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One of Australia’s leading travel agencies, Helloworld, has changed its trading agreement with Norwegian Cruise Line in a row over its refund policy.

Helloworld’s CEO Andrew Burnes claimed the line asked the agency to pay for cancelled cruises in full before it could get a refund.

The agency has “nearly $4 million outstanding in deposits and payments with NCL”, according to the travel agency boss, who owns one of the biggest retail operations in Australia and New Zealand.

Refunds have become a major problem for the travel agency as it grappled with tens of thousands of cruisers and other travel clients who have had trips cancelled due to COVID-19.

But for a major agency to drop its valuable “preferred” relationship with a line like Norwegian is unusual.

Mr Burnes, who recently won an award for travel services in the Queens’ Birthday Honours, described NCL as “dreadful to deal with” since the pandemic.

“Most particularly their approach that in order for us to get a refund on a booking that was deposited, we had to pay to them the full amount of that booking and then apply for a refund,” said Mr Burnes, according to a Cruise Weekly report.

“We make no excuses for our hardline stance in relation to strongly resisting your customers to hand over very significant amounts of money for cruises that we all know are not going,” he added.

NCL declined to comment.

However, Barry Downs of Bicton Travel in Perth said that NCL has been “very transparent” with their refunds and there had been no problems.

“Given that cruise lines are dealing with massive numbers of cancellations and refunds, dealing with NCL over refunds, has been fine,” Mr Downs said.

NCL  has also cancelled all sailings in Australia and New Zealand until 2021.

The line had scheduled the Norwegian Jewel and Norwegian Spirit to sail in local waters from September this year to February next year. These sailings will now not take place.

“As a result of changes to the redeployment of our fleet, all Norwegian Jewel sailings from Sept. 25, 2020 through Feb. 27, 2021 have been cancelled. Guests booked on these sailings will receive a full refund as well as a future cruise credit worth 10% of the fare paid. The credit can be used for up to one year from June 9, 2020 and can be applied towards any currently published sailings between January 1, 2021 through December 31, 2022,” said a NCL spokesperson last week.

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