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Anchors away: Royal Caribbean gives passenger perks the heave-ho

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On April - 3 - 2009

Airlines and hotels have long recognized the power of loyalty programs to keep customers coming back. Cruise lines, too, jumped into the loyalty bandwagon and now offer perks to frequent cruisers. Benefits in cruise line loyalty programs can vary widely but, essentially, they increase as your days at sea accumulate. Many cruisers swear by them and like frequent fliers stick to programs where they have the most points.

So when Royal Caribbean International informed members of its Crown & Anchor Society past-passenger loyalty program that it would be cutting back certain membership perks starting on July 1, the outcry from members was immense.

Perks overboard
The modifications to the Crown & Anchor program depend on the level, which rewards past cruisers with benefits like cruise discounts, priority embarkation, coupon booklets, use of a concierge lounge with evening happy hour with complimentary cocktails, and a dedicated staff to arrange dining and spa appointments along with shore excursions.

With the exception of the line’s newest ships (Freedom of the Seas, Liberty of the Seas, Independence of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas) Diamond members (those with 10- 24 cruises with Royal Caribbean) will no longer have special access to the concierge lounge. Instead, a special party will be held once per cruise for Diamond members featuring complimentary wine, champagne and hors d’oeuvres.

Concierge class on all other vessels is now limited to those only in the highest level of the Crown & Anchor program – the Diamond Plus members who have sailed on 25 or more Royal Caribbean cruises.

Clearly the limiting of the Concierge Lounge is the most controversial of the changes. In the e-mail sent to members, Royal Caribbean cited capacity issues stating that the lounges were becoming unsustainably crowded as the reason for the change. But, many members who have flooded Internet cruise forums state this isn’t the case and feel it’s all about cutting perks to generate onboard revenue – particularly alcohol sales.

Members feel dethroned
The changes have left many of Royal Caribbean’s ardent fans questioning whether they should remain loyal to the cruise line.

Sonny Vincer from Racine, Wis., is outraged by the changes to the Crown & Anchor program. Vincer, who just completed his 50th cruise on Royal Caribbean, is a Diamond Plus member and says he feels “abandoned” by the changes and is thinking of canceling an already-booked voyage. “While on my last cruise, I booked another cruise on the Independence of the Seas for next February. I’ll probably be canceling that booking if things don’t turn around for members. “

Diamond member Chris Perreault is equally miffed at Royal Caribbean’s changes. Perreault says as he amassed points in the Crown & Anchor program, he had even less reason to cruise with another company. “We were loyal because of the loyalty program,” he said. Perreault turned Diamond status in January and was finally able to use many of the program’s perks. Now with the huge downgrade in benefits he’s thinking of abandoning ship. “The Nation of Why Not has me thinking of why not check out another cruise line,” said Perreault.

Royal issues
Given the harsh economic outlook where many consumers have cut back or even stopped traveling the announcement to take incentive away from loyal customers has many questioning the stability of the cruise line.

In a recent 10-K filing, Royal Caribbean said the 2009 forecast is weak with projected net yields down 9 to 13 percent. The line stated it was using “substantial discounts” to rev up sales. Additionally, the company divulged that it has been unsuccessful in attaining the full financing for the Oasis of the Seas mega-ship set to be delivered in November of this year.

The changes to the Crown & Anchor program isn’t the first time the line caused loyal customers to become vocal. The line caused an uproar last year when it began charging for steak in its dining rooms and earlier this year announced a charge for room service after midnight. Recently, it came under fire for its Royal Champion program on Cruise Critic.

Royal Caribbean said that 20 to 25 percent of its revenue is from onboard sales. It’s clear given falling yields and enormous expenditures for new cruise ships odds are the company will continue to decrease the perks and increase onboard charges. In other words, don’t expect these benefits to be salvaged any time soon.

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5 Responses to “Anchors away: Royal Caribbean gives passenger perks the heave-ho”

  1. Harrison Liu says:

    Hi, this is Harrison Liu of Royal Caribbean International. Please let me clear up a point of confusion. Diamond Plus level Crown & Anchor Society members will still have access to the Concierge Lounge aboard ships that offer this amenity. Through the life of our Crown & Anchor Society program, the increased membership has affected the Concierge Lounge experience. We consistently review valuable guest feedback to ensure that we are able to continuously improve our services while keeping the base price of a Royal Caribbean International cruise essentially the same for nearly a decade. Diamond level Members cruising on Freedom- and Oasis-class ships will continue to be able to experience all current amenities in the dedicated Diamond Lounge on these ships, which features a complimentary happy hourfrom 5-8:30pm daily. All Crown & Anchor Society members will continue to receive their most valued benefits such as discounts on cruises, special recognition, priority embarkation and debarkation. Additionally, Royal Caribbean does offer a NY Sirloin steak as part of the 10 complimentary dinner entree choices in our main dining room. Guests have an 11th option for a Chops Grille Filet Mignon for $14.95.

  2. Jeff says:

    With all the whining, I’m willing to bet that all those that are threatening RCCL to never to cruise with them that only a very small percentage will follow thru with the threat. I understand why they changed their CL policy and support it. I am a Diamond member.

  3. Any M says:

    I can think of all sorts of reasons to avoid cruises in general, so I hope those folks do find new ways to enjoy themselves.

    That being said, you’d think people would be growing accustomed to perk rollbacks during this down economy. It seems to be happening everywhere.

  4. John says:

    I hope the hell all Diamond members do follow through and RCCL tanks. Would serve them right to have to lock the doors. Carnival, Princess here we come. Never again will I suggest RCCL to anyone either!

  5. ART L says:

    Stop the crying, its only a few free drinks. I cruise on many ships and Royal is among the best. If you go to another cruise line you will be starting over again and with few exception you will not get the service and friendly atmosphere. I am working on diamond and can”t wait to cruise this year.


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