If a cruise line makes a big pricing mistake, should you book it?

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Michelle Couch-Friedman

If a cruise line makes a huge pricing mistake, must it honor that fare?

Patrick Gendron thinks so. He recently found an incredible deal for a suite on a 10-night cruise through the Mediterranean on Azamara’s Pursuit. So he quickly booked and paid for not one, but two suites. But the cruise line soon slammed him back into reality — the deal was a $30,000 pricing mistake. And Azamara had no intention of honoring the erroneous rate.

Now Patrick wants to know if we can force Azamara to give him the two suites for what he paid. But is his request reasonable?

This case brings up the controversial topic of “fat-finger fares” or “gotcha rates.” Those are too-good-to-be-true offers inadvertently displayed on companies’ websites. Some consumers believe they should be entitled to these bargains regardless of the value of the pricing mistake.

But no matter which side of this debate you support, you’ll likely have an opinion about Patrick’s experience. (Originally published June 21, 2019/updated Sept. 4, 2022)

A great deal or a pricing mistake for these cruise cabins?

Patrick says he was surfing the web late one Friday night, looking for cruise ideas. Suddenly his eyes hit on a deal featured on the Cruise com site.

“I saw a very low price for an Azamara Suite,” Patrick remembered. “So I immediately booked two suites. I thought my wife and I could celebrate our fifth anniversary. And my best friend and his girlfriend could go too.”

Patrick booked one of the suites on Cruise com and then went to the Azamara website to book the other. By around 10 p.m., both companies had sent him a confirmation of the 10-night Mediterranean cruise. The category from Cruise com indicated “Guaranteed suite.”

Patrick thought the rate for the cruise was extremely low, but he says he didn’t believe that it was a pricing mistake. Instead, he felt the fabulous deal on the suite was a month-end sales quota push for the cruise, which was still over two months away.

Double-checking: Is this cruise rate confirmed?

“I called Cruise com immediately after I booked it to make sure the voyage was confirmed,” Gendron told me. “I asked the representative if everything had gone through since I wanted to buy my airfare. She confirmed.”

The next morning, before Patrick purchased his airfare to Europe, he says he called the cruise line directly.

“The representative at Azamara also told me that our cruise was confirmed,” Patrick explained. “I said: ‘I’m about to buy my flights as soon as I hang up.’ and the representative said I could. I was even able to print out our boarding cards. We were so excited.”

All that excitement was about to come to a screeching halt.

On Tuesday morning, an unexpected phone call from Azamara announced that the cruise fare was a dramatic pricing mistake. The two couples would not be assigned a suite unless they paid more — thousands and thousands more.

This cruise pricing mistake will not be honored for the Azamara suites

That Tuesday morning, an Azamara representative put an end to all of Patrick’s plans to celebrate his anniversary on the balcony of his suite overlooking the Mediterranean.

[The Azamara agent] told me that there had been a pricing error on the website. The fare was a mistake. She said our only option was to cancel or to accept a downgrade to an ocean view cabin. I explained that I had already paid in full, planned my whole vacation, received multiple confirmations, and even printed my tickets!

The agent still said there was nothing else that Azamara could do and that they could either change my category or cancel my trip!! I would not have planned a whole vacation with them for just an oceanview room.

Patrick realized that no amount of reasoning would change the position of Azamara. The cruise line had no intention of honoring the mistakenly displayed pricing gaffe. And that’s when he sent his request for help to our advocacy team.

Asking our advocacy team to enforce this pricing mistake

Early one morning, several days after Patrick had begun his battle with Azamara, I received his email.

“Please help me,” Patrick pleaded. “My wife is crying, my best friend is upset, and I feel like I let everyone down. Can the cruise line really change/cancel my reservation after I already paid in full, confirmed with them, and printed my tickets?!?”

I’ve mediated many cruise fiasco cases, but until that day, I had never heard of a cruise line increasing the price after payment. I suspected that the cruise contract addressed obvious pricing mistakes. And once I reviewed Patrick’s paper trail, this deal certainly seemed like an obvious pricing mistake.

But we’ll get to that spectacular deal in a moment.

What is Azamara Club Cruises?

Azamara, which Royal Caribbean sold off in 2021 to Sycamore Partners, bills itself as an upscale cruise line. It has just four ships, which can accommodate only 690 passengers each.

Azamara Club Cruises® is the new, up-market voyage experience for discerning travelers who long to reach out-of-the-ordinary destinations and indulge in amenities and service unparalleled on the high seas.

From the Azamara website at the time Patrick booked this cruise.

The description of this cruise line made Patrick’s fare seem more improbable, even to my non-cruiser eyes.

The price Patrick found and booked late on that Friday night for the 10-night cruise through the Mediterranean on this small cruise ship in a luxury suite with bonus amenities?

A mere $1,979 per couple for this top-of-the-line voyage.

The cost of the cruise veered wildly off what I would consider average.

We don’t mediate gotcha fares

As I explained to Patrick, our advocacy team’s mission is to make sure companies treat consumers fairly and follow their own established policies. It is not to enforce an outrageous pricing mistake that, in this case, the cruise line identified shortly after he booked the trip. It would seem that as soon as Patrick printed out his boarding cards the following Tuesday, human eyes at Azamara took a close look at this reservation. And that’s when the cruise line discovered the glaring pricing error.

But to make sure my assumptions about this fare were correct, I consulted with my trusty cruise-expert colleague, Dwayne Coward. He reviewed the paper trail and agreed with my assessment. It would be hard for an experienced cruiser, as Patrick identified himself, not to have recognized this as a pricing mistake.

“That would be a good price for one of the large cruise companies, but this company is a small luxury cruise line,” Dwayne explained. “It looks like $2K would just about cover a 3-night cruise for two people in an interior cabin with Azamara.”

This advertisement makes it fairly obvious that the cruise line made a pricing mistake with the fare this passenger booked.
This short Azamara cruise that Dwayne found points to an obvious pricing mistake on the 10-day Mediterranean cruise on the Pursuit.

What does the Azamara contract say about incorrect fares?

But I was curious as to how the Azamara cruise contract addresses incorrect fares, post booking.

It turns out that Azamara, like other cruise lines, reserves the right to correct any pricing mistakes, at any time before or after booking. This information can be found in the legal statements on the Azamara website and in the body of the cruise contract.

CRUISE TICKET CONTRACT

View full terms and conditions of our voyages with our Cruise Ticket Contract.

OUR PRICING & SAVINGS POLICY

Unless stated otherwise, all rates are average per person, based on double occupancy, cruise only, in USD, and subject to availability. Rates may vary by ship, departure date, and stateroom category. All rates, savings offers and itineraries are subject to change without notice. Savings offers may be withdrawn at any time. Azamara reserves the right to correct any errors, inaccuracies or omissions and to change or update fares, fees and surcharges at any time without prior notice.

I explained to Patrick why we could not advocate this case to his desired resolution. However, when I read and listened to all of the evidence he provided, I thought Azamara had offered several reasonable resolution possibilities immediately after the problem came to light.

Is this a fair resolution to this cruise fare error?

Patrick sent me a copy of a phone recording between himself and Azamara representatives. In that recording, one of the agents presents a variety of suggested resolutions to resolve this problem. (and, yes, Patrick did have permission to record the call). Those options were:

  • Cancel the entire cruise for a full refund.
  • Downgrade each cabin to an oceanview room at no additional cost.
  • Downgrade to a veranda room at a 50% discount.
  • Pay the current rate for the suites, which on that day was listed at over $17,000 per suite.

Throughout the call, Gendron is polite and calm, but he rejects all of the options. He tells Azamara that his wife is distraught and they intend to show up at the ship with their boarding passes and they expect to be assigned the suites.

The Azamara representative then refers Patrick to the legal notice above about pricing mistakes and explains that these suggested options are final. He must pick one. The couple and their friends would have a week to give the cruise line their decision, or Azamara would decide for them. And that resolution would be a cancellation with a full refund. But under no circumstances would Azamara assign suites to the couples at the $1,979 mistaken rate for the 10-night cruise.

Still a great deal on this Azamara cruise

After I listened to the recording, I went to the Azamara website to check the current rates for this sailing for the ocean view cabin. It was listed at over $6,000. I discussed my findings with Gendron and suggested that he accept one of the options from the cruise line:

You’re getting a fabulous deal for that cruise (even now in the OV room)… I just checked the rates and an OV room is going for over $6,000 for two people. The lowest category suite is over $17,000 for two people. $1,979 for two people was definitely a pricing mistake … But it still looks like a beautiful cruise and if Azamara gives you the OV room for that rate, you’ve still got a giant discount!

Michelle to Patrick
The actual cost of the cruise and cabin category was much closer to $20,000 absent of the fare error.
Prices for this cruise on the day Patrick contacted our team — nearly $10,000 for two people.

This didn’t convince Patrick. He thanked me for my time and told me that he would be researching this further:

Michelle,

I get the OV is a good deal but I wouldn’t have booked it in the first place. They had an Alaska cruise with OV room for the same price which I would have [preferred]. They have a 13-day cruise to Alaska and Japan right now for $3,000. [We] would have rather taken that one too. At the end of the day, there are a handful of other cruises on other cruise lines that I would have rather [booked]. I get the price was a “mistake.” Their mistake, yet I’m the one that pays for it. I also did not believe it was a mistake because of all the reasons I gave you earlier. There are fares on there right now that are 50%-80% off of what other people paid because they need to fill cabins, yet these aren’t ‘mistake fares.’

Not arguing with your outcome. I appreciate all your help. I just still believe they messed up multiple times and to offer an OV room that I don’t want doesn’t really make it better. If they don’t give me any other options, we are thinking about canceling.

Patrick

The International Cruise Line Passenger Bill of Rights

Cruise lines have giant legal teams that create the policies you can and should read before booking any cruise. For the most part, those cruise contracts are written to favor the cruise line. If you want to know what your rights are as a cruise passenger, check out the International Cruise Line Passenger Bill of Rights, which Azamara displays on its website:

  1.  The right to disembark a docked ship if essential provisions such as food, water, restroom facilities and access to medical care cannot adequately be provided onboard, subject only to the Master’s concern for passenger safety and security and customs and immigration requirements of the port.
  2. A right to a full refund for a trip that is canceled due to mechanical failures, or a partial refund for voyages that are terminated early due to those failures.
  3. The right to have available on board ships operating beyond rivers or coastal waters full-time, professional emergency medical attention, as needed until shore side medical care becomes available.
  4. A right to timely information updates as to any adjustments in the itinerary of the ship in the event of a mechanical failure or emergency, as well as timely updates of the status of efforts to address mechanical failures.
  5. The right to a ship crew that is properly trained in emergency and evacuation procedures.
  6. A right to an emergency power source in the case of a main generator failure.
  7. The right to transportation to the ship’s scheduled port of disembarkation or the passenger’s home city in the event a cruise is terminated early due to mechanical failures.
  8. A right to lodging if disembarkation and an overnight stay in an unscheduled port are required when a cruise is terminated early due to mechanical failures.
  9. The right to have included on each cruise line’s website a toll-free phone line that can be used for questions or information concerning any aspect of shipboard operations.
  10. The right to have this Cruise Line Passenger Bill of Rights published on each line’s website.

The bottom line about cruise line pricing mistakes

Like air travelers, cruise line passengers have surprisingly few “rights.” And unfortunately for Patrick, entitlement to a pricing mistake by a cruise line is not one of them.

So consumers beware: if you find a too-good-to-be-true price for your next cruise, booking it is a gamble. There are no current laws or regulations that compel a company to honor these fat-finger fare deals.

In the end, before Azamara’s decision deadline, Patrick informed the company that the two couples decided to accept the downgrade to the ocean view cabin and enjoy the cruise.

Bon Voyage!  (Michelle Couch-Friedman, Consumer Rescue)

A lifesaver to represent Consumer Rescue helping consumers.

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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle Couch-Friedman is the founder and CEO of Consumer Rescue. She is an investigative consumer reporter and advocate, author, and licensed psychotherapist. Michelle is a public speaker and her expert guidance has been cited in Consumer Reports, Travel & Leisure, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Popular Science, CNN, CNBC, Travel Weekly, Reader's Digest and more. You might even catch Michelle on tv helping fix a situation. :) Michelle is also an Ombudsman Columnist for The Points Guy and the former executive director of the nonprofit Elliott Advocacy. During her six years in that position, she resolved thousands of cases for troubled travelers and other consumers. You can read hundreds of 5-star reviews Michelle earned during her service to the nonprofit since 2016 here on Great Nonprofits. Today, she continues to spend as much time as possible fiercely defending consumers and exploring the world with her family. Contact her at Michelle Couch-Friedman or on Linkedin, Twitter or Facebook.