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The goals of all cruise companies are the same: Get cruisers to remain loyal to a single brand. Companies like Royal Caribbean Norwegian and Celebrity have tried to do this by building massive ships with I-can’t-believe-this features (one such example: the Norwegian Bliss’ go-cart track). But that “arms race” amongst cruise companies has only made the brand loyalty waters even more difficult to navigate, because now everyone wants to try the newest and biggest ship.
So while ever-improving features continue to be a necessary part of remaining competitive in the industry, many cruise lines have somewhat shifted their focus. Each line has developed its own loyalty program, with perks that reward its most loyal passengers. As a result, a maritime battle has broken out amongst cruise competitors, and there’s an opportunity for consumers to take advantage of this clash of behemoths. Let’s take a look at some of the major cruise rewards programs and how to navigate them.
Norwegian has made perhaps the boldest move to date in the battle of cruise line rewards programs. A little more than a year ago, the Latitudes program added two levels at the top end of its status tiers: Platinum Plus and Ambassador. Those with the latter status get a free seven-day cruise. Of course, there are multiple other benefits spanning Latitudes’ six tiers. They include everything from complimentary wine, chocolate strawberries and complimentary dining at specialty restaurants to free internet access, laundry service and concierge service.
Earning is simple: You get a point per night, an additional point per night for booking a suite or in The Haven and another point when booking a “Latitudes Rewards Inside Offer.” That means you could earn up to three points per night.
More so than other cruise rewards programs, this program offers a fast track to the most elite levels of status. If you’re savvy, book appropriately and capitalize on the opportunity to earn three points per night spent on the cruise — those points can add up quickly. For the avid cruiser who is taking seven to ten-day voyages a few times a year, the idea of “Ambassador” status is not lofty.
This six-tier program also offers a free seven-day cruise for its most loyal customers, deemed “Pinnacle Club” in Royal Caribbean’s rewards program. But even its lowest level, “Gold,” comes with intriguing benefits that include discounted room upgrades, priority check-in and reciprocity with MGM Resorts International’s M life Rewards.
The reciprocity is the most unique component to this program, one that other cruise reward programs don’t offer. No, it isn’t for everyone, but there are casinos on nearly every cruise ship. So the idea that passengers might be equally as enthused about gambling as they are about cruising seems more than just intuitive. And perhaps more than any other type of rewards programs out there, casino rewards come with some great perks.
VIFP stands for “Very Important Fun Person.” That seems to keep in line with the Carnival brand, which offers more family-oriented ships. In fact, among the program’s perks are arcade credits for those 18 years and younger, though the program also has more adult-oriented benefits like casino perks, priority reservations at the spa and specialty restaurants.
However, this program stands below the others, as Carnival is known for being the most cost-effective cruise line. That, in and of itself, is a perk, so the cruise company tends to only reward its most loyal customers. But if you get to “Platinum” or “Diamond” levels, there are so many perks no one could possibly enjoy all of them on one voyage.
Celebrity Cruises scream luxury and so does their rewards program. Awarded the Platinum Award in the category of “Customer Experience and Engagement” at the Loyalt360 Expo in 2017, the Captain’s Club program offers earning potential that scales considerably based on the on-board accommodations one chooses.
Unlike the others, this program allows for more versatile earning depending on your choice of accommodations. The array of stateroom choices parallels earning capability. Earn anywhere from two to 18 points per night, the latter if you stay in a Reflection, Penthouse or Iconic Suite. Stay in those accommodations on a ten-day cruise and you’re more than halfway to the program’s third highest status level, “Elite.”
On-board perks for elite members include discounts and complimentary food and beverage services, events (welcome parties, breakfasts, cocktails hours) and priority theater seating. Members also get discounts and perks at MGM Resorts and can match to a corresponding elite status in MGM’s Mlife Rewards program, which reciprocates for its top-tier Platinum and Noir elites with a free annual Celebrity cruise.
Disney is certainly a much smaller and more specialized cruise ship operator than some of the giants mentioned above, but it’s a popular one for families. The company’s Castaway Club is also a particularly simple loyalty program, since the amount you spend or the type of room you book is irrelevant. Instead, you earn credit toward elite status based entirely on the number of Disney cruises you take.
At the end of your first Disney cruise, you’ll automatically be a Silver member of the Castaway Club, which entitles you to book newly announced cruises a full day before they’re released to members of the general public, as well as a dedicated check-in line and advanced booking for cruise activities. After five Disney cruises, you’ll have Gold status which comes with all of the above plus onboard discounts and a private reception on cruises of eight nights or more.
And ten or more cruises will get you to Platinum level, with priority check-in at the concierge area of the cruise terminal and a complimentary dinner at the onboard restaurant Palo for you and any guests 18 or older staying in your stateroom.
This is far from an exhaustive list of the dozens of cruise loyalty programs available on the market today, but the take away should be that there are rewards to be earned on cruises, even if you only cruise once a year. So you should consider joining the program and cruise line that’s right for you, because failure to participate is, literally, forfeiting money, as well as a ton of perks that will only enhance your cruise experience. And of course, when you’re ready to pay for your cruise, don’t forget to check out our guide to “The Best Credit Cards for Booking Cruises” to make sure you’re earning just as many points or miles on your credit card as you are with your respective cruise company.
Featured image of the Allure of the Seas, a Royal Caribbean cruiser, by jimfeng / Getty Images.
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