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 a free cruise.
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. 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.
Does being loyal to a cruise line get me cruise discounts or free trips?
It can. Depending on your cruise line's rewards structure, those who sail frequently with the same line can earn special discounts or even free cruises.
What types of perks do I get if I'm a member of a cruise line loyalty program?
Perks can include extras like free alcoholic beverages, cabin upgrades, priority embarkation and debarkation, complimentary Internet use and laundry service, complimentary dinner in alternative restaurants and, as mentioned above, even 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, restaurants, meetings with ship officers and members-only lounges.
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.
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). Some 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 actually earn days (or points) until a sailing is completed, you cannot change loyalty tiers mid-cruise.
Can I carry credits from one loyalty program to another for cruise lines within the same corporation?
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, do not allow reciprocity.
Is there a credit card tied to my cruise line's loyalty program?
No. Only six cruise lines -- Carnival, Disney, Norwegian, Princess, Holland America and Royal Caribbean -- offer branded credit cards, but 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?
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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.