Dear Tripped Up,
After graduating from college in 2022 and working for a year, I used my bonus and some of my savings to book a nine-day Mediterranean cruise on Norwegian Cruise Line for my partner and me. Our $7,657 cruise package included airfare from Atlanta to Barcelona, Spain, via Newark, and Norwegian’s own BookSafe Travel Protection Plan, which included travel insurance and also allowed me to “cancel for any reason” for a 75 percent credit. Weather delayed our first flight, we missed the connection, and United Airlines could not get us to Barcelona in time to embark. I called Norwegian and agents suggested I buy last-minute tickets on a different airline, but I don’t have that kind of money. And even if I did, there were no direct flights to later ports, and I was unwilling to risk missing another connecting flight. So we spent the night in the Newark airport, paid for a return flight to Atlanta the next morning and canceled the cruise and remaining air legs. I got $1,184 back right away from Norwegian, and then an additional $232 back (for my return flight) from travel insurance when I filed a trip delay claim, but a trip cancellation claim for the cruise was denied outright. I feel I should at least get the 75 percent credit — otherwise what was the protection plan for? Can you help? Ivy, Atlanta
You’re not the first traveler to write Tripped Up after missing a cruise because of flight delays on the very itinerary the cruise company booked for them.
You also went out of your way to solve this problem on your own, first, registering complaints with the Better Business Bureau, the Georgia attorney general, and the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in Florida (where Norwegian is based), all to no avail. Even when I offered to help, you didn’t stop and — before I could do anything — prodded Norwegian into giving you a slightly-more-than-75-percent credit, or $5,420, for a future cruise “as a gesture of good will.” Impressive.
I would have moved on to help another Tripped Up reader, but Norwegian’s use of the responsibility-shirking phrase “as a gesture of good will” bugged me. I wanted to know why BookSafe didn’t cover you, and what other cruise customers can do to protect themselves.
The BookSafe plan actually has two main parts: a travel insurance policy, administered by Aon Affinity and underwritten by Nationwide, and a “cancel for any reason credit feature,” provided by Norwegian itself.
I read through the fine print, and it turns out (and Aon confirms) the travel insurance portion does not provide reimbursement for a cruise if airline issues cause a traveler to miss it. But under the Cancel for Any Reason component, it looks to me as if Norwegian should have given you that credit with no hassle.
I tried to confirm that with Norwegian, but the company declined to answer most of my questions, instead responding with imprecise statements via email.
“Although Norwegian Cruise Line provides flight arrangements as part of its cruise offering,” the first email read, “we do not have control over the operations of the airlines and are not responsible for any flight modifications or cancellations.”
“It is because of the very nature of unexpected situations, such as this, that we strongly recommend all guests purchase travel insurance,” the statement continued.
But again, you purchased the travel protection plan and the insurance portion did not cover you. As for the Cancel for Any Reason credit component, Norwegian sent another email, which you forwarded, that read, “We are unable to issue credits for the penalties assessed to your reservation as this does not qualify under Cancel for Any Reason prior to departure.”
When you complained to the Better Business Bureau initially, Norwegian doubled down, giving it same wording.
I can’t understand why. For the credit to kick in, BookSafe clearly states you need only cancel “prior to the ship’s departure,” not prior to your flight’s departure. You forwarded me a cancellation document, dated the day you flew back to Atlanta — which was also the day the cruise set sail. That would seem to qualify, unless Norwegian determined the cancellation took place minutes or hours after the ship departed. That would be pretty disingenuous of them, considering you had been on the phone with them since the night before, asking about your options.
When I asked Norwegian about the original rejection, I got a statement saying you “had incorrectly filed a claim for a trip delay instead of a trip cancellation claim” and that the credit was “later added” to your account.
To me, that’s somewhere between muddled and false. What actually happened was that you filed a “trip delay” claim to Aon that turned out only to cover your flight back to Atlanta. (That’s what trip delay coverage does, cover unexpected expenses.) Then, you filed a “trip cancellation” claim, also to Aon, but that was never going to work: Trip cancellation coverage lapsed once you got on the plane and yet another kind of coverage, “trip interruption,” kicks in. But filing for that wouldn’t have done you any good: Norwegian’s trip interruption policy does not cover airline delays.
That’s why you ended up — after some blood, sweat and tears, that is — with the 75 percent credit from Norwegian.
It’s confusing, no doubt. You fell into a common trap about trip cancellation, delay and interruption policies — assuming that this coverage will pay for anything that is truly not your fault. But claims adjusters tend to be extremely literal in interpreting the fine-print list of “perils” or “hazards” your policy covers.
“If it’s there, you’re good, and if it’s not there, you’re not good,” said Stan Sandberg, a co-founder of TravelInsurance.com, a site that aggregates policies from different companies, providing convenient direct links to the state-specific policies.
I got curious and decided to compare the fine print of BookSafe with the default travel protection plans at cruise operators like Carnival, Disney, MSC, Princess, Royal Caribbean and Viking. I used the New York versions for consistency, and looked specifically at how well they covered issues caused by delays and cancellations of “common carriers” — airlines, trains and the like.
All the plans have “trip delay,” “trip cancellation” and “trip interruption” coverage administered by insurance companies. Most include a separate “cancel for any reason” credit portion that the cruise lines administer themselves. (Only MSC does not.)
I focused on trip interruption, which typically provides a maximum benefit of 125 or 150 percent of the trip’s value. That means a traveler could in theory be reimbursed for the full cost of the cruise, plus additional expenses incurred because of the interruption.
Three of the seven plans I looked at — Norwegian, Royal Caribbean and Princess — leave airline issues out of trip interruption benefits entirely, making it impossible, in a situation like yours, to claim the value of a missed cruise in its entirety. “That is shocking,” said Jason Schreier, chief executive of the travel division of Aegis General Insurance.
“Ninety-five percent of travel insurance plans you’ll find have common carrier issues in both trip cancellation and interruption benefits,” he said.
The other four cover delays to varying extents. Carnival mentions only weather issues. MSC and Viking cover mechanical problems, weather delays and strikes — pretty standard language, but not all encompassing. Only Disney’s plan allows trip interruption to kick in for “any delay of a common carrier,” as long as it causes you to miss at least half the trip.
Mr. Schreier of Aegis told me that the cruise lines themselves will often scratch common perils from custom plans to reduce liability. When I asked Norwegian about this, the company referred me to Aon Affinity. But Beth Godlin, the president of Aon Affinity Travel Practice, wrote that Aon “works with many different cruise lines” and customizes plans “to meet the needs of the cruise line.”
Finally, there’s that cancel-for-any-reason-for-partial-cruise-credit element. As we learned, Norwegian’s plan, as well as those of Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Princess and Disney, do include flight issues by allowing travelers to cancel right up to the ship’s departure. Only Viking’s is different — ending once you board your first flight. (Again, MSC does not offer this benefit at all.)
I’d warn against choosing a cruise line on the sole basis of whether its protection plan covers common carrier delays — you’d just be asking for something different to go wrong. But Ivy, as you use your credit, I’d consider putting in the time to look into buying a separate insurance plan, using comparison sites like TravelInsurance.com or Squaremouth, or going directly to companies like Aegis, which Mr. Schreier points out has a cruise-specific package and a “Stress Less” feature that might have paid on the spot for a flight on a different airline to get you to Barcelona on time.
Whatever you do, I hope you have a great cruise and can at least temporarily forgive Norwegian for what happened — as a gesture of good will.
If you need advice about a best-laid travel plan that went awry, send an email to [email protected].
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