Carnival’s Faster to the Fun Program Causes Loyalty Uproar

Before Carnival announced its Faster to the Fun program last week, the only way to get priority boarding and tendering was earning your way to the top tier of Carnival’s loyalty program or booking one of the limited number suites on board. With the new program in place on some ships, anyone can now get this particular service for a fee of $49.95 per cabin. Many long-time Carnival customers that have reached the very top tiers of the loyalty program are upset, and marketing experts aren’t surprised.

CarnivalVIFPClub“The outrage of the elite cruisers is to be expected,” says Roger Dooley, author of Brainfluence
and the blog Neuromarketing. “One key motivator for humans is social status. Being a “diamond” member signals prestige to other cruisers, and this status was attained by spending tens, or even hundreds, of thousands of dollars on cruises. When any joker in a John Deere t-shirt and cargo shorts can board at the same time by paying fifty bucks, the elite members will feel a lot less elite.”

Some passengers, mostly those who have not reached high levels of loyalty status, welcome the program. Having faster access to your luggage after a red-eye flight, or lessening the time spent wrangling multiple children can be extraordinarily valuable to a select group of passengers. Likely a value higher than $49. They also say the program is similar to the airline experience of first-class. Some like to pay for it, and some are bumped because they are frequent flyers. Dooley says that cruise-lines shouldn’t necessarily model their loyalty programs on airlines.

“It’s no surprise that airlines tend to be unpopular brands, as they have evolved from a seamless travel experience into one where everything has a price tag attached to it,” says Dooley. “The one airline that IS a well-liked brand is Southwest. JetBlue also scores with women. It’s no surprise that these airlines have many fewer random charges and tend to treat their passengers more equally.”

The new policy suggests that Carnival is focused more on providing options to the masses of new or relatively inexperienced cruisers rather than their most fiercely loyal customers. It isn’t uncommon for a business to focus on the majority of its customers – but it would be wise for the Carnival brand to create programs that cater to both segments as each have significant value.

Loyal cruisers are brand advocates – that is – not just someone who will tell you what a great cruise they experienced when asked, but those who will go out of their way to share experiences and stories with friends (friends likely able to afford such luxuries), promote their experiences on online forums and message boards, comment on blogs, and even defend the brand against unfavorable comments in any of the above situations. Advocates are extremely valuable, but policies like this can leave them feeling hurt or unappreciated.

If Carnival decides to keep the policy or expand it to other ships, they should strongly consider adding a perk of significant value for its loyalty members, above and beyond extending the Faster to the Fun benefits at no charge. Currently, when one reaches the Diamond level of Carnival’s VIFP Loyalty Program (meaning they’ve sailed over 200 days with Carnival), cruisers get a one-time complimentary meal for two at a specialty restaurant. Instead of one-time, perhaps Carnival could reward its most loyal customers with this perk on every cruise, or every other cruise. Or maybe even an exclusive group-dinner with the captain at a specialty restaurant that is only available for the highest tiers. It’s a small investment to the company(around $50) that may help cushion the perceived dilution of perks to brand advocates.

10 thoughts on “Carnival’s Faster to the Fun Program Causes Loyalty Uproar”

  1. Didn’t you forget something? Like the fact that platinum and diamond members are picking up two new perks on the ships where this is offered. Also the fact that SW Airlines sells priority boarding for an evil additional fee.

  2. @Dan The two ‘new perks’ are included in the Faster to the Fun program (early room availability, express luggage) – so they’re not adding anything above and beyond what anyone can receive for $50. We’ve added language in the article to make it more clear. Again, we like the FTF program and will use it if it’s available – but to leave loyal brand advocates feeling unappreciated isn’t wise. RE: Airlines. The early-check-in process wasn’t the comparison, it was the fact that some, like SW Airlines, who have a generally fun atmosphere and have refused to add extra fees for luggage like every other airline (and their marketing reflects that they believe it’s something customers appreciate), have very high likability ratings. It would be foolish for companies not to study those brands and figure out what they’re doing differently to achieve those high ratings and brainstorm ways to implement similar strategies in their business.

  3. Dan:

    The two added “perks” are a joke. Everyone will be allowed in their cabins at 11:30am…. the “perk” is that we get into our cabin at 10:30am.

    When you do not even get on the ship until 11:30am….where is the perk?
    We have always gotten our luggage in plenty of time.

    As someone with over 300 days on Carnival, the honest truth is that we are well aware that Carnival can mess up toast.

    What this article fails to mention is that just a few months ago, cruisers with over 25 cruises found out that they had been terribly misled by Carnival for 3 1/2 years about the “Milestone” program.

    Those with 25 or more cruises were led to believe that they would be grandfathered into the “highest tier”….which would be Diamond…when in fact, almost 2,000 folks were not only demoted to Platinum, but lost benefits in the process.

    So the issue here is not only are the perks that we still have being diluted….it comes on the heels of thousands of loyal cruisers losing perks they were promised all these years.

    I feel that Carnival made a commitment when they said to us in their promotion to announce the original loyalty program…


    Carnival’s New Loyalty Program: You Take Care of Us, We Take Care of You

    Sailed with Carnival Cruises Lines (tel. 800/327-9501; ten or more times?

    If so, you’re now eligible for the perks of its new Carnival Concierge Club, which rewards loyal customers with various incentives to keep you coming back.
    “Carnival is committed to the highest standards of guest service and hospitality,” said Carnival president and CEO Bob Dickinson in announcing the program. “The new ‘Carnival Concierge Club’ is just one more way of showing our appreciation to our loyal past guests.”

    IMHO, it has nothing to do with “status” and everything to do with convenience and commitment….both of which Carnival is about to mess up big time.

  4. If the fees you’re talking about on airlines aren’t comparable, then why mention them at all? The airlines you mention sell exactly the same thing or something similar, making your point pretty irrelevant.
    Perhaps you should title your “article” an editorial instead of “Cruise News” for accuracy.

  5. Nobody said Carnival is modeling their program on airlines. They did extensive surveys of their own customers and found that customers were willing to pay for these services. And they likely found they could offer them for no additional cost making it pure profit.

  6. @Dan – I appreciate your enthusiasm, but you seem to be misunderstanding. Airlines may have similar fees for similar services, but airlines with fewer fees overall – or don’t charge for things that nearly every other airline charges (e.g. Southwest and checked bags) are well-liked.

    Yes – Carnival surveyed and found that the masses liked the idea. And again, we LIKE the program – and we would use it ourselves.

    Are you suggesting that implementing a program that makes hundreds, if not thousands of your most loyal customers (whether it’s warranted opposition is irrelevant – angry customers are angry customers no matter their reason) is a good thing?

    You’re not alone in your thinking – I doubt Carnival expected this sort of backlash – but a lack of forethought in matters like these is what hurts businesses in the long run.

  7. Btw, Carnival already knew the backlash that was coming.

    When that survey was leaked, Carnival got an earful from folks. The backlash was loud and very clear.

    And yet, the demoted folks, took away perks AND then implemented this program which diluted the few perks that were left.

    Carnival did not care.

    FYI… Carnival accidentally opened this “excursion” on some cruises that it was not suppose to be on. (to early) They had to cancel them and credit these individuals.

    Just another example of Carnival’s ability to mess up toast.

  8. Still wondering what happened to that slogan….

    You Take Care of Us, We Take Care of You…..

  9. I wonder if Carnival (the brand, not the whole company) is a little less loyalty-oriented than other lines. It seems like many cruisers might “graduate” to more upscale lines with the passage of time.

  10. My wife is already milestone and my next cruise would make me milestone. All the promises have been deleted. You have even taken things away from us. I don’t think you expect us to brag about Carnival as we have in the past. In fact, we are switching cruise lines. I like to be appreciated and we in turn appreciate. I have brought as many as 44 people on a cruise and we had a good time. In all the cruises we have taken on Carnival we have never received an upgrade unless we paid for it. My wife gambles on every cruise and never has received anything for it. Some of the people that have cruised with us have received $75 for the casino after their first cruise. I don’t think that is very fair. I have written a complaint about being assigned a cabin with a pole in it that was a safety hazard. Carnival was not concerned as I had booked it through a travel agent. I always book through Carnival but when I attempted to do so I was informed there were no rooms available. However, travel agents had some. I only brought 14 people on that cruise. Guess how many I will be bringing now. We have be on 48 cruises and never been treated so shabbily.

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