Cruise line loyalty has its rewards
More on Cruise Line Benefits
We just published an extensive review of the various cruise line loyalty reward programs. Now we want to discuss some of our conclusions. 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 more thoughts on loyalty programs to report below...
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, while we rate Holland America's loyalty program as one of the least rewarding, that doesn't mean we have less regard for Holland America as a cruise line -- quite the opposite. Some of the European cruises on Holland America this summer are a steal. Holland America ships are smaller and more efficient than any mainstream line and most Princess ships. Plus, Holland America is selling European cruises for about 20% less this year. 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.
Read our cruise line loyalty rewards
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