Many cruiser passengers are still waiting for refunds, despite the fact that cruise companies have sent the money to the agency that booked them.

Frustration is beginning to boil over as the timeframe for their refund remains unclear. Communication lines are clogged. The persistent sometimes discover it will be months before they are paid out.

And it is hindering recovery.  Passengers who can’t rebook because they haven’t received refunds mean cruise lines are not getting cash back onto their books.

The problems have been caused by the extraordinarily complex repayment systems that involves not just the cruise lines – which have to account for all refunds, including drinks packages and other add ons – but airlines and ground transport.

What has frustrated many is that the cancellations have not been caused by passengers or the carrier. The systems are designed to handle passenger cancellations on a very small scale. The scale of what is happening now is unique.

Just last week, Flight Centre reduced their cancellation fees after backlash from customers. And today, it axed them altogether.

“The decision to waive fees will impact our business, nevertheless we have heard your feedback and we believe this step is the right one for the current economic conditions where stand-downs and job losses are a daily occurrence for many Australians.”

The company added a $200 bonus to those who left their money with the agency so they could rebook.

Customers are also starting to receive emails stating that cancellation fees will be waived by some cruise lines.

“Bookings made with some of our Cruise partners can be fully refunded without any Flight Centre cancellation fees, if you have paid in full and the sailing has been suspended due to the Coronavirus. These cruise lines include World’s Leading Cruise Lines (Princess, P&O, Carnival, Cunard), Norwegian Cruise Lines (Oceania, Regent, Seven Seas) and Royal Caribbean International including Celebrity and Azamara,” says one email.

This is good news for Gillian Duncan who booked a Holland America cruise with Flight Centre and had to pay $300 per person in cancellation fees, but realised that it would be a long wait after contacting both the cruise line and her travel agent.

“Holland America did say it could take 120 or more days for them to even reimburse my money to Flight Centre, Flight Centre then claim it will take approximately 90 more days for them to reimburse,” says Gillian Duncan.

“It can take up to 3 months to receive the monies back from suppliers in a normal trading environment. In the current environment, which is far from normal, some suppliers, particularly airlines, are unable to process within these timelines and have formally advised us that it may take up to 6 months to process refunds. It’s also important to note that policies do continue to change however as suppliers also work to reflect current market conditions,” writes the Flight Centre email.

“I’d rather have the money back and book directly when things settle down. I really hope we get our money back otherwise we wouldn’t be able to travel again for some time,” says Ms Duncan, who is keen to rebook a cruise next year.

And Ms Duncan is not alone. Dora Miraglia-Meola who booked a Princess cruise with Ozcruising is still waiting for her cruise refund which she cancelled in mid March. “They are saying it could take 3-6 months but they suggest a credit to be used within 24 months.”

“No refund from Carnival yet, $6k but they did say 90 days and it’s only been 45 days since I sent the form off to them. I did book through Cruise Sale Finder but they assure me I get it all back less the credit card fees but their business is closing in September now so hopefully the money comes to me and not them,” says Vanda Bagnall.

Other travel agents like CruiseGuru has also removed its usual $110 per person cancellation fee for cruises cancelled due to suspension and is advising a minimum of 12 to 14 weeks wait for refunds. Cruiseaway has also told their clients to expect a 12 week wait.

“Cruise was cancelled by Norwegian Cruise Lines 9 February, asked Cruiseaway for refund, NCL refunded agent late March – still waiting for any details let alone a refund from agent – absolutely disgusted!” says Colin Neil who rang Norwegian Cruise Lines directly for information and was told that the refund has been sent.

For travel agents who are charging cancellation fees in this time, the Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA) and consumer affairs advocate CHOICE confirms that agents are within their rights to charge cancellation fees.

“The system and revenue flow to agents for their time spent is not designed for cancellations and refunds. Agents are doing all they can for clients and are caught in the middle without any control over the actions of suppliers,” says AFTA.

Are things any different for cruisers who booked directly with the lines?

Some cruisers who booked directly with the lines have had more luck in receiving their refunds.

“We received cruise refund from Princess but still waiting for flights compensation! Since Feb 13,” says Marita Lilley.

“We received a refund from Holland America, no refund at all from the flights on Qantas. We are waiting on a refund from Cunard,” says Megan Keys.

Meanwhile Royal Caribbean cruisers who had cancelled March cruises are starting to receive refunds last week on things like their drinks packages, internet and shore excursions, according to cruisers in the Cruising with Royal Caribbean from Australia Facebook group.

However, some cruisers are still waiting for their cruise credits and most cruisers are still awaiting refund on their cruise fare.

Royal Caribbean cruiser Kim Merrick who opted for a future cruise credit also considers her cruise refunded in full after the shore excursions and drinks package refund came in last week.

“The FCC and onboard credits came within 10 days and shore excursions and drinks package came about four weeks,” says Ms Merrick.

“I am completely satisfied with their handling of the situation got a cruise booked in October and two in February. If they don’t go ahead I know Royal will handle it. Always loyal to Royal.”

The lines are still working on it

Royal Caribbean confirms that they have started issuing refunds and FCCs.

“On average refunds will take up to 45 days. The 45 days is from the cancellation date OR the request date. For those guests who have booked through a travel agent the refund is being sent directly to the agent to provide to the guest,” says the line.

“Royal Caribbean International continues to enjoy working closely with our loyal guests, and is excited to help support them with their future holiday bookings. We look forward to welcoming guests with both existing and new bookings onboard in the near future.”

Carnival Corporation also confirms that refunds are already going out along with the offer of future cruise credits.

“Our brands are committed to making refunds for cancelled cruises available as quickly as possible while noting the complexity of the task that became necessary with the worldwide pause in cruising in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Carnival.

“Refunds are already going out along with the offer of future cruise credits as applicable. Our brands expect to complete the refund process in coming weeks. We look forward to the resumption of cruising when coronavirus has been defeated and we can once again welcome our guests on board. In the meantime we appreciate the patience and understanding of guests while we complete the refund process with care and accuracy.”

Meanwhile NCL brands say that refunds will be returned to the original form of payment 90 days after the request for refund.