Travel agency CruiseAway has assured 40 retirees who had their cruise holidays in the US cancelled that they will get their full refunds by next week.

“By this time next week, they will get all their money back,” CruiseAway director of operations, Ashkan Ghasemi in Brisbane told Cruise Passenger.

“As a travel agency, we will waive all our fees and commission and give back the full amount. Refunds are processed to the same payment method used to pay for the bookings,” he added.

The group of 40 from a church group in Melbourne’s St Albans, had paid about $400,000 for the month-long, once-in-a-lifetime holiday in America including a two-week Caribbean cruise on MSC Seaside which was cancelled because of the pandemic.

Elizabeth Bednarski, 73, told Channel 9’s A Current Affair, she had paid $8,840 for her holiday and has been waiting months for her refund.

Elizabeth Bednarski

“It sounded very exciting. It was a land tour in North America, the southern states and then a two-week cruise of the Caribbean. Everyone was looking forward to it.

“It is just not right for people to sit on our refunds,” she said.

Another pensioner, Jeanette Spiteri, 75, was so excited by the trip she had already packed her suitcase.

“I’ve got three of my family members in the group. Between us, it’s cost us about $45,000. So it’s for all of us. If one gets it, we all get it,” Ms Spiteri said.

Retiree Emily Giorgetti and her partner, Bruno Pistone spent $20,000 on this bucket-list trip.

“I’ve never dreamed that I would be going to the Caribbean – so I was immediately attracted by the holiday,” Ms Giorgetti said.

The holiday would have included visits to Memphis, Nashville, Atlanta, Orlando and Miami followed by a two-week cruise on MSC Seaside to the Caribbean. It was booked in November last year for the June trip which was cancelled in March and the group has been waiting for refunds since.

She added that the holiday was organised by another church-going friend, Charles Desira who was also going on the holiday. He arranged for the money to be collected and paid to CruiseAway. Some people paid in cash, others by cheque or credit card. Some paid by direct debit into his bank account.

“Charlie has previously organised two domestic holidays for the group and they all went well and were successful,” said Ms Giorgetti.

Mr Desira confirmed he helped organise the trip and that he paid $14,000 for himself and his wife Michellina to go on the holiday.

“I am very stressed out – I am getting the blame. I have got nothing back in refunds. I will get everybody’s money back but I have not received anything yet from CruiseAway. I hope to receive refunds in the next few days and will reimburse the money to everyone in the group,” Mr Desira told Cruise Passenger.

An MSC statement said: “As guests booked through a booking agent with MSC Cruises, the booking agent was automatically provided with a 125 percent Future Cruise Credit of the original cruise fare paid plus any prepaid services for each client. The Future Cruise Credits were sent to the booking agent, whom deal directly with their clients.

“With the 125 per cent Future Cruise Credit, guests can choose to upgrade their cabin or treat themselves to pre-paid items to enrich their cruise. As an added level of comfort, for guests that are unable to use their 125 per cent Future Cruise Credit by December 31, 2022, we will provide a full refund equal to the original amount paid.  This refund can be requested at any time, by the booking agent.

“We hoped guests appreciated the increased value of the Future Cruise Credit and booked a future cruise with MSC Cruises. However, their booking agent submitted a request for refund.  We have therefore deactivated their Future Cruise Credit and processed the refund and provided such to their booking agent.  The agent is responsible for actioning the refund with their client.”