Retailers laud NCL for holding line on air pay

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MIAMI -- Norwegian Cruise Line's decision to maintain 10% pay on airline tickets sold through the line and sister brand Orient Lines was an uplifting note to agents amid commission cuts from the airlines and car rental firms.

NCL executives gave themselves until the end of Wave season to decide whether to cut air commissions to 5%, a move initiated last September by Carnival and quickly matched by other large lines.

NCL chief executive officer Colin Veitch previously had noted the decision to stay at 10% was not to be taken lightly.

"This is costing us money on the face of it," he said. "We have a five-point differential in our commission."

But, he added, "It's worth it if we get something back."

That "something" NCL was looking for was a market-share shift to the line. And something did happen: NCL reported a 60% increase in Wave period bookings this year.

Cruise retailers called the move to retain 10% pay on air tickets "fantastic."

"The air commission is a big part of our business," said Chris Schwenk, leisure manager for Travelsavers in Winter Park, Fla. "We try to move market share based on what the commission levels are as well as what our relationships are with each vendor."

"Norwegian is very big with us ... and I definitely think it was a great thing that Colin [Veitch] and his team decided to stay at 10%," he added.

George Wozniak, president of one of NCL's top-producing agencies, Minneapolis-based Hobbit Travel, said changing prices over the years -- cruise rates have decreased while air fares have increased -- have nibbled away at commissions. NCL, he said, "probably didn't want to add insult to injury."

Even agents who don't book a lot of NCL, such as Sandra Perdue, owner of Cruise Shoppe Operations in Salem, Va., applauded the move.

"Just the 10% commission itself, with no other extenuating circumstances, wouldn't send you to one line," Perdue noted, but added, "it's a good incentive."

"I'm sure agents who do a lot of booking with NCL really applaud it," she said. "And what few bookings we do, I think it's great. It's great to show support for the agent community."

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