I’ve booked a free cruise with Norwegian through their Casinos at Sea program. This was part of a promotion from the Hard Rock Casino in Biloxi, MS. I just want to reiterate that this cruise was not comped based on play on board a Norwegian Cruise Lines ship, but was comped based on play in the Hard Rock Casino. We had picked up our certificate at the casino in Biloxi a couple of months ago, and we booked the cruise a few weeks ago by calling the Norwegian Casinos at Sea desk.
When we picked up our certificate in Biloxi, we learned that players get assigned different “tiers” based on their play. My player (family member) was a T3, and was able to book an outside cabin on many 7-day itineraries, including Europe. As we were standing in line to pick up the cert, we heard other players talking about their certs for inside cabins only. Presumably there are players in different tiers that get offered balconies and suites. My player called Casinos at Sea and told them I had permission to handle the cruise booking for us.
My first call to Norwegian was to determine which cruises would work with our schedules, and if there were any black-out dates. President’s day week, the last week in March, and Christmas/New Years week were blacked out. We decided on a 7-day Mexican Riviera itinerary mid-March out of Los Angeles. I called back to make our booking.
There are several costs associated with these free cruises. The first is the “non-commissionable fare.” This makes up about a third of the cruise base fare. In our case this was $185 per person.
The second cost includes taxes and port fees. These were $116.96 per guest.
So far our free cruise costs $301.96 /person. Now the hard sell began with the Casinos at Sea representative.
The first upsell attempt was to get us to upgrade to a balcony room for a few hundred dollars per person. If we did that, we would only have to pay a deposit. If we stayed with the “free” outside cabin, we would have to pay the full fare upfront. I said, “no thank you” and kept the outside room.
Then there was a determined attempt to sell us cruise insurance. When I said “no thank you” again, I was sternly lectured about how I would lose all my money if I had to cancel the cruise. I explained that I had trip cancellation insurance on my credit card (Ink Plus)
After I declined the insurance the agent tried to sell me some shore excursions, which I declined. I knew that the offer to buy the beverage package would be forthcoming, but I was pleased to hear her offer on this. We were offered a “free” Ultimate drinks (all alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages) package with our casino rate, providing we paid the gratuity up front. If drinks packages are not included in your rate, you can buy a unlimited drinks package for $64/person/day, so the retail value of this for a 7-day cruise is $448. An 18% service charge for gratuities is added to this package which is $80.64. We liked this deal and added this to our cruise. Now the cost of the cruise was $382.60.
We will need to fly to LAX from Atlanta. Since our chosen cruise coincided with many colleges’ spring breaks, we were not able to get award tickets at “saver” rates. So we’re buying round trip transcontinental tickets on Delta for $350/person. I won’t add this into my cruise cost, but it’s still cash out-of-pocket for us. We will pay $13.50/day each for gratuities, and this will bump our costs up by $94.50 person. Here’s a summary of the cost of our “free” cruise, per person.
cruise fare $185
taxes, fees $116.96
What would our costs be if we booked the same cruise at the retail rate? I will remove the costs of the beverage package gratuities, regular gratuities, and taxes and fees, since these will be the same no matter what kind of deal we get. The base price of our “free” cruise is $302.
The price of a comparable oceanview cabin, including the drinks package, is $1000/person as of today. It is possible that this price will drop before the sail date, but as of today, we are getting a $700 discount per person. While not “free” this is a substantial savings, and I’m looking forward to our deeply-discounted cruise.