If a cruise line goes bankrupt while holding a customer’s money, does the money flow with the ship? That’s what many Crystal Cruises customers are asking this week after the company suddenly went out of business.
But the fear of bankruptcy and sudden shutdowns is not limited to this particular cruise line. Throughout the pandemic, our team has received a steady stream of concerned messages from cruise ship passengers. These travelers all have large sums of money “invested” in various cruise lines via deposits and future credits.
George Eeds is a passenger who received a nasty confirmation about his cruise scheduled for June – and the refund he was hoping to get. He paid Crystal Cruises almost $6,000 almost three years ago. Now, with the cruise line shut down, he realizes his money is in no man’s land.
So what can a consumer like Eeds do if a cruise line goes bankrupt while holding their money?
Planning a cruise well before the pandemic
Long before any cruiser had heard of the coronavirus, Eeds booked a cruise from Los Angeles to Vancouver, Canada.
“In December 2019 we booked three cabins through Crystal’s SerenityEeds explained. “The cruise was scheduled for June 14, 2022, departing from Los Angeles.”
At the time, Eeds put down a deposit of $5,425 for the trip.
The luxury cruise would take the family to the beautiful California coast, ending in Vancouver, Canada.
Due to the pandemic, the cruise line had yet to demand full payment. In January 2022, after reading all the predictions about the fate of Crystal Cruises, the family decides to cancel.
On January 19, 2022, I requested a refund of our deposits totaling $5,425.25. I had heard rumors that Crystal was preparing to file for bankruptcy, which she has now done. Crystal sent us emails confirming that our refunds were “pending”. But so far we have not received any refund. Under the terms of our Crystal contract, the cruise line owes us a full refund if we cancel before February 14, 2022. Now I cannot contact Crystal through their customer service number. Can you help ?
What happens when a cruise line files for bankruptcy protection?
Unfortunately, once a cruise line (or its parent company) declares bankruptcy, it has legal bankruptcy protection. There is no way for a consumer advocacy team to negotiate around this. In the case of Crystal Cruises, the company has reportedly laid off almost all of its employees. There is no longer anyone who has the power to negotiate.
It looks like the company will hand everything over to its legal team and the bankruptcy court.
This behavior is certainly not unusual for a bankrupt company. But unfortunately, this has left many potential passengers wondering how to get their money back from the cruise line.
What you can do to get your money back from a bankrupt cruise line
In the past, we have received a flood of requests asking how to recover money from a bankrupt airline. But now that push has shifted to how to get a refund from a bankrupt cruise line. The principle is similar. Here’s exactly what you need to know to get your money back.
- File a credit card dispute
the The Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) protects credit card users from merchants who do not provide the services described. If you paid a cruise line for travel that they can no longer provide, your credit card company should protect you. You can file a credit card dispute to reverse the money paid. This company will have 30 days to justify the payment, and if they do not respond, you will win the chargeback. A bankrupt cruise line is unlikely to fight a credit card chargeback. The biggest challenge a consumer will face here is that the many customer service agents responsible for investigating credit card disputes misunderstand the timelines listed in the FCBA. Quoting a reporting deadline like 60 days from the date the charge appeared on the consumer’s statement, companies reject many valid credit card disputes. As our helpful executive contact at Bank of America explains in this article on failed airlines, it’s “the customer’s responsibility is to file a claim within 60 days of the statement containing the disputed transaction. For additional information, the general time allowed for chargebacks under the Visa/MasterCard Chargeback Guide is 120 days from the date of the transaction. When the merchant is bankrupt, this period is generally extended to 120 days from the scheduled date of service.. (Bank of America spokesperson)” So if you have a cruise scheduled for June 2022 and the company goes bankrupt before refunding you, you can file a dispute within 120 days of that date. You can read more about credit card disputes here.
- Ask your bank for help.
If you didn’t pay the cruise line with a credit card and instead used a debit card or check, it’s a bit trickier. Many banks will provide the same FCBA credit card protections to their debit cardholders. But remember that there is no chargeback protection or direct bank transfer requirement. This is one of the reasons we always recommend that consumers use a credit card for major purchases. Remember that your bank can still protect you, but you may need to be a bit more pushy in this case.
- Review your travel insurance policy.
If you purchased travel insurance for a cruise that was canceled by a cruise line’s sudden shutdown, you might be in luck. Many travel insurance policies protect travelers if a provider goes bankrupt. Be sure to review your policy and file a claim if you have such protection. If you are planning a future trip – cruise or otherwise – use the Insuremytrip website to find policies that will protect you against travel suppliers who declare bankruptcy.
- Stay informed of the progress of the bankruptcy proceedings.
This is the long term approach. If you have no choice but to wait for the end of the bankruptcy procedure, expect a long and probably unsatisfactory result. Consumers usually get the short end of the stick in these repositories. But the short term is better than nothing. If you are owed a large sum of money from a bankrupt cruise line, be sure to keep up to date on progress, as consumers often have deadlines to respond to any settlements. You can use the Google alert feature to stay informed of progress. In the search box, enter the name of the cruise line and “bankruptcy information”, your email address and how often you want updates. You will then receive a news alert whenever the cruise line and bankruptcy appear on the internet.
- Let’s hope for the best.
Your last option is to hope for the best. Yes, I know hoping you won’t get your money back, but remember, not all businesses that go bankrupt stay there. Many rise like a phoenix from their ashes and reappear better than ever. If you have no choice but to wait, you might be rewarded at the end. (Michelle Couch-Friedman, Elliott Advocacy)