What to Do if Cruise West Owes You Money

September 17, 2010
Spirit of Oceanus While no one is certain what will happen to Cruise West, one thing is clear -- many travelers have paid for Cruise West sailings they will never get to take. And the cruise line has been coy about whether it will reimburse customers for canceled cruises. The line's only press release advises would-be passengers to contact their credit card companies or travel insurance companies, and only e-mail the line if all else fails.

But there are ways to get your money back. We spoke with Linda Kundell, spokeswoman for the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA), and Carol Mueller, spokeswoman for Travel Guard travel insurance, to find out what options you have available.

If You Purchased Travel Insurance…

Comprehensive travel insurance, whether through Travel Guard or another third-party provider, should cover travelers in the case of trip delay (expenses occurred when stranded in a destination unexpectedly), trip cancellation or interruption (the provider cancels your trip or terminates it unexpectedly), and provider default (the operator goes out of business). Mueller emphasizes that when purchasing travel insurance, you should always buy the plan within 15 days of making the trip payment in order to be covered for provider default (in addition to pre-existing medical conditions).

Passengers on Spirit of Oceanus' canceled world cruise who had purchased travel insurance should contact their travel insurance companies about filing a claim. You'll want to collect documentation of the amount paid for any canceled cruise segments, as well as receipts for any charges (such as flight change fees, hotel stays and meals) relating to debarking the ship in St. John's unexpectedly or arriving there to find out you couldn't board the ship. Mueller also notes that Travel Guard provides 24-hour emergency assistance, and is available to help you make alternate arrangements should you ever be stranded mid-trip.

However, as it's not clear whether Cruise West is in financial default and if future U.S.-flagged cruises will operate, Mueller recommends that travelers booked on non-Spirit of Oceanus cruises wait to file a claim until the company's situation is clearer. An insurance company can't refund your money, only to discover that the line, under new ownership perhaps, is going to honor 2011 cruise bookings after all. When the situation becomes clearer, anyone whose cruise gets canceled will be able to appeal to their travel insurance company for reimbursement.

If You Don't Have Travel Insurance and Paid with Cash or Check…

If you cannot get reimbursed through your travel insurance provider or credit card company, another option may be available to you. Until September 11, 2010, Cruise West was a member of the USTOA, which requires members to put up a bond as part of the organization's $1 Million Travelers Assistance Program. The program assists consumers in the unlikely event that a USTOA member company goes bankrupt or out of business.

Kundell tells us that if you purchased a Cruise West cruise prior to September 11, 2010, you may be eligible to get reimbursed from the $1 million held as part of the Travelers Assistance Program. More information about the Cruise West situation and who's eligible to file a claim can be found here.

--by Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor

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