(Updated 12:48 p.m. EDT) No one wants to cancel or postpone a vacation they've been dreaming about for months, but many travelers are either considering that possibility or have to do so, in light of the coronavirus pandemic. With information changing daily, cruisers are finding that it's not easy to navigate the complexities of cruise line cancellation and rebooking policies -- many of which have been revised for specific sailings or time periods -- as well as insurance coverage and deposit requirements.
If you're booked on a cruise and not sure how to proceed, here's some information to help you out.
If Your Cruise Line Has Temporarily Suspended Operations
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most cruise lines have temporarily suspended cruise operations fleetwide. If you are booked on a cruise that is no longer setting sail, here's what you need to know:
Suspension dates vary by cruise line. Holland America, Princess and Seabourn have canceled most cruises, as well as Alaskan cruisetours, through Fall 2020, while a few lines are planning a return to service as early as late June or early July. Check with your specific cruise line to see if your sailing is impacted. See the list of lines that have suspended operations.
While some cruise lines have publicly announced refund and rebooking options, not all lines have. Your cruise line or travel agent will reach out to you when that information is available. While it's tough to wait, it's best to not reach out proactively, as many cruise company phone lines are experiencing extremely high call volume.
If your cruise is canceled, many lines are offering a choice of a future cruise credit or a total refund. With some exceptions, cruise lines have set up or are setting up webpages for you to indicate your choice of refund so as not to overwhelm their call centers. Some are asking travelers not to contact the line and instead wait for the line to reach out to you with information. If your line has asked you to call, know that you will likely be kept on hold for hours. Your travel agent will also be experiencing the same wait times.
If you'd like to rebook your cruise with your future cruise credit, it might be best to wait a few weeks to do so. Cruise lines are inundated with calls from people canceling cruises and busy arranging for the safe return of passengers still at sea. Refer to your cruise line's website or documentation sent to you about when it's acceptable to call to rebook your cruise.
If your cruise is canceled, and you'd like a refund, know that you won't get it immediately. It could take 90 days for you to get the credit, possibly longer. Have patience.
If your sailing is canceled and your cruise line is not offering a refund, but you have purchased travel insurance, check with your policy provider to see what exactly is covered, in terms of reimbursement for the canceled cruise; it could depend on the terms and conditions of your policy. Note that if you accept the future cruise credit, you can't double dip and also get a fare refund from your travel insurance provider.
If you have nonrefundable plane tickets, hotel bookings or other related expenses, first check with your travel providers to see if they'll let you change the date on your booking. If not, some cruise lines might help advocate for you with the airlines; if the cruise line booked your air or hotel stay, they are more likely to help you get reimbursed. If all else fails, check with your travel insurance provider, if you purchased a policy, to see if they can refund you. Or check with your credit card company to see if it can stop payment.
If You've Paid in Full But Want to Cancel or Reschedule
Some travelers have a cruise coming up in fewer than 90 days, and have already paid their cruise fare in full. Normally, cruise lines charge penalties if you want to postpone or cancel your sailing this late in the game, but due to the unusual global circumstances, some cruise lines are offering more flexible cancellation policies.
If you want to reschedule your cruise for one at a later date or to a different location, most cruise lines have relaxed their cancellation penalties, often allowing travelers to cancel their upcoming cruise and rebook for a different sail date or receive a 100 percent future cruise credit (in some cases 125 percent) to be used on a sailing down the road. Policies vary, but many lines are allowing travelers to change their plans one to three days before departure. Restrictions apply as to when you must reschedule and cruise by, and future cruise credits are nonrefundable.
If you want to cancel completely, most lines are offering full refunds -- but note cruisers are experiencing long delays.
The policies are not open-ended; make sure you check whether the flexible cancellation policies apply to your sail dates, as well as when you booked.
If your cruise line has not adjusted its cancellation policy, the policy is not to your liking or you don't fall within the policy's parameters, the only other way you can cancel and get your money back is if you purchased a Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR) add-on to your travel insurance policy. Standard policies will not cover you if you choose to cancel due to coronavirus fears.
If Your Final Payment Is Coming Up
Many people with final cruise payments coming up are asking: Should we cancel or reschedule our cruise, or should we plan to go? There is no one-size-fits-all answer to that question. No one knows what the pandemic situation will look like in 90 days, and no one but you can determine what level of financial or medical risk you are willing to take when traveling. That said, here is some information to help you decide.
Is your final payment actually coming up? Some cruise lines -- including Disney and Princess --have pushed back final payment to 30 or 60 days prior to payment for select voyages, giving travelers more time to assess the global situation.
Is your deposit nonrefundable? Not all cruise deposits are refundable, depending on the terms of your cruise fare. If you will get your deposit back if you choose not to pay, you won't be out any money, but you might not get the same cabin, price or booking perks if you rebook at a later time. If your deposit is nonrefundable, you will definitely lose that money if you cancel.
If you pay in full, will flexible cancellation policies still be in place? Most cruise lines are waiving standard cancellation penalties and allowing paid-in-full travelers to cancel cruises at the last minute and receive a future cruise credit in the full amount of the cruise fare paid. Check to see whether your booking and sailing date are included within that window, giving you peace of mind if you do choose to pay in full -- especially if you do plan on cruising once the coronavirus pandemic ends.
Are you incentivized to keep your sailing? Some cruise lines, like Carnival, are offering extra onboard credit to travelers who keep bookings through August.
Can you purchase, or do you already have, insurance to cover you? Many Cancel for Any Reason travel insurance policies will still cover last-minute trip cancellation for coronavirus fears, even though the pandemic is considered a known event. (A regular travel insurance policy will not allow you to cancel for this reason.) If you haven't purchased one, you may or may not be able to buy one when you make your final payment, so ask an insurance aggregator, like InsureMyTrip.com or SquareMouth, if you have options. If you do, you're taking less risk when you pay in full for your cruise because you'll be reimbursed if you cancel later on.
Can your travel agent provide guidance? With cruise line policies and canceled sailings changing daily, definitely ask your travel agent for a recommendation before making big decisions, to make sure you have all the facts. For example, cruise lines are offering at least 100 percent (or more) future cruise credit and/or full refunds to passengers on sailings canceled by the cruise line due to coronavirus. If you keep your booking but world events force cruise lines to cease operations for longer, your options might be better than if you cancel in advance.
Follow Cruise Critic's coronavirus coverage for the latest news. If you want to see how other booked cruisers are handling the situation and chat with travelers that are supposed to be on your sailing, visit Cruise Critic's Message Boards.