A few weeks ago, I wrote about the various comp offers I receive and also showed you a real-life demonstration of why promo chips are a bad deal. If you haven’t seen the video, the article and video are right here.
One of the points I made in that article is that offers for free cruises are usually horrible offers. They’re my least favorite form of comp. In short, I think they’re a huge rip-off and best avoided. I didn’t go into the reasons why, and as a result, I currently have 12 emails asking about the ‘why’.
So let’s talk about the cruise issue and about how to pursue comps aggressively.
THE ‘FREE’ CRUISE OFFERS
Here are some two typical cruise offers…
Here are the problems with these offers, and why I think you should avoid them.
Lots of Expenses Are Not Covered
Most of cruises have additional expenses which are not covered, such as mandatory tips, fees and taxes.
Airfare is not covered, and that’s usually a pretty significant expense.
Cruises usually include, at not extra cost, water, tea that is made from a powdered mix, and diluted juices. If you want anything else, such as alcohol or soda, you will need to buy a drink package, which are are not covered and cost extra. The included drinks are usually so bad that you’ll want to either bring your own water or soda or buy an upgraded drink package.
Cabin Upgrade Fees Are Usually Not Covered
The free cabins offered by the casino are usually ‘ocean view’ or interior cabins, both of which are not open to the sea. Every cruise I have ever taken had a balcony that was open to the ocean.
When I asked if any of the comped cabins had a balcony, the answer was no. Any requests for comped upgrades went through the host who was either unable or unwilling to comp the upgrade.
That’s an upgrade that can double the cost of the basic fare.
THE CASINO GAMES ON A CRUISE ARE TERRIBLE
The Ship Casino Has Meaningless Regulatory Oversight
The cruise line casinos are governed by the International Council of Cruise Lines (the ICCL), which is a toothless regulatory agency that answers to the cruise lines.
The ICCL is supposed to conduct audits of the casinos. I tried finding data of return percentages or proof of audits for this article, but I couldn’t find anything.
The Odds are Terrible Because The Audience is Captured
Slots are Tight!
If you think that the slot machines are tight at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, wait until you play the slots on the cruise ship.
According to guidelines of the International Council of Cruise Lines, the ship casinos are supposed to set their slot machines to the minimum and ‘meet the regulatory standards of the Nevada Gaming Control Board or other licensed jurisdiction for payback and internal software”.
Notice the ‘other licensed jurisdiction’ part, which could mean anything.
When I was on the cruise, I spent about an hour watching the general slot floor. I was sitting at a Blackjack table that had an elevated view of the gaming floor, and it gave me a great view of the slots. From my personal observation, the slots seemed to be taking in money, but paying very little out in return. Of course, an hour or so worth of observation isn’t dispositive and doesn’t prove much. It would be helpful to have the reports of slot payback percentages, but I could not find that information. The cruise lines are not required to report those figures.
The Blackjack is Atrocious
We’ve all heard of 6-5 blackjack. We know it’s terrible, and there is some evidence that people are starting to catch on.
But what if you I told you that cruises are starting to effectively go to 7-6 blackjack?
What the heck is 7-6 blackjack? That sounds like a better deal than 6-5 blackjack because isn’t 7 more than 6? 7-6 blackjack is a game where the player bets $6 and is paid $7 for their blackjack. It’s way worse than 6-5 blackjack.
The way the game works is that the table sign states that the game is 6-5 blackjack; however, the table minimum is $6. Since most players on a cruise are low rolling, they’re going to bet $6.
To understand why it’s worse, just think of it this way…of the $6 bet, $5 of it is paid $6, and the extra $1 is paid even money. It’s significantly worse than 6-5 blackjack.
Almost all the other blackjack games are 6-5. I only saw one 3-2 game on a Royal Carribean ship, and it was $25 minimum.
The Craps is Terrible, But Still Probably the Best Deal in the Casino
On Royal Caribbean, craps is single odds.
If the player bets $25, then the casino will allow 2x odds.
If the player bets $50, then the casino will allow 3x, 4x, 5x odds. Only on a cruise ship does 3, 4, 5x craps seem like a good deal.
That’s part of the reason why I advise all gamblers to learn craps. Even when the craps game is bad, it’s only bad compared to craps games at land-based casinos. Craps with single odds is still much better than any 6-5 blackjack variant.
The Drinks Are NOT Free For Players
Drinks are not free for players. If you want a drink comped, the drink is evaluated for a comp like how you would be evaluated for a meal comp at a land-based casino, but much stricter.
I thought you might get a kick out of how strict they are, so I recorded my interaction with a host when I asked for an alcoholic drink to be comped…
The drinks are not cheap, either.
The Comp Rating is Atrocious and Stingy
I asked for a comp for a drink after two nights of play. This totaled about 4 hours, half on craps and half on blackjack.
Forget about getting something like a dinner or any other type of comp unless you’re playing for huge money and also playing a game with a high house edge.
Smart gamblers are not rewarded on a cruise ship casino.
The Comp Rating May Hurt Your Overall Rating and Standing with the Host Casino or Agency
The cruise lines are starting to form partnerships with various land-based casinos and independent hosts to get players on board. If you call up an independent hosting company like URCOMPED, they’ll usually tell you that comps are dependent on your level of play. The pitch I’ve heard is that on the first cruise they’re tight, but on subsequent cruises, they loosen up the comps and are easier to deal with.
Here’s what they’re really saying…’We want you to gamble, but we don’t want to gamble, so we are going to wait until the second cruise to give you the comps that you’re used getting at your land-based casino. Of course, if we find out that you’re a smart gambler and don’t lose a lot of money, there won’t be a second cruise. So technically, we aren’t lying to you.’
Because the cruise casinos are so tight with their Average Daily Theoretical rating, it may hurt your ADT with the parent company that sent you on the casino cruise. I tried verifying this with a the cruise ship host, but he wasn’t not willing or able to answer my query.
WHEN TO TAKE THE OFFER
Reader Darrel states, ‘I would say it is closer to 50 percent off instead of being “free”.
I very much agree with that sentiment.
If you plan on taking a cruise anyways, then consider the offer. Don’t let the promotional cruise induce you into taking a cruise that you otherwise would not have taken.
Do a comparison of the cost of your planned cruise, and then do a comparison of the cost of the promotional cruise. If the promotional offer is significant savings, then take the promotional cruise.
The casino onboard is terrible and is not worthy of any serious play, unless you want to fight a big uphill battle or you don’t mind paying for a little casino fun while on the high seas. Anytime I’m on a cruise, I spend about an hour a day playing craps, and that’s the extent of my gambling. The rest of my time is spent on the deck, eating, drinking, eating more food, eating even more food, drinking, and then eating some more (you will eat a lot), and then some excursions and other ship activities.
Having said all that, I love cruising. I do it at least once a year. I recommend that you do it at least once in your life, and if the promotional offer is the way to cruise ‘cheap’, then do it. One final piece of advice if you decide to take the casino up on the offer: When you are on board, do not feel like you must gamble to satisfy your host.
If you see the games, and they do not suit your style, or you can’t stomach the odds or the stingy slots, it’s completely ok to stiff your host and not play at all. Yea, sure, it might not make your host happy, but every once in a while, the host has to lose too. No big deal.
THE NEXT REAL CRAPS GAME
Having said all this, I still love cruises. I take at least one cruise a year, but I don’t rely on the promo offers.
Coming up this Thursday is a real craps game from a cruise that I just took.
It’s going to be…different. Let’s just put it that way.