Cruise Critic Members Up in Arms Over Leaked Carnival Loyalty Program Changes

June 9, 2012

(Update: 6/9/12, 7 p.m. EDT) -- Although Carnival representatives have declined to comment at this time, John Heald has posted a link to the VIFP program's Web site on his Facebook page. He also included this Q&A session with the line's vice president of customer marketing. We'll keep you updated.

(5:30 p.m. EDT) -- A leaked version of Carnival's new VIFP (Very Important Fun Person) past-passenger loyalty program has Cruise Critic readers up in arms. Some are worried that Carnival will take away their most prized current perks and drop loyal passengers down in status.

The leaked document comes care of reader threeputt101, who received it from his Personal Vacation Planner and posted it on the message boards. The official announcement of the new loyalty program is expected on June 11; until then, a Carnival spokesperson said the line is unable to comment.

If the leaked document is the final version of Carnival's updated program, membership tiers will expand from two (Gold, two cruises, and Platinum, 10) to five (Blue, Red, Gold, Platinum and Diamond). Membership levels will now be based on days cruised, as opposed to the current system of total cruises taken. Many of the most coveted benefits, currently granted once a past-passenger has sailed 10 times -- i.e. the current Platinum status -- are being divided between the two new upper tiers (Platinum, 75-199 cruise days, and Diamond, 200+ cruise days).

Changes include:

The past-passenger cocktail reception, up until now open to all passengers who have sailed at least twice (Gold), will only be offered to those who have previously sailed at least 25 days on Carnival. The reception is a two-hour party with free drinks and appetizers.

The casino perk, currently a complimentary $20 entry fee into a blackjack or slots tournament for all Platinum members, will become a buy-one-get-one-free tournament entry for all Platinum and Diamond members.

Guaranteed main dining room and specialty restaurant reservations will be made available only to Diamond-level VIFP members, while Platinum VIFP members get priority but not a guarantee. Previously, all Platinum-level members had access to this perk.

But the biggest concern is whether past passengers will drop in status under the new program, thereby losing perks they were used to getting. While Carnival cruisers currently reach Platinum status with their 10th sailing, the VIFP Platinum cruiser has spent a minimum of 75 days at sea. A member who sailed 10 cruises of seven nights or fewer would therefore drop from Platinum in the old system to Gold -- with far fewer perks -- in the new.

The leaked document does not address the issue of grandfathering passengers into their existing status, but John Heald, Carnival's senior cruise director and popular blogger, has been assuring passengers on his blog that they will not lose their status. "[I] repeat the fact that I have been assured that those who are at Platinum level now will not lose their seniority and that those who are 'close' will be grandfathered in," he posted on April 13 on his blog. But it's not clear whether he has the most up-to-date information, given that he's been talking about impending loyalty program changes for several years and admits he's made some mistakes in talking about the program too soon.

So what do Cruise Critic members think of the leaked changes? They're not impressed. "As I suspected they took away things and added nothing," posted Mzloolue.

"I think the new system is terrible," AQW posted. "Platinum lost/downgraded three major perks -- casino entry, laundry, and dining preference -- with no service perks added. Will I still sail Carnival? Yes. Will I sail Carnival exclusively? For the first time in 4+ years, that answer is no. The changes to their 'loyalty program' have lost my loyalty."

Other readers, like L_K, expressed their dismay in the tier changes that would keep them from reaching higher levels. "Big disappointment for me... I was 2 cruises away from platinum, now I am 27 days away."

And Elcuchio24 speaks for everyone too blase to quibble over minor incentives. "Well, after all this, I feel the same about the new rewards program as I did about the old one: I couldn't care less, and it will not sway me to book with CCL over another line."

Carnival is keeping mum about the changes until the official announcement. "Presently, we are in the process of training our shoreside and shipboard teams on the details of our new loyalty program, as well as readying our systems for the official announcement and launch," a company spokesperson told Cruise Critic.

Carnival is not the first line to revamp its loyalty program and upset past passengers. In January 2011, Royal Caribbean International revamped its Crown & Anchor Society loyalty program. The major changes, same as with Carnival's new VIFP program, are that points are now accrued per day, rather than per cruise, and more loyalty tiers were added. Although no members were downgraded, some found themselves with more cruises to take before moving up to the next loyalty tier. The line had previously angered past passengers when it decided to limit Concierge Lounge access -- which included a popular nightly happy hour with free drinks -- to only Diamond-Plus members, when previously Diamond members had also received that perk. The line ultimately offered a compromise, a nightly party for Diamond members with free drinks and an exclusive breakfast option during which a crewmember is on hand to provide concierge services.

--by Dori Saltzman, News Editor, and Erica Silverstein, Features Editor