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Originally published Friday, June 21, 2013 at 6:01 AM

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Shouldn’t cruise line refund dead passenger’s fare?

Shannon Tait’s mother is terminally ill and will miss that Alaska cruise with her sister. Can she get a refund? Read the surprising answer.

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Q: I am currently sitting on a deck overlooking a park at a hospice facility while my mother lies in her bed taking a morphine nap. She will die in a couple of days.

My mother was diagnosed with soft tissue sarcoma last year. We had expected that she would be around for at least another couple of years. But last week we discovered that the tumors she had more than tripled in size and a week later she was given a few days life expectancy.

That bucket-list cruise to Alaska, which is scheduled for next week, ain’t happening. In an effort to reduce debt, I tried to cancel her trip. My mother says, “Don’t bother canceling. They’ll keep your money and then book someone else in my room making double what they should!”

So I called the airlines she was scheduled to fly on. They were more than accommodating. They said they simply needed a letter and some other details pertaining to her death, and I was told a refund would be no problem.

I called Princess Cruise Line and they told me that they would not refund her cruise for any reason. They stated that if she bought the travel insurance they offer, she could get some money back, as long as it was not within two weeks of travel. It is within two weeks of her trip, so that wouldn’t have helped.

Is it true that Princess will now get paid twice for the cruise that my mother could not get reimbursed for? By canceling the cruise, they are informed that she will not be there and they now have the opportunity to resell this space, even if it is at an incredible discount. This seems a bit unethical. What do you think? — Shannon Tait, Wappingers Falls, N.Y.

A: I’m so sorry to hear about your mother. Between the time you first wrote to me and the time I closed your case, your mother passed away. My condolences on your loss.

I looked into the details of your cruise, and when you said this was a bucket-list vacation, you were not kidding. Your mother was terminally ill before she booked this trip with her sister, and most travel insurance would not cover her because of her pre-existing medical condition.

This isn’t a simple question of a cruise line pocketing the money for a passenger who passed away. Your mother and your aunt were taking their chances by booking a cruise under these circumstances. I can certainly understand their desire to get away together one last time, but they also knew they were taking a risk.

Could Princess have resold the cabin? Maybe. But that’s beside the point.

The real question is: What should a cruise line do when a passenger dies? Airlines offer a refund, no questions asked. I believe that’s the right thing to do for cruise lines as well.

The Princess representatives you spoke with didn’t see it that way, mostly because your mother had not yet passed away. But after she did, I believe the cruise line’s position would have changed. I can’t imagine any company not refunding a dead passenger’s ticket — whether she’s insured or not.

Indeed, when I contacted Princess on your behalf, it said her case was still “open,” meaning it hadn’t decided what to do yet. After it reviewed the details of your request, it refunded both your mother’s and your aunt’s cruise.

Christopher Elliott is co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance, a nonprofit organization that advocates for travelers. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org, or email him at chris@elliott.org.

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