We all enjoy using our loyalty cards. Whether it’s spending supermarket vouchers on a meal out, or enjoying a free cuppa in our favourite coffee shop, these rewards for regular custom feel like a little something for nothing that brightens our day and makes us feel appreciated. Cruise lines operate in exactly the same way with their own dedicated loyalty schemes.

They love loyal guests and they like to reward them with exclusive treats and discounts. Most now have customer clubs, like airline frequent flyer programmes, with perks ranging from a complimentary bottle of wine with dinner to a seat at the captain’s table, an invitation to a cocktail party or even a cabin upgrade.

Loyalty schemes: cruise ships, cabin upgrades
Loyal guests may even get a cabin upgrade

Depending on the line, benefits might extend to laundry or butler service, money off drinks packages and generous discounts at the onboard restaurants and spas. The ultimate reward is, of course, a free cruise.

Before you say, “I don’t go on enough cruises to collect enough points,” think again. Just one cruise roughly every three years can count, and the benefits may even begin with your first trip. According to vice president of online travel agent Iglu.com, Dave Mills, it’s a buyer’s market.

Cruise lines want our continued custom and they will reward us handsomely for not jumping ship. “Shipyard order books are full until 2025,” he says.

“Many more ships are being built, and they’re getting bigger, so there are more passenger berths. That means cruise lines not only have to attract more guests, they also have to keep the existing ones coming back.”

So how do these schemes work, and how can we cruisers use them to our advantage? The first point of call should be each line’s website, where you’ll find full details of their loyalty clubs.

Barman making cocktail
Money well spent means money off drinks packages as a loyal customer

Most cruise lines offer free membership of these schemes, with no joining fee to pay. A typical scheme will have several tiers, with points awarded for the number of days you’re at sea. Some memberships kick in on your first night aboard, while others expect you to have cruised for at least 15 nights before you join up.

However, if you’re an average British cruiser, sailing twice a year, you’ll soon start moving up the tiers (especially if you push the boat out, as some customer clubs will double your points if you book a suite).

“Different lines have different schemes,” explains Dave.

“The more you cruise, the more points you accrue and the more you’re worth to the company. As you ascend the tiers, you will get more access to the exclusive clubs and more onboard experiences, like a discounted or included internet package, preferential rates in the spa or a free laundry service.

Loyalty schemes: cruise ships, spa treatments
You could even get preferential rates in the spa

“It’s worth doing your research and reading up on how they work,’ he adds. ‘With some lines, the loyalty scheme activates from the first booking, and you might get a booklet of vouchers to use on board. With others, you might have to do ten sailings before you get into the good stuff, like free onboard spending money.

“It’s also worth finding out if you are automatically enrolled, or whether you have to opt in. And make sure you download the line’s app, too, as these often offer exclusive points that you can’t collect any other way.”

Many lines also offer a ‘thanks for cruising’ bonus to their passengers towards the end of a trip. This is when first-time cruisers are in an especially strong bargaining position.

“The future cruise desk has all the information at their fingertips and if you book with them before you leave the ship, there’s a big possibility of a five to 10 per cent discount on your next voyage,’ continues Dave. “You can use your leverage at this stage – they obviously want you to return, and the onboard sales desk can use their discretion with the booking.

“The deal you get may mean the difference between a cabin with a balcony and one without next time you cruise. No one really knows how the selection process works, but those who have sailed more times are looked after, possibly with a free upgrade.”

Loyalty schemes: cruise ships, entertainment
Loyalty discounts can apply to onboard shows, spa treatments and drinks packages

If you can’t commit to a date before you’ve seen the office holiday rota or checked who’s going to look after your dog while you’re away next year, don’t dismiss the special offers – the ‘thanks for cruising’ perk usually lasts for up to six weeks after you disembark.

Apart from the obvious attraction of making your money go further, there are other, less tangible benefits of sticking faithfully to one cruise line. After a few sailings, you will really understand the ships and how they operate. You will know which restaurants you like, what’s the best time to go to the spa, and where and when to nab the best sun loungers.

Many frequent cruisers even choose to travel on the same ship every time, just changing their itineraries so they see a new part of the world. If you love a particular cruise line and the way it looks after you, then loyalty really is a win-win situation.

“Comparatively speaking, cruise companies’ loyalty schemes are better than you’d get in a hotel,” concludes Dave. “These rewards are significant and definitely worth having. Just do a little homework before you book and you could soon be getting an upgrade – or even a free cruise.”

Loyalty schemes: Cruises
And even shore excursions

Which cruise lines offer what loyalty schemes…

Discover what you’ll receive in the first tier of your membership scheme

Azamara Members of Le Club Voyage’s Adventurer section (0 to 149 points) get 4 per cent off future voyages, 30 minutes’ free wi-fi, 10 per cent off signature spa treatments and 5 per cent off the Ultimate Beverage Package.

Carnival With 24 points you can join the Red tier of the VIFP (Very Important Fun Person) Club and qualify for free mineral water, members-only offers and an e-newsletter.

Celebrity The Captain’s Club has a Classic tier (2 to 149 points) which offers an invitation to a celebration event, use of the Loyalty Desk service centre between cruises, 10 per cent off an internet package and a one-category stateroom upgrade via AquaClass.

Crystal You automatically become a member of Crystal Society when you complete your first Crystal voyage, earning 2.5 per cent off future bookings.

Cunard Members of World Club’s Silver tier enjoy exclusive savings, special offers, access to the onboard loyalty representative and a free magazine.

Fred Olsen Cruises Ocean Club’s Bronze tier (up to 30 points) gives you access to an onboard representative and advance notice of future cruises.

Holland America Line The Mariner Society offers second-time cruisers a Star package that includes a welcome lunch, a brunch with sparkling wine, and a 50 per cent discount on children and extra guests staying in your stateroom.

Hurtigruten Called 1893 Ambassador, Hurtigruten’s loyalty club doesn’t have tiers, but guests get a 5 per cent repeat voyage discount after their first sailing, plus 5 per cent off selected excursions and a welcome basket of treats.

MSC Voyagers Club offers its Classic members (up to 2,199 points) free luggage tags, a ‘welcome back’ cocktail, access to an info point and special offers.

Norwegian Cruise Line The popular Latitudes Club gives Bronze members (up to 29 points) priority check-in, a complimentary bottle of sparkling wine, additional internet minutes and 10 per cent discount in duty-free shops.

Oceania Blue tier of Oceania Club (2 to 4 credits) gives cruisers a membership pin, an invitation to a cocktail reception, access to members-only offers and 10 per cent off Oceania logo merchandise.

P&O Cruises The Peninsular Club’s Pacific tier (150 to 500 points) rewards cruisers with a club magazine, a dedicated hotline, 5 per cent cruise discounts and 5 per cent onboard spend discount.

Princess Members of the Captain’s Circle Gold tier (after one cruise) get early-booking discounts and reduced deposits, members-only onboard events, collectible destination stamps, a magazine and a pin.

Regent Seven Seas The Seven Seas Society has a Bronze tier for guests who have cruised between 7 and 20 nights, offering savings on selected voyages and a cocktail reception.

Royal Caribbean Membership of the Crown and Anchor Society starts with a Gold tier (3 to 29 points), offering priority check-in and a private departure lounge with continental breakfast.

Seabourn Seabourn Club’s Member level (1 to 19 points) offers access to special events and receptions, 5 per cent off future cruises if booked onboard, and advance notice of special offers.

Silversea Venetian Society offers those who have cruised for 100 days or more a 5 per cent saving on future sailings and a complimentary laundry service.

Viking After your first Viking cruise you are automatically enrolled in the Explorer Society, qualifying for a £100 per person discount on your next cruise, plus a members-only cocktail party and a free exclusive magazine.