Claire and Stanley Keyles planned a dream vacation for June 2020.
They would fly to Italy and take an 8-day Viking River Cruise called “Italian Sojourn,” which would travel around Italy’s boot from Civitavecchia to Venice. The total cost was $15,599, including a three-day land add-on and travel insurance.
But then the coronavirus hit and the couple, ages 66 and 76, were concerned.
“We both have autoimmune conditions. As we watched the COVID pandemic expand and followed the news about the cruise ship outbreaks, we knew we would not be going on our upcoming trip,” Claire Keyles said.
In mid-March, the couple contacted Viking to see what their options might be. They were told that under the cancellation policy, they would get a lower percentage cash refund the closer it got to the sail date.
“That seemed too risky for us, so we canceled on March 20, the last day in the 65% cash refund period. If we had waited even one more day, we would have only been entitled to 50% cash and 50% travel vouchers,” Keyles said. “Since we knew with our health concerns and our ages we would likely not take any other cruises, we did not want to risk losing any more money by waiting.”
With penalties and costs that would not be reimbursed, including the cost of travel insurance, the couple had lost nearly $6,500 in cash. They were given $8,953.75 in cash and $3,322.95 in travel vouchers, but they didn’t think they would ever use them.
“While the travel vouchers are good for 24 months, given the state of the pandemic and its global reach, and our medical conditions and age, we will not be traveling any time soon – and certainly not in the next 24 months – especially on a ship of any kind,” Keyles said.
Ten days later, on March 30, Viking announced the cruise was canceled and 100% cash refunds would be given to customers — but only for those who hadn’t canceled previously.
That didn’t seem fair, Keyles said. Had they waited 10 more days, they would have received the full refund. And while the travel vouchers are good for 24 months, given the state of the pandemic, the couple’s medical conditions and age, they didn’t think they would be traveling any time soon.
“And certainly not in the next 24 months — especially on a ship of any kind,” Keyles said.
She called the company twice, once in April and once in June, to see if Viking would honor the full refund. No, the representatives said.
Keyles reached out to Bamboozled for help.
THE LONG ROAD
We reached out to the company to ask it to reconsider, especially because some of its customers did indeed receive full refunds.
In late June, Keyles got a call from a Viking representative who said he would be reviewing the case.
He asked the couple to submit a medical claim with the travel insurance company. Keyles said she expected it would not be approved because they were not sick at the time of the planned travel.
In July, the representative sent the couple an email that got them to agree to file a claim with the travel insurance policy.
“If you do not get cash compensation (from the travel insurance), Viking agrees to revisit your case and work out a settlement involving some amount of cash compensation rather than travel vouchers,” he wrote. “Cash compensation would not necessarily cover the full amount owed and the travel insurance premium is not eligible for reimbursement in any event.”
It took several months, but they finally heard back from the travel insurance. Their claim was denied and the couple let Viking know.
A different Viking representative called them back.
“Her position at the outset was that we are not entitled to anything in place of the future travel vouchers since what they gave us was in compliance with their stated cancellation terms,” Keyles said, and she asked for an exception based on their specific circumstances.
“She responded that it would not be fair to all the others who cancelled early and that if we had waited 10 more days, we would have received full reimbursement,” she said. “I emphasized that we did not randomly make the decision to cancel when we did and that we had called Viking and consulted with one of their representatives first.”
Keyles reminded the representative of the promise she had in writing from the other agent said about working with them on a cash settlement instead of the vouchers.
“Ultimately she said that she would honor his statement, even if he wasn’t authorized to make any offer to us, and would offer us a $500 cash settlement as a gesture of goodwill,” Keyles said.
But Keyles wasn’t ready to accept such an offer.
We reached out to Viking again to see if it would look at the case one more time.
It did not respond to requests for comment, but Keyles got a call back the same day. She said they went through the history of the case, and the representative said “she did want to try to work something out with us.”
The representative went through options, she said, including larger vouchers, extended time periods to use them and considering U.S. based trips instead of international travel.
“It is not the geographical location of the trip as much as being in any enclosed space with a large group of people — and the U.S. has not been a model of controlling the virus anyway,” Keyles said. “She talked about Viking’s new safety protocols and while they sound good, I emphasized that group travel is not in our future.”
The representative promised to get back to Keyles. The next day, they got a phone call.
“We think we were able to reach a reasonable settlement and are glad to put this behind us,” Keyles said, noting that Viking asked them to sign a non-disclosure form that prevented them from giving the details of settlement.
“Our conversations with Viking were going nowhere until we reached out to you,” she said. “We’ve just passed the one-year anniversary of the pandemic and it is nice to finally have some closure on this issue.”
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Karin Price Mueller may be reached at [email protected].