Norwegian Cruise Line will kick off the new year with a cruise industry first: an upgrade program that allows passengers who have paid for a cruise to bid for an upgrade to a higher-category stateroom.
The Norwegian Upgrade Advantage program has the blessing of a group of top travel agents after a 60-day beta test in advance of its February 8 launch. Their feedback was all positive, including the fact that the entire system is automated and requires no travel agent intervention, keeps them in the communication loop at all times, and pays commissions on the enhanced fare, Norwegian’s senior sales VP Camille Olivere told TMR. So what’s not to like?
“This truly is brand new, and our beta test was super-successful,” Olivere said. “After final payment guests can bid on an upgrade and there’s a little dial that will show them in red, yellow or green the likelihood their bid is going to be accepted. When we offer the upgrade to the guest we email the travel agency of record, so they see the guest has been offered the ability to upgrade, and if the bid is accepted we notify the agency. The agency has to do absolutely nothing.”
Once guests’ bids are accepted, they are assigned to an available cabin at a higher level—“inside to outside, outside to balcony, balcony to a suite or The Haven,” Olivere said—but cannot choose the exact stateroom to which they are assigned.
"When we offer the upgrade to the guest we email the travel agency of record, so they see the guest has been offered the ability to upgrade, and if the bid is accepted we notify the agency. The agency has to do absolutely nothing.”
The idea is not completely new in the travel industry, of course; companies from Priceline to airlines to hotels offer upgrade bidding programs. But it is a first for a major cruise line. And while Olivere—who returned to Norwegian in November after two years at Club Med and World Travel Holdings—takes no credit for dreaming it up, she is excited to be on board as it rolls out.
“It’s truly awesome,” she said. “It offers the ability for guests to pay a reasonable price, and also gives the agent more commission on the additional revenue. It’s all done online and the agent automatically gets the additional commission.”
Olivere noted that travel professionals were always top of mind as the program was put together, and their feedback was solicited and incorporated in the final product. “We wanted to make sure we had all the commission together and that it worked, that it would benefit the guest and the agent in every way.”
While of course Norwegian is “encouraging everyone to participate,” any agency that does not want to offer it to customers can simply opt out.
“It’s an idea born really out of trying to solve the question of how do we let our guests take advantage of the best part of our ships in a way that is easy. And of course it was launched in a spirit of Partners First. We always take a view through the lens of our travel partners before we launch something to make sure it is beneficial for our travel partners as well as their guests.”
Upgrade Advantage will launch on the large ships (Norwegian Escape, Norwegian Breakaway, Norwegian Getaway and Norwegian Epic) and Pride of America on February 8, followed by the remainder of the fleet by the end of the second quarter.