Richard Hackenberg, his wife and teenage sons had saved for their "trip of a lifetime" and plunked down $7,900 in March for a June trip around Hawaii with Norwegian Cruise Lines. Figuring they were healthy and would take the trip even if someone broke an arm or got the flu, they decided not to pony up an extra $500 or so for travel insurance.
But days before departure, Hackenberg's son became gravely ill with undiagnosed diabetes, his condition in intensive care "touch and go." Hackenberg called NCL asking to reschedule for any time in the future. No, he was told.
CoGo also begged, but NCL responded in an e-mail from spokeswoman Susan Robison: "if a passenger cancels a flight to Hawaii less than 75 days from sailing they are in 100 percent penalty."
Hackenberg said he's willing to go whenever there's excess space and is willing to pay any extra costs NCL would incur by rebooking his family. We tested reservations and found room for four passengers -- even last-minute and even over the Christmas holidays.
But "we cannot bend our cancellation policies for some and not others," wrote Robison. "It is also not fair" to those who have purchased travel insurance. The Hackenbergs, in addition to having large hospital bills, are just out $7,900.
All cruise lines have strict cancellation policies, so purchasing travel insurance is critical. Ron Murphy of the Federal Maritime Commission says he sometimes convinces a line to give a consumer a break, but "it's not the norm."
NEWS FROM ELECTROLAND
The case seemed simple: The air/hotel package to Buenos Aires was the same price whether you started from Boston or Washington. But CoGo, traveling with a friend, found that Internet sites couldn't handle the fact that one passenger would depart from Boston and the other from D.C. They treated us as if we were separate travelers and charged us each a single supplement.
Two online companies, GoToday and LanVacations, were able to fix the single-supplement problem if CoGo booked by phone, and CoGo eventually found the exact flights wanted in the package by going to a brick-and-mortar agent.
Now one agency has fixed the online problem: Site59.com has created a patent-pending tool that allows up to four people from two different cities to book a package together online. It has other handy little features, too. For instance, when you type in two departure cities and one destination, it sorts through the thousands of possible joint itineraries, shows you the six best based on price and coordinated arrival times, and tells you exactly how much time together, to the minute, each itinerary will offer. So, if you're meeting your boyfriend, you might want to choose the package that gives you the max time together. For someone else . . . well, maybe the less time the better.
New Orleans got a boost last week with the reopening of Cafe du Monde, and Marriott announced that 12 of its hotels in and around New Orleans are taking reservations for Nov. 1 and beyond . . . British Airways on Friday became the first airline to allow international passengers to print their own boarding passes. Nonstop passengers departing from seven U.S. airports, including Dulles and BWI, can check in, choose seats and print boarding passes online up to 23 hours before departure . . . Bid on a trip to New York that includes a cameo in Meryl Streep's latest movie or spend the week in French Polynesia. These are among 700 tantalizing items at an online auction hosted by Starwood Hotels and Resorts for Starwood employees devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Details: www.starwood katrinauction.com.
BARGAIN OF THE WEEK
Fly to Delhi, India for $1,073 round trip, including taxes. Details: What's the Deal?, Page P3.
Reporting: Cindy Loose
Help feed CoGo. Send travel news to: firstname.lastname@example.org. By fax: 202-912-3609. By mail: CoGo, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.