Debbie Boukydis was looking forward to a relaxing Caribbean cruise aboard the Celebrity Eclipse last February. But she came home frustrated and exhausted after the cruise line misplaced her suitcase, leaving her with nothing to wear for a week, but the clothes she wore on the plane.
“I was devastated,” she told Celebrity Cruises in a complaint letter. “This bag had all my clothes, formal attire for the evenings, a special Valentine’s Day outfit, my husband’s Valentine’s Day gift, my bathing suits, cosmetics, shoes — everything, absolutely everything.”
Her bag was on the Celebrity Millennium, not the Celebrity Eclipse, and she could get it back only when she and her husband returned to Miami in seven days.
She asked if Celebrity would fly her home right away, but that would mean forfeiting the cost of the cruise. When the ship manager asked if she had baggage insurance and heard she had none, he offered a $500 credit to be used on the ship to cover the cost of clothing and cosmetics.
Unfortunately, there was little in her size and at a reasonable price to buy. She got flip-flop sandals for $110 and some logo T-shirts and pants for $275.
She and her husband ended up missing the formal nights on the ship, which had attracted them to Celebrity in the first place. They had to cancel a prepaid tour of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and argue for a refund, so they could go shopping for appropriate clothing instead. But the search proved to be fruitless.
“I had no luck finding a bathing suit or anything that could be deemed to be suitable for wear in the evenings,” she said.
Boukydis had spent her career in communications and customer service. She wanted compensation, but could not reach anyone in authority. So, she found the name of Celebrity’s chief executive, Daniel Hanrahan, and paid $75 to send registered letters to him and two other executives.
The chief executive did not apologize for the bad treatment. He did not even respond. Instead, Boukydis got a phone call from a Celebrity customer service representative two weeks after her registered letter was signed for in Miami.
“She asked for all my receipts. I said, ‘Did you read my letter? I don’t have receipts because there was nothing for me to buy.’ She wanted to explain to me what happened. I said I didn’t care what happened. Then she offered me $300 off on my next cruise. This was an insult, since I had already received offers of $400 to $500 in marketing emails.”
Boukydis told the Celebrity rep she had 30 minutes to come back with a better offer. And if Celebrity did not come back with a better offer in 30 minutes, here is what she would do:
When the representative talked about taking time to consult her team, Boukydis replied, “I don’t care. I want an answer in 30 minutes or I’ll go to the post office to register these letters.”
The threats worked. The rep called back by the deadline, saying that Celebrity would give Boukydis a free cruise. “For me only?” she asked. “I want it for my husband and me.” The rep agreed on the spot to extend the offer to both spouses.
Boukydis said yes, even though the Celebrity offer still came up short. She and her husband received a refund of $1,200 each, which covered the cruise, but not the airfare. There was no refund for the dining room upgrades that she did not get a chance to use because of wardrobe issues. And the free cruise had a time limit of one year.
“They wanted to get me off their back,” she said. “I could have pushed a bit further, but I’d had enough.”
In her letter to Celebrity, she said the staff at the Miami airport had tagged the couple’s four bags correctly. She had photos of the luggage, showing the bag that went cruising without her on the Millennium clearly had an Eclipse tag.
Boukydis learned a lesson from the experience, which was reinforced by her friends who had taken cruises. If you want to ensure that your bags go to the right place, do not let them out of your sight. Insist on taking them onto the bus and the ship yourself.
Susan Pigg, a Toronto Star reporter who worked in the travel section, has another tip. When travelling with a partner, divide the clothes between your checked bags. This means that if your bag goes astray, you will not lose everything you had planned to wear. There will be another bag with half of your belongings.
By Ellen Roseman, Toronto Star consumer affairs columnist