MSN has partnered with The Points Guy for our coverage of credit card products. MSN and The Points Guy may receive a commission from card issuers.
Holland America has one of the most intriguing loyalty programs, as it lets you build up status not just by spending days at sea on its ships but also by spending money on board the vessels.
This means that, if you’re a big onboard spender, you can reach high-level tiers of the program — called the Mariner Society — super fast.
For more cruise news, reviews and tips, sign up for TPG’s new cruise newsletter.
The Holland America Mariner Society also offers a lot of great perks to higher-tier members including big discounts on specialty dining charges and drinks-related charges, and free passage to children sailing with you on select sailings.
Ways to earn points
The Mariner Society point-earning system is relatively simple. In most cases, you will earn 1 “cruise day” credit for every night you are on a ship.
The only exception is for passengers staying in top accommodations. Customers staying in a suite or penthouse on a Holland America ship will get double cruise day credits. One caveat here is that you have to pay for the suite or penthouse. You won’t get double credit if you receive a complimentary upgrade to a suite or penthouse.
Note that you will get cruise day credits not just for nights that you spend on ships but also for days you spend touring on land when on a Holland America Land+Sea Journey in Alaska. Land+Sea Journeys in Alaska typically combine a seven-night Alaska cruise with a few days touring the state by land in motorcoaches or by train.
Related: Holland America rethinking itineraries in wake of downsizing
In addition, there is a final, bonus way to earn Mariner Society cruise day credits. You can get 1 additional cruise day credit for every $300 that you spend on board a ship for such things as shore excursions and shop purchases (with a limit of one extra cruise day credit for every day you sail).
The extra credit is calculated based on the combined folio charges for all passengers on a single booking, regardless of who signs each charge and who pays the bill. Only the first two passengers on a booking will receive the bonus credit.
Some purchases — future cruise deposits, cash advances and casino charges — are excluded from the onboard purchase bonus. But all other onboard purchases count — even the hotel service charges, beverage service charges and taxes that show up on final bills.
Program tiers and benefits
There are five tiers to the Mariner Society program:
- Star Mariner (after one cruise)
- 2-Star Mariner (30 to 74 cruise day credits)
- 3-Star Mariner (75 to 199 cruise day credits)
- 4-Star Mariner (200 to 499 cruise day credits)
- 5-Star Mariner (500-plus cruise day credits)
As is typical for cruise line loyalty programs, the first tier of the Mariner Society program (Star Mariner) doesn’t come with all that many valuable perks.
Star Mariners receive:
- A special welcome lunch
- An onboard gift
- A special brunch with sparkling wine
- A members-only magazine
- special offers on select sailings
- 50% off cruise fares for kids and extra guests in your cabin on select sailings
In addition to all the above, the big add-on for 2-Star Mariners is discounts on Holland America-branded items. Loyal Holland America cruisers at the 2-Star level will get a 15% discount when shopping online at shophollandamerica.com plus a 10% discount on select Holland America clothing sold on board ships.
Related: A beginner’s guide to cruise line loyalty programs
The 3-Star Mariner level adds a perk that we really love: A 25% discount on specialty restaurant surcharges and on specialty coffees in dining venues, Sommelier Suites packages, and all mini-bar purchases. This amounts to real money savings in your pocket.
The 3-Star Mariner level also brings discounts on select treatments from shipboard Greenhouse Spa & Salon venues.
Moving up through these first three tiers is relatively easy. As noted, reaching the initial Star Mariner tier requires completing just one cruise. Depending on how much money you spend on board your first few sailings (which will affect your bonus-credit haul), and whether you stay in a suite or not, you could reach the 2-Star Mariner level after just two to four seven-night cruises.
Hitting the 3-Star Mariner level might take five to nine seven-night cruises, depending on your onboard spend and the type of cabins you book. But if you sign up for one or two of Holland America’s longer voyages, you could reach 3-Star level far sooner.
The elite level that makes a difference
The sweet spot in Holland America’s program is the 4-Star Mariner status level. This is where you really start to see some great perks, including:
- Complimentary cruise fare for kids and extra guests staying in your cabin on select sailings
- A 50% discount on specialty restaurant surcharges and specialty coffees in dining venues, Sommelier Suites packages, and all mini-bar purchases
- Complimentary laundry and pressing services
- Priority access to ship-to-shore tenders
- Priority check-in
- A complimentary wine tasting
- A 15% discount on select Holland America Line logo clothing sold onboard shops (may exclude already discounted merchandise)
- A 25% discount off the $49-per-person surcharge in Rudi’s Sel De Mer eatery
We love that Holland America will let kids sail free on select sailings at this tier. The line isn’t necessarily known as a family line. But if you have kids, and you’re a Holland America fan, this could save you a lot of money.
You’ll also save a lot of money with the 50%-off specialty restaurant perk at this level and the other 50%-off discount options.
Related: The best credit cards for booking cruises
We’re also smitten with the complimentary laundry and pressing services at this tier level. A number of other lines offer complimentary laundry services as a loyalty plan perk, but often not until their top tier.
Reaching the 4-Star Mariner level may seem daunting, as it requires 200 cruise day credits. But keep in mind that you’ll be earning credits for onboard spending, plus double credits if you are staying in a suite. If you max out all the possibilities, you could reach the 4-Star Mariner level in just 10 seven-night cruises. Take a few longer voyages, and you could be sipping wine at a complimentary wine tasting on every voyage even sooner.
Best elite perk
If you cruise with family or friends, we think the best perk in Holland America’s program is the complimentary cruise fare for kids and extra guests staying in your cabin on select sailings. As noted above, this is a 4-Star Mariner perk that also carries over to 5-Star Mariners.
We should note that all Mariner Society members get discounts of some sort for the third- and fourth- passengers staying in their cabins. During the booking process, type in your Mariner ID to view your discount for this.
Note that at the 5-Star Mariner level, loyal fans of the line also get:
- Up to a $30 credit toward an internet package
- Two complimentary dinners in one of the following onboard restaurants: Pinnacle Grill, Tamarind or Canaletto (free surcharge only)
- A complimentary day pass to the Greenhouse Spa & Salon (one per cruise)
Note that, as is often the case with cruise line loyalty programs, Holland America customers do not have to requalify for status each year. Mariner Society members keep their points at the end of each year and continue to accrue points indefinitely. That means that someone who hits 5-Star Mariner status will remain at that top tier level forever (or until Holland America makes a change to the program).
Related: Our favorite steakhouses at sea include a Holland America venue
Such “forever status” is one of the great allures of cruise line frequent cruiser programs. Most airline frequent flyer programs, by contrast, require loyalty members to requalify for status each year.
Mariner Society lapel pins
A rite of passage, Holland America has awarded its most loyal guests special lapel pin “medallions” in the past and continues that practice today. Sail 100 days and get a Bronze Medallion. Cruisers with 300 days at sea get a Silver Medallion and those with 500 days earn a Gold Medallion. The Platinum Medallion is reserved for cruisers who have enjoyed 700 or more nights at sea. For pin tiers, cruise days are the only thing that counts.
Holland America has a very solid loyalty program. Unlike Royal Caribbean or Norwegian Cruise Line, it doesn’t offer its loyalty club members a free cruise after reaching the top tier of the program. Nor does it offer its members across-the-board discounts on shore excursions and beverage packages, such as Windstar Cruises does. But some of its perks at higher levels offer a lot of value. We are particularly fond of the 50% discounts on specialty restaurant charges and some other drinks-related charges that comes 4-Star and 5-Star Mariner status.
Planning a cruise? Start with these stories:
Featured image of courtesy of Holland America
SPONSORED: With states reopening, enjoying a meal from a restaurant no longer just means curbside pickup.
And when you do spend on dining, you should use a credit card that will maximize your rewards and potentially even score special discounts. Thanks to temporary card bonuses and changes due to coronavirus, you may even be able to score a meal at your favorite restaurant for free.
These are the best credit cards for dining out, taking out, and ordering in to maximize every meal purchase.
Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.