Here's What Experts Say You Need to Know if You're Canceling a Cruise

Unfortunately, cruises don't have the same forgiving policies as hotels and airlines.

Booking hotels with free cancellation is an absolute favorite feature of mine. I have, too many times, had plans change at the last possible second, and the free cancellation option has saved me hundreds of dollars. But not all types of travel plans can be canceled so easily. Cruises are especially different.

The time to cancel, modify, or otherwise change your cruise itinerary is before the day the final payment is due. As The Street details, it is very hard, and often even impossible, to make any changes or cancellations to your booking after that final payment has been made. The closer to the date of departure you are, the less likely you'll receive any compensation from the cruise company if you need to cancel for any reason.

This goes for most cruise lines, and especially Carnival Cruise Line. John Heald, Carnival's senior cruise director and brand ambassador, shared a viral post on Facebook this week identifying fielding cancellation requests that come too late as the worst part of his job.

"One of the saddest, most gut wrenching parts of my job is when people write that they have been ill, lost a loved one or been involved in an emergency situation at home," Heald writes. "They have therefore had to cancel their cruise. They ask me, they beg me to help them reclaim their money because, well, they didn't have insurance."

Major cruise lines don’t offer options to change trips for any reason after the final payment is made. That includes changes made for major emergencies and life events. While airlines might offer credit or rebooking options, cruise companies have no such policy. Once you've put all the money down or reach a certain number of days before the sailing, you've become ineligible for a refund.

The exception to that, according to Heald, is by making a very specific investment beforehand. "I hope I am not out of place then to say please, if you can purchase travel insurance," Heald wrote.

Why can traveler's insurance help? If your cancellation falls in the window that makes you ineligible for a refund from the cruise company, you likely will be eligible for reimbursement from a travel insurance policy. If you're interested in learning more about the types of travel insurance you can get, we've got you covered with a comprehensive guide. You can buy travel insurance through an agency, directly from the cruise company, or through the guidance of your travel agent.

Other tips to make sure a potential cruise cancellation doesn't bankrupt you? Mark your calendar for change and cancellation deadlines while you're booking your trip. Each cruise has different fine print, and you'll want to know your options before you make the pricey commitment. You can find cancellation policies on the cruise company's website.

Looking for more travel tips?

Whether you need help sneaking weed onto a plane, finding an airport where you can sign up for PreCheck without an appointment, or making sure you’re getting everything you’re entitled to when your flight is canceled, we’ve got you covered. Keep reading for up-to-date travel hacks and all the travel news you need to help you plan your next big adventure.

Want more Thrillist? Follow us on Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and YouTube.

Opheli Garcia Lawler is a Staff Writer on the News team at Thrillist. She holds a bachelor's and master's degree in Journalism from NYU's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. She's worked in digital media for eight years, and before working at Thrillist, she wrote for Mic, The Cut, The Fader, Vice, and other publications. Follow her on Twitter @opheligarcia and Instagram @opheligarcia.