Cruise lines' past-passenger programs -- the equivalent of airlines' frequent flyer programs -- are in a state of upheaval. The idea -- which centers on rewarding loyal travelers with extra perks, such as onboard cocktail receptions and exclusive discounts -- originated some 160 years ago with Cunard and continues in a variety of forms today. However, with rampant discounting and the allure of new ships spurring travelers to jump from fleet to fleet, cruise lines are undecided as to whether they should increase past-passenger benefits to ensure loyalty or reduce perks to save money.
On one end of the spectrum is Royal Caribbean, which announced in March 2009 that Diamond members (those who have been on 10 to 24 cruises with RCI) would no longer have special access to the concierge lounge and its affiliated concierge services or the previously offered nightly happy hour with free cocktails. Instead of thanking these frequent cruisers with extra perks, Royal Caribbean took away a privilege that these travelers held dear. Carnival similarly upset many of its past passengers in 2012 when it expanded its loyalty program to five tiers from two, downgrading some members to a lower membership level and taking away perks loyal cruisers had previously enjoyed. Members in both programs expressed outrage, and once-loyal cruisers posted on Cruise Critic's message boards and elsewhere that they are now rethinking their loyalty.
On the other side are cruise lines that have recently expanded the perks of their programs or are making it easier for cruise travelers to attain upper-tier status. Crystal Cruises, for instance, just announced that as of fall 2014, any member of its Crystal Society program will get 60 minutes of free Internet access every day of his or her cruise. Princess rewards big spenders (namely suite guests and solo travelers who may have to pay twice regular rates to get a cabin to themselves) with a faster track to the upper echelons of its past-passenger program. Celebrity added benefits a few years ago to its program, including free or discounted laundry service, complimentary Internet packages, and new parties for all Captain's Club members. Oceania has added a wealth of new perks, including free cruise fares, $900 onboard credit and a leather luggage set -- but these benefits are only available to frequent cruisers who have sailed between 21 and 100 times with the deluxe cruise line.
But, if you don't have the vacation time, let alone the money, to cruise multiple times a year and attain those upper-tier perks, is it worth your while to stick with one cruise line over another? In a comprehensive survey, Cruise Critic investigates past-passenger programs at major cruise lines. We list their perks (all of those nice little extras), the quality of members-only discounts (we shopped around to see how good these deals really were) and, ultimately, the real incentive (if there is one) to belong. Along the way, we spotted a handful of trends:
All passengers are enrolled automatically in a line's past-passenger program upon taking their first cruises. After just one sailing, you become a member with access to perks like discounts, newsletters and invitations to past-guest receptions on your next cruise.
There are two types of programs: one-size-fits-all and multi-tiered. The former type means that all repeat guests, regardless of how many times they've cruised with the line, get the same basic benefits. Lines that offer one-size-fits-all programs include Hurtigruten, Voyages of Discovery and Windstar. Multi-tiered programs provide all repeat guests with newsletters and a "welcome onboard" cocktail reception or free drink but then set milestones for additional awards. Most of the major lines -- such as Holland America, Carnival, Princess, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity, among others -- offer this type of past passenger setup.
The past-passenger programs of luxury lines are similar in form to the offerings of mainstream lines, with perks like discounts on cruises and onboard purchases. As many luxury lines don't charge guests for drinks, gratuities or specialty dining, they have to think up other free benefits for their loyal members. Given that luxury travelers have spent quite a bit of money to attain frequent cruiser status, many luxury lines offer their very best guests the ultimate perk: a free cruise. However, you'll have to cruise a lot to earn a free trip -- 30 cruises with Crystal, 20 cruises with Oceania, 140 days sailed with Seabourn and 350 days with Silversea.
While the consortium called The World's Leading Cruise Lines (which includes Carnival, Costa, Cunard, Holland America, Princess and Seabourn) says it has a Vacation Interchange Program (VIP) that allows past guests of one line to access past guest discounts on all six lines, it's not always obvious from cruise line Web sites which sailings are eligible and how to request the discount. If you're a past passenger contemplating your first cruise on a sister line, ask your agent or the cruise line about possible savings. You won't, however, be eligible for any other frequent-cruiser perks until you've completed a sailing. Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises share parent company Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., and their interchange privileges are very clear and easy to understand. The three programs -- Azamara's Le Club Voyage, Celebrity's Captain's Club and Royal Caribbean's Crown & Anchor -- offer reciprocity but only at the higher-tier levels. In order to get perks when trying out a sister cruise line, members of one program must sign up for the other program before their cruise. Captain's Club Select members automatically get Platinum status with Crown & Anchor, and Explorer status with Le Club Voyage, while Elite and Discoverer members receive Diamond status (and vice versa). Diamond Plus members of Royal Caribbean also get Elite status on Celebrity and Discoverer status on Azamara, as they are the highest tiers in the loyalty programs. Since Azamara's launch of Le Club Voyage in April 2010, for a limited time, guests who sail on Celebrity or Azamara will earn credits towards their memberships in both Captain's Club and Le Club Voyage, regardless of which brand they sail.
And, finally, if "insider" discounts on future cruises hold great appeal, we can only say: beware! For our "Members-Only Deal" listing, we asked cruise lines themselves to give us a specific example of a past-passenger-only promotion. Then, we cross-checked the "special" fare against those quoted by Internet travel agencies. Shockingly, we discovered that past-passenger rates were often significantly more expensive than the fares being offered to anybody -- regular customers and first-timers alike.
Perks: Azamara's three-tiered program was launched in April 2010, replacing the shared Captain's Club of Celebrity Cruises. For a limited time, guests who sail on Celebrity or Azamara will earn credits towards their memberships in both Captain's Club and Le Club Voyage. "Adventurer" members (those who have sailed one to four cruises with Azamara) get perks like access to an exclusive hostess throughout the voyage, onboard “Happy Hour” two to three times per week, 89 minutes of free Internet per voyage, an invitation to the Le Club Voyage onboard party, coupons for onboard use, and extra credit for sailings of 12 nights or more or for cruises booked in a suite. "Explorer" cruisers (five to nine) receive all of those amenities, along with a bottle of Champagne on arrival, 150 minutes of free Internet service, once complimentary bag of laundry per week, a specialty coffee tasting and an invitation to the Senior Officer's Cocktail party. "Discoverer" members (10 and up) get all the benefits of the other two levels, plus a Champagne brunch with Senior Officers, 237 minutes of free Internet service, a complimentary wine tasting, and savings on select onboard purchases.
Incentive to Belong: On a line where every guest gets royal treatment with butler service and complimentary dinner at a specialty restaurant, preferential services such as pre-sailing dining reservations, first crack at shore excursion waitlists and priority tender service give past guests an even greater VIP status.
Members-Only Deals: Le Club Voyage members are offered several special discounted sailings per year through the newsletter and in the members-only section of the Web site. Compare prices to verify the savings.
For More Info: Visit the Le Club Voyage section on Azamara's Web site or call 877-222-2526.
Carnival Cruise Lines
The Program: Carnival's Very Important Fun Person (VIFP) Club is available to all guests, whether they've sailed yet or not. The program has five tiers: blue (first sailing), Red (second sailing - 24 points), Gold (25 - 74 points), Platinum (75 - 199 points) and Diamond (200+ points).
Perks: Benefits for Red members are limited to a free alcoholic or specialty drink at the Punchliner Comedy Brunch or main dining room. Gold members receive an invitation to a VIFP Party on sailings of five days or more, along with a Gold VIFP pin. Platinum members get 13 additional perks including priority check-in, boarding, debarkation, restaurant and spa reservations, and tender boarding, along with two or three bags of laundry service (dependent on length of sailing). At Diamond level, eight more perks kick in, including guaranteed dining reservations, unlimited free laundry, a one-time complimentary meal at a specialty restaurant, a one-time free cabin upgrade or free fares for third and fourth guests in one cabin, and an invite to a special event hosted by the Captain.
Members who sail on a “milestone” 25th, 50th and 75th Carnival cruise receive shipboard credit of 25, 50 or 75 percent off the cruise fare respectively. On the 100th milestone, a complimentary Caribbean, Mexican Riviera or Alaska voyage up to eight days is offered.
Incentive to Belong: As these ships get bigger the perks really do make it worthwhile for fans of the line to stay loyal.
Members-Only Deals: Occasional specials are offered to all past guests, but are not that great a bargain. Shopping around can often net a lower rate than that offered.
Drawbacks: True benefits don't really kick in until a member has sailed at least 75 days.
For More Info: Go to Carnival's VIFP Club Web page.
The Program: Captain's Club, a three-tiered system
Perks: "Classic" members (those who have earned one to four credits for cruising with Celebrity) get perks including access to the loyalty desk and loyalty host, a premium onboard discount booklet, a one-category upgrade (when available), pre-sailing dining reservations at alternative eateries on applicable vessels, and little freebies like wine tasting and golf clinics. "Select" cruisers (five to nine credits) receive all of the above as well as a complimentary wine seminar, priority status to shore excursion waitlist, an invitation to the senior officers' cocktail party, 25 percent off any Internet package, complimentary pressing of two clothing items, and discounted laundry on cruises of 12 nights or more.
Added perks for "Elite" members (10 or more credits) include a private shipboard departure lounge with continental breakfast, priority tender service, priority waitlist for dining room seating, elegant tea service, complimentary use of Thalassotherapy pool use on Celebrity Mercury, complimentary access to the Persian Garden (port days only), access to the new Captain's Club Lounge at Michael's Club (certain hours of the day), 90 free Internet minutes, one free item of dry cleaning, a complimentary bag of laundry (wash, dry and fold), discounted laundry on cruises of 12 nights or more, and the ability to join Royal Caribbean's Crown and Anchor Society at the Diamond level.
All members get the traditional invite to the captain's cocktail party, newsletter and chance to cruise on reunion voyages.
Incentive to Belong: As Celebrity's ships get larger, preferential boarding and disembarkation is a nice benefit. Also, because the tier system is based on credits -- not just the number of cruises taken -- there are ways to move up the ranks faster. For example, you'll earn an extra credit for booking a Concierge-level stateroom or higher, or for sailing for 12 nights or more, for a possible total of three credits for one voyage.
Members-Only Deals: Captain's Club members are offered several special discounted sailings per year, some of which can be a good deal compared to retail rates, especially if it also includes an onboard credit or discount certificate. Compare prices to verify the savings.
For More Info: Visit the Captain's Club section on Celebrity's Web site or call 800-437-3111.
The Program: Costa Club, a four-tiered system
Perks: The lowest tier is Aquamarine, which you reach by accumulating 2,000 points, or 20 days at sea. (Each day = 100 points. Or spend €2,600 onboard). You get perks including a five percent discount on all fares, as well as discounts for traveling companions; 10 percent discount on onboard branded goods, and various in-cabin perks such as a fresh fruit basket. The big advantages are on internet, wine packages, mini-bar and laundry which all get 20 per cent off.
Added perks for "Coral" members (20 days plus or more credits up to 5,000 points) includes priority boarding and a bottle of bubbles in the cabin. Pearl members (5,001-12,999 points) get priority disembarkation, seat choice at dinner, dinner served in the cabin and luggage pick-up as close to disembarkation as possible. Club Gold Pearl members get all this, plus a VIP waiting room, where available.
All members get the traditional invite to the captain's cocktail party, souvenir photo and a regular newsletter.
Incentive to Belong: As Costa's ships get ever larger, preferential boarding and disembarkation are great benefits. Also, because the tier system is based on the number of days onboard and amount spent onboard -- not just the number of cruises taken -- there are ways to move up the ranks faster. For example, spend €52 and you'll earn 40 points.
Members-Only Deals: Costa Club members are offered five percent off any sailings -- which they can extend to travel companions, and also an extra discount on a selection of departures which they will be notified of throughout the year.
For More Info: Visit the Costa Club section on Costa's Web site.
The Program: Crystal Society, multi-tiered
Perks: "Passport," a quarterly magazine; onboard cocktail parties; priority on waitlists and on special reservation voyages; Crystal Society travel bag and lapel pin
Reason to Belong: Incredibly generous onboard incentives that increase as passengers pass designated milestones. For instance? You begin with free onboard credit (after 5 cruises), progress to a free upgrade (after 10 cruises), progress to $300 shipboard credit (after 55 cruises), and then receive a free weeklong cruise (after 30 cruises). The ultimate prize for the 100 cruise mark: A free cruise up to 12 days long in the Crystal penthouse, with a private dinner in the Vintage Room. Crystal's Society Sailings (there are usually one to two each year) offer special programming, onboard parties and events.
Members-Only Deals: All Crystal Society members are eligible for the Crystal Society savings, available on every cruise.
For More Info: On Crystal's Web site click on "Crystal Society" or call 310-785-9300.
The Program: Cunard World Club, four-tiered program
Perks: Cunard has two ways of measuring how quickly guests move through the membership tiers -- either the number of voyages completed or the number of nights spent on board, depending on which measurement works out best. All guests receive Cunard World Club newsletters, onboard Cunard World Club representatives to help with membership questions, special offers and an exclusive World Club section on-line. Silver guests (one sailing) can save 5 percent on early booking fares, Gold guests (two voyages or 20 nights) receive all the perks of silver guests plus up to two hours of complimentary Internet time, an invite to the onboard World Club party, preferential reservations at Todd English and a gold Cunarder pin. Platinum guests (seven voyages or 70 nights on board) receive all the Gold benefits and a platinum Cunarder pin, 20 percent of dry cleaning and laundry services, priority check-in and embarkation in New York and Southampton, an additional two hours Internet time and an invitation to a senior officer's party. Diamond guests (15 voyages or 150 nights on board) receive all Platinum benefits in addition to a diamond Cunarder pin, an additional 4 hours of complimentary Internet time, a complimentary three-course lunch in Todd English, a dedicated Diamond Member contact at the Shoreside World Club Desk, priority luggage delivery and priority reservations with the Voyage Sales Specialists.
Incentive to Belong: Special rates offered to World Club guests on select sailings, which may include upgrades and/or onboard credits.
Members-Only Deals: Check the specials to see if they are better than the rates you can get on your own.
Drawbacks: Check the specials (particularly early booking fares) to see if they are better than the rates you can get on your own.
For More Info: Visit Cunard's Web site; past guests can contact the Cunard World Club Desk at 800-3-CUNARD or 0845 071 0305 in the U.K.
Disney Cruise Line
The Program: Castaway Club, multi-tiered
Perks: Once you have sailed you are automatically a member. All members receive special booking offers, exclusive communications, in-room amenities not offered for purchase, and lanyard upon check-in at the port. Gold and Platinum members also receive enhanced in-room amenities, an onboard reception, even earlier booking window, merchandise discounts, and for Platinum members, complimentary premium experiences.
Incentive to Belong: The more you sail as a member, the more perks you earn and the better the benefits become. The pins given to past guests are great collector's items.
Members-Only Deals: Disney ships sail full all the time; very few dates are offered at a discount.
Drawbacks: Except for the pins and beach towels offered as past-guest perks (and the onboard party) this program offers very little.
For More Information: Visit Disney Cruise Line's Web site or call 800-951-3532.
Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines
The Program: Oceans, multi-tiered
Perks: This is a three-tiered system and you will earn one cruise point for every night. Perks include discounts on onboard spending and shore tours booked prior to departure, advance notice of next season's cruises, and an invitation to the Oceans Cocktail Party on board. Top tier customers (Silver and Gold) receive 5 percent off their onboard account, while Gold also receive 5 percent off pre-booked tours, in addition to priority boarding in UK ports, personalized luggage labels, free shuttle bus passes and a welcome gift.
Incentive to Belong: Fred Olsen wants you to tell your friends and family about the cruise line, so there is an "Introduce a Friend Reward Scheme."
Members-Only Deals: The top tier (Gold, 101+ points) receive a five percent discount when booking at least six months in advance of departure date. The second tier (Silver, 31 - 100 points) receive a five percent discount when booking at least nine months in advance of departure date. The third tier (Blue, 1 - 30 points) receive a five percent discount when booking at least 12 months in advance of departure date.
Perks: Passengers earn credits based on days sailed, with double points for suite guests and one bonus credit for every $300 you spend onboard (limit one credit per day). Star Mariners (at least one cruise) receive invites to exclusive Mariner embarkation lunch and special brunch during the cruise, a collectible gift and a subscription to "Mariner" magazine. Two-Star Mariners (30+ credits) receive the above plus a free photo of the ship they are sailing on, 10 percent discount on logo clothing purchased onboard, 15 percent discounts on items purchased in HAL's online store and a lapel pin. Three-Star Mariners (75+ credits) also receive a 25 percent discount on specialty restaurant surcharges, wine packages, Explorations Cafe purchases and mini-bar purchases; spa treatment discounts; and advance information on new itineraries. Four-Star Mariners (200+ credits) will also receive a 50 percent discount on specialty restaurant surcharges, wine packages, Explorations Cafe purchases and mini-bar purchases; a 15 percent discount on logo clothing purchased onboard; complimentary wine tasting session; free laundry and pressing; priority disembarkation, tendering and check-in; early notification of shore excursion pre-booking; and a free subscription to "Travel + Leisure" or "Food & Wine" magazines. Five-Star Mariners (500+ credits) also receive a complimentary day pass to the Greenhouse Spa thermal suite, half off a 100-minute Internet package, two complimentary dinners at the Pinnacle Grill and a free cooking class at the onboard Culinary Arts Center.
Incentive to Belong: The discounts on onboard and online purchases will help reduce your onboard bill. For lowest-tier members, the Mariner rates on select cruises are appealing.
Members-Only Deals: All Mariner Society members receive special offers on select sailings (typically 5 to 20 percent off), but -- as always -- check the savings against the regular discount rates available. In addition, Star, Two-Star and Three-Star members receive a 50 percent discount on third and fourth passengers in a stateroom on select sailings, while Four- and Five-Star members get free third and fourth passengers on select cruises.
Drawbacks: Mariner Society Cruises (special sailings with extra amenities for members) vary by destination and sailing date. Typically they do not duplicate from year to year.
For More Info: Visit Holland America's Web site or call 800-547-9139.
The Program: Hurtigruten launched its past-passenger loyalty program, called the 1893 Ambassador program, in the summer of 2010.
Perks: Past-passenger perks include bridge visits, fruit baskets delivered to your cabin, free bicycle rentals and a quarterly newsletter.
Incentive to Belong: Loyalty program members receive cruise discounts, including five percent off Norwegian Coastal Voyages and 5 percent off Greenland, Antarctica or Spitsbergen sailings, as well as spring and autumn cruises in Europe. Discounts can be combined with early-booking rates and group discounts.
Members-Only Deals: Members may also be eligible for a five percent discount on select shore excursions during Norwegian Coastal Voyages.
Drawbacks: The 1893 Ambassador program does not have tiers like other lines' programs, so cruising more does not get you additional perks.
For More Info: Visit Hurtigruten's 1893 Ambassador Web site or call 877-301-3059 for more information. Alternately, new Hurtigruten travelers can sign up onboard.
The Program: Launched in 2007, the program is multi-tiered. Levels are classic, silver, gold and black, and they're based on a points system tied to how many nights passengers have spent onboard. Classic runs from 1 to 21 points; 22 is the minimum for silver, and 43 points are required for gold status, and 100 points are needed to achieve black level.
Perks: With new benefits introduced in March 2011, MSC now offers quite nice perks to past guests. All MSC Club members receive access to an exclusive check-in area, an invitation to a past passenger cocktail reception, discounted laundry service and a club pin. They also get discounts on dinners in an alternative restaurant (10 - 25 percent off), spa treatments (5 – 20 percent off) and MSC logo items (5 - 20 percent off). Additionally, silver, gold and black level travelers receive discounted Internet service (10 - 3- percent off), a complimentary casino coupon, complimentary fruit baskets, and a free pass to the onboard thermal suite.
Incentive to Belong: Members get discounts on early booking rates -- 5 percent for classic, 8 percent for silver, 10 percent for gold and 20 percent for black, without seasonal restrictions.
Members-Only Deals: Just the aforementioned discounts.
The Program: Latitudes Rewards: a four-tiered program -- Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum.
Perks: As of December 5, 2011, Norwegian has updated its old Latitudes program to the new Latitudes Rewards program. Members earn one point for each cruise night traveled with extra points earned for booking a suite or Haven accommodation, booking nine months or more in advance, or taking advantage of monthly insider offers. Existing member accounts will be converted to the same or higher tier, depending on cabin categories booked. All members receive special offers for onboard credits for up to $250 on select sailings; priority check-in; a complimentary subscription to the Latitudes Rewards online magazine; access to an onboard customer service representative; a ship-specific lapel pin; and an invitation to a members-only cocktail reception. Silver members and above also receive nightly in-cabin chocolates. Gold members and above receive priority disembarkation and tender tickets, a fruit basket, and an invitation to an exclusive onboard gathering with ship officers. Platinum members receive chocolate-covered strawberries on the first evening onboard, concierge service, complimentary dinner and wine in LeBistro, free laundry service, and sparkling wine in cabin.
Incentive to Belong: The more times you sail with NCL, the more free stuff and discounts you get to make your cruise a true VIP experience. All members receive a 10 percent discount at the Duty Free Shop, free art when attending an art auction and discounts on Internet packages. Silver members and above receive 15 to 25 percent off photos and spa treatments on port days.
Members-Only Deals: All members have access to the previously mentioned insider onboard credit offers, which also help to earn them extra points toward the next membership tier.
Perks: Once you've taken your first cruise, you are automatically enrolled.
Oceania is upgrading its loyalty program, beginning with the first cruises of 2013. Perks kick in after passengers earn two credits (one or two cruises taken, depending on sailing length). Blue members (2 to 4 credits) receive membership pins, invitations to an exclusive cocktail reception, a 10 percent discount on Oceania Cruises logo merchandise and members-only offers. Benefits improve with each successive level. Bronze members (5 to 9 credits) earn all the above, plus $200 shipboard credit and a 20 percent discount on any single Internet package. Silver members (10 to 14 credits) receive $400 in shipboard credit plus Bronze perks and an additional 10 percent discount on the Unlimited Passport shore excursion collection, prepaid tips, and a 10 percent discount on any beverage package. Gold members (15 to 19 credits) earn $500 in shipboard credit, all Silver perks, plus two free spa treatments and two free Air Deviation Fee Waivers. Platinum members (20 to 39 credits) earn $600 in shipboard credit, all Gold perks, plus a free cruise and a 30 percent discount on any single Internet package. Diamond members (40 to 59 credits) earn $1,000 in onboard credit, all Platinum perks, plus a 50 percent discount on any single Internet package and a 20 percent discount on the Unlimited Passport shore excursion collection.
Incentive to Belong: The perks kick in fairly quickly and there are frequent and creative specials. Offers include onboard savings on future cruises and savings on new bookings made 45 days or less after debarking from your last voyage.
Members-Only Deals: Members receive periodic special offers on select sailings and advance notice of new itineraries. Plus, members gain access to the Oceania Club Web page for special announcements and to view past sailings.
For More Information: Visit Oceania Cruises' Web site or call 800-531-5619.
The Program: The Peninsular Club, multi-tiered
Perks: From April 2012, the previous program, the Portunus Club, will be replaced with The Peninsular Club. Passengers will be automatically enrolled in the programme once they have accrued 150 points, with each night spent onboard a P&O Cruises ship worth 10 points. Passengers move up through the first four tiers when they reach certain point-accrual milestones: Pacific (150 - 500 points), Atlantic (501 - 1,000 points), Mediterranean (1,001 - 2,000 points) and Caribbean (2,001 points or more). To move into and stay in the two top tiers -- Baltic and Ligurian -- depends not only on points but frequency of travel during the last three years. For example, to reach the Baltic tier, passengers need 2,501 points and 80-200 nights spent onboard in the three years preceding the start of their next cruise. To reach the Ligurian tier, they need 2,501+ points and more than 201 nights spent onboard in the three years preceding the start of their next cruise. Passengers who have the points but drop below the 80 nights end up back in the Caribbean tier.
Benefits include an onboard spending discount, starting at 5 percent at Pacific level and rising to 10 percent from the Caribbean tier upwards. The real benefits kick in at the Caribbean level -- priority booking, dedicated check-in, priority embarkation, cocktail party onboard, and lunch or dinner with a senior officer.
Incentive to Belong: There will be select member cruises at all levels; any discounts on these have yet to be announced.
Members-Only Deals: Perks include a 10 percent discount on travel insurance and 50 percent on laundry at the higher levels, as well as the onboard spending discount of 5 to 10 percent, depending on the tier.
For More Info: Visit the Peninsular Club section on P&O Cruises' Web site.
The Program: Captain's Circle, multi-tiered
Perks: Princess cruise travelers qualify for the three tiers based on either cruise credits or days cruised. All passengers receive one credit for each cruise taken, and receive extra credits for each cruise booked in a suite or as a solo traveler occupying a cabin alone. All members of the Captain's Circle may benefit from a $50 to $300 early booking discount. The genuine perks lie with folks who achieve Platinum (five cruise credits or 50 cruise days) or Elite (15 cruise credits or 150 cruise days) status. Princess offers credit towards the purchase of an internet package (for instance, a $75 credit on voyages of seven nights or less that's equivalent to 150 free minutes). Other Platinum-level options include expedited embarkation and an exclusive lounge for disembarkation, an exclusive Captain's Circle phone number, and a complimentary upgrade to the Princess Platinum Vacation Protection program from the regular vacation protection plan. Elite members get the above, plus free dry cleaning and laundry while onboard, priority tender embarkation, priority disembarkation, complimentary shoe shines, afternoon tea served in-cabin, daily canapes, a free wine-tasting event on request and complimentary mini-bar setup (refills are not included). Elite members also get the same bath amenities offered in suites and a 10 percent discount on boutique purchases.
Incentive to Belong: The Internet credit for Platinum and Elite guests is a big benefit, and for frequent cruisers, the Elite-level privileges offer a nice sense of exclusiveness and pampering. Priority boarding, in this era of mammoth super-ships, is also a nice touch.
Members-Only Deals: Special pricing on certain cruises, but check against the regular quoted price to see what kind of "deal" you are getting.
Perks: "Inspirations," a quarterly magazine; special events surrounding related shore excursions; gifts such as logo wear and faux Faberge eggs
Incentive to Belong: Special sailings not available to the general public, such as the "shakedown cruises" offered aboard both Seven Seas Mariner and Seven Seas Voyager when they were new at no charge.
Members-Only Deals: Members get five percent off across the board; occasionally they're privy to another five percent for select sailings. Those discounts can be taken with other offers, which can substantially reduce the cost of a cruise.
For More Info: Call Regent at 800-477-7500; the Seven Seas Society manager can be reached at extension 378.
Royal Caribbean International
The Program: Crown & Anchor, multi-tiered
Perks: All members receive the quarterly magazine called "Crown & Anchor," invitation to onboard welcome back cocktail receptions hosted by the ship's officers, and discount booklets. Platinum members and up get priority check-in, access to a private departure lounge with breakfast and special events, pins, and matching status on Celebrity and Azamara; Emerald members also get a special welcome gift. In addition to the Platinum perks, Diamond, Diamond Plus and Pinnacle Club members get priority wait lists for sold-out excursions and spa appointments, priority departure, special breakfasts and entertainment tours (where applicable). Diamond members get access to a dedicated diamond lounge (where available -- not all ships have them) or a nightly event in a designated lounge with some free wine (and discounted drinks). Diamond-plus and Pinnacle Club members also get access to a concierge lounge (with free nightly happy hours), a personalized amenity, and behind-the-scenes tours.
Incentive to Belong: Special pricing on member sailings, but check to see if the benefits are really there. A look at the pricing on featured Crown & Anchor cruises indicated no price difference from the regular rate. Platinum members and higher also get balcony and suite discounts on select sailings.
Members-Only Deals: Discount certificates worth $100 to $500 are distributed for select cruises. Past passengers get notified first of any special sale fares, and get a bonus when booking their next cruise while onboard.
For More Info: Click on the "Crown & Anchor" link on Royal Caribbean's Web site or call 800-526-9723.
Seabourn Cruise Line
The Program: Seabourn Club, multi-tiered
Perks: Seniority is based on days spent cruising on the line, with extra points for sailing in a penthouse or premium suite or on an escorted "Seabourn Journey," as well as for spending over $500 in eligible onboard or pre-cruise online purchases. Perks include "Seabourn Club Herald," a magazine published three times a year; a captain's cocktail party; special Web pages just for members; and jeweled Tiffany pins awarded on milestone number cruises (100 days to 2,500 days).
Incentive to Belong: Members get a free seven-night cruise after 140 days and a 14-night cruise after 250 days. Plus, they can choose one to three onboard perks based on membership level: discounts on shore excursions; discounts on premium wines and spirits; complimentary Internet packages; complimentary telephone use; a massage; day pass to the Spa Serene Area on Odyssey-class ships; or one free bag of laundry. Diamond members get all of the above, plus free laundry and pressing and daily delivery of a preferred newspaper. Frequent cruisers may also receive discounts on luggage shipping, travel magazine subscriptions and special luggage tags, depending on membership level.
Members-Only Deals: Past passengers receive a 5 percent discount for onboard future bookings.
For More Info: Go to the Seabourn Club section of Seabourn's Web site or call 866-755-5619 or 206-626-9179.
The Program: Venetian Society, multi-tiered
Perks: "Venetian Society News"; ship visitation privileges for friends and family (must be requested 30 days in advance); minimal (five percent) cruise savings (though this can be applied to other discounts) once past passenger has surpassed the 100 day-milestone (goes up to 10 percent for 250-plus); early embarkation and late debarkation (after 250 cruises); Tiffany sterling silver gemstone membership pins (given at various intervals between 100-, 350- and 500-day milestones) -- some are jeweled, some not; complimentary onboard laundry service for those at or beyond the 100-day milestone; and a members-only section on Silversea's Web site. Invite friends or family on certain sailings and receive double cruise credits and $250 in onboard credit on Venetian Society sailing dates, and five percent Venetian Society savings for friends and family.
Incentive to Belong: You'll get a free seven-night cruise after you reach the 350-day milestone, a free 14-night cruise after you reach the 500-day milestone, and then another free seven-day trip for each additional 150 days. Members can also sign up for the Venetian Value Club and receive offers for exclusive savings on sailings departing within 30 days.
Members-Only Deals: You can combine your 5 or 10 percent Venetian Society discount with other discounts, often adding up to real savings.
Drawbacks: Silversea requires more days spent cruising to reach minimal program levels that offer the "real benefits" than other upper-end lines.
For More Info: Call 800-722-9955 or visit Silversea's Web site.
Voyages of Discovery
The Program: Discovery Club
Perks:This niche line has a number of benefits for past passengers including exclusive savings and special offers on future cruises and sister brands Swan Hellenic and Hebridean Island Cruises. Other benefits include Discovery Club newsletters, onboard cocktail parties, and dedicated check-in desk at select UK departure ports.
Members-Only Deals: Members can take advantage of at least a 5 percent savings on future cruises with Voyages of Discovery and sister brands Swan Hellenic and Hebridean Island Cruises.
Perks: Foremast Club members receive Windstar's quarterly Foremast magazine containing exclusive discounts and news. Members are also invited to an onboard cocktail reception with Windstar officers and invitations to dine with the captain and officers.
Incentive to Belong: Alumni receive booking offers and discounts on select voyages.
Members-Only Deals: Foremast members receive a 5 - 15 percent on all 2012 voyages.
For More Info: Visit Windstar's Web site or call 800-258-7245.
--by Jana Jones, Cruise Critic contributor; updated by Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor