Covid-19

Lost at sea

Cancelling a cruise when Covid-19 struck made a lot of sense, but getting those dollars back has proved virtually impossible, Jim Kayes reports.

It was meant to be their dream holiday but instead it’s turned in a two-month battle to get their money back.

Stacey Morgan and her partner Jamie are owed nearly $7000 by P&O Cruises Australia for a trip the Christchurch family of five were meant to take from Auckland to Fiji later this month – but which they cancelled on March 9.

“I’m an ICU nurse,” Stacey says, “and I thought this coronavirus was going to turn to custard and I didn’t want us stuck on a boat and not able to get home. And I didn’t know what my work situation would be, so I thought we’d better cancel.”

They did that within the timeframe P&O’s terms and conditions stipulated for a full refund.

Morgan was told her money would be repaid within seven to 10 working days, but when that came and went, she was told it would be eight weeks.

“That was annoying but I thought ‘ok, we can deal with that’.”

Except that date has also passed and still no refund. “I’ve been very patient but we need that money which we worked so hard to save.”

Adding to the irritation is the fact that JetStar was quick to refund their flights from Christchurch to Auckland, but P&O still have their money.

And Morgan isn’t alone. A steady stream of disgruntled P&O customers have used social media to demand faster refunds. Some are owed a few thousand dollars, while others are $40k out of pocket.

The Pacific Aria

All seem to have hit the same “your refund is coming, we just don’t know when” brick wall.

Hamilton’s Lia Burnan is still waiting for $2094, but it seems she may never get it back for the cruise that was cancelled on March 15. She was initially told her refund would take two weeks to process, later changed to mid-June.

“Not once did I receive an email or any other notice about any delays in processing refunds from P&O,” Burnan says. “I phoned multiple times, explained why I needed the money refunded and spoke to a supervisor who called me back to tell me that my request was ‘impossible’ and that ‘it can’t be done I’m so sorry’.”

Like Morgan, Burnan had flights on Jetstar that were cancelled and refunded promptly. “They were just amazing to deal with. My first and last booking I’ll ever make with P&O cruises.”

What makes Burnan’s situation so tough is that her husband has been laid off during the Covid-19 crisis, so for them the cruise cash is even more important.

“Had we got that refund we would not have had to put our mortgage on hold which has caused us to add extra time [to repay]. We also have a five month old baby and a three year old daughter to think about.

“While $2000 may not seem like much to [P&O], it was plenty to us and not getting that money back has cost us in other ways that were 100 percent avoidable had we had that refund.”

P&O Cruises Australia have been asked for comment, but have not replied. The British-American owned company has a corporate head office in Southampton, England but operates out of Chatswood in New South Wales.

Morgan has had lengthy email correspondence with the Australian office but has made no headway. “We were really looking forward to this trip. It was something we could do as a family and the kids are gutted. We’ve been given the run-around with no communication and now they tell us it will take 60 days – that’s just crazy.”

It may take longer than that. Glenys Cooper says on Facebook she has been told it could take three to six months to get a refund. “We were taking our whole family and are $20k out of pocket and now are needing that money due to our income being nearly now nil!”

Kellie White Treloar told Newsroom from Broken Hill in New South Wales that her group of 16 are waiting for $40k to be refunded. “We were allowed to board and then after three hours it was announced the cruise was cancelled but we could stay the night.”

Treloar says P&O have also told her it will take eight weeks to get a refund. “We are now heading to our eighth week this week,” she said on the P&O Cruises Australia Facebook page, one of more than 1300 comments on the company’s post.

“God help P&O if the refunds are not there, as since leaving the cancelled cruise, people of our group had out-of-pocket expenses which they didn't expect, which they had to borrow monies to get home, and with the pandemic, people of our group have lost jobs, had their hours reduced, along with four pensioners who scrimped and saved to go on this cruise on 14th March 2020. We were all good enough to pay our trip on time, hence why we should have our monies refunded asap,” Treloar wrote.

She later told newsroom that P&O have said she will have her refund by the end of the month. “I let them have it,” she said, describing the tone of the conversation, “as it’s caused mental illness within part of the family, and distress.”

Another commenter on the Facebook post said she had been told P&O were only now refunding March cruises and that hers, which was due to sail this month, wouldn’t be refunded till July.

This is cold comfort to Morgan who wonders if she will ever get her money back. “They told me to send them a private message [on Facebook] which I did, and I can see that they have seen it but I’ve heard nothing back.”

* Made with the support of NZ on Air *

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