Being the only person in these parts that talks about cruising with some degree of regularity, the nexus between what your average BoardingArea reader is looking for in a loyalty program and that of the cruise line programs has always interested me. I did a series covering several of the big cruise line programs last year. With that, I covered the basics of the programs with a focus on attaining elite status.

The cruise line programs are perk-based, not point based. The more you cruise, the higher your elite status, and with that, increasingly attractive and often fairly valuable perks like concierge lounge access, complimentary internet minutes, special dinners, etc. Many of the cruise lines also offer a points based credit card program where you earn points per dollar charged which can be redeemed for anything from onboard spending money to free cruises. I’ve shared my thoughts on these options before, the gist of which is that there are probably better options out there for most people to focus your spending on.

But back to loyalty. You might remember my piece on the Explorer of the Seas Noro outbreak this week. The ship returned to port early yesterday, and media were lined up by the pier to interview thousands of angry ex-cruisers. One of the talking head types was interviewing a gentleman who got sick during his cruise. The reporter closed things out with a predictable question, “will you cruise again?” Near giddy with anticipation of a “hell no” answer, the reporter cut the gentleman off when he went into details about how he had cruised in the past, several with Royal Caribbean, with no issues and expected to again.

What drives people like that gentleman, who no doubt had a hard week, to be loyal to a cruise line? You aren’t necessarily amassing points for spend like you might with your typical airline/hotel program, but the perks can be quite nice. Frankly, concierge access and the 5-8:30pm lounge offerings are enough to keep me loyal to Royal. But I think there’s more. I’ve said before that I think cruises can be the ultimate vacation, and in my book vacation doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing as travel. Getting away from it all means a lot to me with my valuable time off, and cruises offer that in spades. My good cruising experiences far outweigh the bad (I wasn’t blogging when my stateroom got flooded in 2005), and the level of care I receive as I’ve climbed the status ladder keep me coming back.

I’ve often wondered if cruise lines should look at remaking their loyalty programs into something more like the airlines. Not having access to the kind of financials one would need to make decisions like that, I can only assume that these companies feel that the programs are working out for them as intended. Perhaps I need look no further than my own cruising habits for an answer. Points hoarding or not, I have 5 cruises currently booked, and 4 of those are on Royal Caribbean. I guess I’m hooked….and loyal.

-MJ, January 30, 2014