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About BWIVince

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  1. Just another point of clarification... The terms ARE set on the merchant's side, but the merchant contracts with a merchant services company (often a bank) and not directly with the credit card brands. The credit card brands aren't processors -- they're many layers up the chain. The merchant services company (often their bank) works with certain processors/gateways (like Elavon, First Data/Fiserv, Payflow Pro, etc.). Brands like Visa, AmEx, etc. set standards, but they don't dictate the granular terms that the merchant services companies or processors do. A merchant's contract terms can vary quite a bit from one merchant services provider to another. Vince
  2. I understand your point, but unfortunately banks in this country wield an incredible amount of power, and have taken a lot of control over commerce in this country. Coulda, shoulda, woulda, but this is the world we live in and Crystal has to follow those rules. Trust me, I'm sure (based on what I've seen with other merchants) they are constrained by a lot of terms that benefit the bank that I'm sure they wish they could drop, which would make refunds more expeditious, but that's what the whole industry has to work with. For the record though, we're picking on cruise lines for "unilaterally defining" their refund policy, but is there any retail service industry (travel or otherwise) that doesn't have that ability? Certainly all the segments of the travel industry are guided/given guidance/leeway by their credit card agreements the same way cruise lines are. Vince
  3. Your bank did what they should, and is crediting your account immediately but waiting to do the chargeback until Crystal's policy is followed on your part. That way they've covered the bases and eliminate the risk you'd lose the dispute. Not every bank catches that though, that's why I mention asking for a provisional credit instead of jumping on the dispute prematurely. That puts it on the bank's radar, reduces the risk of timing out, AND prevents the risk of the dispute getting tossed out and being a mark against the cardholder. If the bank wants to act on the provisional credit and do a chargeback early that's THEIR option, but if you prematurely dispute it (instead of the provisional credit) then you take the risk personally. Your point about timing is a good one -- if you're running out of time by your cardholder agreement, definitely use the provisional credit route to get the claim on the books early -- just be up front with the bank about the 90 day refund response from Crystal. They will work with you to follow the rules properly. In fairness to Crystal (which I can't remember the last time I said that), it's not like Crystal has any choice or control in the matter. Right now, I assume the only money Crystal has coming in are the slow trickle of refunds from vendors, which can't possibly be covering the chargebacks that credit card companies are taking from Crystal. I wouldn't be surprised if Crystal is having to work with their merchant services company to borrow from their escrows to cover the chargebacks (which is the ONLY thing that money can be used for), but I'd have no idea if that's actually true... Just feels that way from what we see. Disputes are a double edged sword. I don't begrudge anyone filing a dispute -- they are actually entitled to do so and deserve their promised refunds... Unfortunately though, the consequence is the orderly refund of bookings chronologically, which CAN'T happen when more money is being "hijacked" out than coming in. We'll see what kind of funding solution Genting works out to change that, but until then the chargebacks rule. Vince
  4. I want to clarify the option of calling the bank BEFORE the 90 days is up because I’m not sure it was correctly explained upthread. IF you want to start early, get a provisional credit and get the refund on the bank’s radar, call the bank and explain that Crystal is promising a refund, provide the documentation, and explain the refund isn’t expected for 90 days or more, and request a provisional credit. The bank will usually be happy to issue the credit, and this way they know properly where Crystal stands legally in the process, and it should bridge the gap until Crystal’s credit arrives. (It’s also a nice way to shift the wait game off to the bank, which may well get impatient with Crystal and take their own action without you having to lift a finger or worry about a thing.) Every cardholder agreement I’ve ever seen (but obviously I don’t know all of them) requires you to work with the merchant first and to follow their process before filing a dispute. If you try to file a dispute first without explaining the situation to the bank first, you risk the dispute being thrown out and not being able to take advantage of a provisional credit. THIS IS NOT TO SAY that the bank might not advance the dispute in error or that Crystal might not just pay the chargeback to avoid messing with it, BUT Crystal would absolutely win a dispute of a chargeback that jumped the gun if they wished to dispute it. There is a lot to lose and really nothing to gain by going the wrong route on this. Request a provisional credit properly. Vince
  5. That's a tricky one... If you did proceed, I would confirm with your bank first -- and save that communication -- that you would be able to dispute the credit that Crystal is posting if it doesn't post after 90 days despite the sailing being credited being different from the sailing originally charged on your card. Because it's no longer technically a transaction refund, since there has been an exchange on your purchase and the purchase generating the "credit" is no longer the booking linked to your credit card transaction, the bank may no longer have a transaction to tie your dispute to -- depending on how their system or policies are set up. One bank may follow the money, but another bank may not, and that's important to determine first before you go that route. Does that help any? Vince
  6. When the merchant receives the chargeback, they definitely can dispute it the same way a customer can dispute charge. They can also dispute it more than once -- a couple of months ago I had to have our accounting team dispute a chargeback 3 times because we had already refunded a charge the prior month, and for some reason the bank wasn't looking at the right credit and kept thinking we hadn't processed the refund. With volume going through the banks at the time, they weren't reading the documentation as carefully as normal, it felt like. IMPORTANT: Crystal doesn't have the option of disputing a chargeback based on their time to process the refund. If you waited too long to request the refund in the first place (like you waited 5 years to return sheets to Target) then the merchant could dispute that, but any claims related to timing out of an already requested refund are PURELY at the bank level. Those time limits are exclusively set and managed by the banks, and all of the situations I can think of off the top of my head would involve the cardholder's bank and not even the merchant's. The chargeback dispute responses vary a little by merchant processor, but the most common reasons for a merchant to dispute a chargeback would include: Already refunded the charge, Customer never paid in the first place (for some reason the money never settled), customer's request is in violation of refund/return policy, customer provided fraudulent documentation, etc.. In all those cases the merchant has to thoroughly document their claim. There really isn't anything for Crystal to argue on these disputes older than 90 days, I can't imagine they're disputing any of the older ones. They are cut and dry "merchant didn't deliver services" claims. Crystal doesn't pay the banks a penny to do anything related to chargebacks. The banks get paid their money from the fees on the transactions, so they get paid the same whether they approve a dispute or decline it. If you have a copy of a policy that states a lower number of days than 90 days, then you are welcome to provide that to your credit card company. Likewise, if you think Crystal somehow changed their policy in a way they weren't allowed to, you are welcome to argue that with your bank as well. Aside from your right to sue them (which you can also do), your bank is the one that enforces your cardholder privileges. Vince
  7. Thanks Jim.... I was picturing in my head (for no reason) that it was for a defined sailing date. That scenario (unfortunately) makes a little more sense. Although credit card companies can always enforce a cutoff on disputes, when a service date (sailing) is defined on the statement, the claim that a merchant failed to deliver the services purchased “logically” (vs. legally) shifts the focus from the transaction date to the sailing date. The bank doesn’t have to follow the bouncing ball like that, but if you have a cruise booked in January (for example), it gets cancelled in March, you dispute it in September, and the sailing date is in October, it takes a lot stronger of a stomach for the bank to come back to their customer and say that the merchant didn’t fail to deliver services as agreed. That said of course, banks are unfortunately pretty good about enforcing rules instead of services and saying unpopular things, so even though that argument usually wins, it’s no guarantee. There’s nothing democratized about credit card processing. There are two sets of rules in a purchase, and they can conflict. The merchant’s rules are set in their agreement with their merchant services company. Your rules are set in your cardholder agreement with your credit card company. When they conflict, it’s up to your bank to work it out with the merchant’s processor. The merchant’s agreement with their processor basically outlines the merchant’s obligations in exchange for accepting credit cards. Among the things it can define are limits to policies, since the processor is the one that has to line up the merchant’s transactions against the cardholder’s rights in their various agreements — the processor becomes the middleman and needs the merchant’s policies to meet certain standards. Every merchant services company has wildly different terms — these become a competitive point that allows the merchant to shop the one whose terms meet their needs. The window that the merchant has to process refunds is one of those variables. I’m not an expert on credit card processing so I don’t profess to know how common that window varies, but most of the agreements I’ve been privy to give the merchant leeway to set a policy between 7 and 180 days. I’ve not seen an agreement that gives the merchant more than 180 days. The merchant still has to perform to their policy — if they say 90 days, the claim becomes disputable on the 91st day. The merchant’s terms and the cardholder’s terms can conflict. The merchant services company will generally outline terms that work with most cardholder agreements, but because individual banks issue credit cards, they can come up with some creative products with novel terms. The banks will work out those differences with a dispute — often in the cardholder’s favor since everyone recognizes the common goal to please the customer — but that’s not guaranteed. A dispute is expensive and extremely time consuming because it touches many hands. The cardholder’s bank works with the merchant processor, the merchant processor works with the merchant, the merchant responds to their processor, their processor responds to the cardholder’s bank, which goes back to the processor, who goes back to the merchant, over and over for several rounds. When a dispute is declined, it’s usually because the cardholder’s bank isn’t willing to step in and pay themselves on a term that the merchant followed properly in their agreement. Its not that a cruise line gets to do what they want, it’s more a form of mediation between different sets of terms. Vince
  8. Yeah, that was definitely not how I read those comments, with the term wrongdoing used multiple times over two messages. Thanks for the additional insight. Whoa, I never said Crystal shouldn't correct errors. My point about waiting was in regard to Tom sending out an update email, not about Crystal correcting incorrect information. At this point there is probably not an accurate status update to communicate (since so many things are pending) so that is the part that I think would be doomed for failure -- that's not to say posted errors should not be corrected where they can (without forward looking statements that need to wait a couple of weeks until some of these pending plans finalize). Vince
  9. My question to Elizabethbea was in regards to the allegation of wrongdoing. Usually in legal terms that implies committing some kind of crime. If they mean in terms of unethical leadership style (also a definition) or something other than legally, of course, I withdraw the question based on my misinterpretation. For sure there are plenty of companies that are not in Crystal's boat in terms of refunds, and are running circles around Crystal. That alone makes Tom's comment dubious. That said, my company has plenty of clients processing refunds in the 70-85 day range though for many of the same reasons Crystal is (waiting for their refunds to come back, waiting for investments, manual processes as the money trickles back in, etc.), so I personally have a hard time calling Tom's assertion a "lie", but people are definitely entitled to feel that way based on what they see from where they sit. No argument there, just a comment. I completely agree about the need to update the refund documentation, and communicate better. I agree with others that at the moment whatever he says will probably be inaccurate in another day or two, so it's better to wait a little bit until he has something solid to report, BUT that doesn't excuse the overall poor communication which is definitely a valid criticism. Jim, just out of curiosity (you don't have to answer these if it's too personal), what was the sailing date on that cruise that you disputed the charge on? Also, if that sailing date hasn't passed yet, was the sailing date specified on the charge details on your statement? Lastly, were they saying 150-ish days was too long from the refund request, or that the dispute was too long from the original charge date? I've had LOTS of go-rounds with banks, both filing disputes as a cardholder and receiving chargebacks in helping clients manage shared merchant accounts, so I'm just curious if this falls in usual norms or if banks are changing their tune as the crisis drags on. Thanks! Vince
  10. My pleasure, Jim... IIRC, normally the cruise line sends out the instructions as part of the bankruptcy information to deposit holders, but the FMC's Bureau of Licensing and Certification seems to be the contact info you'd use to actually file a claim if you needed to go that route. I'm sure they get a lot of ineligible inquiries, so having a gatekeeper to evaluate the potential claims before a passenger gets started is probably beneficial. It depends... What exactly is the felony you're accusing Mr. Wolber of? So far I haven't seen an actual felony mentioned. Vince
  11. This is probably a question for the lawyers on the board, as it's outside my wheelhouse. I'm honestly not aware of any statutory limitations on refunds from a government perspective. From a credit card perspective, most of my clients merchant agreements give them a 180 day window to set their refund policies in. That said, they are still expected to perform to whatever they set their policy at. If they say they can do it in 90 days, and they don't, then the merchant ends up with time-consuming, costly, harder to manage chargebacks, and if they say 180 days in their policy than they scare off customers that want worry refunds will be a nightmare. That's theoretically the balance. The credit card companies don't give that window just because they enjoy getting angry calls and letters from their cardholders -- it's done because refunds in the travel industry often involve recollecting funds from third party vendors, which may be challenging in certain economic conditions. This may really test that whole system, because I can honestly say all the turnips are squeezing each other at this point. I'm not defending it, I'm just giving context... 🙂 Personally, I think Crystal isn't holding up as well to this process as other lines are, but in reading threads in other forums there are definitely lines that are reporting long delays. That doesn't excuse Crystal at all, but it's not like they're alone. Regardless, that was my exact point -- that's the valid comparison. Some lines have stayed WELL ahead of Crystal in terms of turnaround, and those should be the ones that get the praise, not airlines. Vince
  12. Jim, Regarding the merchant account escrows, just work with your credit card company on a dispute (after the line’s 90 day or whatever refund period they specify). That is the money they basically earmark to protect that process, so it’s basically their money to manage. Regarding the FMC bonds, my understanding is that the line has to file for some chapter of bankruptcy first. One of the reasons suppliers are supposed to keep separate accounts is because passenger deposits are YOUR money while the company is a going concern. Unless something has changed recently (I’m definitely not a lawyer and defer to those on the board that are), the way it’s worked in the past is that all accounts and assets (even the passenger deposits) come under the control of the court once bankrupt, so things get much muddier. It’s at this point that depending on what the court decides that the FMC or local jurisdictions that provide coverage would normally come in to help fill any gap created by the court ruling. The FMC has more info on their website, including contact info if you’d like to reach out to them with questions or for more info: https://www.fmc.gov/resources-services/passenger-vessel-operators/ There’s a link on that page for cruise passenger assistance that tries to break off people who need help with various service issues not related by financial performance, but if you follow the direction for financial responsibility it should take you to the Bureau of Licensing and Certification. Hope that adds a little more insight... Vince
  13. When it comes to refund processing, it’s fairer to compare cruise lines to cruise lines than any cruise line to an airline. In terms of process, US airlines process millions of dollars in refunds and hundreds of thousands of ticket changes a day — pre-COVID they had entire teams and automated systems to help expedite these changes because their highest margin tickets are last minute tickets with volatile plans. Cruise lines were never set up for that because their business needs were quite the opposite (until one day...). In terms of money, cruise lines also require a lot more outlay than a flight, so a higher percentage of a passenger’s money ends up in various vendors hands prior to travel, so the percentage of money an airline is waiting to come back so they can refund it to the customer can also look very different between cruise lines and airlines. I think all cruise lines are required to keep passenger deposits in separate accounts by their accounting firms and auditors, they don’t get carte blanche access to that money, something that is common in most segments of the travel industry. In my end of the industry we have to keep all monies separate, and define a disbursement schedule for those funds that the auditors keep us to. The problem comes in where you mention the current outlays. Even using a passenger’s money just for their cruise, a huge outlay for that sailing begins at 180 days and increases at 90 and 30 days as they have to pay all of the suppliers. During many years of Crystal’s operation over the past 30 years, they’ve lost money just on the cruise operation alone, not even counting fixed costs, so they would literally be fronting 100% of their passenger revenue for all future sailings on a rolling basis, which I’m sure would be logistically impossible for just about any cruise line. I think this is usually why we go the bonding route to mitigate the risk (more below). Funny enough, I think some cruise lines play a little with how they claim this money is handled. In another thread, I think it was a quote from Tauck that claimed something to the effect that they don’t use their passenger account money to fund their business operation. In my segment of the industry that would be different from guest operations, and would be a claim that they don’t intermingle guest funds by paying for their fixed costs like office operation and administration. Well that’s great, but I’m not really sure that’s different from other cruise lines, and it certainly doesn’t address the outlay problem that can be caused when vendors don’t return the deposits in a timely manner (or at all in some cases.) Fortunately Tauck has a great diversity and scale that should help offset that issue, and great management, but I don’t think their quote really distinguishes them from anyone else. Because the cash outlays for cruise lines are kind of unique in the travel industry, in the US we’ve gone the route of bonds to help offset that risk. In true US style though, the government doesn’t burden the business with the whole risk but just a partial measure, so the goal isn’t to make every customer whole, just to ensure that all passengers get “something” back. The idea is that with different layers of coverage, you lower the cost and spread the pain thinner and thinner. I’m not saying that’s a good plan, it’s just how a lot of industries in the US work, including the cruise industry. Two of those pieces of the puzzle include: - Federal Maritime Commissions surety bonds — partial coverage of passenger deposits. If someone can figure out the formula from the FMC’s public info you might win a prize, but in summary it’s partial coverage. - Merchant Account escrow/bonds — most US merchant services banks no longer allow merchants to amass large sums of money (transactions over $1000) for services to be delivered more than a few months ahead of the transaction without some kind of escrow or surety bond based on their volume. (For the most part this changed in 2007.) Just like the FMC this doesn’t cover all monies processed, but gives the credit card processor a very good cushion on chargebacks in case they need it. I think it would be nice if an insurer covered all bookings for a cruise line as a blanket policy, but I fear with the uncertainty about if/when cruise lines will be able to start full-scale operations globally again, I’m not sure any insurer would actually ever accept that big of a risk on any line. I think they’d rather spread it out on on certain types of individual policies among a portfolio. 🙁. That’s just my gut feeling though. Vince
  14. In other threads here it’s been reported that they’ve stopped taking payments until they get a better grasp on what’s going on with future sailings. Keep in mind they’re paying hefty charges on all the money they’re cycling (4-6% between charges and refunds) every time they have to charge and then refund the same booking, and many bookings have now been cycled more than once... Not to mention whatever may be going on with their merchant account relevant to the pending refunds. Professionally, I manage teams that plan and execute events like Crystal’s presidents cruise. Onsite, I work 14-16 hour days, and I work right beside presidents and CEOs of different organizations, as we run their various receptions and presentations. I assure you, their work onboard is NOTHING like you describe. First, you overlook that they are not off the clock when they’re onboard — they still have to do all of the work and attend (virtually) all the meetings that they would normally attend that day, it just gets shuffled in between their appearances. Second, just because they only have public appearances scheduled for certain times of the day, the rest of the day (not counting their “office work”) is taken up with rehearsals for the presentations and guest forums, inspections, meetings with department heads that don’t normally get face time with the execs, etc.. I’ve avoided doing this at sea and have stuck to land events, but I’ve been “lucky” enough to do this at fancy resorts equivalent to Crystal for some of the assignments for the past 20+ years, and the nice venue really doesn’t make much of a difference when you’re working all day and shadowing a CEO. I’ve also been onboard for cruises with two past Crystal leaders, and I’ve seen their schedule. Vince
  15. I certainly don’t disagree with your feelings about the refunds, but Crystal is NOT taking other people’s money for future cruises. Also, I’m pretty sure the CEO isn’t allowed to cruise for free on Crystal when he’s not working — that’s usually prohibited. Vince
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