When it hit my inbox, I was pretty excited by my latest free offer from NCL. But with some hindsight, I’ve decided to pass on it. I know for some this would enter Prima Donna status, but in reality, you need to be able to both work out the math, the alternatives, and know what matters to you in life… let’s have a look at this one, and see if you would do the same:
The Free Stuff (part 1)
- Free Cruise for 2 pax
- Free Airfare to Cruise for 2 pax
- Free Airport to Hotel Txf
- Free Hotel for 2 nights
- Free (pick 2 from list) ‘offers’
- Free WiFi
- Free Dining Package (speciality restaurants)
- Free Ultimate Beverage Package (booze)
- Shore Excursions ( $50 per port credit)
The Free Stuff (part 2)
- Free Booze (the good stuff)
- $100 Dining Credit (full credit triggers on one purchase of speciality dining)
- $125 Spa Credit
- Stateroom Goodies
- Bottles of wine, 1 or 2 per cruise
- Fruit Plates
- Other stuff
The Free Stuff (part 3)
- Free Bottle of wine to stateroom
- Free Dinner with wine at speciality restaurant
- Free laundry service
- Other stuff
As I’ve mentioned in the past, NCL offers ‘Stack’. Free stuff 1 comes via the email, Free stuff 2 comes from NCL Casino Status, Free stuff 3 comes from NCL passenger status (gained from free cruises..) it becomes hard to pick the free ‘offers’ onboard since the booze package is covered already, and there is 1 dinner plus $100 comped… we end up with free Internet and slip in a bonus offer of ‘Free Dylan’ these days.
At this point, you’re probably thinking it is a pretty good week right there.. but since Free stuff part 2 and part 3 are there on any offer, it really comes down to the components of the offer for us:
I’ve never been offered a free flight or hotel to the cruise, but now I have, I have to say I’m not that fussed. The flight is in economy, and it might not be direct. The hotel choices were some obscure brand if we depart BCN, and the Hilton Garden Inn from Rome.
Then the Stateroom.. an inside cabin… oh the horror!
I asked about upgrades. Coming from an inside cabin to what I deem workable (a Mini Suite) would cost a total of $2850 ($1150 per adult, and $550 for child). For the flights, perhaps we could upgrade the fare, but being out of control of the route and booking class would complicate things.. and economy isn’t ideal (possible, but not desirable). The hotel.. without looking it up, I guess it wouldn’t be a fit.
Time and comfort matter
We actually came back from a cruise almost the same as this one a few months ago, where we did 10 days from Barcelona on the same ship, the NCL Epic, and we did enjoy the vast majority of it. We’d go back to BCN, but we wouldn’t accept just ‘accommodation’. The point of travel hacking at our level has gone beyond ‘freeee!’ and entered ‘wow that’s really nice and I couldn’t afford it’. The distinction is that we get a little say in things. That said, if I got serious about this offer, I would look at the hotel, and if the location worked, we’d likely go for it. What I wouldn’t accept is losing time by being stuck at a ‘free’ location far from anything that made Barcelona, Barcelona, or Rome, Rome.
I just can’t afford it.
That’s the irony here… I can’t justify the expense of this vacation vs what we could build with real hacking. Never mind the upgrades of $2850+airfare upgrades.. if we went low end, and didn’t upgrade the room we could pay about $1200 for the entire trip for 3 people… but the problem with that is that we would fly in coach and sit in a tiny inside cabin for 7 nights. The ‘free’ wouldn’t be fun, I’d be cranky, and I’d still be out $1200, which I still can’t afford. $1200 is a shit ton of money to spend on a vacation. Especially one that has a few perks, but an underlying flavor of ‘average’.
3 More Strikes and we’re out
I’ve bought a few ‘coupons’ for future cruises with NCL. They are valued at $250 and can be used 1 per cruise (generally). I forget my basis in these right now, but they were pretty highly discounted. While we have to burn them up, with some timing pressure since the ‘great’ offers are going to dissipate soon…
I wrote this post some time ago, and didn’t post. I was reminded of it by a comment by Dia on our latest Vegas trip. She recommended staying at the Golden Nugget, and the irony of it all is that we just can’t afford it. Sometimes, the free stuff you see isn’t that free, and sometimes the great deals that people leap on cost a ton of money.
Embedded into this is something really important… a lot of the time when you see someone push a ‘great deal’ they are actually getting paid for it, and find any way they can to justify your expense.
Oh.. and the good news here, we ended up with a much better ‘free’ cruise with a little more mlife magic… more to come on that in the future.
ira Barrows says
$1200 is a lot to spend on a vacation? Don’t they pay you at this place? Sorry, just saying. If you get everything for free, don’t you have to spend many $$ on credit cards to get points?
I do agree with your premise that has always been my watchword. If I wouldn’t choose it, I wouldn’t take it for free. I would rather go to a real restaurant than have someone treat me at The Olive Garden.
Great point on the free airfare. My brother let Viking (a really good line in my limited experience) book his airfare on a previous cruise and they sent him from RDU-CDG via DTW and home by another strange portal, plus he had to leave the ship at 4 am!
Our next cruise they are including Business Class both ways so I guess I kind of have to take it but it will be interesting to see how they route us and on what carrier.
I’ve not been paid this year. But that’s beside the point. $1200 is a lot of money, and a lot can be done with it. More importantly, I can do vacations that cost 10x that for a fraction of $1200
How did you get a free cruise including business airfare? Is there a post floating around here somewhere explaining it?
The posts are here on Ncl comps and mlife comps
Thanks for the quick reply. I read the cruise and mLife posts, but I didn’t see anything on how to get the sweet balcony rooms. Is it just a hope for the best strategy after getting mLife Gold?
Well, a key point of the mlife posts was that gold or platinum or noir is irrelevant
Read the mLife posts, and my reading comprehension must suck because I don’t see what you’re referring to. Thanks for the help.
ira Barrows says
How! Or is that what the secret portal on this site is about lol? Chacun a son gout. I wasn’t prying but 1200 for any middle class American is about a week’s pay.
So you would never go to a 3 star Michelin restaurant? I guess I’m too old to learn all of the tricks. I kind of consider myself lucky to buy miles for .014 and cash them in on a flight that would have cost 10,000 or more.
I am kind of learning from you guys and the shills who I didn’t realize were that. I appreciate your expertise and I agree you shouldn’t accept an inferior product.
That’s why we almost never fly a US based airline, though my free UA flight to HAM in August was as good as I could do,.
Unfortunately, my airline of choice is SQ who gives zero free upgrades and only gives award flights to its own.
My hotel chain is Accor, which most gurus don’t like because there aren’t any free rooms, but our long history with them and connections give us upgrades from cheapest room to large suite.
I will always enjoy reading about how the experts play it. I didn’t mean to demean you, just wondering are you like the points guy and make your living from this or if not how much can you travel if you have a real job?
I’m quite retired and much closer to death than birth so I go as much as possible.
Anyway we are on the same page with Norwegian. I think they are like Princess and other lower middle lines who charge a la carte and have inside cabins.
A middle class American family can’t afford $1200 a month on vacations. I love 3 star Michelin and certainly enjoy visiting them.
I also enjoy Norwegian and their suites, just not their inside cabins 🙂
Ira barrows says
A month! Well don’t Americans only get 2 weeks a year vacation? I thought you meant $1200 was a lot for a vacation of any kind. BTW how do you get everything free if you don’t spend thousands to get points? Is this something in the secret portal?
Nothing secret, just sign up for credit cards.
ira Barrows says
OK….. but don’t a lot of them carry annual fees? I now follow a lot of these sites and have gotten quite a few bonuses. They usually require a minimum spend that isn’t too difficult as I can pay my cable and mobile bills through them as well as a few utilities.
What next? Open new ones and repeat? I hear chase won’t approve you if you have 5 in 24 which we do. also some are for hotel chains that we are unlikely to stay at although with the merger, Marriott and Starwood are a possibility.
We spent over 120 nights on the road last year and never stayed in a Marriott property as there was always a much more desirable alternative.
I guess we could get his and hers cards(?) but if they are branded you cant combine them. So you travel all year and it’s always free or nearly so?
Yes, I travel too much and it’s free. Just credit cards for most of it, no magic.
The cruise stuff is a different gig that I talk about here, under mlife and casino comps
Ira Barrows says
So if you can’t afford $1200 for a vacation how can you(or anyone) pay that for one meal at a 3 Michelin star restaurant?
I don’t eat those sorts of meals every month.
Just wondering what there is to do in the cabin except sleep and clean up? All I care about is a comfortable bed.
Babysit on naps, and at bedtime, making extra space handy with a 2yr old.
Ira barrows says
We had a 50 day cruise and spent half the time in our suite! Sleep, prep, read. Hang out on terrace. Net surf. Important to have a nice cabin or trip would be hell.
Great post! How do you get emails from NCL offering free stuff? Is it because you’ve cruised with them a lot before? If I want to receive offers, where do I sign up?
For NCL because I cruised once and paid I now get offers. I think we’ve paid for one and had 8-9 free ones
ira Barrows says
Really!? Why would they give a free cruise? What’s in it for them? We once (never again!) cruised on Princess to Alaska and despite opting out are inundated with offers by email, popups and even brochures, but never have I seen one remotely offering free.
Viking always has 2 for 1 which of course is the real price.
ira Barrows says
OK I have credit cards to but can’t find a way to spend more than 60-75000 in a year. Is this that MS where you buy things and cash them in or do you have a business that you can run through cards?
This is so fascinating to me. You have a 2 year old so presumable a wife or companion. IS she in the same situation so can travel all the time?
We at least come home to do laundry and get our hair done
Jerry Mandel says
If you think interior cabins are tiny (I don’t), you have never stayed in a London or Paris hotel where you have to climb over a bed to get to the bathroom. I’m in my 80’s and don’t have a problem going in coach. Do you need a nanny to tuck you in and change you? Geeez!
I’d love to get free offer like that and don’t see how you claim it costs so much money. Please explain how you came up with $2,800.
Tiny for 3 when my toddler won’t sleep when we are in sight.. The balcony gives us the option to sit outside and read while napping.
ira Barrows says
You are actually older than I am! I can fly Economy in US and from Europe to US. I could manage it from US to Europe but would prefer business since you might want to sleep in that direction. to Asia I just can’t manage it anymore.
We won’t get a free offer since we are not professional gurus of travel. I would prefer to pay for a good cabin than to get a free inside but perhaps could upgrade and pay less than the real price.
Justin Lester says
While I agree with the general point of this post–that just because something can be had at a great discount, it doesn’t mean it’s a good deal or the best use of your time — I am super confused by the “$1200 is a shit ton of money to spend on a vacation” statement. I don’t really understand how you can travel with three people for cheaper than that. And, I feel like I have a very good grasp on travel hacking and discount travel. I guess what I need tips on is how to hack free food, drinks, and activities?
Ira Barrows says
Agree. How is that a lot of money? If you earn points with credit cards you have to spend a lot and everyone can’t have hundreds of thousands of points