Some brand new federal refund rules for cruises are kicking in and making history.
“It's the first time that the law has been changed since 1881,” said Federal Maritime Commissioner Louis Sola.
Since 1881, the United States added 12 states, had 26 presidents, and fought two world wars. And yet, in the 141 years since 1881, Sola said there were no changes to The Passenger Vessel Act, which covers cruises. There were no tweaks, Sola said, until COVID-19. That’s when upset passengers virtually stormed the federal maritime commission.
“We got flooded with complaints,” Sola said.
So did NBC Responds and Telemundo Responde. Folks all over the country said cruise lines cancelled their trips, then basically offered “store credit.” Not a refund.
“We felt like we were kinda being held hostage there,” said Chicago cruise passenger Joshua Smith.
Locally, Teresa in Menlo Park was out $7,147; Stephen in Morgan Hill, $6,338; and Bonnie in Palo Alto, $10,155. “I was not happy with that,” Bonnie said.
The NBC Bay Area Responds team got Bonnie her money back. She called for change -- for everyone else in the same boat. “I think there needs to be great transparency,” she said.
Well, Washington listened.
“This is actually very exciting for a federal regulator like myself,” Sola said.
Sola says the Federal Maritime Commission analyzed the wave of complaints and found a frustrating patchwork. “Almost every single cruise line had a different refund policy,” he said.
So now, the commission is setting an industry-wide standard. New federal rules require a refund whenever a cruise that starts in the U.S. is cancelled or delayed at least three days. You can voluntarily agree to a credit. Otherwise, you get your money back. You also get back any ancillary fees you pre-paid.
“So it doesn’t matter which cruise line you buy your ticket from,” Sola said. “You're going to get treated the same across the board, you're going to have the rights to get a refund.”
The new rules also require cruise lines to clearly post how to get a refund online. Seemingly obvious stuff. But, genuinely historic.
We asked the cruise line industry association for its take. We did not receive a response.