Princess Cruises. Cloudy Marketing.


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The letter I received from Princess Cruises begins “Enjoy your next cruise for FREE.” A picture of a Princess Cruises Rewards Visa Signature Card appears below, containing a beautiful photo of the bow of a Princess cruise ship taken against a shimmering ocean and a clear blue sky. Ah, Summer! And who couldn’t use a leisurely cruise vacation?

As I skimmed the offer described in the letter, my eye landed on a curious anachronism: a closing and a signature, followed by a name and a title, “Judy McConnell, Loyalty Program Manager.” But something was missing! There was no additional contact information. No phone number, no email, no address. Was Ms. McConnell the sender, as the signature implied? And why would a loyalty program manager close a direct mail promotion with “Sincerely,” and not offer a prospect a way to contact? I wanted to find out whether the omission was by design, or by accident. It took one call to learn the answer.

I contacted the toll-free phone number that Princess inserted in three places in the letter. “Could I speak with Judy McConnell?” I asked. There was a pause, followed by “There’s no one by that name who works here.” “But she signed a letter I have in front of me.” The voice on the other end responded that I had reached Barclay’s (the company that manages credit card processing for Princess), and that if I wanted to speak to someone at Princess, I would need to call another number–missing from the letter.

The Barclay’s agent then gave me the number for Princess, and the customer relations representative there informed me that she could remove my name from the mailing list, but otherwise, this was the “end of the road” for my inquiry. My request to speak with Ms. McConnell was denied. Resolute, I called the company’s Santa Clarita, California office directly and left a message for Ms. McConnell. She hasn’t returned my call.

I looked closely at the credit card solicitation again today. Just how many points would I need to receive my “next cruise for FREE?” Hard as I tried, I couldn’t find that number anywhere in the letter, so I called the toll-free number again. The Barclay’s representative told me she couldn’t find out unless I provided the “Personal ID Code” from my letter. Uncertain whether this would open a credit application process, I decided to contact Princess instead. Surely Customer Relations would have the answer in just a quick keystroke or two. After one call transfer, and a few minutes to “research,” I received a straightforward number (drum roll, please): 150,000 points to earn a free cruise up to $3,000 in value (ah, so if I book a cruise that costs over $3,000, it’s not exactly “free”).

I ran the math. If I took advantage of the 10,000 point bonus for signing up, that’s $140,000 in charges to earn my cruise. If I charge $2,000 a month that’s . . . let’s see . . . 70 months, or almost six years, to achieve my reward! Next cruise for free? Is Princess suggesting that will be in 2015? Wouldn’t they want me as a customer before then?

If I read their letter literally, obviously not. What an odd loyalty program!


  1. Is the $3000 cruise price the list price of the cruise or the actual price that you can find at a discounted price for the same cruise?

  2. Jerry: I don’t have an answer to your question. But the fact that a consumer could purchase a cruise package at a discount from a third party diminishes the value of Princess’s offer even further. As it is, a $3,000 cruise package on $140,000 of purchases constitutes approximately a 2% rebate to the consumer–an offer that’s incongruent with the excitement that Princess is attempting to generate on board its ships. Add to that the service charges and interest that Princess collects through Barclay’s, and it’s not hard to tell that the company isn’t giving up very much to its “loyal” customers.

  3. I too just received that envelope. I just completed my first cruise with Princess. I googled the point info but couldn’t find anything. Thanks for your post! Now I know! I was thinking this might be a good deal but with the discount cruises you can find online at any time, I guess it’s really not is it? Silly me for thinking it might be a ‘good deal’ 😉


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