December 5, 2006
Remember Wayne Jones? The Cruise Critic member who thought he'd snared a pretty good deal on a February cruise on Holland America's Noordam? He wound up booking two staterooms, at the $849 per-person fare (for cabins with balconies) only to learn some six weeks hence that the fare was an error. And that Holland America demanded he ante up another $550 per person, even as they admitted the mistake was theirs -- or stay home.
Jones' story, which originally appeared on Cruise Critic, was picked up by USA Today and other media, and the clamor of protest against Holland America by travelers nationwide raised quite a din. In fact, according to the USA Today story, Jones was only one of at least a half dozen who'd gotten caught in the error web. The cruise line's only acquiescence was to offer a $100 per-person onboard credit.
But how did it end? Did Jones cave and lay down the extra money when final payment became due yesterday? Did the cruise line soften its stance? What responsibility did Jones' travel agency, Expedia, have in all this?
"Today we paid the balance due on our two cabins and we will take the Noordam trip on February 17," Jones told us, noting that while Expedia had chipped in half the price of Holland America's error ($275 per person), the cruise line itself hadn't budged from its original position.
Even though Jones agreed with the results of Cruise Critic's own poll -- which asked members "Would you still take the cruise?" (a whopping 92 percent responded "No!") -- he still opted to accept the line's $100 offer.
We asked him to tell us more:
What was the determining factor in making your decision? "The determining factor in our deciding to go was that the trip is intended as a 93rd birthday celebration for my mother-in-law. Thus the date was important to us. Trying to find a suitable replacement trip at this late date seemed like quite a bother and would have required dealing with rescheduling the air from Seattle to Philadelphia, something that Holland America was certainly not offering to help with."
Will this experience affect your expectations prior to cruising? "Even though we have thoroughly enjoyed our onboard experience with Holland America on three recent trips, this experience will no doubt affect my expectations on the Noordam trip (as well as the one we are taking on the Zaandam in about a week). We still do not really know why the cruise line dug in their heels on this matter, just that it apparently came directly from the CEO. Perhaps the CEO felt that any negative public relations as a result of the matter would just be a tempest in a teapot and he would rather keep the cash then honor the error."
Adds Jones, "Wondering about that will make me more sensitive onboard about whether such a cavalier attitude on customer relations has percolated down to the shipboard staff.
"Or, perhaps the CEO thought the financial impact of honoring the error would seriously threaten the financial health of the company. Wondering about that will make me more sensitive onboard about whether there are any obvious signs of poor financial health such as noticeable cutbacks in maintenance. So instead of getting to relax, read, dance and enjoy wind, water and excursions, I'll be distracted by such thoughts; how annoying!"
What have you learned from this experience? "Well, you may recall that my original question to you was whether such incidents are typical in the cruise industry. My impression from everything written so far is that such a pricing correction is unique to Holland America. While the dollars involved in the price correction in this case did not constitute a back-breaker, what if instead I had saved up and signed on for a round-the-world trip of a lifetime to celebrate retirement or something? Then a late-breaking 65 percent price increase in what I thought I had contracted for would be a different story. Maybe all cruise lines are confident that their legalese allows them to do these things, but only HAL has demonstrated a willingness to do it."
Ultimately, Jones concludes, "I don't like the attitude and I don't like the risk so unless something changes, the Noordam will be our last trip with Holland America."
Jones isn't the only one who doesn't understand Holland America's refusal to budge. We'll admit it -- we are stymied too. Especially because Holland America, like many lines, offers special "friends and family" fares on select voyages to folks who work there -- and charges them $849 for that very same cabin (dates vary; the list we saw included a January 27 trip but not the February 17 voyage).
We offered Holland America a chance to comment -- one last time -- and there was no response.
--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor