Today we have a Reader Question about cruises, in particular, Free Cruise Offers that sometimes show up the mail offering a complimentary trip – often in conjunction with a casino promotion.
Often times the reaction people have when they get these offers for the first time is “Where’s the catch?” and there are indeed some things to consider so let’s have a look.
Just in the last couple of weeks, Celebrity Cruises for example sent out a bunch of emails to some of their casino Blue Chip Club members (even those who are members unknowingly) offering “Free Cruises” from Los Angeles to the Mexican Riviera.
This is how such an offer looks like:
Membership in the Blue Chip Club, Celebrity Cruises loyalty program for the Fortunes Casino is usually dependent on the previous play activity and a sign-up. Often times people have already forgotten all about it until such an offer arrives in their email or mailbox.
More active players also receive such offers onboard the cruise or through their membership as an annual perk that can be booked through the casino liaison similar to the one described above.
What does complimentary really mean?
It means that the base fare for this cruise will be zero, but that extra charges still apply. Extra charges are port taxes and all government fees but also gratuities, drink packages and wifi fees if one wishes to purchase such incidentals. After all, you gotta drink something during your “free” cruise.
The taxes depend on the itinerary, they can be very low for itineraries such as the Caribbean or Mexican Riviera but on the higher side for Alaska or the Panama Canal.
The price for drinks packages varies greatly, and the biggest difference will be if you’re planning on drinking alcohol or if a non-alcohol package is sufficient. It’ll be almost impossible to make back your money if you buy a package that includes alcohol unless you’re a heavy drinker.
The price for such a package is often ~ $60-70 per day of the cruise. In comparison, you can get a premium non-alcohol package for ~ $22/day, which is what I usually take. I then pay for the few drinks I have individually and also have my daily Elite cocktail hour that’s tied to my Captains Club loyalty status.
This is how a folio looks like after accepting a “Free Cruise” offer:
Keep in mind that similar to booking an award flight on miles, there will always be a couple of hundred dollars in expenses. The drink package isn’t included in this price yet either, and neither is wifi.
Depending on your place of residence you obviously need to secure transportation to the port from where the ship leaves. Airfare will add another financial layer to this offer unless you’re a local.
Why do cruise lines offer these trips?
Mostly complimentary cruises are targeted at casino players or at least someone that the cruise line has on record with an interest in casino gaming while onboard the ship based on past behavior. This opens the window for this passenger to gamble again on future cruises and lose money. Hence it makes sense for the company to offer a cruise even with a zero base rate.
Especially cruise itineraries that have difficulty selling at premium rates. The above-mentioned offer from Los Angeles to the Mexican Riviera is such an itinerary, it’s not considered a premium route and the revenue would be lower, to begin with compared to, let’s say, Alaska. And with all the extra items passengers have to pay for when accepting a “complimentary” cruise offer, the company is hardly losing any money. Quite the opposite
One question people ask is if they accept such an offer and if there is any obligation to play at the casino. The answer to that is no. You can accept and not gamble at all, the worst thing you won’t get another offer in the future. There won’t be any pressure or sales events involved, which one might know from timeshare invitations for complimentary hotel stays.
Offers for complimentary cruises are common in the industry yet they still confuse people when they receive them for the first time. There is really no trap involved as long as someone is aware of the expenses that are tied to such a trip and that are hard or impossible to avoid. Mostly these are taxes, gratuities, and beverages. The total might still reach or exceed $500/person so keep this number in mind.
You should also compare the retail price to the offer price before booking. Consider that the retail price usually comes with Always Included, which means gratuities, beverages, and basic wifi service are included in the price. This alone has a value of hundreds of dollars and it can be cheaper to book the regular way rather than accepting a “free cruise” offer.