Among the world’s biggest cruise lines, Princess Cruises has one of the more modest loyalty programs.
Unlike rivals Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess doesn’t offer its loyalty club members a free cruise after reaching the top tier. There are no big discounts on shore excursions and spa treatments for members, like some lines offer.
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But the Captain’s Circle, as Princess calls its loyalty program, does bring a few valuable perks at its higher-level tiers, including free internet time and complimentary laundry services.
The program also is one where it is relatively easy to reach a high-level tier.
Ways to earn points
The point-earning system for the Captain’s Circle program is a bit convoluted, as it involves two separate tracks — either of which will allow you to rise through its tiers.
For starters, members earn 1 “cruise credit” for each cruise they take if the cruise is seven or fewer nights in length. They earn 2 cruise credits for each cruise they take that is eight nights or longer. So taking a cruise with Princess will get you either 1 or 2 cruise credits in the system.
But, also, members earn 1 “cruise day” for every night spent on a ship. So on a typical seven-night cruise, you would earn 7 cruise days in addition to 1 cruise credit.
Related: The ultimate guide to Princess Cruises ships and itineraries
Just to make things a little bit more complicated, Princess also doubles your cruise credit earnings if you sail in a full suite (mini-suites, Club Class suites and upgrades to suites are excluded) or sail solo. But it doesn’t double your cruise day count.
So, on a seven-night cruise, you would earn 2 cruise credits and 7 cruise days if you sail in a suite. On an eight-night cruise in a suite, you would get 4 cruise credits and 7 cruise days.
While convoluted, this system actually works to your advantage, as you have two ways to reach higher tier levels. As we’ll explain below, you can qualify for elite status either via your cruise credit count or your cruise day count, whichever number gets you to your goal first.
Program tiers and benefits
There are four tiers to the Captain’s Circle program:
- Gold (after your first completed cruise)
- Ruby (from your fourth or fifth cruise credit, or 31 to 50 cruise days)
- Platinum (from your sixth to 15th cruise credit, or 51 to 150 cruise days)
- Elite (from your 16th cruise credit on, or 151-plus cruise days)
Getting to the first tier of the program, Gold, is simple. You just have to complete one cruise. It doesn’t matter how many cruise credits or cruise days you earn on that first sailing.
But starting with the second tier, Ruby, you’ll need to keep an eye on your progress in accumulating both cruise credits and cruise days. Depending on what type of cruises and cabins you book, you may rise through the ranks faster using one metric or the other.
Related: A beginner’s guide to cruise line loyalty programs
As is typical for cruise line loyalty programs, the entry-level tier (Gold) doesn’t bring all that much in terms of truly valuable rewards. The most alluring benefits at this level are the Preferential Pricing Offers for select sailings that the line extends to Captain’s Circle members, and early booking discounts known as Captain’s Circle Launch Savings.
In addition, Gold members get:
- Invitations to members-only onboard events
- Access to a Captain’s Circle onboard host
- A “Princess Passport” to help archive your cruise memories
- Destination stamps that you put in the passport
- A members-only magazine
- A recognition pin
Upon reaching the second tier of the program, Ruby, you get a few more perks. But this tier is a bit ho-hum, too. In addition to the Gold-level rewards, you get a new recognition pin, access to a shoreside Captain’s Circle Help Desk phone line, and an upgrade to Princess’ Platinum Vacation Protection plan when you purchase a Princess travel insurance plan at the standard rate.
The latter may seem interesting. But here at The Points Guy, we don’t recommend you buy travel insurance through your cruise line. We are fans of policies bought through third-party insurers, which often cover things that cruise line policies don’t. So we don’t put any value in that last benefit.
Related: Inside the new Sky Princess
Reaching the Ruby level can be done in as few as one cruise, if you sail an initial voyage of eight nights or longer in a suite (for which you will get four cruise credits). But a more typical cruiser sailing seven-night trips in standard cabins would need to take four cruises to get to the Ruby level.
The elite level that makes a difference
Being loyal to Princess finally starts paying off in a meaningful way once you reach the Platinum level of the Captain’s Circle program. But, even here, the rewards are modest.
The Platinum level comes with two solid perks:
- Priority check-in at embarkation
- A free internet package of 150 to 500 minutes, depending on cruise length
Priority check-in is a great perk as it means you don’t have to wait in line with the tourist hordes upon arriving at a ship, and in theory, you’ll be able to board more quickly — increasing the amount of time you have to enjoy the vessel’s offerings on the first day. We’re just a little surprised that Princess doesn’t offer this perk until the third tier of its loyalty program. Norwegian Cruise Line, by contrast, offers priority check-in as a perk for first-tier members of its loyalty program.
Related: The best credit cards for booking cruises
Platinum also brings access to a disembarkation lounge on the last day of the cruise where you can have a beverage and light breakfast as you wait to leave the ship.
In addition, at the Platinum level, you’ll get a special Platinum-level pin.
As is the case with the Ruby level, reaching the Platinum level can be done in as few as one cruise, though it’s not easy. You would need to take an initial sailing of 51 nights or longer. That’s quite long, we know. But Princess does offer some very long sailings, including around-the-world trips that extend beyond 100 days.
For a more typical cruiser sailing seven-night trips in standard cabins, it would take six sailings to reach the Platinum level.
Best elite perk
Alas, there isn’t a “wow” perk in the entire Captain’s Circle menu. As noted above, unlike some lines, Princess doesn’t award top-tier members truly valuable perks such as a free cruise or big discounts on shore excursions, spa treatments and other cruise line-sold services. But the program’s top Elite status tier does come with a few enticing benefits.
Our favorite, by a hair, is the complimentary laundry service that comes with Elite-level status, something that can come in handy (and save you a lot of money) on longer voyages.
Elite status also brings:
- An exclusive window to preview and book new itineraries
- Priority access to ship-to-shore shuttles
- Priority disembarkation
- A minibar setup
- Complimentary shoe shines
- In-room canapes on formal nights
- Complimentary afternoon tea in your cabin (schedule this at least six hours in advance)
- Upgraded bathroom amenities
- A 10% discount at onboard shops
- Free admission to an onboard wine tasting
- An Elite member pin
You’ll have to take 16 seven-night cruises to reach the Elite level, assuming you stay in standard cabins. If you stay in suites, you could reach Elite status in just eight sailings. But, in theory, you also could reach Elite status in just two sailings if they were among the longest sailings on the Princess schedule. You need 151 cruise days to get to the Elite level.
Related: 21 tips and tricks that will make your cruise go smoothly
Note that, as is often the case with cruise line loyalty programs, Princess customers do not have to requalify for status each year. Captain’s Circle members keep their points at the end of each year and continue to accrue points indefinitely. That means that someone who hits Elite status will remain at that top tier level forever (or until Princess makes a change to the program).
Such “forever status” is one of the great allures of cruise line frequent cruiser programs. Most airline frequent flyer programs, by contrast, require loyalty members to requalify for status each year.
Princess Cruises offers a few decent perks in the top two tiers of its four-tier loyalty program, including free internet time and complimentary laundry service. But the Captain’s Circle program is not nearly as robust a frequent cruiser program as those offered by such rivals as Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line. This is a bit of a surprise to us, as we know that Princess has a lot of hard-core fans who have sailed with the line dozens of times. As we’ve written about before, the line’s top customer has spent years at sea on Princess ships.
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Featured image of courtesy of Princess Cruises
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