(Updated 3 p.m. EST) -- Royal Caribbean has announced changes to its Crown & Anchor Society loyalty program, posting the details on its Web site overnight in advance of a Friday morning press conference on the subject.
As we previously reported, the program will move to a day-based system rather than a cruise-based system. In addition, members now receive double the points when they purchase a suite. In addition, two new loyalty tiers will be added (so there will be six levels, not four): the Emerald Tier, which will be placed between the Platinum and Diamond tiers, and the Pinnacle Club, which RCI refers to as a "unique group who have reached our highest status."
Members will now be able choose their own upgrade preferences online as well, via an upgraded Web site offering "exclusive access" to members-only benefits and promotions.
Finally, the line has introduced the "Bring a Friend Promotion," which awards members with a $25 onboard credit for any friends who book a first-time cruise with Royal Caribbean on the same voyage. The offer runs through April 30.
Royal Caribbean last tweaked its past-passenger program in June 2010, when, among other perks, it began offering members the option to reserve their next cruise while onboard an ongoing voyage.
It had sparked outrage, however, a year earlier when it announced program changes in March 2009 -- in particular, the decision to limit Concierge Lounge access to those only in the highest echelon of the C&A Society, the Diamond-Plus members (people who've sailed on 25 or more RCI cruises). Previously, Diamond members (10-24 cruises) also had access, and the change downgraded their perks to a once-a-cruise party. Once-loyal fans were so angry that Royal Caribbean was forced to offer a compromise, upgrading the once-a-cruise party to a nightly party with free drinks and an exclusive breakfast option during which a crewmember will be on hand to provide concierge services.
The lead-up to this week's announcement has been equally contentious. Rumors on the message boards had fans doing frantic math, trying to determine whether the new rules would let them achieve a higher status as expected in the new year or if they would now have to take more cruises to move up in the ranks of Royal Caribbean past passengers.
We'll be reporting back as soon as we get more details on the changes, so stay tuned. To weigh in on the changes now, though, and to have your say, check out our forum on the subject.
--by John Deiner, Managing Editor, and Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor