THE BITTER TASTE OF AN EXPECTED DIVORCE

For many years I was a big fan of Norwegian Cruise Line, booking an average of 4-5 cruises a year, choosing THE HAVEN or the ship and not necessary the itinerary being an unconditional supporter of both hard and soft products sailing under the brand of NCL and manage to reach the Platinum Plus level of their Latitude Loyalty Program not very far of the top tier of Ambassador.

Suddenly 2-3 years ago a massive drop in quality of the service and a dramatic change of the target market made me to move away from NCL for a while. This year in February I decided to give it another try, hoping that I will rediscover my old, beloved NCL and travelled with them around South America.

It was a cruise which created memories more because the itinerary than the on-board experience but at the end of the day every cloud has a silver lining! And therefore, I decided to book once again with them, in April 2020 a 7-day Greek isles round-cruise from Athens visiting Santorini,

Mykonos and Rhodes on an SG cabin. And I decided to pay extra for Premium Plus Beverage Package Upgrade, Unlimited Premium Wifi Package Upgrade and an additional 3 Meal Specialty Dining Package. A total bill of £5,183.64, fully paid on 19th of February 2020.

Of course, Covid-19 messed up the cruise industry and my trip on Norwegian Spirt was cancelled.

I was very impressed with the speed and efficiency of NCL to react to the crisis and support loyal customer. At the same time with cancellation an incredible offer landed in my email:

“A future cruise credit in the amount of GBP 2,623.98 has been issued to your account. To reflect our appreciation for your business, we will also provide you a BONUS credit of 25% in the amount of GBP 656.00. (…)

These future credits are valid for one year from the issue date and applicable to all published sailings through December 31, 2022. (…)

As a special thank you for choosing Norwegian, and for a limited time only, we are pleased to offer you an additional 20% DISCOUNT on any sailing from July 1, 2020 through December 31, 2022 when you book by April 14th, 2020.

The future cruise credit, 25% BONUS and 20% DISCOUNT are combinable on our current Free at Sea promotion”

 A real WOW which made me think that NCL are strong in their business and they do care about their customer. And the WOW was doubled when I contacted the Call Centre to inquire about the FCC and options available. Friendly and efficient the agent made me (to be honest didn’t need to much effort for that) to re-book for January 2021 a 9-day cruise on Norwegian Spirit from Lisbon to Barcelona visiting Spain, Canary Islands & Maderia this time on an SB cabin. And once again I decided to pay extra for Premium Plus Beverage Package Upgrade, Unlimited Premium Wifi Package Upgrade and an additional 6 Meal Specialty Dining Package. This time using the previous FCC and some extra cash for the difference in price the final bill included the discount and the FCC was £5,410.30 for a cabin valued at £7,920.36.

Great deal and a win-win situation: I was happy to book a cruise in a nice cabin for a great itinerary and NCL secured future business respecting my loyalty as a Platinum Plus member. Later I contact the Call Centre again paying for some extra add-ons for my cruise.

Of course I read about the major financial troubles of NCL ( https://www.forbes.com/sites/sergeiklebnikov/2020/05/06/norwegian-cruise-line-raises-over-2-billion-after-warning-of-possible-bankruptcy/#a8e5f432b871, https://financialpost.com/pmn/business-pmn/norwegian-cruise-line-has-enough-cash-for-18-months-of-no-revenue-ceo-3, https://seekingalpha.com/article/4357115-slow-recovery-for-cruise-lines-norwegian-in-distress ) but I considered all this news as malicious rumours trusting the respect of Norwegian Cruise Line for its loyal customers.

Flights and hotels booked, cruise paid in full on 22nd of September so the only thing left to do was to pack and start dreaming of my trip on board Norwegian Spirit. And to cope to almost daily phone calls from my “Personal Cruise Concierge” who was trying to upsell me add-ons already booked and paid despite the fact that I was explaining him that maybe will save time for all of us if he will check my profile first. No results so I started to look at his weekly phone-calls as an annoying routine.

But that was the end of the “happy love story” with NCL.

Overnight a major change in T&C occurred. To be honest I don’t remember to receive an official e-mail from NCL about that, as a Latitudes member or just as a future passenger with a cruise booked. Believe me I check at least 3 times my inbox, even the spam and my account with NCl. Nothing!

Couple day ago, I received an email informing me about the cancellation of my cruise in January 2021.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact communities around the globe, we have made the decision to suspend all voyages with embarkation dates through November 30, 2020 as well as all voyages onboard Norwegian Star, Dawn and Spirit with embarkation dates through March 30, 2021. We are very sorry for any inconvenience these changes may have caused.”

Not at very happy moment as you can imagine but at the end of the day Covid-19 messes up our lives more than we expected.

As the options regarding my FCC weren’t very clear from the letter, I decided to contact the Call Centre.

“For those reservations paid via a previously issued Future Cruise Credit (FCC), 100% of the FCC used will be re-applied to the Latitudes account. No further action is required; the FCC will be automatically added to the account. As we are sure you share our disappointment. Therefore, in addition to the 100% refund or return of your FCC, all guests will receive a 10% OFF discount on their next future cruise with us, combinable with all available promotions at the time of booking. The 10% off discount will be automatically added to the guest’s Latitudes account and will be available as of Wednesday, October 7, 2020. This discount can be used for up to one year from date of issue and can be applied towards any of our currently published sailings from January 1, 2021 through December 31, 2022.”

The conversation with the Call Centre was full of surprises … unpleasant surprises! During 15 minutes (away from any customer service manners) I was “informed” that:

  • The previous 25% bonus applied to the value of the original cruise was erased and replaced with a 10% bonus
  • All the add-ons will be included in the new FCC
  • I am not entitled to a refund in cash for the original value of the first cruise booked with cash and not FCC.

“The original FCC amount will be returned to the guests’ profile. If an affected booking has a previously applied FCC (as a result of a previous suspended sailing), the enhanced value future cruise credit will not be applicable. Bookings under this circumstance are not eligible for a cash refund and will receive the original value of the FCC back to the guests’ profile. Note FCCs have no cash value and cannot be redeemed for cash. Please be advised that at no time will an FCC be redeemable for cash, including but not limited to situations of possible future cruise suspensions, displacements, cancellations or if the FCC exceeds the time in which it must be used.”

In similar situation other cruise lines (MSC and Cunard for example which whom I experience the same cancellation issue) and airlines (British Airways and Air France for example) offers their customer 2 options: accept an FCC/voucher for future trip (trying to have the cashflow necessary for survival) or give a full refund (not easy to obtain but not impossible either after long phone calls and emails exchange)

While I do understand the decision of Norwegian Cruise Line to get rid of the 25% and replaced with a 10% (taking the decision to retain customers under the pressure of desperation by overpromise and underdeliver is never a good idea anyway) I can’t understand the new T&C which doesn’t allow me to get my money back, paid in cash for the first cruise.

Let’s do some maths

First cancelled cruise: £ 5183.64

Second cancelled cruise: £ 7,920.36 (after applying the FCC and the discount £ 5410.30)

So

Amount paid by me initially: £ 5183.64

Amount received due NCL “generosity”: £ 2510.06

Cash amount paid as a difference by me: £226.66

According to the “new” T&C explained by the agent during the painful phone conversation the only cash refund I’m entitled to is £226.66

Of course, NCL can take back their “generous” bonus of £ 2510.06, are they money (virtual money) giving to kook future bookings and ensure the much-needed cash flow.

What I don’t understand is why now, when I lost the trust in NCL way to conduct business and treat loyal customers I can’t get back my £ 5183.64 and invest this amount in a cruise line which, I believe, are more transparent, with a future and a respect for those keeping the ships at sea!

Of course, for the legal point of view all this numbers are right, NCL for sure got an army of excellent lawyers to cover any potential legal complaints. And at the end of the day when you buy a cruise you accept “the rules of the game”. I am totally fine with that.

The moral aspect of the entire story is something different. In May – June when “no sailing” crisis started to look more damaging than the initial thoughts, the campaign “rebook don’t cancel” created to support the cruise industry was at its peak. I wrote about that, I re-posted and re-twitted every message from cruise lines of bloggers, including NCL, being a stronger believer that the re-bookings and the FCC will keep the ships float, the industry carry on, our favourite type of holiday to have a future. Was not an option, it was a “duty” to re-book my NCL cruise because I trusted the company. And their answer was amazing!

Now, after the success of first MSC sailings and the Royal announcing some test cruises before the end of the year, Norwegian Cruise Line forgot about the loyal supporters and placed profit before customer satisfaction and customer retention.  

Of course, next year I will book a cruise with Norwegian cruise Line, just because I want to use my FCC and don’t lose £5000 but I will operate a change in my plans too. Instead of my 5 cruises planned (from 10 in 2021) to sail with NCL will be only one, and MSC and Cunard are strong options for the replacement.

I can feel the bitter taste of an expected divorce but, at the end of the day, it is not my job to explain NCL the well-known rule of customer service: “it’s cheaper to have a return business that to gain new customers” and that their new approach of FCC is just a false economy/profit.

It is time for me to follow your commercial motto: “Feel free to cruise your way!”

~ by leonard69 on October 9, 2020.

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