Travel Troubshooter: Cruise port change leaves customer with sinking feeling
Travel Troubleshooter for Sunday, Dec. 24, 2017.
Q: My wife and I are booked on a confirmed, prepaid Holland America Antarctic cruise from Chile to Buenos Aires in December, which was advertised as leaving from Valparaiso. Recently we received a letter from Holland America announcing that for "operational reasons," the port of embarkation was being changed to San Antonio, Chile, some 90 miles away.
Wanting to visit Chile for a few days before embarking, we made non-reimbursable hotel reservations in both Santiago, where our flight from the U.S. arrives three days before sailing day, and Valparaiso. Both we and our travel agent have contacted Holland America, pointing out that its plan to transport passengers directly from the Santiago airport to the new departure point on sailing day will not work for us, since our airline reservations cannot be changed, and will result in our losing the funds we have paid for our hotels, not to mention our lost few days in Chile.
Holland America's response has been, "Sorry, if you read the fine print, you'd see we're within our rights to make itinerary changes. You're stuck." I could understand if weather conditions or such made a change necessary after we're on board, but "operational reasons" doesn't have much validity.
We would be satisfied if Holland America were to offer to make arrangements for, or at least offer to pay for, transportation from Valparaiso to the new, distant departure port, versus just say, "Tough luck," and wash its hands of the matter.
Cruise lines should be responsible for their arbitrary decisions, or acknowledge that they've advertised falsely.
— Robert Houston, Tucson, Arizona
A: You're right, Holland America should help you get to your new port of embarkation. It's the right thing to do.
This is a case where Holland America appeared to be violating its own ticket contract, the legal agreement between you and the cruise line. If a schedule change is within the cruise line's control, and the scheduled port of embarkation is changed, "Carrier shall arrange transportation to it from the originally scheduled port." It doesn't say "take it or leave it" — it says "shall arrange."
Interestingly, Holland America addresses the potential loss of your hotel rooms: "Under no circumstances shall the Carrier be or become liable for consequential or other damages of any kind sustained by any Guest except as expressly provided herein." So it seems the company's attitude was, "We'll transport you to the new port on our terms, and you can take us up on the offer, or not."
I find that attitude frustrating. To fix this, you could have sent a brief, polite email to one of the customer-service executives at Holland America. I list them on my consumer-advocacy site:
I contacted Holland America on your behalf. The company agreed to provide you with either the cost of the transfer or an on-board credit.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the author of "How to Be the World's Smartest Traveler." You can read more travel tips on his blog, elliott.org, or email him at email@example.com.