Some new federal refund rules for cruises are taking effect and making history.
“This is the first time the law has been changed since 1881,” said Federal Maritime Commissioner Louis Sola.
Since 1881, the United States has added 12 states, had 26 presidents, and fought two world wars. And yet, in the 141 years since 1881, Sola said there have been no changes to the Passenger Ship Act, which covers cruises. There were no adjustments, Sola said, until COVID-19. It was then that disgruntled passengers practically stormed the Federal Maritime Commission.
“We’ve been inundated with complaints,” Sola said.
Just like NBC Responds and Telemundo Responde. Across the country, people said cruise lines canceled trips and then offered “store credit.” Not a refund.
“We felt like we were being held hostage there,” said Chicago cruise passenger Joshua Smith.
Locally, Teresa in Menlo Park lost $7,147; Stephen at Morgan Hill, $6,338; and Bonnie in Palo Alto, $10,155. “I wasn’t happy about that,” Bonnie said.
The NBC Bay Area Responds team got their money back from Bonnie. She called for change – for everyone else in the same boat. “I think there has to be a lot of transparency,” she said.
Well, Washington listened.
“It’s actually very exciting for a federal regulator like me,” Sola said.
Sola says the Federal Maritime Commission analyzed the wave of complaints and found a frustrating patchwork. “Almost every 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 begins in the United States is canceled or delayed by at least three days. You can voluntarily consent to a credit note. Otherwise, you get your money back. You also recover the ancillary costs that you prepaid.
“So it doesn’t matter which cruise line you buy your ticket from,” Sola said. “You are going to be treated the same in all areas, you are going to be entitled to a refund.”
The new rules also require cruise lines to clearly state how to get a refund online. Seemingly obvious things. But truly historic.
We have sought the opinion of the cruise industry association. We have not received a response.