By Milan Korcok
Despite the lingering images of cruise ships stranded at sea with passengers begging to be freed, the world’s cruise lines continue to drum up business for 2021 and even 2022. And bookings are said to be brisk–thanks to deep price-cuts and on-board cash value incentives.
When US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lifts its “No Sail” order depends on when it considers the COVID-19 plague under control. And though cruising is a worldwide industry extending far beyond US ports, the world’s three biggest lines*are headquartered in Florida, and their vessels at some time or other sail in US-controlled waters patrolled by the US Coast Guard. Thus, CDC jurisdiction is quite clear. (*Carnival Cruises, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian Cruise Holdings account for 60 percent of all cruise traffic).
However, none of these lines, and very few others, are flagged in the US, thus they have not been included in US congressional economic stimulus programs and while sitting idle and empty they’re generating no revenue. Fortunately, according to cruise ship analysts, all of the big three have sufficient liquid and credit reserves to take them into 2021 and so cruise fanatics have a bountiful choice of bargains to choose, even though they may have to wait six, twelve, even 18 months to get the goods.
Is cruising in your future? Here are some things to consider.
Cruise patrons whose trips scheduled into early summer 2020 have already been cancelled are being offered some generous future cruise credits (FCCs)—some exceeding the initial cruise value (i.e, 125 percent). A few are even offering cash rebates of fees already paid to those whose enthusiasm for cruising may have waned. Cash rebates are a rarity in the cruise industry. But for future cruises, the cash rebates may well disappear, leaving FCCs the only means of recouping your travel investment should you wish to cancel.
All cruise lines offer trip cancellation policies and promote them heavily, but cancellations must be based on specified circumstances such as job loss, illness, family death, call too jury duty, etc. You can’t just change your mind, although virtually all lines now also offer Cancel for any Reason (CFAR) policies which cost about 40 percent more than basic plans and which expand the range of cancellation options. However, even these are not without restrictions and need to be thoroughly examined before purchase.
Most decrease the cancellation payout the closer you are to departure.
And even the CFAR cancellation plans offered by cruise lines, for the most part provide only for future cruise credits, not cashbacks to you or your credit card.
For Canadian cruise enthusiasts, out-of-country emergency medical plans (most of which provide some limited cancellation/interruption benefits), or stand-alone trip cancellation plans allow cancellation for specified situations already explained. But they too will pay cash rebates only for non-refundable costs, so if a cruise line offers vouchers for future travel, that obviates your chances of getting your money back (or some portion of it).
And most important, if there should be a resurgence of COVID later on, that will disqualify any claims for cancellation rebates as it is a known event and you will have been warned about its possible consequences and also warned that its effects would not be covered by travel insurance.
What does this boil down to? Trip cancellation/interruption coverage has a lot of contingencies attached. You need to discuss it well with your travel advisor and you need to read the policy—all of it.
If planning and pre-paying a cruise six months or more in advance sounds attractive because of the 25 percent reduction in fare, weigh all of the possibilities. The belief that “We can always cancel” is not necessarily so. Know your policy.
© Copyright 2020 Milan Korcok. All rights reserved.