Carnival Bans Cash-Equivalent Promotions

July 9, 2012

(9:20 a.m. EDT) Cruisers used to getting cash-equivalent bonuses like gas cards, onboard credits, pre-paid gratuities and more from travel agencies can kiss those days good-bye when it comes to Carnival Cruise Lines.

As of August 1, 2012, the cruise line is putting into effect a new policy that essentially bans all cash-equivalent perks. Instead, travel agencies may only offer their clients non-cash equivalent items that have a value equal to or less than $25 per passenger.

Among the promotions travel agencies may no longer offer clients are: cash, gas cards, onboard credits, pre-paid gratuities, free or discounted shore excursions, free or discounted insurance protection, free or discounted hotel nights, reduced airfare or air miles, gift cards, third-party cash back offers or anything else that equates to a cost associated with a cruise.

What is allowed are small gift items like tote bags, hats, beach towels, sunglasses, memory books or Carnival Bon Voyage gifts so long as they cost no more than $25 per passenger.

The new policy is not entirely unexpected as Carnival has the strictest anti-rebating and advertising policies in the industry. It is the only cruise line that prohibits Costco from selling its cruises, as Costco's entire value proposition is its ability to offer deep discounts and extreme cash bonuses.

The policies not only offer small to medium-sized agencies an advantage as they no longer need to compete on price when selling Carnival cruises, but consumers benefit as well, the line says.

"Consumers are often confused by a plethora of offers for the same sailing," Joni Rein, vice president of worldwide sales for Carnival Cruise Lines, told Cruise Critic. "Confusion leads to doubt and results in unnecessary shopping around for the best deal."

Additionally, these policies are also meant to encourage cruisers to select their travel agents based on expertise and service rather than lowest price or highest perk promotions.

However, one travel agent told Cruise Critic consumers are the least likely to benefit from the policy.

"It's noble intent is to drive consumers towards the agents that provide the highest quality service," Ralph Santisteban, owner of a CruiseOne franchise in Miami, said. "However, it is apparent that those who will benefit most from this policy are those agencies that have issues competing with the larger agencies that have significantly higher economic resources.

"Some larger nationwide agencies have the ability to not only offer expert and detailed customer service, but they also have the economic ability to offer value added perks to consumers. The consumer gets not just the detailed and personalized customer experience, but can also receive value added perks that the smaller agencies cannot offer. By removing the value added perks, a disservice is being done towards the consumer."

--by Dori Saltzman, News Editor