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TRAVEL TROUBLESHOOTER

American Queen changes COVID protocols; can I get a refund?

After American Queen changed its COVID protocols, Patricia Voorhees Furlong and her husband wanted to skip their river cruise. Is that allowed? Or, will they lose out on $7,858?

When the letter writer booked her cruise, PCR tests, social distancing, and masks were required.Andrii Zastrozhnov - stock.adobe.com

Q. My husband and I have a cruise scheduled to depart this month on the American Empress from Vancouver, Wash., to Clarkston, Wash. I logged onto the cruise line’s website to check the COVID protocols, including required PCR tests and facemasks. When we booked the cruise, my husband and I thoroughly reviewed the procedures in place. We felt comfortable and felt that the overall standards were excellent.

However, I was shocked to see how reduced the standards have become. A PCR test was no longer required, and only antigen tests would be given before boarding. Proof of vaccinations (not booster shots) were mandatory. But, social distancing and masks were no longer required.

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I immediately reached out to our travel agent, who was equally surprised. She promised to call me back. I am still waiting to hear back from her. In the meantime, I contacted our doctor for his advice with the reduced protocols. He sent us a letter strongly advising us not to participate in the cruise, especially with the increased number of cases at the moment.

I also contacted our travel insurance, but our company said we could file a claim if we had a reason to not receive a vaccination. My husband and I are both vaccinated.

American Queen, the cruise line, will keep 100 percent of our cruise fare if we cancel now. But, the cruise line changed its protocol without any notification. And the company’s present protocols are lesser than the other major cruise lines’. Could you help us either get our money back, or a cruise credit?

PATRICIA VOORHEES FURLONG, Lebanon, Pa.

A. I can understand your reasons for canceling your cruise. Your health is more important than any vacation. But is American Queen required to refund your cruise when it changes its COVID requirements?

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Before I answer, I wanted to clarify the timeline on this. Your cruise was scheduled for May 2022, when cases were rising again, but many cruise lines had loosened their masking and social-distancing requirements.

American Queen doesn’t address health and safety requirements in its passenger ticket contract, which serves as the legal agreement between you and the company. That means it can make a change like adding or removing a mask requirement, and it owes passengers nothing. American Queen could keep your money.

But I don’t think it should. COVID turned everything upside down. Passengers made some concessions to cruise lines — and vice versa. American Queen should show a little understanding and offer you either a refund or a voucher for a future cruise.

Also, I think you bought the wrong insurance for your circumstances. If you had a “cancel for any reason” policy, you could have canceled and received between 50 percent and 75 percent of your prepaid, nonrefundable expenses. You had a less expensive Named Perils policy, which wouldn’t allow you to cancel and get your money back.

I contacted American Queen. The company offered you vouchers that are valid for the next two years. The company has also refunded your port fees.

Christopher Elliott is the chief advocacy officer of Elliott Advocacy, a nonprofit organization that helps consumers resolve their problems. Elliott’s latest book is “How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler” (National Geographic). Contact him at elliott.org/help or chris@elliott.org.