Sure, it's rare, but it can happen to you, just the way it did to Monty Preiser who had booked back-to-back Asian cruises onboard Silversea Shadow, sailing in October 2013.
He booked the cruises -- a 10-night cruise from Shanghai to Tokyo and a 12-night cruise from Tokyo to Hong Kong -- in 2012. Then, this week, Preiser's travel agent called to say Silversea had canceled the first leg of his cruise to accommodate a charter.
Worse, Preiser said he hasn't been offered compensation for his out-of-pocket expenses, and, "in fact it was refused when I said I had expenses," he wrote in an email to Cruise Critic. He said the only offer from Silversea was to be put on another cruise.
A Silversea spokeswoman offered a differing view. Confirming that, indeed, the cruise had been canceled to charter for a corporate client, she added that passengers who already had been booked on the cruise had the option of switching to another 2013 sailing with a 10 percent discount. Passengers who don't want to take advantage of the offer could receive refunds.
She also said passengers who had arranged air and hotel independently should contact the Silversea reservations department, and "the company will take their situation under review."
Here's the rub: Cruise lines can bump passengers from a cruise for any reason. And while canceling cruises in favor of charters might not be common, it's certainly not unheard of. In February 2007, Norwegian Dawn passengers found themselves bounced from a July 2007 sailing after the line chartered a cruise involving Rosie O'Donnell. In January 2008, Celebrity Solstice bumped confirmed passengers in favor of a March 2009 charter with Atlantis Events. More recently, the cruise line Fred. Olsen canceled three sailings and rescheduled four others so it could a accommodate workers at the 2012 London Olympic Games.
And Cruise lines aren't required to provide compensation.
Still, many do, according to charter cruise expert Joyce Landry, CEO and co-founder of Landry & Kling Events at Sea, a company that routinely organizes ship charters.
Passengers often are given a number of options: refunding of out-of-pocket expenses, a significantly discounted future cruise or a free companion cruise fare, for example. "It doesn't make any sense to anger a passenger or dissuade someone from wanting to go on their product again," Landry said, adding “cruise lines do not take it lightly and do not do this on a regular basis. It's costly -- to the cruise line's reputation and in terms of dollars for the charter."
When a charter group books a ship, the group is on the hook for the cost of compensating the passengers who were bumped from the sailing. The costs can be prohibitive. Cruise lines are likewise reluctant to book a charter on a ship that already had passengers confirmed because it could damage customer loyalty.
Other compensation options include reimbursement for change fees or penalties especially if the passenger has booked related items such as airfare and hotels.
The goal for the cruise line should be that customers feel like they received a value for their inconvenience, she said.
Landry recommends bumped passengers work with cruise line customer service departments and come prepared with a detailed list of out-of-pocket expenses for which they expect to receive compensation.
"I'm sure (being bumped is) disappointing," she said. "The intent is that everyone walks away from this satisfied in some way."
--by Colleen McDaniel, Managing Editor