Before booking a cruise, check your rewards card

Tony Mecia
Personal finance writer
Rewards expert who writes the "Cashing In" reader Q&A column for CreditCards.com

Using credit card rewards for cruises

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When it comes to using reward credit cards for travel, the first thing that probably pops into mind is flights. And there are many different travel cards that can stockpile rewards to be used on airlines around the world.

But what might be less apparent is that many of those same travel reward cards can be used for another popular type of vacation: cruises.

If you’re contemplating taking a cruise vacation and have a reward card, consider the following ways to use credit cards for cruises.

Ways to use rewards for cruises

1. Credit card travel portals.
Citi, Chase and American Express all allow you to redeem reward points for cruises, usually at the same redemption rate as for airline travel. You can also choose to pay cash. While you can usually view cruises in the online portals, you typically have to call to book the vacation. But the prices listed on the portals tend to be the same as on the cruise lines’ web pages. For instance, a seven-night trip to the Bahamas from New York on Norwegian Cruise Lines in late April 2018 was listed as starting at $599 per person on Norwegian’s site – the same price as on American Express and Chase sites. Chase also threw in a $100 onboard credit per room.

 

Video: Cruising on points

2. Co-branded credit cards.
They don’t generally provide outstanding deals, but the major cruise lines partner with banks to offer cruise credit cards. The banks offering the most co-branded cruise cards are Bank of America, which has cards affiliated with Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity; and Barclaycard, which offers cards in conjunction with Carnival, Holland America and Princess. Cruise cards typically have no annual fee and come with a modest sign-up bonus, and you redeem points for credits with the cruise line.

3. Travel credits/points.
Depending on the type of travel card you have, you can redeem points for cruises or use a travel credit toward cruises. For instance, the Barclaycard Arrival card and the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card allow you to redeem points on just about any travel purchase, including cruises. And the Chase Sapphire Reserve has a $300 annual travel credit that can go toward any travel expense, including cruises.

4. Special offers.
If you’re thinking of booking a cruise, keep an eye out for special offers from your credit card issuers and loyalty programs. For instance, in March 2018, American Airlines ran a special awarding up to seven frequent flyer miles per $1 spent on cruises that were booked on various cruise lines through American. If you’re thinking about booking a cruise anyway, jumping on a deal like that can make some sense.

5. Ask your travel agent.
While a lot of people book cruises online through cruise line websites, many also book cruises through travel agents. It never hurts to ask if there are any specials connected to credit cards. Travel agents might have heard of those arrangements. For instance, if you are booking a Disney cruise, using the Chase Disney Premier Visa can snag you a discount on a snorkeling package at Disney’s private Caribbean island, Castaway Cay. If you have a World Elite MasterCard, you can receive a $150 per person credit on Oceania Cruises and a $75 per person credit on Costa Cruise Lines.

6. Use airline or hotel points.
Cruises can be expensive – usually upwards of $600 per person for a week, depending on cruise line and destination. But unless you live in Florida or near another major port, you still have to get to the boat and back. That’s where airline and hotel points come in. If you can’t use cards to save money on the cruise using the examples above, you might at least be able to use airline miles to fly to the port, and to stay the night before in a hotel. 

Cruises aren’t for everybody. But if you’re thinking about one, your reward credit cards might give you more options than you realize.

 See related: Video: How to pay with cruises using your reward points, How to avoid credit card problems aboard a cruise ship


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Updated: 10-23-2018