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Cruise-line credit cards: Are they worth it?

They can give you discounts on cruises and onboard credits, but look elsewhere, too

Summary

While it is tempting to sign up for a credit card while traveling – whether it be an airline, cruise or hotel card – keep your options open. There may be better travel cards available that not only fit your lifestyle but provide better perks, as well.

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Dear Cashing In,

I was on a Caribbean cruise recently and the cruise line, Norwegian, had an offer for a Norwegian Cruise Line credit card. My wife and I are semi-retired and go on a cruise or two each year. Should we get the card? – Neil

Dear Neil,

A lot of companies that are travel-related – such as airlines, hotels, cruise lines – offer credit cards in conjunction with major banks.

They like to advertise those cards when you are on a trip, so you’ll see ads in in-flight magazines, in your hotel room and, yes, when you take a cruise. You might find a flier about the card in your stateroom, for example.

It is a wise marketing move, because people taking trips are the most likely to be interested in a travel-related credit card – just like how shoppers at a particular retail store are more likely to be interested in that store’s credit card.

Check out all the answers from our credit card experts.

Ask Tony a question.

See related: Best credit cards for cruises

How to evaluate a travel card offer

But just because you shop in a certain store, fly on a particular airline or take a cruise on the same cruise line, doesn’t mean that the affiliated credit card is right for you.

The best advice in evaluating any credit card is to look closely at the terms of the offer, consider whether you would benefit from the rewards, then examine if there are other cards that serve your needs better.

In the case of cruise-line cards, you might very well conclude that the rewards seem appealing – typically, you have options including stateroom credits, gift cards and cruise discounts. Where the cards are most likely to come up short, however, is in comparing them to other available travel cards.

Comparing cruise cards vs. travel cards

Let’s look at your example, the Bank of America Norwegian Cruise Line World Mastercard.

  • It has no annual fee and gives you 10,000 points after you use it for the first time within 90 days after opening the account. In addition, if you sign up on board a cruise, you earn an instant $25 onboard credit.
  • You earn 3 points per dollar on Norwegian Cruise Line purchases and 1 point per $1 on everything else.
  • You can then redeem your points at a rate of 1 percent back. That means that if you accumulate 10,000 points, you can get $100 in on onboard credit or discount.

That might sound appealing, especially if you cruise a lot and would use this as your main credit card.

Rewards cards that beat cruise cards

But when you start looking around at other options, you realize you can do better with a different card.

For instance, there are cards such as the Citi Double Cash Card that charge no annual fee and give 2 percent cash back on all purchases – 1 percent when you charge, and another 1 percent when you pay your bill. That’s a better rate than the 1 percent the Norwegian card offers on regular purchases.

There’s Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, which has no fee for the first year ($95 thereafter) and comes with 50,000 miles after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months as a sign-up bonus. Those are worth $500 toward travel spending – including cruises.

The card also offers 2 miles per dollar spent on regular purchases – including cruises – plus 10 miles per dollar on hotel rooms booked and paid through hotels.com/venture. That’s a much bigger benefit right off the bat.

And then there are other travel cards that offer the same rewards points on travel purchases – not just cruises – or higher, such as Chase Sapphire Reserve, Citi Premier Card and Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card.

Why a travel card makes more sense than a cruise card

There’s nothing wrong with the Norwegian credit card. It is structured similarly to most cruise-line credit cards.

But when you examine other cards and what they can do for you, cruise cards tend to come up short.

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Published: April 29, 2019

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