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May 13, 2021

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GRACE ON THE CASE: Why has it taken over a year for Princess Cruises to refund me?


I have been trying for more than a year to obtain a refund after my cruise was cancelled – it was the infamous Diamond Princess Cruise which was due to travel around Japan but was cancelled due to an outbreak of Covid-19.

My family in Canada decided to do a reunion family cruise in Japan last March and invited me and my daughter to join them.

We were due to stay in Japan from 12 March 2020 to 31 March and then to Hong Kong until 11 April.

A number of passengers on the Diamond Princess Cruise became infected with coronavirus

On 21 February, we were informed the cruise had to be cancelled and in the same email it said we were entitled to claim refund for lost money due to the cancellation including the flights to and hotel in Hong Kong.

I was told it would take about four weeks but now it has been well over a year. Overall, I am expecting £2,075.82 back. Can you help? M.L., via email

Grace Gausden, consumer expert at This is Money, replies: Trying to obtain a refund from Princess Cruises for the cancelled trip has been anything but plain sailing. 

You and your family were set to travel around Japan on the Diamond Princess ship. It transpired to be one of the first high profile Covid-19 outbreaks and for a time, dominated the news. 

While docked in Japan, the virus tore through the mega ship trapping the 2,666 guests and 1,045 crew members aboard for weeks.

In total, 712 people were confirmed to have the virus and 14 people died from that outbreak. 

Infamous images of hazmat suit clad medical staff boarding the ship were broadcast around the world, highlighting the danger of the virus and providing an insight of what was to come.

A new documentary on HBO Max, called The Last Cruise, is now available, showing footage from within the Diamond Princess at the time all were trapped on board and documenting exactly how the guests and crew were affected. 

You were due on the cruise after a high number of coronavirus cases became known and so avoided being on board when the virus was rife. 

GRACE ON THE CASE

Our weekly column sees This is Money consumer expert Grace Gausden tackles reader problems and shines the light on companies doing both good and bad.

Want her to investigate a problem, or do you want to praise a firm for going that extra mile? Get in touch:

grace.gausden@thisismoney.co.uk

In March 2020, you were due to go on the cruise as part of a family reunion travelling around Japan before heading to Hong Kong with your daughter.

However, the trip was cancelled and you were told one person per cabin had to claim for a refund.

Princess Cruises said it would pay for all lost costs including your flights and hotel to Hong Kong from Japan booked via Expedia. 

You filled in the refund request in February and were told it would be about four weeks from the date of receipt before you received your refund.

Overall, you wanted to claim £2,075.82 – £650 for the cancellation fee for you and your daughters flights, £1,420.71 for your hotel in Hong Kong that would not give you a refund and £5.11 for your daughters travel insurance she no longer needed.  

Meanwhile, your twin sisters, who were also due to share a cabin with you and your daughter, claimed for cancellation of air tickets and administration fees. 

However, in May, having not heard anything, you were told you needed to provide more supporting documents which you sent over.

One customer due on the Diamond Princess Cruise was made to wait over a year for a refund

One customer due on the Diamond Princess Cruise was made to wait over a year for a refund

Consistently over the course of last year you contacted Princess Cruises asking for updates about when your refund was due as £2,000 is a substantial sum of money to be without. 

Your sisters, who live in Canada, received their refund on 19 November so you queried with Princess Cruises why, if they had already received theirs, you hadn’t.

You were told there could be a delay in processing refunds for guests who were not US or Canadian citizens as they would get theirs first then customers around the rest of the world.

But in January – nearly a whole year after the cancellation of the cruise – you were asked to complete a wire transfer form as the Carnival Corporation office in the UK was not able to process the refund.

Why it had taken so long for this to be organised was not explained. A month later you were advised a representative from Carnival Corporation will phone you on your landline and were told the call will be based on US time.

A week later, having received no call, you received an email saying the wait time for the wire transfer was ‘extensive’.

Throughout this period you say you were unable to sleep properly, expecting a call in the middle of the night from Carnival which never came. 

Despite trying to speak to someone numerous times over the space of a year, you never received a straight answer – or your money back.  

I contacted Princess Cruises to find out why you had to wait for over a year for a refund that was promised within four weeks.

A Princess Cruises spokesperson said: ‘Princess Cruises spoke with Mrs L to sincerely apologise for the delay in processing her refund and the frustrations this has caused.

‘Mrs L has been reassured that she will receive her refund and as a sincere gesture of goodwill, Princess Cruises has offered Mrs Lung and her daughter additional Future Cruise Credit.’

As well as receiving your refund, you have also now been given $600 to spend on your next cruise which you say you are planning to take around South East Asia with your daughter. 

Whilst it wasn’t all plain sailing, at least you can now look forward to your next trip away – pandemic permitting.  

Workers boarded the Diamond Princess cruise ship in February last year in Yokohama, Japan

Workers boarded the Diamond Princess cruise ship in February last year in Yokohama, Japan

Hit and miss: This week’s naughty and nice list

Each week, I look at some of the companies that have fallen short of expected standards as well as those that have gone that extra mile for customers.

Miss: One person unhappy with a service this week is reader, Clive, who had issues with AO.com after buying a larder fridge for £419 and a freezer for £469 from the site in July last year.

A couple of days after the appliances were installed, both started to make loud cracking noises. Clive reported this and AO sent an engineer to come out in November who said the noise was due to a block of ice at the rear of the units.

He said it was cracking due to a heat element defrosting the ice for the automatic defrost function, adding there was nothing that could be done to rectify the issue as it was all inside the unit.

Another engineer was called out a month later and came to the same conclusion.

Clive asked for a refund or a replacement as he believed this to be a fault but AO and Stoves, the brand of the fridge and freezer, said this would not be possible.

I contacted with AO to ask why it was not refunding or replacing the appliances as this was clearly not how the models were designed to work.

An AO spokesperson said: ‘We can confirm the customer has been in touch with our customer care team and we arranged for two separate engineer visits to look into this matter further.

‘It has been agreed with the customer that the products will be exchanged and the old products will be taken in for testing to investigate the issue further.’

Although it was a less than cracking experience, you now have new appliances that work without disruption.

Broken: One AO customer found his new fridge and freezer were making loud cracking noises

Broken: One AO customer found his new fridge and freezer were making loud cracking noises

Hit: In better news, this week reader Karen wanted to praise hotel chain, Premier Inn.

She said: ‘Last year prior to lockdown I booked some nights at Premier Inn on a no refund basis. When the pandemic hit, I thought I wouldn’t get a refund.

‘However, I was amazed and pleased that Premier Inn cancelled the booking automatically and refunded the cost.

‘So much so I rebooked on a more flexible basis which they have amended to take into account Covid. This changed twice more and again they cancelled and refunded. Eventually, we did get to stay in July 2020.

‘I am so impressed with the customer care that I had booked again for April 2021. Whilst we have had to defer again this year due to lockdown I have rebooked and will continue to do so.

‘With so many bad stories regarding travel and holiday companies I wanted to shout out about a good one. They have certainly won more business from me because of exceptional customer care.’

Happily, you received a premier service and have found a new go to hotel.

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