Introduction

Cruise Line Loyalty – Carnival Cruises

Cruise Line Loyalty – World’s Leading Cruise Lines (Other Carnival Corporation lines like Princess and HAL)

Cruise Line Loyalty – NCL

Cruise Line Loyalty – Royal Caribbean MyCruise Rewards (including Celebrity and Azamara)

Cruise Line Loyalty – How the Bank Rewards Programs Stack Up

The World’s Leading Cruise Lines is the marketing “moniker” for the Carnival Corporation owned lines. These companies include Costa Cruises, Cunard Line, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, Seabourn, and of course, Carnival Cruise Lines. We’ll focus on Holland America and Princess in this post because they offer a credit card product. Last week, we looked at Carnival with its Very Important Fun Person (VIFP) Club loyalty program, and it’s FunPoints® program based on The Carnival™ MasterCard®. We’ve reviewed the elite status loyalty programs of Holland America and Princess in this space before. Holland America’s Mariner Society has 5 status levels, with qualification being based on days at sea.

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On the other hand, Princess Captain’s Circle is based on days at sea OR the number of cruise you have take. Further, Captain’s Circle members have just 4 status levels to work through.

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Like all the cruise line loyalty programs, the perks you get rise along with your status level. You can review the Holland America program in detail here, or the Princess program here.

About the Points

Like some other cruise lines, both HAL and Princess offer co-branded credit cards that allow you to earn points that you can redeem towards discounts, onboard credits, or even a “free” cruise. Unfortunately, like most of the other cruise line credit card programs, these are mostly straight penny per point programs that do not offer great values unless you happen to live on a cruise ship. :)

The Holland America Line Rewards Visa® is available, and it does have some redeeming qualities like no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees. It currently offers a 5,000 point first purchase bonus. You earn 2 points per dollar for purchases with Holland America, and 1 point per dollar for other purchases. In perusing the benefit brochure, I found that you can actually get 1.25 cents in value if you redeem towards a cruise. The example given was a $500 statement credit when redeeming 40,000 points towards a cruise purchase. There are better deals out there that we’ll talk about soon.

The Princess Cruises® Rewards Visa® Card is remarkably similar to the HAL card. It is free of an annual fee and carries no foreign transaction fees. You earn 1 Princess Point per dollar for routine purchases and 2 Princess Points per dollar for all Princess Cruises purchases. Currently, the card offers a 5,000 point first purchase bonus. You can get 1.5 cents in value if you redeem a remarkable 200,000 Princess Points for a $3,000 discount towards a cruise purchase. You can review the rewards example guide here. Other examples were straight penny per point redemptions like 5,000 points for a $50 beverage credit or 50,ooo points for a $500 airfare credit.

The Bottom Line

I don’t want to rag on these card products too much. If you rarely fly, live near a port, and cruise a lot….and could use a no-fee card with no foreign transaction fees, then one of these products might be OK for you if you’re brand loyal. There are better deals in the bank programs and cash back if you want to use points to pay for your cruises. We’ll power through the remaining cruise line points programs this week and next, then tie things up with a look at the one branded cruise line credit card that might be worthwhile for certain cruisers. Finally,  we’ll cap things off with the bank program cards.

-MJ, September 27, 2014

I know it barely shines through, but I’m seriously stoked for our upcoming cruise aboard Quantum of the Seas. I posted about her conveyance down the River Ems, and the ship is now undergoing sea trials. There have been a lot of Quantum videos, but I think this is my favorite. Video using an unmanned aircraft (aka drone), this video is very well done. Quantum of the Seas is a beautiful ship, and I can’t wait to sail. Enjoy your Friday night, and enjoy this great video!

-MJ, September 26, 2014

In truth, I fly for a lot of reasons. Business. Vacation. Transportation between points on a map. But on this Friday, I glanced out the window at just the right moment and caught a glimpse of the real reason I fly.

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Contrails, clouds, sunshine, and blue sky. Good times. Enjoy your weekend!

-MJ, September 26, 2014

I do not fly Alaska Airlines that often. Living in Atlanta, I’m a bit of a widget-head. Although I can’t deny that the idea of toying with Mileage Plan™ has appealed to me from time to time. I had an expiring first class one-way award ticket on American that I used for my return from BAcon with a route of flight like this: LAS – SEA – DFW – ATL, with the Vegas – Seattle leg being on Alaska. I’ve always heard Alaska’s IT worked well, so I checked on with their iPhone app. It worked like a charm, even checking me in for my AA connections. I was able to pick up the AA boarding passes using their iPhone app. Good times.

We boarded right on time, and I turned right into what must’ve been a newish 737-800. The first class chairs were standard blue leather with decent legroom and power outlets! I love power outlets so much I took a blurry photo. :)

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The seats offered generous legroom, but be advised that the window seat has a pretty large box underneath which I can only assume is related to the in-seat power source.

The Service

Our flight attendant, J, was either on his second career or had been with Alaska a very long time, and he was great. Pre-departure beverages were offered, and he greeted every customer by name. He even introduced himself with a little welcome speech to the whole cabin as we were preparing to pushback. After takeoff, beverage orders were served. We also enjoyed an interesting hot breakfast.

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The meal was comprised of a breakfast quiche, baked tomato, and sweet potato fries. The quiche was egg, sausage and cheese. The quiche itself was quite tasty. The baked tomato was pretty good too. The fries were a little soggy, but tasted OK. While I’m not quite sure this combination of items would stand up in a 5-star restaurant, the meal did the trick on a relatively short flight.

What are your experiences with Alaska Airlines?

-MJ, September 26, 2014

I’ve written a bit here and there about Doug Parker and the new American Airlines. For the record, I’m solidly in the camp that the airline where I “cut my teeth” had a little trimming around the edges to be done, even after bankruptcy. I catch a little heat about it from the vocal among us, but I’m of the opinion that the new management team will be a net positive when it’s all said and done. That’s not to say that I do not think there’ll be any hiccups along the way.

The airline industry is fascinating for sure. Where else could the success or failure of a multi-billion dollar enterprise responsible for flying kerosene filled aluminum tubes at 9 miles a minute be judged by too much sauce on a second rate cut of beef presented on a 3 hour domestic flight? Yeah, that’s what I thought. Don’t get me wrong, food matters too, it’s just that I think a dose of perspective along the way might be a helpful thing.

Putting two airlines together is no small feat, and I just don’t think it’s possible that nothing goes wrong in the process. What really matters is how those missteps are addressed. Personally, I don’t consider AA’s recent meal changes a misstep, but let them know if you do. Knowing what I know, every complaint gets read, and every data point gets collected. Things can change. In the meantime, the real heavy lifting in putting together the world’s largest airline remains to be done. I’m still of the mind that Doug Parker and crew realize that the new airline is not simply a bigger US Airways, and will get it right in the end. I’ll be watching what happens. I know you will too.

-MJ, September 25, 2014

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MJ on Travel is a fan of the concept of mobile check-in. Seriously. While I think the penultimate solution is turning your mobile phone into your room key, I accept that mobile check-in is an evolving lodging solution. Admittedly, I’ve tried two mobile (or online) check-in solutions, Hilton (0nline) and Marriott (mobile). I did not much care for Hilton’s solution. They make you pick a particular room, which may or may not be the best available.

On the other hand, Marriott’s mobile check-in is a little cleaner. You receive a notification the day before that you can check in. No one forces you to do so, and when you do, you’re not forced into a particular room. I’ve checked in with the Marriott mobile app before my room had been assigned and afterward. An “assigned” room might be to the club floor, or some other accommodation. In any event, it works, but I’ve offered some constructive criticism on Marriott’s mobile check in solution here and here. My biggest complaint was the lack of an assigned area for those who use the app to check in and pick up their room key.

I’m currently bunking at the Renaissance Washington, DC, Downtown, a hotel I’ve stayed with multiple times, and reviewed previously. This is a favorite hotel of mine, especially the lobby area. Upon arriving today, I was pleased to see a unique kiosk situated well before the front desk, and prominently displaying a “Marriott Mobile Check-in” display. One attendant was working the kiosk, and she politely greeted me upon arrival. I presented my idea, and mentioned that I had checked in via the mobile app. She located my reservation and confirmed that I wanted to apply my room charges to my card on file, which has not been required to be seen again during any of my three Marriott mobile check-in attempts. Then, she left and went to the front desk to get my keys which had already been prepared. #Ugh.

If you’re going to place a kiosk just inside the front door that displays a sign saying “Marriott Mobile Check-in,” why wouldn’t you have the room keys waiting at that kiosk? Make it happen, Marriott! Otherwise…well, not even “otherwise,” this is a great stay and a great hotel. Just a little constructive criticism on the mobile check-in experiment.

-MJ, September 24, 2014

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This morning, I was in a taxi enroute to the airport. My flight time was at 09:20. The time this blog post occurred to me: 06:00. In other words, I was arriving at the airport early. I knew there were at least two flights prior to my scheduled flight. Once upon a time, I would:

  • Reach for my iPhone
  • Click on ExpertFlyer
  • Punch in my origin and destination information (in the unlikely event I did not already have that saved)
  • Look at inventory and the seatmap
  • Make a decision on whether to call or not call or see an agent for SDC
  • Move on with my life

But as a near exclusive Delta flyer, I can no longer do that. Instead, this happens.

  • Reach for iPhone
  • Click on FlightStats.com
  • Punch in origin and destination
  • Find flight before mine
  • See limited inventory information, but enough to learn that I may want to think about the 08:20
  • Switch to Fly Delta app for iPhone
  • Realize I can’t look at seat maps unless I’m booked on a flight (if anyone thinks I’m incorrect on that, please let me know in the comments. I’ll admit here that I did not try the “change” flight option. Don’t know if I can see seat options with that or not, and I’ll admit it here if I’m wrong about this.)
  • Close Delta app
  • Feel sad
  • Go to club, boot laptop, see lots of empty seats on Delta.com for 08:20 flight, including good coach seats
  • See agent for SDC
  • Clear upgrade, and feel happy again

This weekend I enjoyed talking to a very nice gentleman who works for Delta. He asked me something to the effect of what couldn’t I get from Delta that I was getting from ExpertFlyer. The gist of my answer was really useful information that people who fly a good bit want. This is my example…..posted from a Delta flight.

-MJ, September 24, 2014

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Quantum of the Seas has completed her conveyance down the River Ems. The roughly 32km journey down the river took a bit longer than the 10 hours originally planned, but that’s all done and now it’s time to begin sea trials. Sea trials almost sound easy compared to the list of things that must come together for a successful conveyance. Bridges and power lines have to be moved, wind speeds must be perfect, and the process can only take place during a full or new moon. Royal Caribbean prepared an infographic describing the process that I’m including here.

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In addition to sea trials, Royal Caribbean will install its new North Star attraction that will offer guests soaring views above from high above the sea. I think North Star and the new sky diving simulator will be my two favorite new attraction offered by Quantum of the Seas. What are yours?

-MJ, September 23, 2014

There’s been quite a bit of back and forth on American’s meal changes that went into effect September 1. The overwhelming majority of what I’ve read online has been negative, not only about changing meal windows, but the quality of the meals themselves. For these reasons alone, I was looking forward to my first flights on AA in a while. Best of all, one of my flights was scheduled for lunch. I pre-ordered the new beef dish.

I knew we would have a good flight when the flight attendant was greeting passengers by taking their pre-departure beverage order. PDBs are something that I have found American to be institutionally unable to accomplish on a consistent basis. When the customer behind me asked what his options were, the reply was something to the effect of “I don’t have a blender, otherwise we’re good.” That made me smile. I was even more impressed that this flight attendant managed to accomplish a full PDB even with our late (and rushed) boarding. Soon enough, boarding was over, and our old-school 737-800 departed the gate in Seattle bound for DFW.

Beverage orders were taken soon after takeoff. I was so happy to reunite with my old friend. No, not the wine! The warm mixed nuts.

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Flying Delta a lot has some advantages, but I miss these! The pace of service was just about perfect. There was time for refills, and offers of more mixed nuts which I somehow managed to turn down. And then, it was time for the main event.

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Let’s start with the good. The salad was fresh and tasty. I’m a big fan of the pretzel roll. The chicken appetizer was excellent. Really, that and a slightly larger salad would have made for a nice enough lunch. However, after hearing so much about the main course, I had to try it. The verdict – it tasted better than it looked. Frankly, it was fine. The broccoli (I like broccoli) was good, the mac and cheese was acceptable for airline food, and the beef wasn’t that bad. It was pretty tender, but I couldn’t quite figure out what kind of cut it was. I finally settled on basic pot roast. The sauce or gravy or whatever that stuff was turned out to taste OK to me, but I think they could improve the looks of the entree by cutting the amount of it in half. The quality of the beef wasn’t the best I’ve ever tasted, but I did finish it. The meal was topped off with something I’ve never had on an airplane, red velvet cake. It wasn’t like my grandma used to make, but I liked it.

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Overall, I thought the meal was perfectly acceptable. Good, even. After eating it, I did not even need dinner on my connection. I’d never really talked to a flight attendant about meal service before, but I took the opportunity on a stretch break. I mentioned that I’d been hearing a lot of complaints about some of the new meal services. She didn’t seem to be aware of any issues. She then took the time to go through the presentation of the meal, showing me the paperwork that comes with the catering, complete with color pictures of the food. We both agreed that it was a lot of food, and that the chicken appetizer was really good.

The Bottom Line

I know that many are not happy with American’s meal window changes and entree changes. I’ve read more than one complaint about the specific lunch I had. While I’m admittedly no connoisseur, I can’t say I have any real complaints with this particular mid-con lunch entree other than a little too much sauce. The beef quality seemed about one notch lower than my tastes as well, but that did not stop me from eating it. YMMV. The new plating struck me as OK too, but I’m admittedly accustomed to meals on a tray from Delta. It’s been a while, but I think the silverware may almost be of proper size which strikes me as a positive.

Have you tried any of the new meals, or this meal in particular? What did you think of it?

-MJ, September 23, 2014

I’m admittedly unbothered by the changes American made to its meal windows earlier tis month. First, I don’t fly the airline that much. Second, the changes don’t seem horribly out of line with the competition though we’ll see how United’s new menus change things. With that in mind, I found something quite interesting last night on my first American flight in a while. I was flying from DFW to ATL on an A319 in first class. This is a route that served meals prior to September 1, but no longer does.

The flight attendant came around with drinks, and the new snack basket, which I thought was fine. However, as I watched my movie, something caught my eye in the galley. I noticed the F/A placing two rolls in the oven. I thought I had smelled food cooking, but this confirmed it. Then, I noticed that the F/A was plating food on a meal tray…..two meal trays. I couldn’t tell what the main entree was, but there was a salad, bread, and entree. There could’ve been an appetizer too, but I didn’t see it.

A beverage cart was rolled in to block the aisle, the cockpit door opened, and two meals were handed over. Things that make you go hmmm. Before anyone asks, I’m all for well-fed pilots.  I know that cockpit crew meals are part of American’s pilot contract, so I suppose I should not surprised that the pilots were still fed while the first class cabin was not. I just thought this was an interesting little wrinkle in the meal changes.

Coming soon – a word on this AA domestic first lunch. Hint: it wasn’t that bad.

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-MJ, September 23, 2014

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