More For Your Money? Crystal Cruises Onboard Credit: How Does It Compare To The All-Inclusive?

Luxury cruise lines have always hung their hats on being the most inclusive of vacations, including for example, luxuries like champagne at no additional charge. But Crystal Cruises says that an open-bar is the equivalent to subsidizing someone else’s bar tab. Crystal says its $1000-per-person on board credit gives its guests control of how they want to spend their money.

When Crystal Cruises introduced its “As You Wish, All-Inclusive” program last year, giving a $2,000-per-couple onboard credit that passengers can spend on whatever they want, the line challenged the very notion of the “all-inclusive” cruise.

Luxury cruise lines have always hung their hats on being the most inclusive of vacations. What that means varies by the line, but for most – Regent Seven SeasSilversea Cruises, Seadream Yacht Club, and the Yachts of Seabourn – it means premium liquors and wines, bottled water, specialty coffees, specialty restaurants, and gratuities, are all included.

Crystal has always been a luxury line anomaly in this way. It doesn’t include wine or liquor in its price, or gratuities. Instead, Crystal has always touted other amenities it includes, like Berlitz language classes and a specialty restaurant where Nobu Matsuhisa serves as executive chef. It also includes the specialty coffees, bottled water and soda.

When the economy crashed out from under even the most well heeled of travelers in 2008, several luxury cruise lines slashed prices – Silversea and Seabourn by up to 65%.

Regent decided not to drop its rates, opting instead to add value; it one-upped its competitors on the all-inclusive front with the addition of a selection of free shore excursions at every port.

Crystal, which always faced pressure regarding what it didn’t include, was suddenly faced with having to decide whether to bow to peer pressure and include liquor and gratuities, and maybe match Regent with some free shore excursions.

Instead, Crystal did something no line had ever done before. It essentially added all of those amenities in some form by tacking on the “As You Wish, All-Inclusive” $1,000-per-person onboard credit to every passenger’s folio.

Crystal Senior Vice President of Sales Bill Smith explained that the term “all-inclusive” is actually a misnomer. While its competitors bill themselves as being more inclusive than Crystal by offering an open bar and some shore excursions, Smith explains that only Crystal really allows its guests to design the vacation experience they want.

Smith proves his point with a look at what Crystal passengers are spending their onboard credit on: shore excursions and spa treatments. The bar, he said, is not even close to the top item. That may be true, but on the other luxury lines, it is nice to not have to sign checks each time you order a drink.

While Regent offers a sample of free shore excursions, they can’t possibly be the ones that every guest will want to take. And for someone who doesn’t drink much alcohol, being on a cruise with an open-bar is the equivalent to subsidizing someone else’s bar tab. Or as Smith says, it’s giving guests something they might not want.

With “As You Wish”, the line explains, guests can use the onboard credit to try a Vintage Room wine experience, or use it to pay gratuities to their favorite waiters, or hire a private car. If they wish, they can always spend the entire amount at the bar.

Bottom Line

Is Crystal’s program better than its competitors? Not necessarily. There are lots of factors to consider – the per diem paid for the cruise, the size of the stateroom, the size of the ship, dining options and more. Do the math and decide for yourself. Where Crystal truly stands apart is that it offers large-ship luxury in a small-ship market.

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