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Norwegian Cruise Line sent my refund to my enemy. How can I get it back?

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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Consumer reporter and ombudsman

Lynette Hampton was looking forward to a trip aboard Norwegian Cruise Line’s Viva with her friend Gloria. That is until the two had an irreversible falling out which caused Hampton to cancel her part of the cruise. Things only got worse between them when NCL mistakenly sent a portion of Hampton’s refund to her newly minted enemy.

After initially promising to forward the $588 that Norwegian Cruise Line sent to her in error, Gloria changed her mind. The former friend appears to have instead decided to view Hampton’s money as a gift from NCL. In the end, she took the cruise and Hampton’s refund and refused to discuss the matter further. 

Now, an outraged Hampton is turning to Consumer Rescue for help. She’s frustrated not only with her ex-friend but also with the travel agent who booked the cruise. She wants her refund and doesn’t care if it comes from Gloria, the cruise consultant, or Norwegian Cruise Line. 

That seems fair if that’s the whole story. So what is going on here? Let’s find out. 

Planning an NCL cruise together

Gloria first presented Hampton with the idea of taking a Caribbean cruise with NCL early last year. It was a specific group sailing organized by a travel agent with whom Gloria was familiar. 

“She needed a cabin mate for the cruise,” Hampton explained. “She’s 15 years younger than me, so I wasn’t sure we would be compatible for the trip.”

It would turn out that Hampton and Gloria definitely were not compatible to take the cruise together. However, that wouldn’t be revealed until after Hampton agreed to go and made the final payment. 

“I was hesitant,” Hampton told me. “I asked her how much the cruise would be and she told me $1,542. That was pushing the limit of my budget, but a Caribbean cruise sounded fun, so I said I would go.” 

The itinerary of the NCL Caribbean cruise.
The itinerary of Norwegian Cruise Line’s Viva would take the friends from Puerto Rico on to the Virgin Islands, St. Lucia, Barbados, St. Maarten, and then St. Thomas before returning to San Juan.

After Hampton agreed to take the cruise, Gloria’s travel agent, Kim, finalized the details for the ladies. They each paid a deposit, with the balance due in August. 

It wouldn’t be until then that Hampton began to rethink the decision to take a cruise with Gloria. 

Norwegian Cruise Line’s beverage package plus auto-tips

After Hampton paid the final invoice, she did the math and realized that she had paid more than $1,542. The cost of the cruise had escalated above her budget without explanation. When she asked Kim, the agent told her that the extra was the required gratuities for NCL’s beverage package.

I have high blood pressure and I specifically said I didn’t want that package and I definitely didn’t want to pay gratuities on it. I’m 70 years old and I’m on a budget. Why would I want to pay tips on a package I didn’t want? When I saw that on the contract, I felt that I was being tricked. Gloria is the one who asked for that package and I said no. She should have just got it [NCL’s beverage package] for herself.

Hampton

Unfortunately, for these two, Norwegian Cruise Line’s beverage package can’t be purchased by just one of two shipmates. If you share a cabin, you either both buy the beverage package or neither of you do. In this case, the beverage package was a free perk added by the agent, but the gratuities were not included. 

I felt duped. I had to drag it out of her [the travel agent] and after she explained it, I complained and asked why the free perk had to do with alcohol. Then I found out there were other free perks that we could have chosen instead. Kim offered to change us to the other package which didn’t include alcohol.

Hampton

But by now, the friendship between Gloria and Hampton had grown cold. Hampton was beginning to realize that she didn’t want to spend a week in a small cruise cabin with the woman whom she believed tried to trick her into paying for something she didn’t want. 

However, it would be another month or so before she made her final decision about canceling the cruise.

“I canceled the cruise, but where did NCL send my refund?”

In November, Hampton and Gloria weren’t excitedly chatting about their upcoming cruise like two friends would do. They were barely talking. 

Hampton says that each day, she grew more certain that boarding Viva with Gloria would be a big mistake. She asked Kim about canceling her cruise. 

“She told me I was in the 25% penalty phase, so I would receive $1,371 back,” Hampton told me. “That was acceptable to me. I just didn’t feel I should be going on that cruise.”

Kim canceled the cruise for Hampton and informed her that Norwegian Cruise Line would process the refund back to her original form of payment. Hampton felt relieved; the $342 cancellation fee was a small price to pay to end this uncomfortable situation. 

Little did she know, but things were about to get a whole lot more uncomfortable. This cruise fiasco was far from over. 

NCL: “Oops, part of the refund was sent to the wrong passenger.”

A few days after canceling the cruise, Hampton received a partial refund from NCL. She thought that was a bit odd but wasn’t alarmed. 

“I was still owed $588, so I emailed Kim,” Hampton recalled. “She told me that she’d check with Norwegian and find out when they would send the rest of the refund.” 

A little while later, Kim had surprising news and an unusual request. According to its accounting department, Norwegian Cruise Line had sent the balance of Hampton’s refund to Gloria’s credit card by mistake. Kim sent Gloria an email and asked that she forward the $588 to Hampton. 

Travel agent confirms that NCL sent part of the refund to the customer's enemy by mistake.
The email that Kim sent to Gloria notifying her of NCL’s refund error.

Kim told Hampton that Gloria had agreed to forward the misdirected refund… and that was the last time she heard from either one of them.

Asking Consumer Rescue to help retrieve the refund

Throughout December and January, Hampton continued to email and phone Kim and Gloria. Both had gone silent on her and she was looking for help to get her money back when she stumbled on an article I had written about another case involving a canceled cruise and friends turned enemies

That case had turned out well and Hampton hoped we might be able to sort out her cruise fiasco, too. 

The travel agent said the supervisor in Norwegian Cruise Line’s accounting department mistakenly refunded Gloria’s card. I called NCL and they told me to go after the travel agent. And the travel agent asked me to go after Gloria. I’m going around in circles. Can you please help me?

Hampton

When I reviewed Hampton’s extensive paper trail, it was clear that she had exhausted all of her problem-solving resources. Kim had stopped responding to her emails, Gloria had long ago refused to answer her calls, and Norwegian Cruise Line was pointing her back to the travel agent. 

It wasn’t clear to me why NCL had processed the refund to Gloria, but it didn’t really matter. Consumers use travel advisors for their expertise and so that if something goes wrong, they have an advocate built into their plans — someone who will work on their behalf to correct the problem. Hampton should have had an advocate tracking down her refund… she should not have needed to escalate her complaint to a third-party consumer advocate. But unfortunately, for some reason, she didn’t have that built-in advocate.

It was time for me to find out from Kim why that was the case. 

Why is your client being expected to track down her own refund?

I assumed this would be an easy problem to resolve since no one in the trifecta of Gloria, NCL or Kim disagreed that the $588 refund was owed to Hampton. It was hard to fathom why this situation had dragged on for months. But I was soon to find out that this case was going to be tougher than I imagined. 

First, I sent multiple messages to Kim. I called and emailed her to find out why Hampton had been directed to retrieve her cruise refund on her own from someone whom she now considered an enemy.  When Kim failed to respond to any of my inquiries, I sent messages to Gloria, who also ignored my emails. 

The cruise that Hampton had been scheduled to take with Gloria was quickly approaching. Both Kim and Gloria would be sailing on Viva.

As I often do with difficult cases, I asked my colleague Dwayne Coward what he thought of the situation and he confirmed what I suspected. 

As these bookings are based on double occupancy of a cabin, if one passenger decides to cancel for a refund, the booking would need to be canceled and refunded to all the passengers according to the terms.  The passenger who still wants to go would need to be rebooked at the current fares and pay the solo (or double occupancy rate).  This would have ensured all the passengers would receive the appropriate refunds.

If the TA didn’t cancel the booking correctly, I think it will be totally on them to resolve. 

Dwayne Coward, Consumer advocate, Consumer Rescue

Since both Gloria and Kim were remaining tight-lipped, I decided to find out from our friends at Norwegian Cruise Line what they thought about this situation. 

Can Norwegian Cruise Line get this misdirected refund back?

Our team knows the Norwegian Cruise Line team to be helpful and usually quick to correct mistakes. Since the cruise was fast approaching, I hoped that there would be a simple way to fix this problem.

All Hampton wanted was the refund she was owed so that she could be done with this situation. It seemed especially unfair that Gloria would take the cruise without forking over the money she owed her former friend. 

Hi NCL friends!

…I have contacted Kim as well as Gloria and neither will explain why Gloria has the refund intended for Lynette OR how this “accident” happened. I’ve never known NCL to accidentally refund the wrong passenger so I’m a little suspicious about what might be happening here.

I would love to be able to get this straightened out before Gloria takes this cruise which appears to have not been properly canceled and rebooked. If Gloria did receive this $588 refund, that means she’s received a partial refund for a cruise that she intends to board.

What can be done here?

Michelle Couch-Friedman, Consumer advocate, Consumer Rescue

The good news: The refund is on the way

The executive team at Norwegian Cruise Line did some digging and soon there was good news … for Hampton, at least. 

Unfortunately, NCL’s investigation into what happened and why Hampton’s refund went to another passenger extended beyond the embarkation of Viva. Gloria and Kim both boarded the ship and began the cruise through the Caribbean. 

When the cruise was over, I sent some follow-ups to Kim while I waited for Norwegian’s response. 

In the end, I heard from Kim and we spoke at length. She told me that she had intended to press Gloria during the cruise and make sure that she forwarded the money to Hampton. But then tragedy struck. Kim’s elderly mom suffered a catastrophic medical event aboard Viva and both had to be evacuated from the ship. 

She spent several days in a Caribbean hospital before being evacuated back to the United States, where she is recuperating with the help of her daughter.

It’s been a very difficult two months for Kim, so I don’t want to pile on here, but what I can say is this: Norwegian Cruise Line has no way to reverse the refund it sent to Gloria. However, NCL and Kim have worked out a plan together that will ensure that Hampton receives the $588 she has been waiting for since December.

For Gloria’s part, she may soon find herself on NCL’s Do Not Sail list. That remains to be seen but we know for a fact that Norwegian Cruise Line and every other cruise line is more than willing to ban problematic passengers, young and old… like people who keep a misguided refund as their own.

Hampton is thrilled that this time she can really allow this unpleasant situation to sail over the horizon. One thing is for sure: She will be much more careful in the future about who she chooses to plan a cruise with – and who she calls a friend.   

And that’s a lesson we should all heed.

Don’t ruin a friendship: Things to consider before booking a cruise 

If you like to cruise and your friend likes to cruise, it’s natural to assume that you’d enjoy cruising together. But before you commit to sharing a cruise cabin with anyone, it’s crucial that you make sure you’re compatible. Here’s what to consider. 

Teetotaler or tipsy cruiser

This topic often divides cruisers and is certainly something to consider before booking a trip together. Remember, if you share a reservation, everyone must purchase the drinks package. So, if one of you is a teetotaler and the other likes to have cocktails, this may be a sticky point. 

Night owl or early bird

There may be nothing worse than sharing a small space with someone for days on end who doesn’t share your sleep schedule. You’ll want to ensure that your roomie has a similar daily pattern as you do. Or, minimally, establish rules about quiet hours inside the cabin (morning and night). 

Neat or messy

This can easily be a deal breaker when considering whether or not you and your buddy are compatible to share a room. If you’re someone who has to have everything in its place to feel comfortable, a cabinmate who has a more relaxed style of vacationing could be your worst nightmare in a tiny cruise cabin. 

Active or relaxed

Are your goals for the cruise to see and do as much as possible, or are you hoping to relax and have a more leisurely experience? If your friend has a different plan and hopes to have a buddy by their side for the adventures (or lack of adventures), both of you could be in for a major disappointment. Always discuss your intentions with your potential roommate before booking the cruise.

Quiet or loud

Probably one of the first things you should find out before agreeing to sleep in the same cruise cabin with someone is whether they snore or not. If you’re a light sleeper like me, there are probably few things more unpleasant than trying to sleep in a room with someone who makes noise all night, even if it is unintentional. Make sure to pack earplugs if you failed to ask beforehand. 

Budget or extravagant

When planning any trip with a friend, it’s important that you’re both in the same ballpark regarding what you’re willing to spend. If you’re set on a balcony suite and your buddy hopes to book a budget cabin, you’ve got a problem that could point to incompatibility for the cruise. Remember, although many things are included in the cost of your cruise, some factors will significantly increase the price point of the trip.

Some of those things that you can control that will impact the cost of the cruise are:

  1. Destination and length of trip
  2. Cabin category
  3. Dates of travel
  4. Cruise line
  5. Food and beverage packages
  6. Excursions

The bottom line

Taking a cruise with a friend can be a wonderful experience if you’re a compatible duo. But if you aren’t on the same page about some basic details, you may be cruising into troubled water – literally and figuratively. 

Having a conversation prior to making the decision to share a cabin with a friend can ensure that you don’t end up like Hampton or worse… stuck on a cruise ship for days on end with a person you may no longer be friends with by the end of the journey.  (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.