The money left the account instantly when I paid for a seven-night cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas in February with intent to sail on May 10.
But it hasn’t returned at the same speed after the cruise was canceled.
As the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected more than 3 million people globally, rages on, the cruise industry has shut down, leaving millions of passengers with the option to rebook their cruise or request a refund, depending on the cruise line’s policy.
Royal Caribbean canceled my cruise on March 24 as part of its sailing suspension, which has since been extended to July 11. The line had given me until Dec. 31, 2021, to make the refund request, given the fluidity of the coronavirus crisis. Shortly after receiving the email announcement, I chose to take a full cash refund, as opposed to a future cruise credit at a higher value. After filling out a form to start the refund process with the cruise line, I learned it would take up to 30 days to receive a refund.
On Wednesday, I received another email from Royal Caribbean apologizing for the refund delay – noting that some refunds are taking up to 45 days.
“Rest assured, your refund will be honored and it is coming – it’s just taking a little longer than expected and we’re very sorry about that,” the cruise line wrote, promising an update within two weeks.
Many cruise lines have canceled sailings through the first part of the summer following the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention no-sail order extension that goes through July 24.
As the months wear on and more sailings are scrapped, cruise lines are issuing refunds or rebooking customers – but how long does that process take? And at what point should cruisers become concerned if they haven’t gotten their money back?
How long are cruise lines saying it will take?
The turnaround time for refunds varies according to individual cruise lines.
Royal Caribbean said refunds could take 45 days. Others, including Carnival Cruise Line, wouldn’t provide an estimate.
Carnival spokesperson Vance Gulliksen told USA TODAY that refunds are being processed as quickly as possible – but said the company is unable to “give an approximate date” as to when customers who opted for a refund will actually get their money back.
“Well over 1 million Carnival guests have been impacted by this extended pause in cruising,” he noted, “which dwarfs any disruption we’ve experienced in even the worst hurricane season.”
Princess Cruises, which had multiple ships with coronavirus cases, said the process is taking an average of 60 days, given the volume of requests.
“Refund processing has begun on canceled Princess Cruises voyages in departure date order,” the company said in a statement provided by spokesperson Negin Kamali.
The process to enact a refund is not automated, Princess Cruises wrote on their website.
Holland America Line, which also had several ships affected by the pandemic – either because of cases on board or ports unwilling to accept them – said it is also taking around 60 days because of high volume, spokesperson Erik Elvejord told USA TODAY.
MSC Cruises refunds will be issued 60 days from the refund request date, according to spokesperson Paige Rosenthal.
Things are moving faster at Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, which said that refunds are taking about a month and a half to process.
“Refunds generally take 45 business days to be processed,” said Royal Caribbean spokesperson Jonathon Fishman. “We are doing everything we can to help our guests.”
Cruisers share their refund experiences
Many cruisers who opted for a refund rather than a future cruise credit are facing the same issue: a long wait to receive their money back.
Brenda Nickle, from Independence, Missouri, had been scheduled to go on a Princess cruise up the California coast from Los Angeles to Vancouver in the first week of May. It was canceled on March 16, and Princess Cruises offered her a “full cash refund.”
But her family is still waiting for reimbursement, more than a month later.
“We were told it takes up to 30 days to process a refund,” she told USA TODAY. “I have not heard a word back from them.”
The cruise line now owes her a little over $5,000 – not an insignificant sum.
Nickle said Princess had offered a future cruise credit plus 50% additional value. The amount was generous, but the expiration date of one year, was not.
“Had they not had such a narrow expiration date on the credit, we would have looked harder at that option,” she added. “But they did offer the cash refund, and not honoring it makes them look incompetent and insolvent.”
She’s not sure whether she wants to cruise again.
“(We’re) not sure what our options are if they drag this out and it starts to look like we won’t get our money back,” she said.
Last September, Michael Pachter paid $13,400 for a four-person cruise on Norwegian Cruise Line departing June 15 and voyaging through Italy. He booked through a third party booking platform, Cruises.com.
The cruise was to start in Rome at the Civitavecchia port and make stops at three Italian ports, three Greek ports and Montenegro before ending back in Rome.
“[It would have been] my first trip ever to Europe with my wife and my kids’ first trip to Europe,” Pachter said, noting he and his wife have been married 24 years. “I thought it would be nice in June, and of course we had no prior fear of cruise ships or Italy.”
He received an email in mid-April from Cruises.com notifying him that the sailing was canceled. He had originally planned to take a 125% future cruise credit good through the end of 2022, but he also was given a one-week period (May 7-13) during which he could request a cash refund through Norwegian’s website. Pachter says he is planning to ask for the refund to see how difficult it is to get.
Erik Hartranft booked a sailing on Norwegian Cruise Line. He applied for his refund on April 13.
“I was told by (Norwegian’s) Casino at Sea agent that my refund would take 90-120 days,” he told USA TODAY. He’s waiting on nearly $5,300 to reenter his bank account.
“I’m glad I didn’t prepay for the excursions since I would be out more money,” he said.
He loves cruising but could use the money right now.
“My wife has a small business, and it has been closed for almost seven weeks,” he said. “That money can be used to pay our mortgage and bills currently.”
Mary Vanhooser, from Olathe, Kansas, was scheduled to embark on a Royal Caribbean cruise out of Galveston, Texas, on March 15.
She had booked the cruise for nine people and paid roughly $4,500. Once Royal Caribbean canceled the sailing on March 13, it offered her a 125% future cruise credit or a refund.
“We mulled it over for a bit,” she told USA TODAY, “but with the way cruise lines aren’t doing well, we decided to request a refund.”
She said Royal Caribbean gave her until December to request the refund, but she did so April 17.
“They said it would take 30-45 business days,” Vanhooser said. “So I set up a reminder on my calendar for June 19, which seems insane, but that’s when we should have our money back.”
Similarly, she said the hotel they booked takes 30 days to send a refund.
“I’m happy with a full refund,” Vanhooser said. “I wish I felt confident about cruising going forward because I would have loved the 125% credit, but my mom is 70 and it just doesn’t seem wise.”
While it’s taken longer for some clientele, others have received their refunds quickly.
James Knight told USA TODAY that he too had been booked to sail on Royal Caribbean on a trans-Atlantic cruise from New York to Southampton, England. The cost was $1,500.
“I submitted my request for a refund to Royal Caribbean on March 24,” he said. “(Royal Caribbean) said I’d have my refund in 30 days. Refund was received on April 17.”
Are there ramifications for the delays?
The timing of a refund from a travel organization is not typically governed by law, Jeff Ment, a travel attorney, told USA TODAY.
That’s why some people are being told it could take longer to see a refund.
“There are some obvious reasons for delays – furloughed staff, thousands of refunds and, likely, some cash flow problems,” Ment said.
And even after thousands have dealt with these kinds of delays, he doesn’t expect any kind of legal change.
“No new, imminent law changes are expected, but consumers could contact their credit card company or local attorney general’s office to lodge a complaint,” he added.
USA TODAY has reached out to Norwegian Cruise Line for comment.
My cruise was canceled: Here’s how experts say you should navigate refunds, credits
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Cruise refunds in limbo: Next stage of coronavirus and cruise saga