(3:50 p.m. EST) -- Hot on the heels of Royal Caribbean's revamp of its Crown & Anchor loyalty club, P&O Cruises is replacing its own loyalty scheme, the Portunus Club, with a new programme. Starting in April 2012, regular cruisers will be enrolled in the P&O Cruises Peninsular Club, which will have more tiers than Portunus.
In addition, the benefits will undergo some tweaks, not all of which are pleasing Cruise Critic readers.
First, the details. The Ruby, Sapphire and Gold levels will be replaced by Pacific, Atlantic, Mediterranean, Caribbean, Baltic and Ligurian tiers. While these may not sound terribly catchy, the idea is that as the seas get smaller (Ligurian being the smallest), the number of people in each tier becomes lower, therefore making it more exclusive.
P&O Cruises managing director Carol Marlow hinted in a press statement that the existing three-tier scheme had been getting too big and too inclusive: "Since its creation, the Portunus Club has seen both the numbers of members within the scheme, and the average number of points held per member, increase significantly. The review of the existing scheme and introduction of the P&O Cruises Peninsular Club has been shaped by our customers' experiences and their comments which demanded a more exclusive club." Hence the additional tiers.
Here's a summary of the changes:
Points will be awarded as they are now at 10 per night on any P&O cruise. You'll have to hit 150 before being enrolled in the scheme, which means 15 nights onboard and in reality, the second or third cruise for most. So anyone who has just completed their first cruise and been automatically enrolled as a Ruby member of Portunus when the changes come will be out in the cold again until they've notched up 15 nights.
At the most basic level (Pacific), the only significant monetary perk is a 5 percent discount on onboard spend.
Current Gold members are being told by letter that they'll get an upgrade when the scheme changes over to push them into Caribbean level, which is where most of the old Gold-style benefits kick in: priority booking, dedicated check-in, an embarkation lounge onboard, a half-bottle of Champagne (per cabin) on formal night and a "senior officer hosted dining experience" (currently a hosted lunch) on cruises of eight nights or more. But those who were just below Gold, which required 1,501 points in the Portunus scheme, now have a massive leap to 2,001 points before they qualify for Caribbean.
The two top tiers are based on points accrued but also when they were earned. For example, to reach Ligurian, the top tier, you have to have 2,501 points plus 201 or more nights onboard over the past three years. Fall below this frequency of trips and you drop back to Baltic level.
Points will no longer be carried over from sister brand Princess Cruises, although until April 2012, you can still collect them, and your old Ocean Village points will not expire.
A hosted cocktail party now applies to Mediterranean level (1,001 to 2,000 points), whereas previously, members in Sapphire upward (501 points minimum) could attend. On the other hand, you only need to be Atlantic tier (501 to 1,000 points) to receive a free glass of Champagne on the first sailaway.
The subject of some ridicule on P&O Cruises' own forum, Mediterranean tier upward qualifies you for a pair of P&O Cruises slippers in a special bag.
Cruise Critic members are reacting quickly to the announcement. "If the scheme was like a Tesco Clubcard scheme with money spent with the Carnival brand instead of nights onboard being rewarded, then I would probably be on the next tier by now as we sail in balconies and not inside cabins," says Libralass41.
Tom uk adds: "The most interesting thing is that new P&O cruisers will need to have done 15 nights before they qualify for any benefits. So not only will that initial party cruise, or the Fjords cruise, not qualify them for benefits for their next cruise, but neither will a 14 night W. Med cruise, if that's the first cruise they do." Then again, capnpugwash doesn't think too much of either the new or amended programmes: "I think that the benefits offered by both the Portunus Club and this new scheme are paltry."
If you're a Portunus Club member, are you pleased with the changes? Let us know here.
--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor