Airlines began their "frequent flyer" programs in 1981. Major hotel chains and car rental outfits introduced customer loyalty programs shortly thereafter. Cruise lines may have been a little slower to adopt the concept, but it certainly is industry-wide now, especially since SeaDream Yacht Clubs just introduced one, and MSC has said it is working on a comprehensive program for introduction in the next month or so.
The privileges that accrue to past guests vary from line to line, and encompass a wide array of benefits. According to the folks I've talked with or heard from, and comments from travel agents, there are three kinds of benefits that mean the most:
- Savings. Whether these are special cruise fare discounts for past passengers, or ways to save on board, saving money is always important.
- Recognition. Everyone likes to be recognized (well, I suppose there are a few who want to remain incognito), and members-only parties or tangible things like pins are meaningful.
- Priority Treatment. A new wave of benefits such as early embarkation/special check-in areas, priority tender service and early disembarkation solve some waiting time issues, particularly on the big ships.
Without trying to list all the benefits on a line-by-line basis, listed below are the highlights (in my opinion) of what is being offered, concentrating on savings and priority treatment. For full information, check out the lines you are interested in via your travel agent, cruise line websites, or directly. Are the benefits enough to make you loyal to one cruise line over another? That's up to you -- but then again, how many different airlines or rental car companies do you use?
(One special note: The several brands that are part of Carnival Corporation, joined together in a program called The World's Leading Cruise Lines, offer different savings and programs across all member lines – definitely worth looking into if you travel on one or more of them.)
CARNIVAL offers repeat cruisers discounts and on-board credits on select "Fun Ship" departures, special "Reunion Cruise" pricing with value added extra, a past guest magazine, and a cocktail party reception on cruises of five days or longer.
CELEBRITY offers three levels -- Classic, Select and Elite -- based on the number of credits earned (essentially one per cruise, but more on longer sailings or concierge/suite bookings). While there are several regular benefits across all levels, Classic Level privileges may also include upgrades, complimentary custom air requests, priority embarkation/debarkation and the ability to book specialty restaurants prior to sailing. The Select Level adds items such as 10 free Internet minutes, private cruise events and priority status for shore excursion waitlists. At the Elite Level, there's priority tender service, private departure lounge and breakfast, and complimentary use of Thalassotherapy pools on Century Class ships.
CRYSTAL CRUISES hosted its first repeater party on its second cruise, and has developed a program whose benefits change with every five additional cruises that a guest takes. After the five cruises, benefits include a one-category upgrade (categories G-P) on all voyages up to 14 days, and a $250 shipboard credit for penthouses (PH – CP). From there, the benefits increase to multiple-category upgrades, higher shipboard credits, air upgrades, cruise fare discounts, prepaid gratuities and free cruises.
CUNARD offers three levels of benefits: Silver, Gold and Platinum. For those who have taken their first voyage, subsequent benefits at the Silver Cunarder level include savings on Club Value Sailings, mailings with other special savings, and a members-only webpage. At the Gold Cunarder level, for those with two to six sailings, additional benefits include a special party (most sailings) and a Gold Cunarder pin. For those with more than seven voyages, or 48 consecutive days or more, extra benefits include priority check-in/embarkation in certain ports or on certain sailings and inivitations to onboard Senior Officer parties.
DISCOVERY WORLD CRUISES provides past guests with a $200 per-cabin onboard credit and complimentary upgrades from categories O through H up to G for bookings made now through March 1, 2005.
DISNEY guests become part of the Castaway Club upon their second sailing. Benefits include a special reservations phone number, special booking offers, an onboard reception, and special amentities in their rooms, such as beach towels and pins.
HOLLAND AMERICA automatically welcomes all past guests into its Mariner Society and rewards them based on the number of days sailed. The different award levels are noted with different pins. Members get special pricing on a variety of cruises, collectible gifts, special bag tags and badges, newsletters and magazines, and a champagne celebration during each cruise.
MSC has announced it will introduce a comprehensive loyalty program, for both consumers and agents, in the next month or so.
NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE'S past guests, automatically part of the Latitudes repeater program, get members-only savings and discounts, special check-in at certain ports, certain cruises designated for members-only amenities and events, and a dedicated website section. They also get Polo Club benefits when sailing on NCL's sister brand, Orient Lines.
OCEANIA'S Oceania Club for all repeaters offers onboard parties, special pricing, complimentary amenities and a twice-yearly Club Journal. Special benefit levels (Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum) kick in after a guest's fifth voyage and increase in multiples of five. At the Bronze Level, guests get a $200 per stateroom shipboard credit. At the upper Platinum Level, after 20 cruises, guests get a free cruise (some restrictions apply) and such things as complimentary spa treatments, gratuities and shore excursions.
PRINCESS' Captain's Circle for repeat guests has three levels. Gold is for those on their second through fifth cruise. Benefits include preferential pricing, Circle Center Online with referral awards and standby programs, a quarterly magazine and priority room assignment at Princess Lodges. The Platinum Level is for those with six to 15 cruises and provides additional benefits: special check-in, free Internet access, complimentary insurance upgrade and a separate disembarkation lounge. The Elite Level is for those with 16 or more cruises. These privileged guests also get priority tender embarkation, free dry-cleaning, laundry and shoeshine, complimentary mini-bar set-up and certain upgraded stateroom amenities.
RADISSON SEVEN SEAS provides repeaters with an automatic 5 percent savings off published prices, a magazine that typically includes special offers, and hosted sailings with special shore-side events. In addition, guests can earn Gold Points Rewards that they can redeem for merchandise and future cruises.
ROYAL CARIBBEAN'S loyalty program, the Crown & Anchor Society, has four levels: Gold, Platinum, Diamond and Diamond Plus. Basic benefits for all repeaters include special savings certificates via the Crown & Anchor magazine, a member section on the website, extra cruise credits for taking longer cruises or booking certain categories, and complimentary custom air. Benefits really kick in after the fifth cruise credit (the Platinum Level), when guests get a private departure lounge, priority check-in (when available), an exclusive onboard event, and a special number to call for pre-cruise benefits. The Diamond Level, after the tenth cruise, gets priority wait-listing for sold-out shore excursions/spa services, concierge service on select ships and priority departure.
SEABOURN repeaters are eligible for Club Signature Value savings of 50 percent on a wide variety of sailings. They also get Seabourn Club Herald magazine and other mail offers, an exclusive website portal, an extra 5 percent discount for onboard bookings and a free cruise after sailing for 140 days (not as strenuous a reach as you might think for their very loyal audience).
SEADREAM has just introduced its SeaDreamers club. Benefits will include a club newsletter (first issue is out in September), advance notice on new itineraries, an annual reunion sailing, special perks for bringing new guests on board, priority waitlist for sold-out sailings, pre-reserved spa appointments/shore excursions and special savings in the spa and boutique. SeaDream is also promising periodic surprises for repeaters.
SILVERSEA'S Venetian Society kicks in on the second cruise, with a sterling pin and 5 percent or 10 percent savings on Society cruises. At 100 days, benefits go up to a Tiffany pin and free on-board laundry; at 250 days, an additional 10% savings is tacked on. Free cruises, either seven or 10 days, are the reward for 350 days and 500 days (well worth being a loyal past guest).
WINDSTAR rewards its past guests with exclusive savings on certain sailings, a Foremast Club Magazine and special Internet offers. Through October 2004, repeaters earn an additional 10 percent savings per person for ALL 2005 sailings.
Summary: While these are only part of the benefits repeaters receive on a line-by-line basis, some are important enough to warrant one's loyalty, particularly if you like that line to begin with. It's worth looking into when you book your next cruise.
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