Royal Caribbean recently gave Rita Yates an unpleasant surprise when she called to make the final payment on her upcoming sailing. An RCCL agent explained that the cruise Yates intended to take to celebrate her 40th anniversary had been canceled. Assuming that the cancellation was another casualty of the pandemic, Yates asked why the cruise line hadn’t informed her sooner.
That’s when Royal Caribbean gave Yates an even bigger surprise: Explorer of the Seas would be sailing as scheduled. In fact, the RCCL representative explained, records showed Yates had canceled her own cruise – and forfeited her deposit.
Yates says she absolutely did not cancel her cruise, but she believes she knows the troublemaker who did. Now, with Royal Caribbean unwilling to refund her deposit or reinstate the voyage, she’s hoping our team can help.
But with police reports, lawsuits, and other threats being tossed about, is there anything we can do?
Planning a Royal Caribbean cruise to celebrate a special anniversary
Last year, while the cruise industry was still shut down, Yates and her husband started planning for their 40th wedding anniversary. As shareholders and Diamond Club members of Royal Caribbean, celebrating the special event by taking a cruise seemed a given. That was if the cruise line ever set sail again. At that time, the pandemic was making things look pretty dim.
“We were taking a gamble but felt confident that the pandemic would be over by May 2022,” Yates explained. “So I put down the deposit for the cruise, and it was all settled.”
The two booked a seven-night closed-loop cruise, sailing from Miami to the southern Caribbean.
“We were really excited at the prospect of getting back out on the ocean,” Yates recalled. “The pandemic had made that impossible for so long.”
Even better? When the Yateses shared the plans to celebrate their anniversary with a Caribbean cruise, several friends also booked the trip.
The Explorer of the Seas would be the perfect place for the couples to enjoy each other’s company and celebrate this special occasion.
However, there was trouble brewing in this circle of friends. Big trouble. And that discord would eventually put an end to all of these happy plans.
Had Yates known what she knows now, she would never have extended an invitation to one particular group member.
Hey, Royal Caribbean, where did my cruise reservation go?
Sometime in November, Yates says that she was checking the latest cruise requirements on the Royal Caribbean site.
I suddenly noticed that I had no cruises listed at all. I knew it was time to make a payment, so I wasn’t sure what was going on. Then, I contacted the Royal Caribbean customer service department. After about a 2-hour hold, an agent informed me that my cruise was canceled. Eventually, she said I had called and canceled the cruise [about four weeks prior]. They did not provide me with the time of the call, nor would they allow me to hear the recording of my so-called cancellation.
Despite protests by Yates, the Royal Caribbean agent assured her that there wasn’t any mistake. She explained that the notes said that Yates had cited a visit from her granddaughter as the reason for the cancellation.
“I don’t even have a granddaughter, and I definitely didn’t cancel my own anniversary cruise,” Yates told the RCCL agent.
Unfortunately, after she waited on hold for hours, it became clear that her time had been wasted. This customer service agent could not fix whatever had gone wrong here.
Now Yates realized that her friends were booked on a Royal Caribbean cruise that she was no longer part of — to celebrate her anniversary.
“I was devastated,” Yates recalled. “All the things we planned to do and all the memories I hoped to create were instantly gone.”
Asking Royal Caribbean to listen to the call canceling the cruise
A few hours later, while Yates was still trying to figure out what to do next, the phone rang. It was a senior Royal Caribbean customer service representative. Initially, Yates was relieved to hear from the caller, believing that the cruise line must have sorted out the problem for its Diamond Club member.
But it was soon apparent that wasn’t the case.
The Royal Caribbean representative informed Yates they had pulled the call center recordings. The verdict: the cruise line had determined that the woman on the phone who canceled the cruise had the reservation number and “sounded like” Yates.
I couldn’t believe my ears. They were accusing me of being a liar. I’m a shareholder and a Diamond Club member, and Royal Caribbean didn’t care. As a goodwill gesture, RCCL offered me a $300 future cruise credit. The agent said that was their final offer to resolve this problem. That leaves me out $500 in cash.
Yates told the agent she would not be accepting this final offer and offered her theory of what happened here.
“At this point, I knew the culprit of this cruise fiasco had to be my estranged neighbor,” Yates explained. “She was originally planning to go with us, and we had tied her reservation to ours. She had access to our reservation number.”
Even though Yates explained to the Royal Caribbean representative that she was sure she knew who had caused this problem, the call was going nowhere.
But now, Yates knew what had happened here. No one else had a motive to call the cruise line and pretend to be her and cause this trouble. She was certain who had canceled her special cruise, and she intended to hold that person accountable.
Next stop: The police department.
Asking the police department to investigate
Yates was infuriated that her former friend would have done such a despicable thing. But she also knew that what this person did was illegal, and it cost her $500 and her much anticipated anniversary cruise.
Now the cost of the cruise had tripled, and our preferred cabin wasn’t available. Not only that, it just made me so angry that Royal Caribbean was going to take any cash from us because of this fraud. The agent at the cruise line had recommended that I file a fraud report. So I went to the police station and filed the report. I hoped they [the police department] could get a copy of the phone call and prove it wasn’t me.
Yates filed a police report on the same day that she discovered someone had canceled her cruise.
Her next step was to follow all the excellent guidance Christopher provides in his article about resolving your own consumer complaint. Using our executive contacts for Royal Caribbean, Yates set out on an aggressive self-help campaign.
Maybe too aggressive.
Don’t do this: “I have obtained legal counsel.”
Right after Yates returned from the police station, she penned her first letter to the executive team at Royal Caribbean.
I have obtained legal counsel and they will be advising me as to how to obtain the voice recordings along with the phone number of origin where my so-called cancellation occurred. I completely understand the process that RCCL must go through since I am sure they have heard every excuse by people inadvertently canceling reservations and then wanting them back – but I assure you this is not the case.
As our team has pointed out many, many times, ‘I have obtained legal counsel’ are often the magic words that will get your complaint shuffled off to the legal department of whatever company you’re dealing with. And if your threats were empty (meaning you don’t really have legal counsel OR you don’t have legal grounds for your complaint), you’ve now backed yourself into a corner that will be difficult to come out of.
In fact, our consumer advocacy team typically rejects any requests for help from consumers who have made such threats to a company. Not because we don’t want to help, but because most companies will not speak to our team after a case is referred to the legal department. We don’t have lawyers on staff.
How this tactic can backfire
Predictably, this tactic backfired on Yates. Over the course of 6 weeks, Royal Caribbean reiterated that it believed the recordings proved she had canceled the cruise. Finally, the cruise line welcomed Yates to have her lawyer follow up with its lawyer.
Thank you for your letter.
I work in the Executive Office and am responding on behalf of Mr. Bayley.
Once again, this matter is being addressed from a customer service perspective and this matter is considered resolved. We can no longer assist you with this request. Should you choose to pursue legal action, please have your legal representative contact our Registered Agent directly (legal team information)
Now Yates had only one more option. Scrolling through Facebook one day, she came across an article I had recently written about another cruise passenger involved in a fiasco. In that case, Carnival Cruises denied boarding to Stephen Delisle after a mistake by medical personnel at the pier.
That case ended in success, so Yates was inspired to send her request to the Elliott Advocacy team. She hoped we could help vindicate her as well.
Elliott Advocacy investigates: Who canceled this Royal Caribbean cruise?
When the request for help from Yates landed on my desk, I suspected that we wouldn’t be able to help. She had repeatedly told Royal Caribbean that she had a lawyer involved. While that was true, the lawyer she engaged was not particularly helpful. In fact, it appeared that the lawyer’s involvement was more inflammatory than anything else.
Pro tip: These legal services where a consumer can pay $25 to have an email threat filled with bravado sent from a lawyer are generally useless. Giant companies recognize these powerless letters instantly, and the messages often end up in the virtual garbage can. Please refrain from making legal threats until you absolutely have no other choice and then make sure that you actually have a legal foundation for your complaint. The companies you’re contacting have entire legal teams, and they do know the law. It’s much better to try to cordially resolve a complaint before mentioning anything legal.
When I reviewed the paper trail, I was surprised because the total value of the complaint was $500. I couldn’t imagine why Royal Caribbean would choose “this hill to die on,” so to speak. This is especially true since Yates is a shareholder and a Diamond Club member.
But then I saw what the hoped-for resolution was for this case.
Make sure your requested resolution is something we can do
Not only did Yates want a refund of her $500, but she was insisting that Royal Caribbean release the call recordings. She wanted to prosecute her former friend.
So right off the bat, I let Yates know that isn’t something we would pursue. If the authorities wish to investigate this case further, the police can make an official request for the call recordings. But I did think that Royal Caribbean should consider refunding or allowing the full value of the $500 to go to a future cruise credit.
I explained to Yates what our limitations are as a consumer advocacy team.
When I went through your paper trail again, what stands out to me is that your primary focus appears to be obtaining a copy of the phone center recording for this cancellation, and that isn’t something that RCCL is going to give you without a subpoena. The only way to get a copy of that recording is by having an attorney make a request in court. I’m certain that RCCL will not release those unless that happens.
I will send your case over to our executives at RCCL and see [what can be done to fix this].
And with Yates agreeing that we weren’t asking the cruise line for the call recordings, I headed over to Royal Caribbean.
Asking Royal Caribbean to have another look
Next, I sent a message over to our always helpful executive contact at Royal Caribbean and made it clear there are no real lawyers involved here. This complaint boils down to a loyal RCCL passenger who appears to be a victim of a disgruntled former friend’s vindictive actions.
We have a strange case over here, I hoped your team could have a look and see if anything can be done.
Rita Yates says [that she and her husband planned] a 40th-anniversary cruise with some friends. The cruise was set for May 2022. Recently [they] checked the reservation to make the final payment and were surprised to find out it had been canceled. When Rita called RCCL to see how this happened, she was told that she (Rita) canceled the cruise because of her granddaughter coming for a visit at that time. Rita says that she didn’t cancel this cruise and that it was her former friend, ***** ****, who was originally linked to the reservation who canceled the cruise.
The two have had a falling out and Rita believes that *** canceled the anniversary cruise to be spiteful. Rita has gone so far as to file a police report about this situation. (She has sent us that report). I don’t think it’s necessary to delve too far into that allegation because I don’t think it matters at this point. It seems there is probably a simple solution. As a result of this cancellation, Rita was charged a $200 penalty. All of her friends who were also going on the cruise received full FCC when they canceled. Rita is asking that the last $200 be credited to her account as an FCC as well.
I’ve explained to Rita why we would not be asking RCCL to provide a copy of the telephone call since we’re not investigating her allegations. But if I’m understanding the RCCL Cruise with Confidence Guarantee correctly, passengers are allowed to cancel up to 48 hours before the cruise and get a full cruise credit. Rita says they would like to rebook a new cruise as soon as this situation is resolved.
Could your team have a look and see if it’s possible to grant Rita’s request? Thank you! 🛳😊 (Michelle to Royal Caribbean)
And soon came the good news. After removing the threat of a legal battle, Royal Caribbean was happy to fix the problem.
The good news: Royal Caribbean will apply a full credit to your next cruise
Good morning, Michelle!
I just wanted to drop you a note and let you know that I did hear from the executive office at Royal Caribbean. I received my apology, and they took the time to listen to me and informed me that they had gone back and researched all my correspondence and they were sorry for the way it was handled by RCCL.
That was music to my ears – I was no longer the criminal in RCCL’s eyes – lol. RCCL also offered to reinstate my original reservation and honor the original price on my cruise contract; however, they had sold the cabin my husband had selected. Since we had already rebooked, they applied the additional $200 deposit to my balance due and added a $100 onboard credit.
I cannot thank you enough for reaching out. This has been a total nightmare. I spoke with the police detective yesterday, and he convinced me to just sit tight with trying to obtain the actual voice recordings (although I would like to personally hear them at some point). Now that all the money has been refunded, it would be harder to press charges against this former friend.
So again, thank you!! Now I just have to hope the boat sails and that things get better with COVID in 2022.
All the best to you and the Elliott Advocacy team.
Rita (Rita to Michelle)
And with that, we will successfully close one more case for the Elliott Advocacy team. Thank you, Royal Caribbean! ⛴😀
How to protect your cruise reservation from a surprise cancellation
This case is certainly unusual. In fact, I can’t think of any other similar one in all of my years mediating consumer problems. But the reality is that there are miserable people in the world who exist only to cause problems for others. That vindictive person could be an ex-friend or spouse, a disgruntled co-worker, or even an anonymous internet troll.
Here are some tips to protect yourself from a vindictive person who wants to throw a wrench in your travel plans.
- Do not share your reservation number.
While it may seem perfectly innocent to forward your itinerary to a friend or family member, it’s best to keep your actual reservation number private. That number is typically required to cancel a cruise, hotel, or flight, so guard it like a credit card number.
- Refrain from posting on social media
Recently, I was scrolling through a message board for cruise ship passengers, and I was shocked to see “roll call.” Several passengers on this thread had their full names displayed, the cruise itinerary, their cabin number, and other specific identifying details. I suspected that some of the less computer-savvy members didn’t understand just how many people this information would be broadcast to. For many reasons, it isn’t a great idea to announce to the world when your house will be vacant. Or your specific plans should someone want to track you down OR cancel your reservation for you. AND please do not post a photo of your airline ticket. I can’t tell you how often I’ve contacted friends and family who excitedly posted a picture of themselves at the airport with their airline ticket with the ticket number on display to all of Facebook. A troublemaker can do tons of things to your plans with your ticket number. Do not share your ticket number with anyone.
- Always make certain your email address with the cruise line, hotel, or airline is correct.
It’s essential to ensure that your email address is current with all travel providers. Remember, if the company or someone changes your reservation and your email is current, you will always receive an immediate alert. Also, ensure that the email addresses of your cruise line, airline, hotel, or third-party booking agent are whitelisted so that the messages never go to spam.
- Use a travel agent
If you want to leave all of the planning and monitoring to someone else, a professional travel agent will be happy to do so. If someone tries to alter your plans without your knowledge, your trusty travel advisor will be able to take care of the problem for you. You can find a recommended travel professional specializing in any specific travel, including cruises, on the TravelSense website.
And don’t forget, if you find that despite following all of our guidelines, your travel plans have been disrupted and you can’t fix the problem, send us an email. We’ll investigate. The Elliott Advocacy team is always here to help. (Michelle Couch-Friedman, Elliott Advocacy)