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For limited time in upper categories, Celebrity cuts NCFs, MSC boosts pay to 25%

For limited time in upper categories, Celebrity cuts NCFs, MSC boosts pay to 25%
In an eye-opening pair of travel agent incentives, Celebrity Cruises eliminated non-commissionable fares (NCFs) on bookings made during June in verandah accommodations and above for 2015 sailings, and MSC Cruises USA set 25% pay for balcony bookings on MSC Divina cruises from August to late December.

For both lines, the extra pay is for US and Canadian agents.

Celebrity's move is timed to the return of its '123go!' consumer promotion that offers a free beverage package, pre-paid gratuities or on-board credit.

Dondra Ritzenthaler, svp sales and trade support and service, said in bringing back the popular '123go!'—which gives consumers a choice, makes it simple and inclusive and protects agent commissions—Celebrity wanted a creative way to thank agents for their support and came up with the novel idea of eliminating NCFs.

The announcement went out Friday night.

'We are having a very good Monday,' Ritzenthaler told Seatrade Insider. 'There has been tremendous response from the travel agent community, emails on the weekend, phone calls ... Early indications are that they like it.'

Despite numerous stories in travel trade publications lamenting NCFs, Ritzenthaler said they are not the No. 1 thing agents complain about to Celebrity. NCFs come up 'only now and again,' she maintained; there is much more focus on demand generation, what's going on in the industry as a whole and 'what's making [agents'] phones ring.

'We already have a stellar relationship and reputation with the trade,' Ritzenthaler said, adding that this NCF decision is just one more way Celebrity shows its consideration for travel partners. 'We always think about what's the consumer going to like? And what's the agent going to like? It's ingrained and embedded in our culture.'

This 30-day elimination of NCFs on veranda bookings and above is not seen as a trial for possible expansion but as a likely one-time thing.

Ritzenthaler would like agents to focus on higher-paying ongoing business such as Celebrity's Suite Class, rolling out in April 2015. Because it includes specialty dining, premium beverages, unlimited Internet access and more, commissions are higher.

There's no issue with 2015 sailings that needed the extra push from the no-NCF offer, she added: 'We are feeling very favorable about where we are for 2015 with our travel partners.'

Celebrity's promotion closely follows MSC Cruises USA's announcement of a 60-day Balcony Bonanza Cash-Back booking incentive for all MSC Divina Caribbean seven-night and 10-night sailings between Aug. 2 and Dec. 20. This provides a 25% commission (starting at $224 up to $434 for a seven-night Caribbean cruise) on all B1, B2 and B3 balcony staterooms as well as $150 per stateroom on-board credit.

The offer is available for new individual bookings made May 27 through July 31.

In announcing this and further incentives, Rick Sasso, president and ceo of MSC Cruises USA, said agents are 'the lifeline' with consumers and 'it is imperative that the trade community remain healthy and vibrant.'

'Enhancing our incentive policies and adding more commission opportunities makes it easier than ever for agents to work with MSC Cruises,' added Ken Muskat, evp sales, public relations and guest services.

Effective today, MSC Cruises USA is paying 5% commission on all pre-paid special services pre-booked by agents on behalf of their clients. In addition to the current commissionable shore excursions, hotel packages, transfers and airfare, this now includes spa treatments, specialty restaurants, beverage packages and stateroom celebration packages, among others. MSC will continue to pay 10% commission on pre-paid cruise insurance coverage.

Also beginning today, agents have the opportunity to earn tour conductors (TC) by booking via individual reservations at the prevailing FIT rate without the need to block group inventory. One TC will be earned for every 20 full-fare passengers on the same sail date for bookings made up to 75 days prior to the departure date on all MSC Caribbean and non-Caribbean sailings.