Is cruising getting more like flying when it comes to passenger incentives?
Most cruise lines reward their frequent passengers with perks like special discounts and private parties, but Cunard is about to launch a plan that sounds like a seagoing version of the airline frequent-flier programs.Passengers who sail on any of 10 Cunard ships will earn Cruise Miles that can be redeemed for awards ranging from upgrades to free voyages. Cruise Miles will be awarded on a per-person, per-day basis according to ship, grades of accommodation and length of trip. Thus, the higher your cabin category and the longer the cruise, the more points you'll earn.
How fast will Cruise Miles add up? On a five-star ship such as the Queen Elizabeth 2, Columbia-class passengers (the lower first class tier) will earn 200 miles a day. On Cunard Crown vessels (which are less formal than the QE2, Sea Goddesses and other top-of-the-line ships), you'll earn 50 Cruise Miles a day in a mid-priced inside cabin, 100 a day in a mid-priced outside cabin, 150 a day in a deluxe stateroom - thus 250, 700 or 1,050 Cruise Miles for a seven-day voyage.
Once you've accumulated 600 Cruise Miles you can redeem them for a one-category upgrade on a seven-day trip on a Cunard Crown ship. It'll take 5,000 Cruise Miles to get a free seven-day sailing on a Crown vessel - which you can earn by taking just one 11-day voyage on one of the deluxe Sea Goddesses. However, if your style - and pocketbook - allow only an annual one-week cruise in the budget category, you're never going to earn a freebie within the seven-year limit Cunard has set.
Seabourn Cruise Line has offered a somewhat similar incentive plan for its frequent sailors since 1988. Passengers who've made one voyage automatically become members of the line's Seabourn Club, which offers fare reductions for accumulated days at sea. For example, after 28 days of sailing - typically two Seabourn cruises - you'll get a 25 percent savings on your next 14-day trip; after 70 days, you'll get a 50 percent reduction on your next 14-day journey; after 140 days, you qualify for a free 14-day cruise. Seabourn's all-suites ships offer luxury voyages (the average per-person tariff is $830 a day), but lots of passengers have nevertheless qualified for freebies, according to spokesman Ernie Beyl. Seabourn also has a pay-in-full prepurchase program called World Fare, which offers substantial savings to travelers who buy 45, 60, 90 or 120 days at sea up to three years in advance. Via World Fare, you can reduce the average daily cost to about $500-plus, Beyl said.
Royal Viking, which claims a 66 percent repeat rate on its cruises, gives gifts of merchandise after a certain number of sailings. Members of its past-passengers Skald Club (named for the well-traveled Viking historians who made continual voyages and always returned home with intriguing tales) also get an extra 5 percent reduction on top of the standard 15-percent early booking discount. And several annual Royal Viking "reunion cruises" offer a variety of perks for Skald Club members.
Other lines said they're taking a new look at their incentive programs. Meanwhile, Radisson is offering a $1,000-per-person discount to Radisson Hotel guests who book a seven- or eight-night Radisson Diamond Mediterranean cruise within 30 days of check-in. The promotion also includes an additional $250-per-person shipboard credit that can be used toward shore excursions, drinks, boutique purchases and beauty and spa services. Radisson says the discount reflects savings of nearly 25 percent off the full fare, which normally totals $4,295 for a seven-night voyage, $4,895 for eight-night voyages. The deal is available to Radisson Hotel guests until July 31 for sailings between June 10 and Nov. 5.