Something caught my eye this morning – a week aboard the beautiful Celebrity Reflection for as little as $399 per person. The cruise departs Miami on November 29, 2014, the Saturday after Thanksgiving, but hear me out. Some air travel deals are still out there for the big day itself, the Friday after Thanksgiving, or even Saturday morning. (Note – I always recommend arriving a day early if you can.)

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If inside cabins aren’t your thing, Veranda’s are as low as $599 and Celebrity’s MJ recommended Aqua Class is starting at $899 per person. Trust me, if I weren’t setting sail on Quantum of the Seas 2 days after this cruise begins, I’d have to think about this one. Click here for more cruise details.

I was honored to present at the 2014 Chicago Seminars on my favorite topic, cruising. I’m trying a slightly different method of sharing my presentation on the blog this year, and appreciate any feedback on how well it works. I converted the presentation into a movie. If you see a slide of particular interest to you, just click pause. I’ll include a link for a .pdf file as well. For those that were there, you’ll see the fun pictures of me with great looking hair are missing. :)

Of course, I know the context of the session is missing so please email or comment if you have any specific questions. I’m also including link to a .pdf file containing the presentation. The .pdf file includes links to content referenced during the presentation.

Click here for the presentation – 2014 Chicago Seminars

Reference Materials

 

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

Highlights

Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines Ltd. owns several cruise lines. The three best known are Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, and Azamara Club Cruises. We’ll focus on those today as they participate in the MyCruise® Rewards program and offer multiple credit card products that tie together in a common points currency. Beyond cards and points, these three lines offer elite status reciprocity, the closest thing to status matching in cruising, and an imminently useful benefit if you would like to experience different styles of cruising but not start over at the bottom of the elite ladder on a new cruise line. I’ve covered the elite status programs at Royal Caribbean and Celebrity previously in my status matters series.

Since then, Celebrity has restructured its elite status program and changed the way points are earned, which I reviewed here. I did not include Azamara in the series, but I recently wrote about their elite loyalty program here. Personally, I am Diamond Plus with Royal Caribbean’s Crown & Anchor Society, and enjoy reciprocal status with Celebrity at the Elite Level. As a result, I’ve enjoyed the benefits of elite status on Celebrity even though I’ve only taken 3 cruises with them. I have not yet made the phone call to match over to Azamara Le Club Voyage Discoverer status. It’s worth the call! But what about the points?

MyCruise® Rewards Credit Cards

MyCruise Rewards is a credit card point loyalty program shared by Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, and Azamara. I don’t have hard data on this, but I would speculate that the Royal Caribbean card is the most popular of the MyCruise points cards, so I will focus on that and then get into why the Celebrity card may be the most beneficial.

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Royal Caribbean offers a Visa Signature card that currently features the following benefits and bonuses:

  • Earn double MyCruise Points for every $1 spent on Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises purchases
  • Earn one point for every $1 spent on your everyday purchases
  • 10,000 bonus points after your first qualifying transaction — redeemable for $100 onboard credit
  • Zero Liability for Fraudulent Charges, which helps protect you from fraudulent transactions
  • Discounted companion airline certificate† after $3500 in card purchases within the first 90 days with the Visa Signature card (students, Platinum Plus® and Preferred accounts are not eligible)
  • Perks like Visa Signature Concierge Service*, lost luggage protection, emergency cash worldwide, common carrier travel accident insurance and more
  • No annual fee

At the moment, they’re also offering a $75 credit in addition to the 10,000 (worth roughly $100) bonus point offer if you make $1,500 in purchases in the first 90 days. So, with not much effort you can get $175 in value towards a cruise. Like most cruise points programs, MyCruise Rewards is a “penny per point” earn and burn program with the exception being you earn 2 points per dollar for spending on your cruise. On the redemption side, there are a few sweet spots where you can achieve 2 cents per point in value. For example, for 50,000 points you can purchase a 3 or 4 night cruise for two up to a maximum of $1,000 in value.

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Of course, the value per point depends on how close you get to maximizing that $1000 price point. Could be useful around holidays, but most of the time, you can buy the same cruise for under $200 per person. There are other nuggets like this. You can review the entire award chart here. I won’t pretend that there aren’t better cards out there for many miles and points enthusiasts….even cruise enthusiasts. But I do believe the MyCruise Rewards card products are the best of the bunch for a couple of reasons. First, there’s a common points currency across multiple cruise lines, focused on different experiences. Second, there’s one card product out of the bunch that offers some benefits that make it worth carrying if you cruise Celebrity.

The card includes a $69 annual fee, but for the right kind of Celebrity cruiser, the card will pay for itself before you ever use a rewards point. The basic earning scenario is the same, you earn 2 points per dollar spent with Celebrity Cruises as well as Royal Caribbean International and Azamara Club Cruises, and 1 point per dollar on all other charges. You’ll also receive a 10,000 point first purchase bonus which is worth a $100 onboard credit. The real beauty of this card is the extra benefits it comes with.

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You can read the fine print here. I ran some numbers using our last Celebrity cruise as an example. MrsMJ and I purchased the Premium Alcohol package for a 14-night cruise. The price was $54 per person per day (plus gratuity). 54 x 14 = $756 per person before gratuity. If I had carried this card at the time, I could have gotten $75.60 back per person which more than pays the annual fee. The specialty restaurant discounts can add a few bucks to the total value of the card as well. That’s just one cruise. A regular Celebrity cruiser would achieve greater value.

In closing, I find MyCruise® Rewards to be the better of the cruising credit card points loyalty programs. That said, even an average miles and points enthusiast like me can find better values in other products. We’ll conclude the series next week with a look at the bank card products and how they measure up for saving money on your next cruise.

-MJ, October 17, 2014

Royal Caribbean International is offering free wi-fi in New York City subway stations! Why would a cruise line sponsor free wi-fi? To celebrate the coming arrival of Quantum of the Seas in the New York area, of course! Quantum of the Seas, the world’s first “smartship,” promises to be a marvel in many ways. I can’t wait to sail aboard Quantum in December! According to Royal Caribbean,

“The world’s first smartship Quantum of the Seas is set to arrive into New York Harbor on Nov. 10, 2014, and Royal Caribbean is counting down the days until her big debut. In anticipation of the ship’s arrival, Quantum of the Seas is making waves across NYC billboards, screens and digital displays capturing the attention of New Yorkers everywhere…including underground. With Quantum of the Seas introducing a wave of technological features that have never before been possible at sea, including ultrafast wireless capability that allows for unprecedented connectivity, the cruise line partnered with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to bring free Wi-Fi to underground subway platforms in Manhattan and Queens.”

So check your email while waiting for your train. Or better yet, book a cruise aboard Quantum of the Seas!

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Of the many unique features of Quantum of the Seas, none is more unique than North Star. I can think of no better way than a mechanical arm with a gondola attached, but I’ll go with Royal Caribbean’s description – an engineering marvel that takes guests to new heights in a jewel-shaped glass capsule that gently rises more than 300 feet in the air, taking guests on a spectacular journey and delivering awe-inspiring, 360-degree views. Here’s an image (courtesy of Royal Caribbean) of the newly installed North Star on Quantum of the Seas.

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I’d call it a novelty more than anything else, but it’s a novelty I’m looking forward to trying when I board Quantum of the Seas in December. Like most things cruise ship, there’s more to designing and installing North Star than meets the eye. Here’s an excellent video describing the process.

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 Loyalty Program

Norwegian Cruise Line is the third biggest cruise line after Carnival Corporation and Royal Caribbean. NCL pioneered what they call Freestyle Cruising®, with no set dining times, and multiple dining options (some included, some with a fee) around the ship. NCL rewards its most frequent guests through its Latitudes Rewards program. Latitudes is a 4-tier program with Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum status. Loyalty members earn 1 point per cruise night with an additional point for suite or Haven accommodations. You can also earn a bonus point per night for booking 9 months or more in advance, or for booking a Latitudes Insider offer. I’ve covered the Latitudes Rewards program in greater detail perviously in my status matters series on cruise line elite status.

The Points Program

Like most of the big lines, NCL offers a credit card rewards program which is separate from its loyalty program. NCL has partnered with Bank of America to offer the Norwegian Cruise Line MasterCard®.

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This card is somewhat unique in that it earns Bank of America WorldPoints®. WorldPoints aren’t universally popular in the loyalty world, and I’ll just leave it at that. I’d add that the popular Fidelity Amex 2% cash back card is actually earning WorldPoints that are then converted into cash. This card earns 2 points per dollar spent on NCL purchases, and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases. Currently, their’s a bonus point offer for new accounts:

  • Receive 10,000 bonus WorldPoints® after using your card within the first 60 days – enough for a $100 onboard credit when redeemed prior to cruise or $100 off your next cruise!
  • For a limited time only receive $50 Norwegian gift card after you make at least $500 in purchases in the first 90 days (students not eligible).

Redemptions are simple and straightforward, if not of extremely value. But like all things, value is in what YOU want. You can redeem for everything from $50 onboard credits to free cruises for two.

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A big negative of the card, aside from the earning structure, is that it charges a 3% foreign transaction fee. On the positive side, it is free of an annual fee. In the end, the card is pretty much in line with the other cruise line card products. If you have the room in your card inventory, take it for the quick onboard credit bonus, and sock drawer it. If you’re a Bank of America customer, it can serve as “free” overdraft protection for your checking account too. Next up – MyCruise Rewards.

-MJ, October 11, 2014

 

This morning I posted about the weekly cruise deal not really being a deal at all. Instead, it was about a mysterious email from Carnival Cruise Lines alerting me about something big coming at noon today. Well the deal is here.

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Cruises at $40 or less per person,  per day…. You’ve only got 12 hours to act, so start looking. I’ll take a day in Key West, please. But if you’re into the country concert kind of thing, you can get a 4-night cruise and a Trace Adkins concert from $120 per person.

-MJ, October 9, 2014

The weekly cruise deal isn’t a deal at all this week. It’s really about an email I received from Carnival Cruise Lines. The deal is – something awesome will happen at noon today. That’s noon eastern time in the USA.

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What will it be? Let’s find out at noon together!

October 6-13, 2014, is National Cruise Week! This is almost as good as Christmas for the frequent floaters among us. :) Many of the top cruise lines are offering special deals this week, according to the Cruise Lines International Association. Here are some details:

 

  • Norwegian Cruise Line: 10% off their cruise fare in the form of onboard credits for specialty dining, shore excursions or spa treatments; plus $100 onboard credit per person for specialty sailings, and $300 in onboard credits on select itineraries.
  • Carnival Cruise Lines: Great rates plus 50% reduced deposits, plus two category upgrade, plus $50 onboard credit per stateroom.
  • Avalon River Cruises: a savings of $1,300 per couple for river cruises in Europe.
  • Disney Cruise Line: $100 onboard credit on select 7-Night Western Caribbean Cruises.
  • Hurtigruten: 10% off current price levels on Norway Coastal Voyages on new 2014 and 2015 bookings.
  • Royal Caribbean International: a buy one guest, get second guest 50% off and 5% off the line’s ChoiceAir fare bookings.
  • Cunard: Save up to $175 per stateroom onboard credit on any bookings made for Transatlantic Crossings aboard the luxurious flagship Queen Mary 2.
  • MSC Cruises: Book balcony staterooms at ocean view rates for select sailings in both the Caribbean and Europe; “Fantastica Experience” bookings receive a complimentary drink package; free gratuities on select Caribbean sailings.
  • Princess Cruises: Enjoy 30% off bookings, plus free gratuities and Onboard Spending Money for balcony staterooms and above.
  • Paul Gauguin Cruises: $100 onboard credit per person and 50% off standard all-inclusive cruise fares on m/s Paul Gauguin and the m/v Tere Moana voyages, airfare is included from Los Angeles on m/s Paul Gauguin itineraries.

These are sample promotions, and there may be even better deals available from specific cruise lines. It’s never a bad time to book a cruise, but National Cruise Week is a great opportunity to explore what’s available and perhaps book your next cruise vacation.

-MJ, October 6, 2014

 

A few weeks ago I posted about upcoming changes to Azamara’s loyalty program, Le Club Voyage. Azamara announced some fairly significant changes to its program at that time that met with a bit of protest among its loyalty program members. Specifically, it seemed that the removal of complimentary internet minutes and complimentary laundry services for higher tier elite members really raised the ire of program members.

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In a prime example of how customers’ feelings can matter, and companies can listen, Azamara has announced further changes to its program that correct many, if not most of the issues that loyalty program members had raised. In summary, Azamara has reinstated the following benefits:

  • One complimentary bag of laundry per week for Explorer level and above members
  • Internet minutes based on tier level

Newly added benefits:

  • Additional earned complimentary nights rewards for every 750 points earned once you reach the Discoverer Plus level and above—in addition to one-time awards
  • Singles now earn double points on every voyage

You can review the benefits of each tier level in detail here. These are real enhancements, and the management team at Azamara deserves some kudos for recognizing a problem and taking swift action to make things right. I don’t know when I will cruise Azamara, but I’m searching for the right itinerary and look forward to cruising with them!

-MJ, October 1, 2014

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