Do cruise lines have loyalty programs like airlines and hotels?
Yes. Just as airlines reward their most frequent flyers with upgrades and free flights, cruise lines reward loyal cruisers with amenities, extras and even free cruises.
How do cruise line loyalty programs work?
Most lines operate their loyalty programs based on the number of days a passenger has cruised. The more days you cruise, the more points you get. Some lines give extra points for booking the most expensive suites. MSC also awards extra points for a variety of things, including money spent onboard the ship (other than casino play).
As you accrue points, you climb higher and higher within the tiers of the program, earning progressively more perks, as well as elite status within the line's customer base.
A handful of cruise lines offer a simple one-tier loyalty program; cruise with them once and you are entitled to a perk or two -- usually a stateroom gift, a booking discount and/or an invitation to an onboard party. Most points in the loyalty programs do not expire; MSC points have a three-year expiration.
Does being loyal to a cruise line get me cruise discounts or free trips?
Discounts on cruises and onboard activities and amenities abound in all of the cruise line loyalty programs, but free cruises are becoming increasingly harder to find, even at the top tiers. Lines that offer free cruises (usually seven nights) to their top-tier cruisers include Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Azamara, Norwegian, Oceania, Silversea and Crystal.
What types of perks do I get if I'm a member of a cruise line loyalty program?
Perks can include extras like branded gifts (think tote bags, caps or scarves), bottled water delivered to your stateroom, free or discounted alcoholic beverages, cabin upgrades, priority embarkation and debarkation, free or discounted Internet use and laundry service, free casino plays, discounts on photos, free or discounted meals in alternative restaurants, dedicated cruise planners and, as mentioned above, free cruises when you reach the highest levels.
You might also have exclusive access to special "welcome aboard" parties, lunches or dinners with ship staff, meetings with ship officers, invitations to exclusive reunion and president's cruises and members-only lounges. There are a few eye-popping perks out there, including an invitation to a ship christening when you reach Regent Seven Seas' Diamond level or legacy rights to hand down your status in expedition cruise line Linblad's by-invitation-only Friend for Life program.
Can my kids earn loyalty status and perks?
Yes. Royal Caribbean offers children the same status (except for the top Pinnacle level) as their parents following their first cruise through their 18th birthday (even if they have not been on all those cruises with the parents). Beyond their 18th birthday, their status going forward is defined by the cruises they actually sailed on themselves.
Other lines that allow children to accrue points toward their own status include Carnival, Princess, Holland America and MSC. Perks are generally the same for children as for adults.
The perks most likely to appeal to children include specialty non-alcoholic drinks or extra soft drinks in the cabin, behind-the-scenes tours, arcade credits and additional Internet minutes. Parents will appreciate the extra perks in their children's accounts for things like additional laundry services, bottled water and free or discounted specialty meals.
Do I get credit toward the cruise line's loyalty program by gambling in the casino?
No, but several lines have separate casino loyalty programs through which you can earn similar perks, including free cruises. Lines that offer casino programs include Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Carnival, Princess and all the Norwegian Cruise Line brands (Norwegian, Regent Seven Seas and Oceania).
If I'm at a high level within my cruise line's loyalty program but others in my travel group aren't, can they join me at members-only events or in members-only areas?
This will vary by cruise line and, frankly, the crewmember who's monitoring entry to said events and areas. There will also likely be a limit on the number of guests you can bring into members-only areas -- if it's allowed at all. They are not likely to be allowed to attend behind-the-scenes tours with you unless your invitation specifies that guests are invited as well.
What do I have to do to enroll in a loyalty program, and how do I track my status?
Lines that offer loyalty programs generally enroll cruisers automatically -- for free -- after they finish their first sailings. Loyalty status is usually designated on each passenger's cruise card (often by color). Most cruise lines allow you to track your status online, but you can also contact your cruise line directly for status updates. Since you don't earn days (or points) until a sailing is completed, you cannot change loyalty tiers mid-cruise.
Can I transfer or carry credits from one cruise loyalty program to another?
Generally, no, but three lines under the Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. umbrella offer some reciprocity: Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Azamara. That means if you cruise frequently with Celebrity but decide you want to try a voyage with Azamara, you'll enter at an equivalent loyalty tier in that line's program.
Other sister cruise lines, such as the ones under the Carnival Corporation umbrella or Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings do not allow reciprocity. Only MSC offers a status match to new cruisers on the line. Under the program, before you sail, you can contact MSC and provide documentation of your status within another cruise line's loyalty program (or even a hotel loyalty program), earning you perks on MSC in the comparable status tier.
Is there a credit card tied to my cruise line's loyalty program?
No. Of the eight cruise lines -- Carnival, Disney, Norwegian, Princess, Holland America, Celebrity, Viking and Royal Caribbean – that offer branded credit cards, none are tied to a line's loyalty program. While purchases made with these cards won't affect your loyalty status, they can earn you points toward some of the same perks you can receive from your line's loyalty program. These include discounted cruises, onboard credit, upgrades, cruise line merchandise and other perks.
How can I find out more about cruise line loyalty programs?
You might enjoy the following articles:
The What to Expect on a Cruise series, written by Cruise Critic's editorial staff, is a resource guide, where we answer the most common questions about cruise ship life -- including cruise food, cabins, drinks and onboard fun -- as well as money matters before and during your cruise and visiting ports of call on your cruise.