Cruise Line Loyalty Rewards Programs (Part 10)

| April 20, 2009

Seabourn, Silversea and a wrap-up comparison of ALL the cruise line loyalty programs.

The Yachts of Seabourn

Seabourn also already includes beverages and gratuities in the cruise fare like Regent and Silversea.

The most important thing to know about Seabourn is that the rules will change as of January 2010. Before that date you can claim a free 14-day cruise for completing 140 days of sailing on Seabourn. After January 1, 2010, this will be reduced to a 7-day cruise and you will need 250 days of sailing to receive the free 14-day cruise. Awards may not be redeemed aboard Seabourn Odyssey until April 24, 2010.

Otherwise, the Seabourn Club is simple and fairly standard. You are eligible for the Seabourn Members Club after your first cruise. You immediately become subscribed to the cruise line magazine. There is a complimentary cocktail party for all members hosted by the captain and his officers. You get access to special offers within the specials members' area of the web site or delivered to you by email. You get savings of up to 50% on select Signature Value Sailings.

You receive a complimentary 5% discount in addition to any other special offers for bookings made onboard when you book a new cruise onboard.

Seabourn is also a member of the World's Leading Cruise Lines.

Silversea Cruises

The last of our luxury cruise line loyalty programs is the Silversea Venetian Society servicing the fleet of four Silversea cruise ships. You become a member of the Society when you complete your first Silversea voyage. As a member, here is what you get:

  • 5% or 10% Venetian Society Savings on Select Voyages
  • Onboard Recognition and Private Parties
  • Milestone Rewards
  • Exclusive Gifts
  • Venetian Society Newsletter
  • Ship Visitation Privileges
  • Complimentary Early Embarkation or Late Debarkation at certain milestones
  • Members-only Benefits at Select Leading Hotels of the World and Relais & Chateaux Hotels and Resorts
  • Select Offers through Silversea's Preferred Partners, chosen to complement your discerning lifestyle.
  • Through the Friends of Society program you can double your cruise days and receive an onboard shipboard spending credit if you invite friends or family to sail with you on select Venetian Society sailings. Your friends or family will enjoy the same Venetian Society savings you do.

When your friends sail with you, as a sponsoring Venetian Society member, you will receive a $250 per suite Onboard Spending Credit on designated Venetian Society voyages and the opportunity to earn double days on all voyages.

Rating the Cruise Line Loyalty Programs

Once again -- we don't necessarily recommend choosing just one cruise line and sticking with it solely because of its loyalty program. The variety of basic styles between cruise lines, even within their competitive categories (mainstream, premium or luxury), have more effect on your overall cruise experience than the various offerings of the loyalty programs. However, we know that some people just love loyalty programs, so if you are going to cruise for that reason you want a line that offers a more attractive package.

After having the opportunity to look over all of these programs in detail, we have to give the highest accolades to NCL at the mainstream level, with Royal Caribbean in second place and Carnival in third.

NCL gives you more exciting benefits and they kick in after fewer cruises, starting with cruise number six and just 16 cruises required to reach the highest level. Royal Caribbean requires 25 for the highest level and the benefits are almost as good as NCL, but not quite. Carnival is number three requiring just 10 cruises to get to the top level, but that level does not include some of the better amenities you get at the top levels of the other two lines.

In the premium sector some of the programs offer far too many forgettable rewards and not enough true benefits. We like the simple but true value benefits of the Oceania Club and rate it as number one in premium cruises. With Oceania you get progressively higher shipboard credits with each tier, plus free gratuities and free spa treatments. Those are substantial rewards worth mentioning, not the picayune "priority pre-cruise restaurant reservation wait-listing" types of benefits too often mentioned in other programs. Good show, Oceania.

The Princess program is a standout in the premium category with bargains on Internet access, free laundry services, a behind the scenes tour, wine tasting and more. Holland America is currently a disappointment with hardly any benefits at all at any level, and a top tier that does not even have what Carnival offers. We currently rate it as the lowest of all cruise lines. Happily, the company reports that it is about to revamp the entire program.

In the luxury sector we have to rate Regent Seven Seas as the best program of all. Considering gratuities and spirits are already included in the cruise fare, when you add in free Internet access and up to four hours of phone time, their loyalty program creates the most inclusive cruise experience in the business.

It is also important to understand that in the current economic climate most cruise lines, especially in the premium and luxury sectors, are offering incentives to book that may outweigh the benefits of a loyalty program with another line. But when the economy improves and the bargains disappear, these loyalty programs will become even more important.

We were pleasantly surprised overall as we picked the winners in each category, but we also want to advise you not to overlook the runner-ups. Cruise line loyalty programs are as varied as you are, and since we couldn't list every caveat in the article, we have these final thoughts on loyalty programs.

Even though the rewards behind each loyalty program can be substantial, they are just a part of any cruise purchase decision. You still have weigh the cost of the cruise itself, the value of the benefits and the effort required to track and obtain them.

We separated the cruise lines into three basic categories, mainstream, premium and luxury. In the mainstream category we cite NCL as having the best program. You scale to the top level with just 15 cruises and receive a complimentary dinner, bulk laundry services and a behind the scenes tour.

However, this pick shouldn't let you miss the benefits of Royal Caribbean, for example, which has a Diamond level at just 10 cruises. On the newer Freedom and Oasis-class ships you get a dedicated "Concierge Lounge" with a nightly happy hour of complimentary wine or champagne. Other Royal Caribbean ships offer a nightly happy hour and a daily concierge breakfast.

Carnival only requires 10 cruises to get to the top, but other than free laundry we don't see as much value. By the same token, we would like to see Royal Caribbean take up the free laundry benefit which they don't offer at any level.

Another important point - we don't compare the mainstream lines to the premium contenders; Celebrity, Disney, Holland America, Oceania, Princess and Windstar. But, since these premium cruise lines often have prices that compete it is only fair to compare them. Princess can beat NCL in many cases, in Alaska and the Caribbean for example, for loyalty benefits and price per cruise. The line has mega-ships that offer many of the family activities found on Carnival and Royal Caribbean.

By the same token, we rated Holland America's loyalty program was one of the least rewarding, but it was recently updated (Oct 18, 2009) and the results remain to be seen. Still, some of the summer European cruises on Holland America are a steal. Holland America ships are smaller and more efficient than any mainstream line and most Princess ships. The point is that loyalty has its rewards, but sometimes it also has a price that is greater than the rewards. Every cruise and every case is different.

Oceania, one of our favorite reward programs, is simple yet substantial. You get $200 shipboard credit on every cruise you take after five cruises, and after ten cruises you get a $400 credit plus prepaid gratuities (equal to a total savings of $700 or more per cabin). However, Oceania is often put in the "deluxe" category so it is more expensive than the premium Holland America or Princess cruise.

Measuring loyalty programs can be more than just a value equation, they are a personal choice in how you want to conduct your vacation when the benefits go beyond their monetary value to become a personal consideration. Having your laundry done may have a relatively small dollar value, but having your room steward gather up your laundry and surprise you with clean clothes will brighten your entire vacation. You will be more likely to have your laundry done if it is complimentary.

Rewards programs get personal. Some people do not want to ruin a vacation by tracking the cost/value benefit of every little thing. For other people managing the budget is where the fun starts. Either way, you want to consider not only what benefits are offered, but how well they integrate with your cruise. Ideally, getting your benefits should be a pleasure, not a chore.

In that regard we report the Regent program gets high ratings for including the benefits to make your cruise far more comfortable. The program includes free Internet time, up to four hours of free phone time and a daily newspaper of your choice. This is a good example of the benefits not being especially high in monetary value, but making your cruise far more interesting and convenient.

By the same token, there isn't much to say about Seabourn giving a free cruise after so many days sailing, because that is the only major benefit. However, if you figure out the monetary value of that one reward it could be higher than the combined benefits of any other program. Therefore it is another personal choice - do you want personalized rewards or monetary value?

Finally - we have received a lot of comments from people and the cruise lines about this article, which is great. It is a very complicated subject that we found far more interesting than we orinally expected. We learned that there are far too many personal aspects to logically rate these programs as one better or worse than the other. But the good news is that most of these programs are both beneficial and attainable. They are well worth the time you spend to investigate them.

Back to Top of Article >> Cruise Line Loyalty Programs (Part 1)

Page 1: Introduction to Cruise Loyalty Programs Page 2: Mainstream Lines, Carnival, NCL Page 3: Royal Caribbean Page 4: Premium Lines: Celebrity and Azamara Page 5: Disney and Holland America Page 6: Oceania, Princess & Windstar Page 7: Luxury Lines: Crystal Page 8: Cunard Lines Page 9: Regent Seven Seas Cruises Page 10: Seabourn, Silversea and Rating all Reward Programs

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