It used to be that you could earn some VIP perks on cruises by booking a suite or by being very loyal to a particular cruise line. Now, some cruise lines have come up with a new purchase option for guests that might want a little more of a VIP feeling when cruising but are not in a suite or have many past cruises.
Here is the list of cruise lines currently offering an option to pay for some type of extra perks. I have put them in alphabetical order but it is good to point out that this list includes all 3 of the Mass Market Cruise lines and just 1 Premium Cruise line. The Mass Market ships are going always be the biggest ships sailing with sometimes almost 6,000 guests so on those paying to avoid lines sort of makes sense. Holland American is a Premium so their ships are smaller and offer a bit more upscale cruise so you will see the perks they offer in their program are a bit different.
Carnival - Faster to the Fun
What it includes -
1. Priority Security, Check in, and Boarding. You get to board the ship after Diamond and Platinum guests and those traveling in Deluxe Suites. You do not get access to the Captains Lounge which is only for the Diamond, Platinum and Deluxe Suite guests.
2. First Access to your Stateroom. Your room is ready to enjoy as soon as you board.
3. Priority Luggage. Your bags will be one of the first that get delivered.
4. Priority Guest Service. Your own line or phone extension to talk guest services onboard.
5. Priority Dining Reservations. You get priority assignment for the Main Dining room and specialty restaurant reservations. Platinum and Diamond get cleared first and does not apply to Your Time Dining.
6. Tender Priority. When at a port with a tender to get onshore you will get priority times which can get you ashore faster.
7. Debarkation Choice. At the end of the cruise you can choose either early or late debarkation.
What Does It Cost*
1. The price is per room and not per person so just one guest in the room has to purchase and everyone gets it.
2. It must be purchased prior to the cruise. It is limited to a certain number of guests so best to buy as soon as possible.
3. Prices vary based on cruise length and sometimes the ship. Starting at $39.95 on a 2 day cruise up to $119.95 on an 8 day or longer cruise.
4. Not available on Carnival Journeys, Europe Cruises, or cruises out of certain ports.
Holland America - Club Orange
What it includes
1. Complimentary Stateroom Upgrade. Upgraded to the best available stateroom within your category at time of purchase. That means if you have an inside room your upgrade will still be an inside room but a better room.
2. Exclusive Dining Options and Premium in-room Breakfast. Priority access to specialty restaurant reservations and a premium menu for in room breakfast. The 2 newest ships have a private dining venue other ships get priority seating with expanded menu.
3. Priority Access. Priority check in and debarkation. Also have a priority line for guests services and shore excursions desk.
4. Tender Priority. When in port with tenders you get priority access times that will get you ashore first.
5. Dedicated Concierge Hotline
6. Upgraded Amenities. Get a welcome glass of sparkling wine at dinner the first night, premium bathrobes, exclusive Club Orange tote bag and Club Orange key card.
7. Special Event -Invitation to a special onboard event chosen by the ship's captain. These exclusive experiences may include a behind-the-scenes tour of the ship; a private spa and beauty consultation; or a coffee chat with onboard musicians, performers or cooking show hosts.
What Does It Cost*
1. Club Orange cost applies to 1st and 2nd guests in a room but if there are 3rd or 4th guests they receive it at no extra cost. The price listed is per person for the 1st and 2nd guests and both must purchase.
2. It is available for a limited number of non-suite guests on each sailing. Guests in Neptune or Pinnacle Suites get all the benefits (except the room upgrade) of Club Orange at not extra cost.
3. Must be purchased prior to the cruise start.
4. Price is $35 per person, per day on the 2 newest ships Nieuw Statendam and Koningsdam. All other ships are $25 per person, per day.
NCL - Priority Access
What It Includes
1. Priority Security, Check in, and Boarding
2. Tender Priority Access.
3. Priority Debarkation
4. Daily Complimentary Standard Room Service Breakfast
5. $50 Spa Discount (per person on port days only)
6. Complimentary Canapes (second day of cruise)
What Does it Cost*
1. The cost is per room
2. Guests staying in the Haven and Owners Suites along with Latitude Guests that are Platinum, Platinum Plus, or Ambassador levels cannot purchase but that is because they already get all of these benefits.
3. Only a limited number of Priority Access is available so best to book as early as possible
4. Prices vary by length of cruise
Royal Caribbean - The Key
What it Includes
1. Priority Check in and Boarding
2. Exclusive Welcome Lunch in Main Dining room with menu from Chops Grille
3. Carry on Bag Drop off in Main Dining Room. This means you can bring your carry on when you board and drop it off in the welcome lunch and it will be delivered to your stateroom for you instead of having to carry it around until rooms are open to guests.
4.Private Hours at Onboard Activities like Rock Climbing and Flow Rider and more
5. Priority Departure at Port from ship to shore
6. Seats in the Exclusive VIP seating section for shows in the Main Theater, Aqua Theater, Studio B, and Two70
7. VOOM Surf and Steam 1 Device High Speed Internet - 1 package per paying guest
8. Exclusive Debarkation Day Ala Carte Breakfast and choice of departure time
What Does it Cost*
1. Must be Purchased Prior to your cruise
2. Price is per person and everyone over age 6 in the room must get it even if just one person wants it.
3. The number sold is limited.
4. Cost is $25 per person per night and must be purchased for all nights of the cruise
*prices and inclusions always subject to change at anytime
I have mixed feelings about these pay for perks options. As a travel agent I want my client to have the best experience and if avoiding lines or getting some other perks that they are willing to pay for does that for them then I am glad to be able to offer that option. However as a guest on certain cruise lines that I might have earned some of the perks the hard way I am not so sure I am happy about people being able to jump right to them just by paying more. If I paid the big bucks for a suite on a cruise which entitles me to a lot of perks I would not like it that someone else can buy their way into those perks. It doesn't have quite the exclusive benefit feel when you open up to others to purchase. I am also worried that this will start a new trend of cruise lines adding more to their nickle and dime list that I really do not like. Personally I always liked the feeling of a cruise being mostly all inclusive but over the years it has changed a lot and now there are a many extras you might have to budget for on top of your cruise fare. There are still some cruise lines that do offer a more inclusive up front fare however that makes them look a lot more expensive at first glance so my advice on this is to really look at what you are getting for that low up front price. For example, instead of paying to avoid lines you could just choose a smaller cruise ship where there won't be any lines for anyone.
What are your feelings on these pay for perks options?
I don't know about you but I love reward programs! These days you can pretty much sign up for some type of rewards program just about anywhere you do business. Some of the bigger ones are credit card rewards, frequent flyer programs, and hotel loyalty. Even your small business like your local nail shop probably offers some type of loyalty program though. Sure I get it that the idea behind them is to build brand loyalty but it is also nice to feel valued by a company (and free stuff doesn't hurt). Some of the key points for loyalty programs to me are - is it easy to join (free is key), is it easy to understand the system for earning points/miles (or whatever they call it), do you get rewarded often.
Here is my look at 3 of the main travel related rewards programs:
First let's look at one of most of thought of loyalty programs, frequent flyer. We all want to get those miles to earn things like free flights or maybe a first class upgrade, however if you are just a regular person that usually only flies for vacation you can end up feeling pretty unimportant to an airline. Personally I might travel on vacation a little more than most people because you know I have to do research (it is a tough job) but I certainly am not coming close to getting above the entry level for most airline programs. Even though I have taken 3 international flights with Delta in the past 4 years I still have yet to even earn enough miles for a free domestic flight or any kind of upgrade deal mainly because I do not do a high volume within one year. I am a big fan of Southwest and Jet Blue and while they are not taking me anywhere international I have actually earned free flights from them. I earned free flights though both of them by just simply flying with them not anything else. You can try to boost your miles with some airlines by getting their credit card or booking hotels and other things through them but I rarely do that. Now I did make one exception this year and I took advantage of the Southwest credit card offer that gave you a free companion pass for the year once you spent a certain amount. I knew I had a big purchase coming up so the timing was perfect and I hit that spending mark with just that one purchase in February so that meant 10 months of a companion pass which I am taking advantage of the best that I can. In this case I kind of look at this one as a dual reward program - one I am getting stuff from Southwest but the card is through Chase so I think of it as their program too. In the future I will mostly only use the card for purchasing Southwest flights since that is what I get the most bang for my buck with that card. We cannot always go out and open new credit cards just to get rewards but that is also another type of reward program to consider when it makes sense.
To me signing up for a hotel member program is a no-brainer as they tend to always offer you something easy to obtain like maybe free wi-fi or member only rates even with your first booking. Personally I sign up mostly for the extras you get with that first stay and I cannot think of any hotel program that really makes choose their hotel over another when I am shopping for a hotel. I will almost always sign my clients up for a hotel's program when booking them too so that I know they are getting the freebies. Hotel program are generally easy and straightforward and similar from brand to brand. For the most part hotels are like the airlines and you are only ever going to get to the upper levels by staying a lot of hotel nights in one year. Also many hotel points tend to expire after a year if you are not active. I tend to look at these programs as an in the moment type of reward and I am not in these for the long haul.
Here is a link to a US News comparison of airline and hotel rewards programs
Cruise Line Rewards
These days just about all the cruise lines offer some type of loyalty program and for the most part you will be enrolled just by going on your first cruise with that line. Some are really easy like Disney, who calls theirs Castaway Club, your cruise counts as 1 point no matter the length of the cruise or price you paid. Disney has 3 levels - Silver, Gold, and Platinum. You are silver for 1 - 4 cruises, after your 5th you become Gold, and then Platinum after your 10th cruise. The rewards are simple but do the trick. You feel important getting to book things earlier based on your level and get a freebie onboard. Other cruise lines like Carnival, Royal Caribbean, NCL, mainly give you one point per day of your cruise and they have 5 - 6 levels that you can move up to earn more stuff. Again pretty easy to follow and I like that you get rewarded based on the total number of nights you have sailed vs just how many cruises you take. MSC has the most complicated where you earn points based on multiple things such as your room type and experience add on you choose. So you end up needing 10,000 points to top out on their program vs the 10 needed on Disney. One interesting thing about MSC is they offer to level match you based on the other loyalty programs you might be long to. So if you are let's say Diamond level on Carnival, then MSC might make you automatically Gold with them on your first cruise. Some of the other cruise companies have multiple cruise line in their family and might also offer reciprocity with their sister line's program. For example if you have sailed on Royal Caribbean many times and are Emerald level but decide to try out Royal's other line Celebrity you could enjoy upper level program benefits on Celebrity even though it is your first cruise with them. Even though they all offer something pretty different I think they are all great programs and to me more interesting then the airline or hotel ones, but that could just be because I really like cruising most!
OK so now I have to admit there was a little more motive behind this article than just talking about my feelings on reward programs. If you have read this far you will be first to hear that I am excited to announce that I am rolling out a reward program for my own business! I am working on all the details now and I have put a good amount of research in to hopefully have a program that really makes my clients feel like a VIP! I will post all the information on the website soon and don't worry if you have been booking with me for years you won't be starting from scratch. If you have anything you would like to suggest for a reward please feel free to comment or send me an email (you might get bonus points too).
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