Good morning cruisers – we’re now only 9 days from our departure on the MSC Bellissima cruise ship, and just received this upgrade notice via email.
For some background: I’m a solo traveller, meeting up with a group in Dubai, to take a two week December 2019 cruise, on the MSC Bellissima. If you’ve read my prior blog post, you’ll see that this cruise is sold out, and instead of boarding in Doha (expensive and difficult to get to from Dubai which is the main hub of the region for flights), we’ll skip the first embarkation day in Doha, and board the next day in Dubai.
Masters of Marketing: I’m not sure who is the team of marketers at MSC Cruises, but I have to tip my hat to them. The goal of any cruise line is to make money, and they have brought it to a new level. The cruise specializes in a-la-carte add-on fees (most cruises do it, but not to this extent). Everybody wants an upgrade, but a complimentary one. That’s how you build loyalty. Instead (similar to the airlines) you can upgrade your cabin by a bidding process. You’re bidding against other cruisers, who are not (presumably) getting fee fatigue, or stressed out by the sky-rocketing price of the cruises. Keep in mind this is even before you have boarded the ship.
The Soak: This is a new term I’ve coined up (pun intended) that describes how additional fees detract from the cruise experience, and your pocketbook. There are subtle ways that cruise lines do the soak (including high priced internet access, automatically adding tipping, etc.)
Declining Ratio of Additional Fees to User Experience: The user experience (UX) is hodge-podge of components, but the gist of the concept is that you want to make the most amount of sales (and presumably profit) from the customer (guest). This is done onboard by way of fees related to up-selling spa, internet, specialty restaurants, drink packages, experiences, art, tours, etc. There is a dizzying array of options, to the point where the guest gets inundated with options and fees, which is termed decision and price fatigue. As the options extend, the UX declines, to a point where it is dismal, and you’re lost a potential loyal cruiser. It makes more financial sense to keep a loyal customer, then to find a new one (advertising is expensive).
Brand Loyalty: A loyal cruise customer is paramount. This will be my first cruise on MSC Cruises (out of 33 so far, including two on a superyacht). It will be interesting to see how the dismal pre-cruise experience will match on par with the experience on-board. I hope I’m pleasantly surprised !
Cruise Price (solo traveller) Goes From $2,150 to over $7,000: Unfortunately, you’re penalized as a solo traveller. Some cruise lines (and ships) are now catering to those who travel solo (the new Virgin ship by Richard Branson) is one example. In this case, I’m paying for two people. My initial cruise (2 weeks in a balcony cabin) was $4,370 plus internet and non-alcoholic drink package, total of around $5,000.
Summary and Pro Tip: If you want to play the upgrade game, the strategy would be to purchase the lowest category cabin (inside cabin) and wait for the upgrade email. Otherwise, expect to double your cruise price (depending on your bid offer). Is it worth it ? We’ll find out soon.
Here is a pdf summary of the upgrade deal: 20191203-msc-precruise-upgrade-offer