This week's commentary by TravelPage.com's European Cruise Editor, Malcolm Oliver takes a look at the question of passenger loyalty and Cunard's recent announcement that they were putting a mail box on Queen Mary 2.
A question of Loyalty
Just like the airlines, most of the major cruise lines have a passenger loyalty program. Basically, after your first cruise with the line, you are eligible to become a free member of their particular loyalty club. As a member of the program, you will be offered a variety of perks in an attempt to persuade you to cruise again with that particular cruise line.
There are normally several tiers of membership. The more cruises that you take with the cruise line, the further that you progress up the tiers, and the better the perks get. These perks often include gifts, onboard parties, cabin upgrades, onboard credit, future cruise discounts and preferential boarding.
Now this all sounds great, but in my experience the reality is not as exciting as the hype. One of my earliest cruises was with the Fred. Olsen cruise line. Now Olsen aims their product squarely at the UK market, and in order to preserve our great tradition of 'Rip-Off' Britain, they used to make a charge if you wanted to join the loyalty club. How bizarre is that? You had to pay them to become a loyal member - and only then would you get the perks, such as a small discount off a future cruise etc. I did like many passengers probably did and simply did not pay to join. Fortunately Olsen eventually saw sense and now it's free to join.
My first real experience with Loyalty was with the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line (RCI). Now I am not anti-RCI, in fact, I think that they offer a good mass-market product. Their loyalty program is really no different to the other major cruise lines. I am just using them as an example.
On boarding Splendour of the Seas for my second RCI cruise, my Seapass card (security pass) had the words Gold Member printed on it. At first I though it was some kind of sponsorship deal advertising the Austin Powers movie of the same name (...a James Bond spoof). But no, that was my newly gained status in the Crown and Anchor loyalty program.
RCI's program has four tiers. The Gold is RCI's bottom tier and then there is Platinum, Diamond and Diamond Plus, If you complete 24 RCI cruises you are promoted to the upper tier, Diamond Plus. (Obviously RCI could not think of anything more precious than a diamond, hence the "plus". Maybe they should have started at Silver).
So what did I get for my membership? Once onboard, I was invited to a welcome back member's party, however this only really comprised of one free glass of sparkling wine. We also got an Ultimate Value Booklet, which is a very impressive title for a modest booklet of vouchers.
I will never forget, our cabin steward handed it over as if it was priceless. He even ticked a sheet to indicate that we had taken delivery of this valuable item. The booklet mainly contained money off onboard sales vouchers, such as 10% off a Spa treatment. I can hardly regard this booklet as a perk, because you have to spend money to receive the discounts in the first place. The whole idea is of course is to actually make you spend more than you normally would.
On returning to my cabin, later in the cruise, I found the commemorative gift. It was a free Bum Bag (Fanny Pack) which clearly featured the Royal Caribbean name on the front to ensure some free advertising. (Have you noticed how pop and sports stars get paid to advertise while we are expected to do it for free).
Now I am sure that some multiple-cruise passengers do earn some reasonable perks and do enjoy them. However, here in the UK cruises often cost at least £100 per day for an inside cabin. I do not wish to sound ungrateful, but a glass of free wine, a book of discount vouchers and a free 'Bum Bag' worth a few dollars, is nowhere near enough to ensure my loyalty. Only a good overall cruise experience, which was value for money, would persuade me to rebook with the same cruise line.
For the record I did cruise with RCI again and enjoyed the experience. I got a free 'shopping bag' that time, complete with a big RCI logo on it. I do occasionally use it, but I've turned it inside-out, until RCI agree to pay me a sponsorship fee.
Cunard Pillar Box
Did you hear that a full-sized red style UK pillar box has been added to the 'Queen Mary 2'? It's outside the Golden Lion 'pub'. How very 'Walt Disney'.
Now these pillar boxes grace many UK streets and are designed to brave the British winds and rain. Hopefully the Queen Mary 2 version will not have to face any wind or water, or it will be very bad news indeed. In contrast the Queen Elizabeth 2 has a rather more discreet post-box which is essentially a wall mounted red letter box. This style is common on the inside of some UK buildings.
I doubt if the addition of a pillar-box would impress many Brits. I can only assume that the idea comes from the American management and is aimed at Cunard's American passengers. Whatever next, a red Telephone Box and a Black Taxi outside the chart room?