Pocketbook protection when you can’t sail away

You’ve been looking forward to your Carnival Cruise vacation for months, and the departure date is drawing near. But, what if something unexpected – an illness or extreme weather event, or death of a family member – puts a stop to your cruise before you even get to the port? If you take precautions when planning your trip, you'll be protected from and not blindsided by cancellation penalties.

Cancel with confidence

Like all other cruise lines, Carnival Cruise Line has a schedule of penalties for canceled cruises. If the cruise is canceled before the final payment on the cruise fare is made on the booking, there is no penalty. In most cases, however, final payments must be made at least two months before the embarkation or sail date. After that, a penalty will be charged. Because most cancellations are made after the final payment, the only way to cancel without penalty is through travel insurance.

Carnival Cruise Line, for example, offers its own plan, known as the Carnival Cruise Vacation Protection Plan, that allows cancellation at any time. Cancellations for common reasons, such as illness or weather, result in a 100-percent cash refund. If the reason is not covered by the plan, 75 percent of the money is refunded in the form of a future cruise credit certificate.

Carnival’s plan also includes travel insurance protection (covering trip delays, lost baggage, medical and emergency evacuation) and travel assistance. Keep in mind, however, that many insurance companies sell travel insurance that covers cruise cancellations and often do so at better rates for policies offering better protection than the cruise lines’ own plans. So, research to find the policy that best fits your needs. Be aware also of potential warranties or insurance when booking through a travel agent. Also, while travel insurance can be purchased just days before setting sail, it’s best to buy early, preferably at the same time final payment is made on the cruise.

No insurance – know the penalties

Simply put, those without travel insurance who cancel with Carnival after final payment should expect to pay a penalty or service fee to the cruise line. If, however, payment was made with a credit card, check to see whether the credit card provides trip cancellation fee and trip interruption coverage. If so, the credit card company may refund the cost of the penalty and possibly even a percentage of the cruise cost.

Review all credit card agreements or speak with a company customer service professional to determine if coverage is provided and what the terms of that coverage are. Also, many credit card companies that provide coverage require that filing for reimbursement take place within a short time frame, such as within 20 days of cancellation. So, after canceling a cruise, it's important to file a claim with the credit card company immediately.

In case of emergency

Although it's true that cruise ship lines, including Carnival, maintain strict cancellation policies, it's also true that emergencies are unpredictable and can involve serious situations. In the event of an emergency-related last minute cancellation or even no show, don’t be afraid to plead your case with the Carnival Cruise customer service folks. Ask for a supervisor who may have more freedom to assist passengers than the general customer service representative who first answers the call. Be prepared to submit paperwork – doctor’s note on official letterhead, a police incident report, a death certificate – to confirm circumstances.

It’s possible a sympathetic supervisor could work with you to change the sailing date (for a fee) or provide a partial or full refund in the form of a future cruise credit (FCC) certificate. Cruises booked with FCC at a lesser fare may lead to unused portions of credit which could potentially roll over to your next shore excursion or be used as onboard credit. As always, check with a customer support travel advisor for details friar to the day of sailing.

For Carnival Cruise booking, faqs, information on gratuities, and refund policy details, visit the cruise line’s website (carnival.com).‌ Policy details may vary for other cruise lines such as Norwegian, Alaska, MSC, Transatlantic, Holland America, Celebrity, or Royal Caribbean. For peace of mind when booking any cruise, pay attention to deposit amount at time of booking, non-refundable deposits, total fare, final payment date, and the last date of cancellation without penalty. Longer cruises may have policies with more flexibility but always be aware of cancellation options before check in has passed on the first day of the cruise.