A beginner’s guide to cruise line loyalty programs

Aug 24, 2020

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You’re reading The Points Guy so you’re obviously interested in leveraging elite status for better travel experiences and VIP treatment. If you’ve mainly focused on airline and hotel loyalty programs, cruise line programs may at first surprise you.

Depending on the line you sail, the entry status tiers may not seem all that exciting at first. But, high enough status can really improve your cruise experience (think: priority access to check in, boarding, tenders to shore — especially important if you’re sailing a megaship — and debarkation). A bit higher up the ladder, you’ll find benefits like complimentary drink packages and a free meal in a specialty restaurant. Some lines even reward you with a free seven-night cruise when you attain their highest tier.

There’s also some reciprocity in certain cruise line loyalty programs. For example, if you have status in Royal Caribbean’s Crown & Anchor Society, you also have status in Celebrity’s Captain’s Club and Azamara’s LeClub Voyage, since all three cruise lines are under the Royal Caribbean Group parent umbrella.

All in all, cruise line elite status is worth having. If you think you’ll take advantage of the cruise industry’s comeback after coronavirus, it will pay to learn about the loyalty programs now.

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In This Post

Carnival Cruise Line: VIFP Club

(Photo by Gene Sloan / The Points Guy)
Carnival Sunrise docked in Bermuda. (Photo by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy)

Ways to earn points

Carnival’s VIFP (Very Important Fun Person) Club is simple to understand. You earn one point for every day you cruise aboard a Carnival ship. So, take a seven-night cruise and you’ll get seven points deposited in your loyalty account. Note that certain charter sailings and nonrevenue fares do not convey points.

Insider tip: Carnival Australia doesn’t automatically deposit points for nights cruised. If you book a cruise that begins or ends in Australia, you must log into your account, click on “Missing a Cruise?” and request the VIFP points be awarded for the days you earned on that voyage.

Note that elite status points are not the same as something Carnival calls FunPoints. FunPoints are earned with the Carnival World Mastercard and can be redeemed for a statement credit toward any Carnival purchase, onboard experience and more.

The information for the Carnival World Mastercard has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Related: Learn more about the 2 types of cruise line loyalty points

About the program tiers and benefits

You can attain one of five tiers in the VIFP Club: Blue (your first sailing), Red (second sailing to 24 points), Gold (25 to 74 points), Platinum (75 to 199 points) and Diamond when you attain 200 or more points.

Carnival VIFP Club
Screenshot courtesy of Carnival

You can and should enroll in the VIFP Club before you even take a cruise because you’ll then be eligible to receive members-only specials. Why not grab any discount you can? Most other cruise lines only offer members-only pricing after a passenger has sailed a voyage on one of its ships.

Red elite status is a bit lackluster. The only additional perk you get beyond Blue status is a free 1-liter bottle of water delivered to your stateroom.

Gold isn’t that much more interesting either. In addition to the perks you get as a Blue or Red, you get an appreciation drink on a five-day or longer cruise (but you have to wait until after 5 p.m. on the last night of your voyage to enjoy it). And, you get a Gold VIFP Club pin.

The elite level that makes a difference

Passengers hit Platinum elite status after sailing 75 nights. This is the level where the perks add up to make a difference in your cruise experience.

Some of the perks we love at this level include:

  • Priority check in and boarding
  • Platinum and Diamond VIFP Party with free drinks and appetizers on sailings of five days or longer
  • Free drink at Seaday Brunch
  • “Chocolate Delight” strawberry plate delivered to stateroom on a five-day or longer cruise
  • Priority spa reservations
  • Priority water shuttle boarding (ship-to-shore only)
  • Casino buy-one, get-one-free tournament entry (Blackjack or slot only)
  • $5 worth of complimentary arcade credits for guests under 18
  • Carnival logo gift on every sailing
  • Priority line at onboard Guest Services desk and priority assistance by phone
  • Priority debarkation
  • Priority reservations at Main Dining Room and Specialty Restaurant
  • Complimentary wash and fold laundry service (two bags on three- to six-day cruises, three bags on seven- to 13-day cruises and five bags on a cruise 14 days or longer)

Anytime you see “priority” access as a perk, that’s a good thing. Accessing priority check in at boarding and debarkation is a big deal that saves you time. And priority access to spa and restaurant reservations elevates your onboard experience. You’ll get the reservations you want, when you want them. It’s always a drag when you look forward to trying a restaurant on your next cruise but can’t snag a table.

Best elite perk

Some lines award a free cruise to passengers who attain their highest elite level. Sadly, Carnival isn’t one of those lines. But, Diamond status does have its privileges. You do get a few one-time benefits, such as a free cabin upgrade (or third and fourth guests sail free) and a one-time complimentary meal for two at the specialty restaurant of your choice. But, from our vantage point, the top Diamond perk is unlimited wash and fold laundry service.

Other benefits include:

  • Guaranteed seating time requested in Main Dining Room for dinner only
  • Priority reservations at specialty restaurants
  • Special event invitation from the captain on each sailing
  • One-time donation to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
  • VIFP Club luggage tag set
  • Dedicated toll-free number for sales and service

Celebrity Cruises: Captain’s Club

Celebrity Cruises Eclipse
Celebrity Eclipse in Willemstad, Curacao. (Photo by NAN728/Shutterstock)

Ways to earn points

If you normally book balcony cabins, Concierge Class, AquaClass or suites, you can earn Captain’s Club quickly. That’s because you earn more points per night the higher cabin category you book.

Inside and Ocean View Earn 2 points per night
Veranda and Infinite Veranda Earn 3 points per night
Concierge Class and AquaClass Earn 5 points per night
Sky Suite Earn 8 points per night
Celebrity, Signature, Sunset, Royal Suite and Edge Villa Earn 12 points per night
Reflection, Penthouse and Iconic Suite Earn 18 points per night

Insider tip: Power Up Points

Celebrity Cruises recently launched its Power Up Points program. Captain’s Club members can join to earn points by filling out online surveys, participating in certain ways on social media or booking specific promotions. Be sure to subscribe to Celebrity’s email list.

Celebrity Cruises Power Up points program
Screenshot courtesy of Celebrity Cruises

When sailing with Celebrity Cruises, it’s important to know the difference between its three types of points.

  1. Captain’s Club points are what you earn for taking a cruise.
  2. Power Up Points, mentioned above, can be converted to Captain’s Club points but you earn them in a different way.
  3. MyCruise points are separate and won’t count on your quest for elite status. Instead, this type of loyalty currency can be applied toward onboard credit, cruise discounts, upgrades, companion fares and vacations for Celebrity Cruises, Royal Caribbean and Azamara cruises. You can earn MyCruise bonus points with the Celebrity Cruises Visa Signature card.

The information for the Celebrity Cruises Visa Signature has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Captain’s Club points are what you want to achieve status in Celebrity’s loyalty program.

About the program tiers and benefits

Six elite tiers comprise the Captain’s Club:

  • Preview at 0 points
  • Classic with 2 to 149 points
  • Select with 10 to 299 points
  • Elite with 300 to 749 points
  • Elite Plus with 750 to 2,999 points
  • Zenith at 3,000 points or more

At the Preview level, you gain access to the online Captain’s Club newsletter, the Loyalty Desk and you can book Captain’s Club promotions once you’re on board your first cruise

The Classic tier nets you invitations to a Captain’s Club Celebration event on board each sailing as well as access to VIP events on specialty sailings (like the President’s Sailing). You’re eligible for quarterly Captain’s Club Savings Certificates, one category upgrade before sailing (good through AquaClas based on availability at the time of booking), as well as a 10% discount on the first internet package purchased and any digital or print photo package at the Photo Gallery. If you want to book The Studio photo packages, take $50 off the top and you also get one free scoop of Celebrity’s yummy gelato. (You may not want to redeem that free scoop since Celebrity’s gelato is truly addictive. It will lead to many other paid scoops!)

The next tier is Select, and it comes with priority embarkation as well as priority status for the shore excursion waitlist. The Classic level also is where you’ll start to see useful discounts such as 25% off the first internet package purchased and 15% off any digital or print photo package at the Photo Gallery (plus $75 off The Studio photo packages). You also get two garments pressed for free and, if your cruise is 12 nights or longer, a discount on a standard bag of laundry (wash, dry and fold). Finally, you’re invited to a free wine seminar event and a Senior Officer’s Cocktail Party Platinum Level, which celebrates your enrollment in Royal Caribbean’s sister program, Crown & Anchor Society.

The elite level that makes a difference

With six tiers in its program, it can take a bit of time to climb the ladder to the tier that makes a difference in the quality of your cruise. We think Elite (when you’ve earned 300 to 749 points) and Elite Plus (750 to 2,999 points) are the levels worth setting your sights on.

One of the coolest things about Elite status is gaining access to the Captain’s Club Coffee Lounge, where you can enjoy a coffeehouse-style breakfast each morning. This is a boon if you don’t enjoy the buffet and don’t want to deal with the crowded main dining room before an early-morning shore excursion.

Elites also get unlimited free drinks from the Captain’s Club menu each day between 5 and 7 p.m. in the Captain’s Club Lounge or at most bars and lounges throughout the ship.

If you’re sailing on a Solstice- or Millennium-class ship, you get free access to the spa’s Persian Garden — with its steam room, sauna and heated loungers — on one port day of your choice. A free 90-minute internet package, complimentary dry cleaning of one item, one bag of laundry on every sailing, an invitation to afternoon tea and discounts on photo packages are also in your future as an Elite cruiser. One more nice gesture? A private shipboard departure lounge serving continental breakfast on debarkation day.

Elite Plus kicks things up by offering a lot of the same benefits Elites get but adding two bags of laundry; a 240-minute internet package; free cappuccino, latte, espresso and tea; plus discounts on beverage and wine packages, specialty dining cover charges and studio packages.

Insider tip: Reciprocal benefits

Royal Caribbean Group is the parent of Celebrity Cruises, Azamara and Royal Caribbean. If you’re an elite in one of those cruise line programs, you can get equivalent recognition in all of them.

Celebrity Cruises Captain’s Club Azamara LeClub Voyage Royal Caribbean Crown & Anchor Society
Preview level Preview level N/A
Classic level Adventurer level N/A
Select level Explorer level Platinum level
Elite level Discoverer level Diamond level
Elite Plus level Discoverer Plus level Diamond level
Zenith Discoverer Platinum level Diamond level

Also, when you earn points on Celebrity or Azamara, the points are added cumulatively in both loyalty programs. So, for example, if you earn 20 Club points on a Celebrity cruise, you’ll also see 20 points added to your Azamara elite balance.

Cruises on Royal Caribbean are not added to your cumulative balance. Points earned from a Royal Caribbean cruise can only be deposited in your Royal Caribbean Crown & Anchor Society account.

Best elite perk

Anyone that reaches Zenith, the top tier in the Captain’s Club, gets a free seven-night Bermuda or Caribbean cruise in a balcony cabin. When you reach 6,000 points and every 3,000 points thereafter, you get another Bermuda or Caribbean cruise, but this time in an AquaClass stateroom.

Zenith also has some pretty valuable perks beyond the free cruise. For example, you get VIP treatment with access to Michael’s Club Concierge Lounge and the Retreat Lounge plus priority seating in the theater, priority embarkation while the ship is in port and the ability to stay on the ship longer on debarkation day. Zenith members also enjoy a bevy of freebies, such as laundry, beverage packages and an unlimited internet package. Round that off with discounts on specialty dining (25% off) and photo packages as well as nice little touches like upgraded bath amenities in your cabin and you can see why it pays to attain Celebrity’s top status.

Disney Cruise Line: Castaway Club

Disney Dream (Summer Hull / The Points Guy)
Disney Dream (Summer Hull / The Points Guy)

Ways to earn points

Disney’s Castaway Club may not be as fun for those of us who love to chase points. That’s because there aren’t any. This simple program is based on the number of cruises you take and the line doesn’t assign point values to its voyages. A three-night and ten-night cruise both count as one cruise closer to higher Castaway Club status.

Disney Cruise Line does have a branded credit card, the Disney Premier Visa Card, but it won’t earn you elite status qualifying points. Learn more about this card’s rewards scheme.

The information for the Disney Premier Visa Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

About the program tiers and benefits

There are three tiers: Silver, which you attain after one cruise, Gold once you’ve cruised five times and Platinum for everyone who has taken 10 or more Disney cruises.

Here’s a look at the perks each status tier enjoys.

Silver Castaway Gold Castaway Platinum Castaway
Early booking for new itineraries 1 day before the general public 2 days before the general public 3 days before the general public
Early access to activity planning online 90 days before sailing 105 before sailing 120 days before sailing
Member communications Yes Yes Yes
Dedicated (800) phone number for information and assistance Yes Yes Yes
Early access embarkation at select ports No Yes Yes
Members-only check-in line at the cruise terminal Yes Yes Yes
Welcome back aboard gift Yes Yes Yes
Onboard reception (8-night or longer cruises) No Yes Yes
Voyage discounts No Yes Yes
Priority check-in at cruise terminal No No Yes
Free dinner at Palo No No Yes

The elite level that makes a difference

Frankly, we think you need to be a Platinum Castaway elite to make much hay out of Disney’s program. In normal pre-coronavirus times, Disney cruises sell out regularly. Want to sail during the holidays or a popular spring break week? You have to reserve your cruise as soon as the itinerary is released — especially if you have a specific cabin type in mind that everyone else also covets, like a Deluxe Family Oceanview Stateroom with Verandah or Concierge 2-Bedroom Suite with Verandah.

Platinum elites have an early booking window that gives them a jump on everyone else. They can make reservations for newly announced itineraries three days before the general public. Not only that, but they can make those hard to get onboard reservations — like dinner at the adult-only specialty restaurants or a cabana rental at Castaway Cay — before most other guests.

Platinum status also confers members-only voyage discounts and priority check-in at the terminal. (Only Concierge guests board the ship before Platinums.)  

Best elite perk

Platinum Castaway Club elites enjoy a free dinner at the adults-only Palo.

The invitation extends to the elite member and all adult guests staying in that member’s stateroom. Dinner in this specialty restaurant costs an extra $40 per person so if a Platinum member is cruising with a pal, this perk is worth $80. Palo is a not-to-be-missed dining experience with a menu inspired by the recipes made famous in Northern Italy.

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Holland America Line: Mariner Society

Nieuw Statendam
Nieuw Statendam’s pool. (Photo courtesy of Holland America Line)

Ways to earn points

The Mariner Society just sounds like something you need to be a member of, right? It’s Holland America Line’s loyalty program and it’s easy to earn points that move you up the elite status chain. You earn “Cruise Day” credits for every single day of your cruise as well as for any purchases made on board. If you book a suite or penthouse, you’ll get bonus credits.

You’ll earn 1 credit for each overnight of your cruise. So, if you sail a seven-night itinerary, you get 7 Cruise Day points. Credits also extend to the line’s Alaska Land+Sea Journeys. Earn 1 credit for each night on board the ship and 1 credit for each day touring on land. Unfortunately, pre- and post-cruise packages do not count for credit. All guests earn Cruise Day credits — even if they’re the third and fourth guests in a stateroom.

Get double Cruise Day credits when you book a suite or penthouse. You must pay a published fare and not have received a complimentary upgrade to get the double bonus points. For example, book a 10-night cruise and earn 20 Cruise Day points.

Onboard spending is a final way to earn points. Whenever you buy something in an onboard shop or book and pay for a shore excursion through your cruise folio, you’ll receive bonus credits. For every $300 spent on eligible purchases, you’ll receive 1 bonus Cruise Day credit.

“This is calculated on the combined folio charges for all guests on the booking, regardless of who signs each charge and who pays the bill. Only the first two guests on the booking receive the limit of 1 bonus day for each day sailed; third and fourth guests on the same booking do not earn the onboard spending bonus,” according to the line.

Some purchases — Future Cruise deposits, cash advances and casino charges — are excluded from the onboard purchase bonus. But, all other onboard purchases count — even the hotel service charge, beverage service charge, taxes, shore excursions and gifts purchased via Ship Services or online.

Holland America also has a branded credit card: the Holland America Line Rewards Visa Card. While you can earn points that convert to onboard credit, the card doesn’t convey elite qualifying points.

The information for the Holland America Line Rewards Visa Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

About the program tiers and benefits

HAL’s Mariner Society has five tiers: Star Mariner, 2-Star Mariner, 3-Star Mariner, 4-Star Mariner and 5-Star Mariner. Status levels are “additive” so as you move up the ladder you retain all the benefits of your previous tier(s) but gain new perks for each plateau you reach.

All tiers share some of the same benefits, including:

  • A special welcome lunch
  • Onboard gift
  • Brunch with sparkling wine
  • Mariner magazine
  • Special offers on select sailings
  • 50% off cruise fare for kids and extra guests in your stateroom on select sailings
  • Ship photo

Moving up the tiers, 2-Star Mariners to 5-Star Mariner get a 15% discount on shophollandamerica.com plus discounts on elect HAL clothing sold on board (10% off for 2-Star and 3-Star Mariners) and 15% off for 4-Star and 5-Star Mariners.

Then, the perks are added on according to this chart:

3-Star Mariner 4-Star Mariner 5-Star Mariner
25% off specialty restaurant surcharges, specialty coffees in dining venues, Sommelier Suites packages and minibar purchases 50% off specialty restaurant surcharges, specialty coffees in dining venues, Sommelier Suites packages and minibar purchases 50% off specialty restaurant surcharges, specialty coffees in dining venues, Sommelier Suites packages and minibar purchases
“Welcome Aboard” reception “Welcome Aboard” reception “Welcome Aboard” reception
Discounts on select spa treatments Discounts on select spa treatments Discounts on select spa treatments
Free cruise fare for kids and extra guests staying in your stateroom on select sailings Free cruise fare for kids and extra guests staying in your stateroom on select sailings
Free laundry and pressing Free laundry and pressing
Priority tender and check in Priority tender and check in
Wine tasting Wine tasting
Subscription to Travel + Leisure or Food & Wine magazine Subscription to Travel + Leisure or Food & Wine magazine
25% off $49 per person Rudi’s Sel De Mer surcharge 25% off $49 per person Rudi’s Sel De Mer surcharge
Up to $30 credit for an internet package
Twi dinners in Pinnacle Grill, Tamarind or Canaletto (surcharge only)
Spa day pass

Note that how you book your cruise may matter in terms of the benefits you receive. All passengers sharing a cabin as part of the same booking will receive the benefits earned by the guest at the highest elite status level. But, if you share a stateroom under different booking numbers, you’ll each receive your individual status-level perks.

Insider tip

Have you sailed with Carnival Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, Cunard, Seabourn or Costa Cruises? If so, you’ll be automatically enrolled in the Mariner Society when you make your first booking with Holland America. You’ll receive benefits starting with your second HAL voyage.

The elite level that makes a difference

Sel De Mer aboard HAL'sKoningsdam (Photo courtesy of Holland America Ling)
Sel De Mer aboard HAL’s Koningsdam (Photo courtesy of Holland America Ling)

The sweet spot in HAL’s program is the 4-Star Mariner status level. Reach this tier to unlock free cruise fares for kids or friends staying in your stateroom with you on specific itineraries. Then, upon arrival at the cruise terminal, get priority check in and, throughout the voyage, priority access to the tenders to shore. If you dine exclusively at the ship’s specialty restaurants, the 50% discount on those surcharges will save you a ton of money. And, you also get a 25% discount off the $49 per person surcharge at the ultra upscale Rudi’s Sel De Mer. That will save a couple about $25 off dinner there. Fold in free laundry and you can see why it makes sense to shoot to become a 4-Star Mariner.

Best elite perk

If you cruise with family or friends, we think the best perk in HAL’s program is complimentary cruise fare for kids and extra guests staying in your stateroom on select sailings. You have to be a 4- or 5-Star Mariner to get access to this valuable money-saving benefit. All Mariners get discounts on third and fourth guest fares (in the same cabin) on select sailings. During the booking process, type in your mariner ID to view the discount. And, visit Holland’s website to see a list of those select sailings.

Mariner Society lapel pins

A rite of passage, Holland America has awarded its most loyal guests special lapel pin “medallions” in the past and continues that practice today. Sail 100 days and get a Bronze Medallion. Cruisers with 300 days at sea get a Silver Medallion and those with 500 days earn a Gold Medallion. The Platinum Medallion is reserved for cruisers who have enjoyed 700 or more nights at sea. For pin tiers, Cruise Days are the only thing that counts.

MSC Cruises: MSC Voyagers Club

MSC Meraviglia
MSC Meraviglia (Photo courtesy of MSC Cruises)

Insider tip: You can status match into the program

MSC is the only cruise line we can think of that lets you status match into its program using your loyalty tier in another program. You can match using your status in a variety of cruise line, hotel and tour operator loyalty programs.

For example, if you have Hilton Diamond, Marriott Titanium or Hyatt Globalist status, you can match into MSC’s top Diamond tier. That can be super helpful if this is your first cruise but you’d still like some VIP treatment.

It’s also helpful if you’re an elite on another cruise line but want to give MSC Cruises a try. Carnival Diamond, Celebrity Elite, Cunard World Club, Disney Platinum, Holland America 4-Star and 5-Star Mariners, Princess Elite, Royal Caribbean Pinnacle and NCL Platinum members have all matched into MSC’s highest status level in the past.

All MSC Voyagers Club elites are guaranteed a 5% discount on future cruise bookings so spending a few minutes to sign up for the match can save you real dollars.

Visit MSC’s website to fill out a status match application online.

Ways to earn points

The first and foremost way to earn points is to sail with MSC. Points are award based on the “Experience” level purchased. These are packages that offer different amenities and services on board.

Experience Cruise < 5 Nights Cruises from 5 to 9 Nights Cruises > 9 Nights
Bella 200 points 500 points 700 points
Fantastica 400 points 700 points 1,000 points
Wellness 600 points 1,000  points 1,500 points
Aurea 600 points 1,000  points 1,500 points
MSC Yacht Club 800 points 1,500 points 2,000 points

Booking certain types of itineraries will net you even more points. Members have access to something called the Voyages Selection, a list of more than 300 cruises that span the globe from the Caribbean to the Mediterranean. Transcontinental and Grand Voyages are often included. When you pick a cruise from the Voyages Selection list, you’ll earn double points based on the Experience level you book. And, MSC knocks 5% to 15% off the cruise fare for members who book those specific sailings. Combine that with the 5% off members get for booking any sailing and you’ll see a real value for your dollars with MSC Cruises.

Onboard spending also nets you points. Earn 100 points for every $150 of expenses prepaid before your cruise (things like MSC packages and services). Once on the ship, you’ll also earn 100 points for every $150 spent on board, except for money spent in the casino. Onboard spending points are only given to the Voyagers Club cardholder making the final payment.

Are you a big spender with world cruise plans on your mind? Book a world cruise aboard an MSC ship and earn triple membership points based on the Experience level you choose. There’s an extra benefit of booking a world cruise: Your Voyagers Club membership will automatically be extended by three years.

About the program tiers and benefits

MSC Voyagers Club has four tiers:

  • Classic: 1 to 2,199 points
  • Silver: 2,200 to 4,299 points
  • Gold: 4,300 to 9,999 points
  • Diamond: 10,000-plus points

All tier levels are entitled to a 5% cruise discount (except on tandem or Grand Tours), up to 15% off Voyages Selection departures, access to a members’ newsletter and a “welcome back” cocktail once on board.

Silver elites get $50 in onboard credit per person on Voyages Selection departures, a “milestone” reward and a once-per-cruise fresh fruit basket in their cabin.

Gold elites can enjoy a one-hour thermal session in the ship’s spa (once per cruise), a commemorative photo during the welcome back cocktail party, a gift, a birthday cake and priority access to tenders to shore in ports where that’s required.

The top status tier, Diamond, comes with a slew of cool benefits like priority boarding on embarkation day and priority disembarkation at the end of your cruise. Simple perks — like a specialty restaurant “Tasting Menu” dinner per cabin, spumante with chocolate-dipped fruit in your cabin once per cruise and a Voyagers Club ship made out of chocolate — go a long way to making you feel like a VIP. We also like the courtesy bathrobe and slippers placed in the cabin throughout the cruise, the free members’ only cocktail party and dance class. If you need late cabin check-out on the last day, that’s a given.

This program is unique in that your status will expire and reset if you don’t cruise at least once every three years. So, unlike the other programs discussed here that offer lifetime status, you’ll need to tend to your MSC loyalty account to keep it in good standing. Even if you reach the program’s highest tier, you can lose that status if you don’t board an MSC ship during a three-year span. You’d get busted back to entry-level status, get a new loyalty number and have to begin all over again.

The line has extended membership expirations due to the coronavirus crisis. If your membership is set to expire between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2020, it will be automatically extended to Dec. 31, 2021. If your membership is set to expire after Jan. 1, 2021, it will be automatically extended one extra year.

The elite level that makes a difference

Gold (or higher) is the tier you want. Why? Some of MSC’s ships, like MSC Seaside and MSC Seaview, are huge with a maximum passenger capacity of more than 5,000 people. That being the case, imagine the logistics of getting everyone on shore during a port call. Waiting for a tender can be a time-consuming process that wastes precious touring time. Voyagers Club Gold elites get priority disembarkation in ports where tender boats are required. That simple perk can save you hours during a port-intensive cruise.

Best elite perk

While the aforementioned priority tender access is a perk we love, the one-hour thermal session in the spa for all Gold and Diamond members also rocks.

Norwegian Cruise Line: Latitudes Rewards

The top deck of Norwegian Encore includes a sprawling go-kart track and a outdoor laser tag area. (Photo courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line).
The top deck of Norwegian Encore includes a sprawling go-kart track and an outdoor laser tag area. (Photo courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line)

Ways to earn points

Earning points in NCL’s Latitudes Rewards program is straightforward. All of these activities earn points:

  • Taking a cruise earns 1 point for every night.
  • Earn 1 additional point per night by booking a Concierge, Suite (full-fare suites booked when the reservation was originally made — i.e., no upgrades from the “upgrade fairy” — and not including mini-suites) or The Haven.
  • Earn 1 additional point per night when booking Latitudes Rewards Insider Offers for past guests.

You may also hear Norwegian Cruise Line cruisers talk about WorldPoints. These are the type of points earned when you hold the Norwegian Cruise Line World Mastercard. They do not convey elite status.

The information for the Norwegian Cruise Line World Mastercard has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

About the program tiers and benefits

NCL’s loyalty program has six tiers based on a points system and you earn points starting with your first voyage. Every single tier shares the following benefits:

  • Priority check-in at the pier
  • Elite status recognition on your keycard
  • A bottle of sparkling wine (one per cabin)
  • Discounts in onboard duty-free shops (10% off for Bronze elites and 15% off for all higher status tiers)
  • Free internet minutes (15 free minutes with 100-minute internet package purchase and 30 free minutes with 250-minute package purchase)
  • Free artwork for attending the art auction
  • Access to an onboard Latitudes Rewards representative
  • Monthly Insider Offers on select sailings
  • Offers from Caesars Entertainment
  • A free online newsletter for elite members

With the exception of Bronze elites, all other tiers get additional perks like:

  • Invitation to a complimentary onboard cocktail party
  • Discounts on shore excursions (10% off for Silver, Gold and Platinum elites, 15% off for Platinum Plus members and 20% for everyone at the top-tier Ambassador level)
  • Discounts on photos (20% off for Silver, 25% for Gold and 30% for all higher tiers)
  • Discounts on spa treatments performed when the ship is in port (15% for Silver, 20% for Gold and 25% for all higher tiers)

Gold through Ambassador elites get:

  • Just Water cartons (one per member at the Gold and Platinum level and two per member for Platinum Pros and Ambassadors)
  • Laundry perks (50% off one bag for Gold elites and one free bag for those in higher elite tiers)
  • Priority tender tickets (for applicable ports)
  • Priority disembarkation (U.S. citizens only)

Platinum, Platinum Pro and Ambassadors also get priority embarkation, dinner for two at Cagney’s or Le Bistro with a bottle of wine (per stateroom), dinner for two at Moderno or La Cucina (per stateroom), in-room chocolate-covered strawberries, a behind-the-scenes ship tour, Concierge assistance and free internet minutes (30 for Platinum, 60 for Platinum Plus and 100 for Ambassador elites).

An invitation to dine with the ship’s officers and priority restaurant and entertainment seating are perks reserved for Platinum Plus and Ambassador elites only.

The elite level that makes a difference: Platinum

Some of the most useful perks of the Latitudes Rewards program — priority embarkation, free dinners, complimentary internet and access to a Concierge to help with dining, entertainment and shore excursion reservations — kick in at the Platinum level.

Cruisers need 80 points to earn this coveted status and you can easily earn them in just three sailings. Here’s an example of how you could do it.

Cruise 1 Book a 10-night Hawaiian cruise Hawaii 10 points (1 point per night)
Book a Concierge cabin 10 points (1 point per night)
Earn 20 points for your first voyage
Cruise 2 Book a nine-night European cruise 9 points (1 point per night)
Book a Concierge cabin 9 points (1 point per night)
Book a Latitudes Rewards Insider Offer 9 points (1 point per night)
Earn 27 points for your second voyage
Cruise 3 Book a 12-night Panama Canal cruise 12 points (1 point per night)
Book a Concierge cabin 12 points (1 point per night)
Book a Latitudes Rewards Insider Offer 12 points (1 point per night)
Earn 36 points for your third voyage
Life-to-date points  83

Best elite perk

Ambassador elites receive a one-time complimentary seven-night cruise in a balcony cabin. You can pick any destination, but you can’t select a holiday sailing (Christmas and the New Year).

The free cruise is for two people. You can bring a third and fourth guest, but you’ll pay for their fares. You’ll also pay for all taxes, fees and service charges (including gratuities). You have one year to take your free cruise after becoming an Ambassador elite.

Princess Cruises: Captain’s Circle

The Princess Cruises ship Pacific Princess sails in the harbor of Sydney, Australia. (Photo courtesy of Princess Cruises)
Pacific Princess in Sydney Harbor. (Photo courtesy of Princess Cruises)

Ways to earn points

The Captain’s Circle keeps track of the points you earn by cruising as well as the number of cruise days you’ve spent at sea. You can qualify for elite status via cruise credit or cruise days, whichever number gets you to your goal first.

Cruisers earn 1 point for each cruise (seven nights or less) and 2 points for cruises that are eight nights or longer. You also earn a cruise day for every night spent on the ship. So, if you booked a seven-night Caribbean itinerary, you’d earn 1 point and 7 cruise days. If you booked a 10-night voyage, you’d earn 2 points and 10 cruise days.

You can earn double cruise credits if you reserve and sail in a full suite (mini-suites, Club Class suites and upgrades to suites are excluded) or sail solo. Cruise points are doubled but not cruise days.

While you may hear cruisers talk about points earned by using the Princess Cruises Rewards Visa Card, those points don’t convey elite status.

The information for the Princess Cruises Rewards Visa Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

About the program tiers and benefits

Captain’s Circle offers four tiers:

  • Gold after your first completed cruise
  • Ruby from your fourth or fifth cruise credit, or 31 to 50 cruise days
  • Platinum from your sixth to 15th cruise credit, or 51 to 150 cruise days
  • Elite from your 16th cruise credit on, or 151-plus cruise days

The entry-level Gold tier really just warms you up for subsequent levels but you do get preferential pricing offers, invites to members-only onboard events, access to a Circle Host on board, a “Princess Passport” to help archive your cruise memories, collective destination stamps, a members-only magazine and a recognition pin.

Frankly, Ruby status isn’t much more exciting. You get Gold-level perks plus a new recognition pin, access to a shoreside Captain’s Circle Help Desk phone line as well as an upgrade to Princess’ Platinum Vacation Protection when you purchase the plan at the standard rate. But because we suggest you skip the cruise line’s insurance and opt instead for a third-party insurer, we don’t put any value in that last benefit.

The elite level that makes a difference

Things start to get interesting at the Platinum level with useful extras like priority check in at embarkation, a free internet package (voyages of seven days or less get 150 minutes, for example) and a disembarkation lounge on the last day of the cruise where you can have a beverage and light breakfast as you wait to leave the ship.

Best elite perk

There isn’t a “wow” perk in the Captain’s Circle menu but when you get Elite status, there are some really lovely benefits. We like priority ship-to-shore shuttles that help you avoid long lines when trying to get to shore on a port day, priority disembarkation, free laundry and a minibar setup plus in-room canapes on formal nights and afternoon tea (schedule this at least six hours in advance).

Royal Caribbean: Crown & Anchor Society

The 735-seat, outdoor AquaTheater on Royal Caribbean's Symphony of the Seas is home to aerial and water shows. (Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean)
Outdoor AquaTheater on Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas. (Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean)

Ways to earn points

Royal Caribbean is one of the most popular cruise lines in the world and it’s easy to earn points in its Crown & Anchor Society loyalty program. Earn 1 Cruise Point for every night you sail. If you book a suite, you’ll earn double points. You’re automatically enrolled in the program after your first cruise.

As mentioned in the Celebrity Cruises section, these two cruise lines plus Azamara also offer MyCruise points. These are separate from Cruise Points and do not work toward elite status. Instead, you can use MyCruise points for onboard credit, cruise discounts, upgrades, companion fares and vacations aboard Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Azamara cruises.

You can earn MyCruise points by using the Royal Caribbean Visa.

The information for the Royal Caribbean Visa has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

About the program tiers and benefits

Because so many people sail with Royal Caribbean each year, not everyone can be a top elite. To make sure everyone on board doesn’t have VIP status, the Crown & Anchor Society has six tiers. It will take some time — or a real devotion to cruising — to reach Pinnacle Club.

  • Gold: 3 Cruise Points
  • Platinum: 30 Cruise Points
  • Emerald: 55 Cruise Points
  • Diamond: 80 Cruise Points
  • Diamond Plus: 175 Cruise Points
  • Pinnacle Club: 700 Points

The society’s tiers are cumulative so you add on more perks as you rise up the ranks. Everyone gets special onboard offers, priority check in, a private departure lounge with continental breakfast and an exclusive trivia event. All but Gold members also receive discounts on balcony and suite staterooms.

Benefits build from Gold, with Platinum members getting access to a special onboard event, robes to use on board and a recognition lapel pin. In-cabin welcome beverages and a snack on embarkation day are added at the Emerald level.

Additional Diamond perks lean more toward fun than substantive: a recognition gift, a “Chef’s Choice” gift, an Entertainment Tour and a nightly Diamond event (where you get three free drinks). We love the free specialty coffee with breakfast in the dining room, priority departure, priority waitlist for shore excursions and spa services, and access to the Diamond Club on select ships.

If you’re the type to book a trip at the last minute, Diamond, Diamond Plus and Pinnacle Club elites may benefit from priority waitlist seating requests in the Main Dining Room.

The elite level that makes a difference

Diamond Plus is the elite level to shoot for if you value priority seating at the theater, ice show and AquaTheater events. You should value this perk because it can be difficult to get seats to some of Royal’s most popular performances when ships are packed. At this status level, you also get nice add-on benefits, such as a behind-the-scenes ship tour, Concierge Club access and thoughtful gifts.

Best elite perk

It’s hard to achieve Pinnacle Club status, and it has its privileges: namely a free seven-night Caribbean cruise in a balcony cabin when you reach 700 Cruise Points. You’ll get an additional complimentary cruise in a junior suite category, at 1,050 Cruise Points and subsequent free cruises for each additional 350 points you earn.

If you don’t want to sail the Caribbean, you can instead get a cruise credit to use toward the purchase of a voyage elsewhere. Royal Caribbean will give you $2,400 toward the purchase of a cruise at 700 and 1,050 points, and $3,200 toward the purchase of a cruise at 1,400 points and above. These free cruises are “per household” and are based on double occupancy.

Insider tip: Status match into MGM’s M life Rewards program

If you’ve got plans to visit one of MGM Resorts’ properties — Las Vegas’ Bellagio, Aria, MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay, Delano or others — you should status match your Crown and Anchor Society status to MGM’s M life Rewards.

Note that M life Platinum elites get a free cruise annually aboard Royal Caribbean or Celebrity Cruises. Depending on your vacation profile, the easier path to free cruises may be devoting your attention to the M life program instead of Royal Caribbean’s Crown & Anchor Society.

Crown & Anchor Society Gold Platinum Emerald and Diamond Diamond & Pinnacle Club
M life Rewards Sapphire Pearl Gold Platinum

Related: TPG’s complete guide to M life Rewards in Las Vegas and beyond

Featured image by yevgen Belich/Shutterstock.com

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