Use Miles and Points to Pay for Cruises

Most know you can pay for flights and hotels on points. Few realize you can use miles and points to pay for cruises. Not quite in the same way. Yet paid in part or totally using credit card point programs.

Points to pay for cruises: the components

The cabin fare

This is what gets you on the ship. Cabin fares are typically based on dual-occupancy, with many classes of “staterooms” (cabins). Mandy and I go for the cheaper windowless “inside staterooms” and hope for upgrade pitches–unless the price for a Balcony is reasonable.

Onboard Credit (“OBC”)

With the exception of casinos (ATMs are available), cruise ships are cashless societies. When you check-in, you put a credit card on file. This gets associated with your room key, and then everything gets paid via that. Mandy and I like to look for Onboard Credit (OBC) offers as a game, to see how many free cruise ship dollars we can collect in advance of our journey.

Some OBC may come with the cabin booking itself if you get a deal. You can also purchase OBC in advance using a credit card. And this is what you’ll likely want to do so you can enjoy your stay more without emptying your purse or wallet. There are also credit cards for the more popular mass market lines offering OBC–but it’s typically only $100. While these are worth examining, you may do better with cash back credit card signup bonuses.

Credit cards for covering your cabin fare

Travel statement credit cards

Mandy and I have had great luck using Travel Statement credit cards such as Barclay’s Arrival Plus. Back when we both got the card, the offer was 40,000 points for a 3K spend in three months, annual fee waived the first year. That translated into around 4 x $100 travel statement credits each on the cruise we booked; so a total of  around $800 off. That paid for half of a $1,600 Eastern Mediterranean cruise we took; but it might pay for 100% of a cheaper Caribbean cruise (e.g. if the fare and taxes was$400 per person). We’ve seen current offers of 50,000 for this card; but word of as this writing is that the 50K is going away soon. Still, the 40K offer is a killer deal.

Other travel statement credit cards include the Bank of America TravelRewards card. The signup bonus is only 20K (roughly translates to $200 worth of travel statement credits). However:

  • It’s a no annual fee card you could keep forever to improve your credit score (average age of accounts)
  • There’s a business version offering the same bonus. Perhaps you sell items on eBay or do something else that qualifies you as a small business. The points can be combined, so if you get both, you’ll have 40K. And if your spouse gets both, that could be a total of 80K. (Update: at the time of this writing, the business version was offering a signup bonus of 25K).

Had we pursued this strategy, the cost of our $1,600 cruise ($800 cabin fare per person) would have been erased using credit card travel statement credits alone. It’s easy to make a small deposit on a cruise, then make further payments down the road as you continue to signup for cards. The lovely thing about cruises is that you can often book up to two years out; giving you time to plan how to pay for it all–preferably with points.

Credit cards to consider for Onboard Credit (OBC)

Cruise line co-branded cards

These typically offer points redeemable for $100 worth of OBC. As such, nothing to get excited about. However, for $100 offers, if each spouse applies for one, that’s $200 of OBC total; in addition to any OBC you may have received while booking your cruise. Again, Mandy and I love to rack up OBC any way we can prior to sailing. The cruise critic forum for your chosen cruise line is a great place to ask about OBC offers. You may also be able to use the points to knock-off $100 of the price on your next cruise if you book directly from the cruise line(s). Your Nautical Miles May Vary.

Here’s a list (not all-inclusive) showing some current cruise line credit card offers floating about:

It’s worth noting none of the three cards above have an annual fee. So you may keep the card(s) forever to increase the average age of your accounts–potentially raising your credit score. Mandy and and I have each of these cards; probably more than once to re-earn the bonuses.

Cash back cards

These could be used either to pay part of your cabin fare or to splurge for OBC. Look for offers with signup bonuses of more than $100 (the standard Cruise Credit Card signup bonus). Confession time. While I’ve known and loved many an airline, hotel, and bank points card, I’ve never cozied up to a Cash Back card; it’s just something I’ve not gotten around to yet. So, these opportunities here await us all!

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