Are Cruise Line Rewards Programs Worth It?


If you fly with airlines often or stay at any of the large chain hotels, you've probably heard all about rewards programs. With frequent flyer and hotel loyalty programs, customers are rewarded for their loyalty and spending with special perks that vary from program to program.

But did you know the cruise lines also offer rewards programs? Like airlines and hotel brands, cruise lines are eager to reward their loyal customers with room upgrades and even special discounts. (See also: Best Credit Cards for Cruises)

If you're a frequent cruiser who wants to save money and get better cruising perks, it might make sense to stick with one cruise line and pool your spending in one place. Here's a rundown of the main cruise line loyalty programs along with the benefits frequent cruisers who partake can expect. (See also: 5 Most Affordable Cruise Lines for Families)

MSC Cruises Voyagers Club

MSC Cruises, which offers cruises around the world, offers the Voyagers Club with five tiers of membership. You'll achieve the first tier, called Welcome, with your first confirmed booking. That gets you little more than an e-newsletter, but the perks jump from there. With a Classic Membership, for example, you'll get a welcome back cocktail, MSC Voyagers luggage tags, and a few other perks. The best part, however, is that you get a 5 percent discount on all MSC Cruises sailings and up to a 15 percent discount on select Voyagers sailings.

MSC Silver status comes with the same perks and discount, but you'll also get a bowl of fresh fruit in your room. Gold status ticks up slightly from there, adding a one-hour steam bath or sauna session, a complimentary gift, priority disembarkation, a complimentary photo, and a complimentary birthday cake. With MSC's highest status, called Black, you'll also get priority boarding on the ship, a free specialty restaurant dinner, dessert, bathrobe and slippers, complimentary dance class, and a VIP party.

Like other programs on this list, the Voyagers Club awards points based on how many cruises you complete. The system also takes into account the length of your cruise and the cruise "experience" you choose.

One of the biggest benefits, however, is the fact that MSC offers status match for its loyalty program. So, if you have a top status with another rewards program (cruise line or hotel), you can get it matched and score these additional perks without ever cruising with MSC.

Carnival Cruise Line — VIFP Club (Very Important Fun Person Club)

Carnival Cruise Line offers several tiers in its loyalty program, each with its own level of perks. You get basic Blue status on your first sailing and Red status on your second, both of which offer an e-newsletter and access to special offers. Once you reach Gold, you also get an appreciation drink on five-night (or longer) sailings and a special VIFP Pin.

Obviously, these perks are nothing to write home about. But once you get to the next level, VIFP Platinum status, you may actually start to get excited. At that point, you qualify for priority boarding and check-in, a Platinum and Diamond VIFP party on five-night (or longer) sailings, upgraded beverages at brunch, a special dessert, a collectible pin, priority debarkation, complimentary laundry service, and other perks.

With VIFP Diamond status, one up from Platinum, you get the perks of Platinum status, priority dinner reservations and seating, a special event invitation, unlimited laundry service, free cabin upgrades or third and fourth guests sail free, a complimentary dinner at a specialty restaurant, and more.

Each level of status is attainable through the accumulation of points, although the number of points you'll earn for each cruise depends on the length of the cruise. A five-night Caribbean cruise is worth five points, for example, while a seven-night cruise to Alaska is worth seven.

Fortunately, the program is free to sign up for so you have nothing to lose.

Norwegian Cruise Line — Latitude Rewards

Norwegian Cruise Line's Latitude Rewards offers a similar setup for frequent cruisers. You earn points for each cruise and climb the status scale to the top if you cruise enough.

The bottom tier Bronze status gets you priority check-in at the pier, a bottle of sparkling wine, onboard discounts, additional internet service, and an online magazine, while Silver status gets you those perks plus a cocktail party and more discounts on onboard purchases.

A couple levels up, at Norwegian Platinum status, you'll also get priority embarkation, specialty dinners, even more internet minutes, chocolate-covered strawberries, a ship tour, and concierge service. The next tier, Platinum Plus, adds on an officer's dinner and priority seating for restaurants and entertainment. Top-tier Ambassador service offers all the other perks plus a complimentary seven-day cruise once you reach that status.

You'll earn points for Latitude Rewards on every Norwegian cruise you take, although the cruise and cabin you book determines how many. Generally speaking, however, you'll earn one point for each cruise night or two points for each cruise night in a suite. And like others on this list of loyalty programs, this one is free to join.

Royal Caribbean — Crown and Anchor Rewards

Royal Caribbean offers its own Crown and Anchor Society with various levels of benefits. Bottom-tier Gold status, for example, comes with priority check-in, priority departure lounge, and discounts on last-minute cruises and suite upgrades, among other benefits. Platinum status comes with those perks plus an exclusive event and a signature lapel pin. Getting to Emerald status will help you score all perks of lower status plus complimentary snacks and waters.

Diamond status is where things get good. At this point, you'll qualify for the benefits of lower status plus a special gift, priority wait-listing for excursions and spa services, access to a Diamond lounge, priority departure, exclusive events, specialty coffee at breakfast, and an entertainment tour.

With the next tier up, Diamond Plus, you'll also get a behind-the-scenes tour, a personalized gift, and Concierge Lounge access. Some members also get a meal with an officer, upgraded bathroom amenities, and special cruise fare reductions. Top-tier Pinnacle Club adds on a personalized lapel pin and a milestone cruise certificate valid for a seven-night cruise.

Keep in mind that Royal Caribbean matches status with certain cruise line loyalty programs.

While the number of points you earn for each cruise varies, it's not too hard to figure out. You earn one point for every cruise night you purchase, and double the points when you buy a suite. If you book a seven-night Caribbean cruise, for example, you'll earn seven points. But if you upgrade that cruise to a suite, you'll earn 14 points. Fortunately, it's fairly easy to get basic Royal Caribbean status since Gold starts at three points. Platinum status requires 30 points.

Good rewards require loyalty

All of these programs are free to join, so you have nothing to lose by joining. But in most of the programs, rewards don't get good until you reach the upper tiers. Before you reach those, you'll need to determine whether the rewards offered are worth your loyalty and the choices you'll lose by sticking with just one cruise line.

If you're already loyal to one company, your decision is made. Others may want to experiment with various cruise lines until they decide to stick with just one.

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