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My luggage went missing on the way to the cruise. I want a full refund!

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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Consumer reporter and ombudsman

If your luggage goes missing on the way to your cruise, should you get a full refund? Pamela Shane thinks so. She says her pre-cruise hotel failed to deliver her suitcase to the dock in time for the ship’s departure. Now she wants $7,000 in compensation for the mistake that left her without her own clothes for the entire cruise.

But wait! There’s a plot twist here. The hotel says it doesn’t even offer such a luggage delivery service.

Can our advocacy team figure out what’s going on here?

Shane’s case serves as a lesson, especially for novice travelers, not to make assumptions. If something doesn’t seem right, ask questions. Don’t wait until it’s too late to fix your problem before speaking up.

Planning to arrive the day before the cruise

Shane and her friend, Margaret, spent much of last year planning for the special cruise in November. They had decided to take Weight Watchers’ fall Caribbean cruise on MSC’s Seaside.

“We saved for the entire year,” Shane recalled. “It was to celebrate my friend’s 70th birthday.”

Using a travel agent to make all their plans, they felt sure they had left nothing to chance. Their advisor suggested that the friends arrive in Miami the day before the cruise was set to sail.

We know from the many cruise fiascos we’ve encountered over the years that flying on the same day as your cruise is a bad idea. Shane’s advisor had given her very good guidance.

Safely touching down in Miami one full day before the scheduled departure, the duo checked into the Embassy Suites. Shane says they enjoyed a relaxing pre-cruise evening at the hotel.

“We enjoyed the complimentary cocktail hour,” Shane recalled. “And we had a couple of fish tacos at the bar.”

The friends were eagerly anticipating boarding the Seaside the next day — a vessel that the Weight Watchers brochure touted as one of “the coolest ships in the world.” The duo busied themselves chatting about the adventures they would soon be having on their 8-day cruise.

Two friends took this MSC cruise without their luggage. Now they want a refund. But who owes them?
The path of MSC’s Seaside. Shane says the missing luggage ruined this entire cruise

The adventure was going just as planned.

Until it wasn’t.

And then things took a sharp nose-dive.

Where should we put our luggage?

Shane says the next morning, they had a lovely complimentary breakfast and then brought their luggage to the lobby. The previous day the couple had booked the 11:30 shuttle to the cruise ship.

We checked out, and I told the front desk employee we were taking the hotel’s shuttle to the port. I asked where we could put our luggage, and [the employee] pointed to the porter. So we put our bags there and then we went out front to smoke. At about 11:10 another guest told us that a line was forming in the hall for the shuttle.

Shane says they joined the line, but after some time, she started to feel a little concerned about their bags. Not wanting to lose their space in the queue, she held their place, and Margaret went to ask about their luggage.

Soon Margaret returned with confirmation that the porter told her to leave their luggage with him. The duo then climbed onto the shuttle and headed to the port with the other excited hotel guests.

When they arrived at the dock, all the other shuttle passengers collected their bags from the driver. Shane says she asked where they could find their luggage.

“He told us it would come later,” Shane recalled. “He said, ‘don’t worry. Get on the ship.'”

So that’s precisely what the two did. They checked in for the cruise without any luggage at all and boarded the Seaside.

Asking the cruise representatives about the missing luggage

Shane and Margaret soon found their cabin and waited for their suitcases to arrive.

And waited — with growing concern.

Several hours after the departure of the cruise, the friends reported their missing luggage to customer relations. The employees led them to a room that contained unclaimed and untagged property.

As the two friends plowed through all the unfamiliar bags, they realized that their luggage wasn’t there. It became clear that neither of their suitcases had made it onto the cruise.

The MSC staff responded to the ladies’ dilemma by providing them with t-shirts to sleep in and basic toiletries.

Disappointed that their cruise was not off to a great start, Shane says they went to bed early. They hoped that the next day, their missing luggage would appear onboard the Seaside.

The hotel: “Your luggage isn’t missing. It’s right where you left it.”

The next morning, Shane says they spent a great deal of time in the guest relations office of the Seaside. There, a sympathetic crew member made call after call trying to track down the missing luggage. And that’s when Shane discovered that the hotel did not lose the luggage at all. In fact, it was safe and sound right where the friends had left it — with the porter.

“At some point [the crew member] reached the manager of the Embassy Suites,” Shane recalled. “That’s when we learned that the hotel doesn’t transfer luggage to the cruise ship. But not one person told us otherwise. We have never traveled on a cruise from Miami, so we had no way of knowing this!”

Shane was stunned. She had no clothes for the coming week. Now, faced with the fact that their luggage was not on its way to the cruise ship, the friends realized they would be forced to do some shopping. Onboard the Seaside they made a few purchases. Then in the first port of call, San Juan, they made their way to Marshalls. There, they bought the rest of the items they would need for the remainder of the cruise.

Shane says they tried to make the best of it, but their cruise was “ruined.” And she firmly believed the staff of the Embassy Suites had caused the entire luggage fiasco.

A misinterpreted goodwill gesture

When the cruise returned to Miami, Shane and Margaret took a cab straight to the Embassy Suites to collect their suitcases. Shane says the front desk staff apologized for the confusion about the luggage and gave them a complimentary breakfast. She explained to the employees just how awful it was to cruise for a week without her own clothes.

“Your staff’s lack of knowledge ruined our dream vacation,” Shane lamented.

In response to the complaint, the hotel gave the two ladies a goodwill gesture and refunded their entire hotel stay. The general manager also paid for the friends to take a cab back to the airport to fly home.

Unfortunately, as is sometimes the case with goodwill gestures, this one was not taken in the way the company had hoped. Shane misinterpreted it to mean that the hotel admitted fault for her luggage-less cruise. And somewhere on the way home, she became convinced that the hotel should pay for the entire misadventure.

“Our missing luggage ruined the whole cruise!”

Once Shane arrived home, she started a robust campaign to get the Hilton Hotel chain to refund their entire cruise. All of it. The airfare, taxes, tips, insurance, transfers, beverages, the shuttle, and even cigarettes were on her itemized list. Plus, a $500 bonus for their “inconvenience.”

The grand total reached $7,000.

“The [missing luggage] ruined the whole cruise,” Shane explained.”Which is why I feel [the hotel] should reimburse our total trip.”

She went on to point out all the activities they missed because they lacked proper clothing.

Let me list all the activities we had bought clothes for and planned on for my friend’s birthday cruise:

White night, Gatsby night, Pirate night, 70’s night, formal nights, western night, cocktail party, specialty restaurants (dress code), seated restaurants (dress code), NO Photos of our cruise, had to eat buffet only. The only real pleasure we had was in the jacuzzi and pool after we bought swimsuits Monday night in Puerto Rico.

Fact: Missing luggage does not lead to a full refund for your cruise

Not surprisingly, Hilton turned down Shane’s request for the $7,000 compensation for her “ruined” cruise.

As I pointed out in this interview with ABC news, when making a complaint, it’s critical to keep your suggested resolution reasonable. We know that when consumers make unreasonable requests, their cases often land in the virtual garbage can.

Tip: You can read more about how to ensure you give yourself the best chance at getting your desired customer service outcome in my article about self-advocacy.

However, Hilton did not ignore Shane’s request.

Over the next several months, the Hilton customer service team responded multiple times to Shane’s emails. These team members explained that the hotel is not responsible for a guest boarding a cruise and leaving their luggage behind.

“I’m not satisfied by this at all,” she told the customer service supervisor.

And then, she contacted an attorney. When he turned down Shane’s case, citing a “busy schedule,” she submitted her request for help to our advocacy team.

Asking our advocacy team for help

When I received Shane’s request for help, it had been 11 months since her luggage had gone missing on the way to her cruise. But she was still as angry as ever.

Short summary: Because of employees at Embassy Suites, my companion and I ended up on an eight-day cruise of a lifetime with no clothes or supplies. Despite several registered letters to them explaining what happened, [they’ve sent me a form letter] ‘we are not responsible for lost luggage.

Shane describing the hotel’s response to her complaint

Shane’s sequence of events on the day of embarkation sounded quite unusual to me. Guests typically bring their luggage to any hotel shuttle I’ve ever used. Leaving belongings with the porter usually involves storing the bags and indicates you’ll come back later to get them.

I asked Shane if she noticed other passengers handing over their luggage to the shuttle driver. She wasn’t sure but insisted that the porter told Margaret that their luggage would be delivered separately. She was sure that the front desk staff pointed to the porter when she asked where to put their bags while they waited for the shuttle.

Did someone give these cruise ship passengers the wrong guidance about their luggage?

Shane told me that she had written proof that various staff members admitted to giving them the wrong guidance about how their luggage would get to the cruise.

So I asked to see that paperwork. Unfortunately, Shane was unable to find that proof.

I explained to Shane that her request for $7,000 was not one that I would bring to Hilton because it was unreasonable. Shane and her friend had taken the cruise. Yes, it was an inconvenience not to have their own clothes, but the facts were leaning heavily toward a case of “traveler error.”

As I usually do with cruise cases, I talked it over with my colleague and in-house cruising expert, Dwayne Coward. He agreed that Shane had made many missteps on her way to the cruise and onboard the ship.

Dwayne explained that Shane should not have boarded the cruise expecting the missing luggage to appear later.

She arrived at the port more than three hours before embarkation. That should have been plenty of time to clear up this luggage confusion. Had Shane called the hotel immediately, the Embassy Suites could have sent the bags with the next shuttle.

Dwayne also pointed out that after Shane found out her bags weren’t lost, she could have used a luggage delivery service to ship the suitcases to San Juan. There would have been a cost for this, but she would have had her clothing by the third day of the cruise.

But Dwayne and I agreed that if someone at the hotel had given these ladies the wrong information, the hotel might want to consider reimbursing the clothing expenses.

What caused this luggage fiasco?

So I contacted the manager of the Embassy Suites to find out their side of this luggage fiasco.

I asked Shane to send me only her receipts for the clothing and toiletries she purchased during her cruise. She did so, and I included them in my inquiry to the Embassy Suites.

Now Shane’s request was a much more reasonable $350. I asked the manager if anyone at the Embassy Suites had admitted to telling the ladies that the hotel would deliver their luggage to the cruise.

The manager responded immediately and said that he would complete a thorough investigation and get back to me.

The final report came directly from Hilton’s corporate office. I discussed the case in a phone call with its corporate communications director.

First, the hotel was quite surprised to hear about Shane again almost one year later. The manager of the Embassy Suites and his staff said that, at the time, Shane was pleasant and seemed to be entirely satisfied with the goodwill gesture of the one night refund.

Hilton: “150 other guests took the shuttle to the cruise that day — with their luggage.”

This Embassy Suites sees a lot of cruisers heading to and from the Miami port.

But the hotel does not offer a separate luggage delivery service to the cruise port. Guests bring their bags to the shuttle, where the driver loads them onto the vehicle. At the dock, the passengers collect their luggage and board the cruise.

Our executive contact explained that both the manager and the porter that Shane mentions are long-term employees. And so they are quite familiar with the services offered at the hotel.

There is no reason that the porter would have given Margaret this completely inaccurate information (and he says he did not).

In fact, the hotel reported that Shane was part of a large group of guests that day joining the Weight Watchers cruise.

“Over 150 other guests successfully took the shuttle to the cruise with their luggage on that day,” our executive contact explained. “Only Shane and her friend left their luggage behind.”

One final goodwill gesture from Hilton

With all that said, Hilton has empathy for Shane and her friend. Our executive contact explained:

We never want to hear about such a disappointing experience. If $350 for the clothing reimbursement can make our guest feel a little better about the situation, we’ll be happy to provide one final goodwill gesture here. We will cover the clothing expenses. We want our customers always to have a good experience. We’re sorry, Ms. Shane didn’t. But again, this is a goodwill gesture.

Hilton spokesperson

And with this final goodwill gesture, Shane is satisfied. She still believes several employees gave her the wrong instructions, but she’s willing to accept that she also made some missteps along the way.

What to do if your luggage goes missing on the way to your cruise

A traveler leaving their belongings behind and boarding a cruise without their luggage is not very common. In fact, I’ve not heard of it happening before this case. But unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for an airline to delay or lose the luggage of passengers on their way to a cruise. Here are some things to keep in mind before your next cruise.

  • Fly the day before your cruise: No, this doesn’t guarantee that your luggage won’t go missing on the way to your cruise. But should the airline misroute or lose your suitcases, you’ll have a time cushion to allow the airline to find your bags.
  • Fly nonstop, if possible: Keep in mind that the more connections you add to your itinerary, the higher the risk your luggage could get misrouted. So if you can, do yourself a favor and schedule a nonstop flight to your cruise’s embarkation point.
  • Insure your trip: Most travel insurance policies will provide reimbursement for you if your luggage is lost during your trip. Read your policy carefully; some offer only secondary coverage over what the airline will pay. You can compare various policies across the industry on a site like Insuremytrip.
  • Keep all your receipts: If your luggage doesn’t make it to your cruise and it becomes necessary to go shopping, make sure to keep all your itemized receipts. And don’t go overboard — keep in mind the limits of your insurance policy or the airline liability limitations. This isn’t the time to buy yourself a Versace gown for the cruise’s cocktail party.
  • Ask the cruise line for loaner clothes: Most cruise lines have a stash of clothes to lend to passengers whose luggage hasn’t made it to the ship. So ask the customer relations team if there are any clothes that can tide you over until your belongings are located.
  • Luggage delivery services: Consider using a luggage delivery service to have your bags sent straight to the cruise ship. Although the Embassy Suites does not provide such a service, many companies do. In fact, had Shane engaged such a service on the first night that her bags were located, she could have been reunited with her clothing in San Juan — and saved herself the ongoing stress of cruising without her clothes for the rest of the week. (Michelle Couch-Friedman, Consumer Rescue)
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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle Couch-Friedman is the founder and CEO of Consumer Rescue. She is a consumer advocate, ombudsman columnist, mediator, writer, and licensed psychotherapist. Michelle is a public speaker, and her expert guidance has been cited in MarketWatch, Consumer Reports, Travel & Leisure, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Popular Science, CNN, CNBC, Boston Globe, CBS News, National Geographic, Travel Weekly, Reader's Digest and more. You might even catch Michelle on TV reporting on a situation. :) Michelle is also the travel ombudsman columnist for The Points Guy and is 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. She is also a member of the Society of American Travel Writers. Today, she continues to spend as much time as possible fiercely defending consumers and traveling the world with her family. Contact her at Michelle Couch-Friedman or on Linkedin, Twitter or Facebook.