. What do you think? — Shannon Tait, Wappingers Falls, NY

Answer: I’m so sorry to hear about your mother. Between the time you first wrote to me and the time I closed your case, your mother passed away. My condolences on your loss.

I looked into the details of your cruise, and when you said this was a bucket list vacation, you were not kidding. Your mother was terminally ill before she booked this trip with her sister, and most travel insurance would not cover her because of her pre-existing medical condition.

This isn’t a simple question of a cruise line pocketing the money for a passenger who passed away. Your mother and your aunt were taking their chances by booking a cruise under these circumstances. I can certainly understand their desire to get away together one last time, but they also knew they were taking a risk.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you what they should have done differently, because it would be insensitive, and besides, there will be no next time for them.

Could Princess have resold the cabin? Maybe. But that, too, is beside the point.

The real question is: What should a cruise line do when a passenger dies? Airlines offer a refund, no questions asked. I believe that’s the right thing to do for cruise lines as well.

The Princess representatives you spoke with didn’t see it that way, mostly because your mother had not yet passed away. But after she did, I believe the cruise line’s position would have changed. I can’t imagine any company not refunding a dead passenger’s ticket — whether she’s insured or not.

Indeed, when I contacted Princess on your behalf, it said her case was still “open,” meaning it hadn’t decided what to do yet. After it reviewed the details of your request, it refunded both your mother’s and your aunt’s cruise.

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  • DCTA

    You know, I don’t want to discuss “should haves” either but I feel compelled to point out Chris, that you are publishing misinformation here when you say that “must travel insurances” would not cover pre-existing conditions. That is simply not true. In fact, the opposite is true. MOST travel insurance will cover pre-existing conditions if purchased within 14 days of having made your first deposit on the cruise or other travel. I am talking about traditional third party travel insurance not that offered by the cruise lines or tour operators. AND there are several other reasons not to purchase the cruise or tour operator’s insurance BUT there is every reason to purchase insurance for any travel that includes more than an air ticket. You are very irresponsible airing that incorrect information above just as you would be we’re you to state that Travel Agents only push insurance for the high commission and their own gain. I offer and explain the reasons for buying insurance to EVERY client I work with and I would be legally negligent not to – thus the waiver they sign when they decline insurances in which they acknowledge the risks of not purchasing and confirm that I did offer it.

  • Adam1222

    this was posted 2 weeks ago on your other site and received 136 comments there. you should indicate when a post is cross-posted.

  • janice

    DCTA is right. In addition some tour operators like Classic Vacations have cancel for any reason at all insurance (no, I don’t work for them, but I like using them for that reason.) It is awful to lose a parent but I have the same case with a client who booked a trip with a father in hospice, and I warned her there would be a $500 penalty even if he died She gambled and he died earlier than expected, She was shocked when the airline did indeed charge.

  • James Penrose

    Even if legally right, and Princess would be, the moral and PR high ground would be to refund upon evidence of death or (with more data) being under intense end of life medical or hospice care.

    The PR hit on being legally right isn’t worth it and the good PR for doing it is less costly than wining and dining a few TA’s which they do regularly.

    With all the bad PR in the cruise industry the last couple of years, this should be a no-brainer.

  • Kevin

    NO!!!!!!

    Doing it for PR is BS — people need to learn that insurance covers UNFORESEEN events…. if the cruise/tour companies refund for PR reasons why would anyone have to buy insurance?

    I’m sorry but if you don’t buy the insurance you live with the results.

    Kevin

  • DCTA

    Even if she booked directly with the cruise line, they would have offered her insurance. The issue here is that Mom decided not to buy insurance because she thought it was worth taking a chance and really didn’t care whether her children got to keep that money.

  • DCTA

    So I was in a hurry, and needless to say a little irritated when I posted above – various grammatical errors are jumping out at me right now. BUT I wanted to just clarify what I was saying. IF I have a client who must cancel a cruise/tour, etc. and I did not offer that client insurance and the client did not buy insurance and can prove that I did not offer it, AND said client loses a big chunk of money on a cancellation – I AM LIABLE. If that client chooses to sue me for those funds, I will be found liable and will be forced to pay him/her as well as for his/her court costs. A Travel Agent is required and expected to apprise consumers of all possible penalties and to recommend insurance. As noted above, clients who tell me that they are not going to purchase insurance or who tell me that they are going to buy insurance independently, sign a waiver acknowledging that I explained the penalties they might incur for cancellation AND that I offered insurance. There is also a line for them to initial indicating that they plan to purchase insurance independently. Many people read that waiver and then change their mind. Many people sign it and I’ve had a couple of those lose upwards of $10K when they have, but at least it didn’t come as a surprise.

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