I often speak with readers interested in learning more about cruise loyalty programs. That probably has a fair amount to do with my location. Living in Jacksonville, I live a relative stone’s throw from some of the most popular cruise terminals in the world, including Port Canaveral – popular for vacationers also interested in visiting the theme parks in Orlando, about 90 minutes’ drive away – Fort Lauderdale and Miami.
Cruises can be an outstanding value, especially if you’re in close proximity to a port. Once you take into account the fact that food, lodging and transit from port to port are all part of the experience, taking a cruise can be a far more affordable way to visit many tropical destinations than booking airfare and hotels and paying for food separately. Short jaunts to the Bahamas or elsewhere in the Caribbean are also a great way to break out of the everyday grind without sacrificing too much time away.
Today, we’ll take a look at the VIFP (Very Important Fun Person) Club, the loyalty program for the world’s most popular cruise line: Carnival.
Nuts & Bolts
Cruise programs work differently from airline and hotel programs. When it comes to elite status, airlines and hotels typically make travelers start from scratch on an annual basis. The one exception to this is Million Miler status, offered by American, Delta and United, among others. Million Miler status accrues over a passenger’s lifetime based on total distance flown, even if status earned annually waxes and wanes with your travel patterns. Similar lifetime numbers can be accrued with SPG, Hyatt and Marriott properties based on the number of nights stayed or base points earned.
Cruise programs follow the Million Miler model, rewarding those customers that come back again and again for more fun. There’s no time limit or expiration date for your status. Whether months or years separate your last and next cruise, you’ll continue to earn status all the same.
Earning Status With Carnival
Cruises as far back as 1999 can be credited toward a VIFP Club account. Even if you weren’t a member, so long as you can provide your name, name of the ship and embarkation date for your past journeys, you can collect past credit for cruises with Carnival.
Generally speaking, members earn 1 VIFP point per day cruised. In limited cases, more points may be offered as part of a special promotion, such as when you book a suite or cruise by yourself, paying an individual surcharge.
Points earned on cruises generally post to your account within 14 days of returning to port. Given that many cruises can last 7 days or longer, especially if you are interested in repositioning cruises that can provide spectacular value on extended journeys across the Atlantic or through the Panama Canal, you may find yourself earning enough points to graduate from one level to the next mid-cruise.
In some cases, and at their discretion, Carnival may bump you up to the next level of status early, so that you can enjoy your new benefits right away. Carnival refers to such instances as Crossover Cruises. If you cruise regularly enough for status to matter to you, you can ask a booking agent for more information if such a scenario arises.
Benefits Of Status With Carnival
VIFP Blue: First Sailing
The base level of the program, VIFP Blue is the status level everyone starts at on their first cruise with Carnival. You’ll receive members-only discounts, sales and newsletters by email, though that’s the only benefit to be found here. VIFP discounts can be substantial, however, so if you have any intention of taking another cruise in the future, I highly recommend signing up. This will also put you on the path toward higher levels of status, which begin with your second cruise!
VIFP Red: Second Sailing – 24 Points
Beginning with your second cruise, you’ll receive a new card indicating you’re a returning guest. Along with this, you’ll receive one complimentary beverage at breakfast or lunch in the main dining room, worth $9 or less. That covers any soft drinks, beers and house wines and a fair number of cocktails, too. It’s the little things that count!
VIFP Gold: 25 – 74 Points
Once you’ve reached Gold status, you’ll be offered an invitation to an exclusive party with complimentary drinks and appetizers open only to Gold, Platinum and Diamond members on any 5+ day sailing. You’ll also receive a souvenir Gold VIFP pin. Benefits accumulate as you gain status, so you’ll still enjoy the complimentary beverage also offered to VIFP Red members.
VIFP Platinum: 75 – 199 Points
This is when the benefits really begin to roll in. Platinum members are showered with extra perks, including:
- Priority spa, dining and premium dining reservations: Cruise passengers must choose a set time for their dinner in the main dining room on a daily basis. Though it’s possible to eat in the café, order complimentary room service or pick up snacks and pizza at your convenience, scoring the “right” dinner time is a great way to ensure you’ll enjoy the best food each night. The perfect time will vary for each passenger, based on your preference, but having Platinum status means you should be able to lock in the time you’d like.
- Priority tender boarding: At ports where docking up close isn’t possible, smaller tenders will take passengers to and from land. There can be a substantial wait at peak times to debark or head back to the ship. Priority tender boarding allows you to skip the line.
- Priority check-in and boarding. One of the few pain points of cruising can be the long lines for check-in if you arrive at peak embarkation times for longer cruises with larger families. Skipping to the front of the line means making your way onto the ship – and to the embarkation party – more quickly.
- Complimentary wash and fold service for clothing. Up to two bags on 3-6 day cruises, three bags on 7-12 day cruises and five bags on 12+ day journeys.
- A “Chocolate Delight” dessert delivered to your room on 5+ day cruises.
- Unique ship and year collectible pins on each sailing, a nice memory of each adventure you’ve enjoyed.
- Buy 1 Get 1 entries for blackjack and slots tournaments at the on-board casino.
- Priority reservations hotline.
- A special Carnival logo gift on each sailing.
- $5 complimentary arcade credit for passengers under 18.
As before, Gold and Red privileges stack at the platinum level, so you’ll enjoy access to the special VIFP party on 5+ day sailings and a complimentary drink at breakfast or lunch in the main dining room.
VIFP Diamond: 200+ Points
This is Carnival’s top-tier status level, bringing all the benefits of Red, Gold and Platinum status to bear, along with a set of additional perks:
- A one-time free cabin upgrade or the option for a third and fourth guest to stay for free in your cabin on a cruise. The cabin upgrade can bump you up one major category. For example, you can move from an interior to room with a window, from a room with a window to one with a balcony or from a room with a balcony to a suite.
- A one-time complimentary meal for two at an onboard specialty restaurant.
- A one-time donation to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, made by Carnival in your honor.
- Unlimited complimentary wash and fold service.
- Guaranteed main and specialty dining reservations.
- A VIFP Diamond Luggage Tag set.
- Access to a dedicated booking hotline.
A Lifetime of Fun
To many potential cruisers, the steep curve for these benefits may seem insurmountable. Doubtless, the best benefits don’t kick in until you’ve racked up a total of 75 days at sea. However, remember that these benefits can accrue over many years. Some travelers enjoy cruising so much that it’s all they’d like to do with their vacations. If you have the flexibility, repositioning cruises that last several weeks can be an incredible experience, and also vault you up the lifetime achievement list quickly.
With airline and hotel programs, the goal is often to earn status as quickly as possible each year, to continuously maintain a level of elite benefits. With cruise programs like Carnival’s, the focus is more on a lifetime of fun, where each trip should be better than the one before!