Travel Troubleshooter: Refund for Ukraine cruise not forthcoming

Q: In mid-February, we booked a Viking River Cruises trip to Ukraine for this summer, beginning in Kiev and continuing throughout the country to Zaporozhye, Odessa, Kherson, Sevastopol and Yalta. Some of our ports of call were in Crimea. We paid for the total cost of our trip, including three nights in Istanbul and an additional five days in Turkey on our own before our return flight.

On Feb. 18, Kiev exploded in flames as protesters toppled the government. The next day, we contacted Viking and asked what the expectation was for the Ukraine cruise. A representative replied by e-mail that it “should be fine.” But on Feb. 21, the State Department instructed Americans to avoid “all nonessential travel to Ukraine.”

A few days later, we contacted Viking again and explained that, because of the situation, we were not going to Ukraine. Viking imposed a 15 percent penalty for cancellation. We think that, under the circumstances, we should be getting a full refund of the $11,596 we paid. Can you help us?

A: It seems highly unlikely that Viking will be sailing to Crimea anytime soon, so I’m not sure why it won’t refund your vacation.

Oh wait, maybe it’s because, buried in the fine print of its terms and conditions, it specifically says it’s not liable for any security problems beyond its control, including a “civil commotion, riot, insurrection, war … political disturbance, acts or threats of terrorism.”

But does that mean it gets to keep your 15 percent? Eventually, Viking canceled some of its Ukraine itineraries, but it’s not clear if it would have refunded the 15 percent after the fact, or kept it because you decided to cancel first.

Although few could have predicted what happened after you paid for your cruise, a quick check of the State Department website (www.state.gov) might have left you with some reservations.

Technically, Viking was correct. You canceled, so it was entitled to keep your 15 percent. But let’s not get hung up on technicalities here. You weren’t sailing to Odessa this summer, even if the company imposed a 100 percent penalty. I wouldn’t have.

I contacted Viking on your behalf to see if it intended to keep your $1,739. A representative called you, told you that your request had been routed to the wrong desk and agreed to refund the remaining 15 percent.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the author of “How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler.” You can read more travel tips on his blog, elliott.org, or e-mail him at celliottngs.org.

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