While it is not surprising that the mainstream cruise lines have loyalty programs which are equivalent to frequent flyer miles (I call them "constant cruiser miles"), it is surprising to me how different the constant cruiser programs are from frequent flyer programs. With few exceptions, mainstream cruise lines treat all "past passengers" the same - in other words, the benefits you enjoy from having previously cruised on a particular line are the same whether you have cruised with that line just one time or twenty times. On the positive side, the benefits offered by the cruise lines are not usually subject to the games that airlines play with blackout periods and alleged unavailability of seats. Another difference is that the cruise lines put a lot of emphasis on past passenger magazines - usually mailed out to past passengers about four times a year.
Let's now take a look at the various past passenger Magazines including a few comments on the actual programs - and I'm going to give my opinion of how they rate against each other.
The most recent issue of 16 pages for "Spring 2000" features a biography of one of the captains, stories on ports and special itineraries, ship's recipes, great color photos, human interest articles (such as a couple meeting on board and subsequently getting married), together with a schedule for all Princess ships for the next 15 months.
But best of all, the most recent Captain's Circle magazine has more than 15 special discounts for members only. Princess is famous for its "2 for 1 specials" (called "twofers" by travel agents), but these are not usually as good as they look because the cruise fare is calculated on the brochure-quoted prices, and most people know that almost every actual fare is less than the brochure price. Princess has begun to offer to its Alumni some 2 for 1 fares off the Love Boat Saver rates (early booking discounted rates) - these can be exceptional deals for Captain's Circle Members reaching up to 75% off brochure fares.
Princess also works hard on other mail-outs to past passengers (including e-mails if you sign up for them).
Once on board, members of the Captain's Circle Club are invited to a "members only" party, and the three "most traveled on Princess" passengers are presented with a bottle of champagne and a destinational plate.
If you've cruised on Princess (or P&O) before, and you're not getting the Captain's Circle magazine, write to Princess at P.O. Box 2354, Brea, CA 92822-8840, or phone 1-800-PRINCESS.
My rating for the Princess past passenger program: *****
HOLLAND AMERICA LINE
The "Mariner Society" is Holland America's name for its past passenger program, and its quarterly magazine, the "Mariner" is excellent. Unlike the Princess magazine which has more of a family feel in having bio's and photos of captains, cruise directors, pursers, and others, the Mariner concentrates on plugging up-coming cruises. More than 25 discounted cruises were offered in the spring edition of the magazine.
Holland America gets top marks for publishing a special Canadian issue of its magazine. And I'm also impressed that Holland America has kept track of my various address changes since I first cruised on Holland America some 16 years ago.
Holland America publishes a special "Alumni Cruise Vacation Catalog" in both U.S. and Canadian editions (this year's catalog is some 48 pages long and has great specials and excellent color photos).
See "World's Leading Cruise Lines" for an additional benefit to being a Holland America past passenger.
If Holland America has lost track of you as a past passenger, phone them at 1-877-SAIL HAL or write to them at P.O. Box 34985, Seattle, WA 98124-1985.
My rating for Holland America: *****
ROYAL CARIBBEAN CRUISE LINE
The "Crown & Anchor Society" is Royal Caribbean's name for its past passenger club. The quarterly magazine, the "Crown & Anchor" is excellent. While it is hard to evaluate exactly, it appears that Royal Caribbean's discounts, being "saving certificates" of somewhere between $50 and $300 per cabin, are less generous than the percentage discounts offered by Princess and Holland America. Full marks go to Royal Caribbean however for the ease in getting registered or re-registered for their alumni program - you can phone them at 1-800-526-9723, fax at 1-305-523-1283 or enroll on line at www.rccl.com
Royal Caribbean's program differs in that it offers discounts from third party vendors (such as IBM), and by giving modest additional benefits to those passengers who have cruised multiple times on Royal Caribbean.
My rating for Royal Caribbean: *****
NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE
I've never cruised on NCL, but I do receive their magazine and potential discount benefits by having cruised previously on Royal Viking Cruise Lines - now defunct.
"Latitudes", NCL's magazine is well done, and features detail on its subsidiary company, Orient Lines, as well as its parent company, Asia-based Star Cruises. Discounts appear to be the same modest saving certificates offered by Royal Caribbean, although the certificates are as high as $835.
One special feature of Latitudes is a special number for past passengers to call with inquiries, including membership (1-800-343-0098). You can write to Latitudes at P.O. Box 149075, Coral Gables, FL 33114-9075.
My rating for NCL: ****
CARNIVAL CRUISE LINES
It would come as no surprise to many when I say that Carnival is the most ruthlessly commercial in its approach to past members. "Currents", Carnival's magazine, is the only one of the cruise magazines which contains third party ads - in fact, almost one-third of the most recent issue (summer 2000) is ads, from cigars to bad breath remedies.
Discounts offered in Currents are hard to evaluate because only the prices are quoted on special cruises, with no indication of savings (if any) over a regular booking. Carnival's appears not to be very interested in you if you haven't cruised with them in the past two years, and your subscription to the magazine is automatically terminated unless you'd like to pay $7.99 for an additional year's subscription.
Carnival does offer its own credit card where one can accumulate "cruise currency", i.e., discounts on future cruises, but there are lots of restrictions in the program.
See "World's Leading Cruise Lines" below for the BEST benefit to being a Carnival Past Passenger.
To contact Currents, phone 1-888-CCL-GUEST or write to 4 Applegate Drive, Robinsville, NJ 08619.
My rating for Carnival: ***
Last, and certainly, the least, of the past passenger programs is the one offered by Celebrity. Celebrity is the only cruise line that charges for its membership - admittedly, it's only a one time charge of $35 per household - but charging any fee seems counter-productive to encouraging past passengers to cruise again.
Celebrity also stands out in having the worst magazine, the "Captain's Club News". Although very colorful, it's more like a newsletter than a magazine, and is slim in content.
Discounts offered to club members are of the savings certificate variety, ranging from $100 to $300. A free one-category upgrade on cabins is offered to members, but with numerous restrictions.
So, why do people actually PAY to join the Captain's Club? It appears to be solely for the one benefit of priority embarkation and debarkation on every Celebrity Cruise taken after the initial one which earns you the right to pay the $35 and join the Captain's Club.
If you're eligible to join and want to part with some money, phone Celebrity at 1-800-760-0654, or fax 1-305-523-1193.
My rating for Celebrity: *
CUNARD LINE & CRYSTAL CRUISES - Not rated.
Cunard certainly used to have a sophisticated magazine and good past passenger benefits, but Cunard seems to have dropped me off their mailing list after the winter 1996 issue of their "Cunard World" magazine, and I don't know know much about their current program other than the alumni discount is usually an extra 10% off the rate charged to non-alumni, as well as what I mention below under "World's Leading Cruise Lines."
Crystal Cruises' "Crystal Society" definitely has a sophisticated past passenger program, judging from their website (www.crystalcruises.com). Crystal offers increasingly-large benefits for multi-repeaters. I'd love to read their magazine, but never having had the money to cruise on Crystal, I'll just wait until I win the lottery.
WORLD'S LEADING CRUISE LINES
"Habitual Hotelers" points may be the wave of the future. The Starwood hotel conglomerate (including the Westin and Sheraton chains) now awards points to their frequent customers which may be applied as discounts (up to $800) on any cruises of the six cruise lines owned by Carnival Corporation now being called the "World's Leading Cruise Lines." As usual, there are lots of restrictions.
The members of the World's Leading Cruise Lines are Carnival Cruise Lines, Holland America Line, Costa Cruises, Windstar Cruises, Cunard Line & Seabourn Cruise Line. If you are a past passenger of ANY one of these cruise lines, you can book and receive ANY alumni discount or special program on ALL of the other lines. Carnival Corporation just began marketing this entity this year and many past passengers are taking advantage of the program - especially past Carnival passengers who are using the extra discount to try out the more upscale and luxury ships of Holland America, Cunard and Seabourn.
My rating for World's Leading Cruise Lines program: ***** for an idea - Time will Tell!
In my view, with so many cruise sailings having more than 50% repeat passengers, the bottom-ranked lines would be well advised to study their competitors' "constant cruiser" programs.
Originally from Australia, Alan has for some time been permanently settled in Vancouver where he is a practicing Attorney. He has been a SeaLetter columnist, reviewer and our resident humorist for some time now.
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