Every cruise line offers a preferred passenger program, also known
as loyalty rewards, for passengers who sail more than one cruise on
the same line. Just like airline frequent flyer clubs, you can join the
first time you sail with any line, but it is up to you to sign up and
to track your own benefits. Most cruise lines have extensive web sites
where loyalty members can log in to manage their current standing. You
can see what the benefits are for your current level and what you stand
to gain by taking more cruises. But unlike airline frequent flyer
clubs, cruise line benefits are about a lot more than free cruises.

Most of the programs have a few things in common. They start after
the first cruise and offer a repeat cruisers club only onboard
reception with free drinks. Every member gets a subscription to the
cruise line's magazine and receives inside news and special offers by
mail or email.

Beyond that, loyalty programs vary a great deal between cruise
lines, especially at the more advanced levels. Carnival has only two
tiers and requires 10 cruises to get to the top while direct competitor
NCL gets you to level two after five cruises and to the top tier after
15 cruises. The benefits at NCL include everything Carnival promises
and much more. Royal Caribbean is similar to NCL, but with more levels
and more cruises required to get to the top.

Even though some programs are very rewarding, it doesn't mean that
we personally recommend cruising on just one cruise line unless that is
your personal style. The onboard experience of every cruise line varies
a great deal, even between the three mainstream lines, so picking a
favorite cruise line is a highly individual choice. We recommend trying
a variety of cruise lines, especially for beginners, to see which one
best fits your personal style and including this loyalty programs guide
as a part of your cruise line of choice process.

Although some programs are ultimately far more rewarding than
others, we believe all loyalty programs are worth joining. You get
onboard amenities and special offers to save time and money. All of
them give some immedate benefits and some give substantial benefits
after just five cruises. There is no harm in joining any of these
programs, but you have to manage your own accounts and make sure you
are credited for every cruise. Once that is done, the better programs
have representatives onboard to help you attain and manage your

It is important to compare apples to apples, and so we compare the
three mainstream lines to each other first: Carnival, Norwegian Cruise
Lines and Royal Caribbean. Next we compare the premium cruise lines;
Celebrity, Disney, Holland America, Princess and Oceania. We end up
comparing five luxury cruise lines -- Crystal, Cunard, Regent, Seabourn
and Silversea.

Yes, we recommend reading this entire guide, and when you are done you
will have a much better concept of cruise value.
We also want to start by clarifying one important detail you will
encounter. There are two parent companies that own many cruise brands
between them and they try to offer interchangable benefits, but we have
some concerns.

Carnival Corp owns Carnival Cruise Lines, Costa, Cunard, Holland
America, Princess and Seabourn all under the umbrella of the World's
Leading Cruise Lines. WLCL says it has a VIP (Vacation Interchange
Privileges) program where equivalent status is automatically granted
between cruise lines -- but the details are too scant to convince us
that they can fully live up to this promise. Technically, 150 days of
cruising on any of these Carnival Corp. ships qualifies you for a free
14-day cruise on Seabourn (until 1-1-2010). Plus, other than Princess
and Cunard, the World's Leading Cruise Lines' programs seem to be the
scantest of all in each category.

Royal Caribbean International owns Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines,
Celebrity and Azamara Cruises. We have more confidence in the Royal
Caribbean family method of transferring benefits because it is more
clearly defined. The benefits for Celebrity and Azamara are fully
transferable, and Celebrity cruisers can join the Royal Caribbean
program at the same level at any time, however Royal Caribbean cruisers
cannot transfer their rewards to Celebrity/Azamara.

There are also other cruise lines that remain independent. These
cruise lines are NCL, Oceania, Crystal, Regent and Silversea. Each of
these has no transferability of loyalty status to any other cruise

Every cruise line reserves the right to change the terms of its
loyalty program at any time. In fact, Royal Caribbean just announced
changes in its Crown and Anchor Society only to reïnstate some of them
a few weeks later -- after a passenger backlash on Internet message
boards. That event was the impetus for this article.

This overview covers the loyalty programs of all of the major cruise
lines primarily servicing the North American market. We show each
program in detail so you can see which ones offer a lot and which offer
relatively little. We also tell you which programs we think are the
best in each category. We cannot claim this is a complete guide to the
benefits of each cruise line, but it is an extensive overview. As
stated, any of these programs can change at any time.