Cruise passengers refused refunds for slow ship that missed key ports as company sells same voyage for almost half price

Simon Calder
Full steam ahead: average rates on TUI's Marella cruises rose by £8 per night to £137: TUI

Britain’s biggest holiday company is refusing refunds to disappointed passengers booked on a faulty cruise ship – yet at the same time selling voyages to new customers at almost half price.

For the past five weeks Tui’s vessel, Marella Discovery, has been sailing in south east Asia with half her propulsion out of action. The ship suffered what the company called “localised burning within the transformer housing”, and is still awaiting repairs.

The maximum speed has been cut from 24 knots (28mph) to 16 knots (18mph) – meaning ​Marella Discovery cannot sail fast enough to reach all her planned ports of call in the Far East.

Passengers booked in January have been told they will miss calls at the Thai island of Koh Samui and the Malaysian city of Malacca. They will also be spending an additional 31 hours longer at sea.

Those leaving the ship at Langkawi were originally planning to be on the Malaysian holiday island from 8am to 10.40pm. They will now arrive at 6pm, shortly before sunset, and fly out at 4.15am.

Tui is refunding each passenger £250 regardless of the amount paid for the holiday. It is refusing requests for refunds, angering many passengers who booked months ahead at the original price.

The holiday company insists that changed itinerary does not count as “significant”; if it did, then the Package Travel Regulations would allow passengers to cancel for a full refund.

Yet at the same time, Tui is filling empty cabins by selling the cruises at almost half price.

A trip on 17 January from Manchester, previously priced at £2,370, has been offered at £1,341 – a discount of 44 per cent.

Abta, the travel association, agrees with Tui – a member company – that the changes are insignificant.

A spokesperson told The Independent: “Abta does not consider the changes to the itinerary of this cruise as significant and there has been no breach of its code of conduct.

“Tui is informing its affected customers and offering compensation, which is in line with what Abta would ask its members to do.”

The travel association added: “If customers maintain there has indeed been significant changes in their individual case or that the compensation offered is not enough they are entitled to pursue this.

“Customers are advised to travel under protest if their trip is departing soon and to pursue it with Tui on their return.

“They are also advised to make Tui aware of this decision pre travel.”

Some passengers are asking their credit card firms to refund the cost of the cruise on the grounds of breach of contract.

Paul Hardy from Yorkshire, who is booked to travel on 30 January, told The Independent: “I think we the customers have got an excellent case, as it all hinges on the meaning of the word ‘insignificant’.

“Tui should offer existing customers, that are booked to travel on the same cruise with the revised itinerary, a decent price reduction that reflects the current value of the cruise which is obviously demonstrably lower as demonstrated by their need to offer ‘significant’ discounts.

“I’m pretty infuriated with Tui and have now invested a great deal of time, money, effort and mental capital into pursuing them for a refund without any sign of success.”

Disappointed traveller: Paul Hardy has demanded a refund from Tui over the changes to his cruise (Paul Hardy)

The £250 compensation figure was decided by the travel firm’s board of directors. Tui offers members of its executive board two free family holidays a year, “without any limitation as to type of holiday, category or price”.

In 2019 Tui made profits of €539m (£460m), which represents over £50,000 per hour.

For passengers booked to travel in February, the compensation has been cut to £100 per person because by then Tui hopes to reinstate the call at Koh Samui.

A Tui spokesperson said: “Tui terms and conditions apply to all of our products and have been written in compliance with the Package Travel Regulations.

“These changes have occurred to the planned itinerary due to an unforeseen operational issue.”

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