Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Difference in Philosophy: The Yachts of Seabourn versus Regent Seven Seas

The internet is an interesting place.  A few days ago I posted my Seabourn Challenge:  a $1,000 guarantee that Seabourn provides a better overall cruise experience than Regent does.  Seabourn Challenge: $1,000 Guarantee. Now there is a rumor that Seabourn will honor the perks Regent gives to its frequent cruisers.   Not only is the rumor false, it highlights the impossibility of same since the philosophies of the two lines are so different.  For me it highlights the difference between a true luxury product and one marketed as one.

As background, Regent rewards its frequent guests with a number of perk...and they are nice.  At 4-20 nights you get an onboard cocktail party, special savings on certain cruises and a few lesser perks.  At 21-74 nights you get complimentary internet access (within limits), one hour of telephone time, 2 items pressed for free, and the other perks.  74-199 nights gets you a possible upgrade, 2 more items pressed, a daily newspaper, a special shore event, and increased insurance benefits (if you pay for the standard insurance). At 200-399 nights you get 6 hours of phone and complimentary laundry. 400+ nights gets you complimentary dry cleaning and transfers from your home (within 50 miles of an airport).  One other thing Regent does is increase your involvement in its Advisory Board; more on that later.  (There are a few window dressing benefits of little to no value, as well, across the range.)

Seabourn doesn't give you any of that as past passenger perks.  It has a much simpler benefit:  Cruise for 140 days and you receive a complimentary seven (7) day cruise in the category of suite you most regularly cruise...with no limitation on itinerary.

That may sound like Regent favors its repeating guests in the near term, but that is, in fact, not true.  The reason:  Seabourn treats all of its guests exactly the same way.  It is considered, on Seabourn at least, impolite - better, improper - to treat any single person as "better" or "more entitled" than another person.  Seabourn's philosophy is that the person taking his first Seabourn cruise should have the identical experience on its ships at the person who is on their 40th cruise.  Owner's Suite or Oceanview Suite, it doesn't matter.  Seven day or 30 day cruise, again no difference.  The Seabourn Experience is what it is...for everyone.

Not only is it the goal of Seabourn to have that person return to Seabourn time and time again...with (what is the magic word?) consistency of service...but to earn that loyalty through satisfaction rather than bribes (or "earned" entitlements). 

Regent's philosophy can be seen as an acknowledgment of loyalty akin to a frequent flayer program and/or a way to install a class society aboard its ships.  "You are only Bronze?  I am Platinum.  You are not as good as I am."  (Don't kid yourself, this does happen.  If you read my message board The Gold Standard Luxury Travel Forum you will see that this sort of conduct does occur.)  In other words, Regent seeks to get you to come back because you will get more perks and because it will make you "more important" in its eyes, including placing you on its Advisory Board.  (Does the fact you take longer cruises make your taste, attention to detail, standards higher or your opinion as to how to provide a product to ALL passengers more weighty?  Me thinks not.)

Now, lets look at value:  Seabourn's 7 night cruise is usually worth usually far in excess of $10,000 per couple.  Regent's internet, telephone and pressing is worth about $200 per 7 day cruise...if you use the services, and most do not!), so over the same 140 days you would need to take 20 cruises.  20 x 200 = $4,000 per couple.  Let's also keep in mind that most luxury cruisers take cruises longer than 7 days, so the benefits are actually less (ever spend $400 on internet in 14 days...and, remember, if you reading this you use the internet?)  So, in reality, Regent is providing less than 40% of the value Seabourn is for those who cruise with any frequency.

But you say, Regent offers certain discounts for those who have sailed longer and has certain sailings with special onboard discounts.  Seabourn offers the identical past passenger savings for all past passengers - regardless of whether you have been on a 5 night cruise or 500 nights.  It also offers an across-the-board 5% discount if you book your next cruise on board...or even if you just place an open booking; no tselected sailings. 

And Seabourn does not do what Regent does:  There is no $200 cancellation fee...ever.  Book on board and maybe save $400, but Regent will definitely take $200 out of your pocket if you later choose to not sail with them. 

Now, back to the rumor.  As you can see there is now way for Seabourn to transfer any "benefits" you might have with Regent.  The philosophy is different.  The treatment of its guests is different.  And the program itself is a far lesser value than Seabourn's.  Put another way:  Seabourn Cruise Line is not Regent Seven Seas Cruises and has absolutely no interest in reducing the quality of its product or changing its philosophy to one inconsistent with its mantra.

For those of you who feel the Regent benefits are worthwhile enough to buy your loyalty (rather than the cruise product itself), ask your travel agent to give you a $200 onboard credit or so and try Seabourn.  You will get it all.  If you book with Goldring Travel, you will get value far in excess of that.