This week, Carnival Cruise Lines announced a new program where you can buy access to fewer lines and priority access. This program called Faster to the Fun, allows you to pay approximately $50 per cabin to get priority security, check-in, express boarding, first access to stateroom and Guest Services, express luggage, priority dining reservations, priority tender and debarkation choices. I posted this on our Facebook wall and got quite a response. The responses got me thinking.
Some of our friends said that is wasn’t fair to the higher levels of the priority clubs that get these perks already (though admittedly, they get many other perks plus some of these are new perks). I would think that if the price was reasonable, some of those who wouldn’t normally get the access would say it should be offered for a fee but those who would get the access already would say it wasn’t fair to them. But this goes much further. Let’s only look at travel options.
Let’s look at airlines. Some people spend a considerable amount more to purchase a first class ticket from the start. Others have enough frequent flier miles to upgrade for a reduced amount to the same first class ticket. Yet others are willing to pay a fee to get that same first class seat. This has happened for a very long time. The person who pays initially for the first class ticket knows what they want and are going to get it at any cost. The frequent flyer flies that airline on a regular basis and as a perk they are offered upgrades and free flights to reward their loyalty. But what about the person who is flying the lowest cost travel each time and purchases the upgrade. Should they be allowed to do so? And if you say no, should the airlines fly with empty first class seats?
To a much smaller degree, even the Early Bird check in for Southwest is an example of this. Normally, you have to go online 24 hours prior to your flight to get your boarding number, but they offer a service where you don’t have to go online. You pay $10 per person and they get your boarding number for you. Yes, you don’t get the first numbers, but you do get in the first grouping. When I’m on a cruise, I don’t want to rely on the internet access to be sure I get a good boarding number.
I do realize this is different since they are purchasing an actual location, not a service, but it is very similar. Car rental companies are the same way. You can rent frequently and earn perks with some of the companies, and you can also purchase memberships into their elite group, allowing you to bypass counters and go directly to your car. Some of these programs will also give you discount codes. By using a specific credit card, I have free access to an elite group that normally would require a set number of rentals to be accepted. I get the same access, only because of the credit card that I am using. In a way, the program is limited. I will get a courtesy upgrade if one is available. If I am renting from a smaller location, there may not be an upgrade available to a member who earned membership in that elite group if I get there first and get the upgrade. Is this fair?
Next we will move on to the cruise lines. If select levels of previous cruisers are automatically given some perks, is it fair that the same perks could be offered to those in a lower level for a fee? Or should the perks offered for a fee only be available to everyone for a fee, with maybe a reduced fee for those in the upper loyalty levels? I know some guests will book a certain way, just to earn credits quicker. For example, I have clients that will book a junior suite on Royal Caribbean because that will earn them double credit to get to a higher loyalty level. On Celebrity, booking a concierge room may not be that much more than a balcony stateroom, but will also give you more credits.
People want better access, better perks, better experiences and there are people that are willing to pay for this access. If the access, perks and experiences are still just as good for the elite loyalty club members, is it acceptable that these companies offer some extras for a fee? I wouldn’t want to see someone pay to get all of the access the higher levels get (pay to become a “loyal” customer), but I don’t have a problem with paying to get select perks.