To cruise-lovers, there are few things as exciting as knowing a cruise is just a few days away. Everything in the world just feels a little bit better. What if you cancel that cruise right before though? Sounds terrible. I did, but this time, I'm actually pretty happy about it.
Update: Overbooking has become a hot topic, check out our latest post on the matter once you're done reading about my cancelation.
If you watch my weekly news updates you'll note that just a few days before writing this I was talking about how much I was looking forward to spending four nights aboard Independence of the Seas on January 5th. Well, things change. My travel agent reached out to me yesterday (December 28th), explaining that Royal Caribbean overbooked the January 5th sailing, and had an offer for me, if I voluntarily gave up my spot.
Royal Caribbean actually gave me three options, and I emphasize the word options, as I wasn't pressured into anything.
- Keep my reservation. Simple as that. I sail on the Indy on January 5th 2017 just as I'd planned. With tax, I paid $400 for this sailing before tax. Not bad at all, this is what I'd been excited for.
- Switch to one of three different sailings:
- Navigator on 1/20/17* 9 night out of Miami (~$1500 value, though not clear b/c of availability)
- Rhapsody on 1/7/17 7 out of Tampa (~$1400 value)
- Independence on 1/28/17 5 night out of Fort Lauderdale ($~500 value)
- Get a full refund and get a 100% future cruise credit. In other words, get a refund as if the January 5th sailing never happened, and get a $400 voucher for use in the next year.
*I'm not sure on this as I was originally told 01/26/17, but that's not a valid sail date, so I assume it was either 01/20 or 01/06 and there was just a typo involved.
What I Decided
The first step in this difficult decision was to consult my spouse, Larissa. Not only because it's our money and our time, but because I knew she'd help me be rational - as when it comes to cruising, well "MORE CRUISES RIGHT NOW!" is kind of the way my brain works. We agreed that as much as we had our hearts set on cruising next week, the future cruise credit was the best option. Why? Well, the best bang for the buck would have been to take one of the other sailings. A 9 night sailing for $400?! The problem is that the other sailings simply didn't work with my schedule. I have other travel planned in January. If I'd have pushed, it's likely that Royal would have offered up other sailings for us, but again, we have so much other travel planned that I just wasn't prepared to make that decision, coordinate with work schedules (for myself and Larissa), etc. Further, we'll be on the Navigator for that same 9 night sailing in mid-February (which, by the way, you can join myself and others for - checkout the RoyalCaribbeanBlog.com event's page for more info!).
We know that in the next year we'll take another Royal Caribbean cruise, and in fact, we've got some others already booked towards which we can apply the credit (hint, our Empress Cuba cruise just got a bit cheaper). It is tempting however just to sit on this credit and, being that we live in Florida, enjoy the feeling of taking a last minute free cruise. The bottom line is though that our flexibility means money in our pocket.
Why This Happens
I don't know why this happened on this particular sailing, though I suspect an error caused overbooking in this case because rates were quite low right up to the end. There are a few other reasons cruise lines make this type of "offer" to guests.
The most common reason is that some cruise lines intentionally oversell sailings - just like some airlines oversell flights. They know that a certain percentage of people usually cancel, so this helps them ensure that they don't sail empty and lose revenue. Plus, because some of those cancelations happen after final payment, it's extra revenue for the cruise line - with which they can use to incentivize others to cancel if needed.
What if the entire sailing is cancelled? This can happen if a ship is chartered, which is when someone (a tour company arranging a themed event, or sometimes a private business taking employees out) is willing to buy out a whole ship. The cruise line then makes offers (generally generous ones) to the persons previously booked during the time the ship is now unavailable. This helps keep guests from being discouraged and spending their vacation dollars elsewhere.
Some things are very unplanned, like water leaks, fire, equipment damage, etc. Events like this do happen, and can make some staterooms unavailable. Hotels can move guests to an adjacent hotel when this happens, but that isn't so easy for cruise lines so the line must now find guests willing and able to sail on a different date, or perhaps a different ship.
Lastly, sometimes staterooms are available, the cruise is still happening, but something may change about the sailing that is significant enough for a cruise line to recognize that guests may want other options. While itinerary changes are common (for example, on a windy day a ship may not be able to visit a port which requires tender operations), and don't warrant any compensation, a major change, such as cruising to an entirely different region because of political unrest, may be enough for lines to work with booked guests. Other changes, such as cancelation of special guests or performers could lead to cruise lines offering guests the option of changing their sailing, though in those cases, it may only be after prompting from guests or their travel agents.
Things To Keep In Mind
While this isn't an uncommon thing for cruise lines, you're not likely to experience this as a guest unless you cruise frequently. Odds are that any given cruise you book will go just as planned. If something does come up, know that the offer I was made was very generous - likely because it was done at the very last minute and they had multiple staterooms to clear. This means that if you get a call four or five months before your sailing, saying that the ship has been chartered, you can expect a good deal (perhaps a 25% or 50% future cruise credit, for example), but not the same offer extended only a week out.
Further, if this happens to you, make sure you really understand your options. If I'd have taken that 9 night sailing, I'd be on the hook for increased taxes and gratuities. If I had limited vacation and couldn't take another cruise until April of 2017, that future cruise credit wouldn't be worth anything to me. Don't be afraid to ask questions about the offer, and know that this is another case where using a travel agent can reduce much of the confusion, and leaves you with a well-versed advocate in your corner.
Special thanks to Caroline Vallance for her help with this article. If you're looking for her, she'll be on a Brilliance of the Seas cruise she accepted from Royal Caribbean, instead of her original January 5th sailing.
What would you have done if you were us? Let us know in the comments below!