From repositioning cruises across the Atlantic, to river cruises in Myanmar and Egypt, Kara and I have become big fans of cruising. It’s such a fun way to travel and allows us to easily cross off countries from our list.
The one bummer with cruising is that unlike flights and hotels, there’s no good way of booking cruises using points and miles. However, with the right credit cards and booking strategies, you can significantly cut your cost. Here’s how:
The Best Credit Cards for Booking Cruises
The most important step in the cruise booking process is to use the right credit card. You’ll either want to use a card that provides a good return for cruise spending, comes with perks like onboard credits or a combination of both. You might notice that I didn’t include any of the major cruise line cobranded cards on this list. That’s because there are many travel rewards cards that offer equal or even greater returns. Additionally, most people, ourselves included, don’t cruise enough to be loyal to one cruise line so it’s better not to restrict your rewards to their programs.
Current offer: 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 within the first three months, plus an additional 5,000 Ultimate Rewards points when you add an authorized user to the card who makes a purchase within the first three months.
Annual fee: $95
Why it’s great: This card consistently ranks at the top of my monthly roundup of the top personal travel rewards card offers. It comes with generous 60,000 point sign-up bonus and offers a lot of flexibility with which you can use those points. You can redeem those 60,000 Ultimate Reward points for $750 worth of free cruises or other travel when booking through the Chase travel portal. Or, if you want to get even more value out of your points, you can transfer them to a number of airline and hotel programs at a 1:1 ratio. Plus, this card offers terrific travel protections for when things go wrong.
The card earns 2x points all travel (including cruise bookings) and dining purchases and 1x point on everything else. It also has no foreign transaction fees.
Annual fee: $550
Why it’s great: If you travel a lot (not just cruises) then it could make more sense for you to get this card over the Preferred. Although it has a much higher annual fee, the rewards you’ll get more than make up for it. To start, you’ll get a $300 annual travel credit every year that’s you can use toward booking your cruise or any other travel expense. This basically brings the annual fee down to $150. Then, you get a free Priority Pass membership that gets you card holder and up to 2 guests free access to over 1,2000+ airline lounges around the world. If you’ve ever watched our Youtube videos, you know we put this benefit to use almost every time we travel. Plus, when you have this card, your Chase Ultimate Reward points are worth more when redeemed through the Chase Travel Portal. The points are worth 1.5 cents each. So although the welcome bonus is technically smaller than on the Preferred, your 50,000 bonus points are still worth at least $750 in free travel! Transferring your points is also still an option.
The card earns 3x points all travel (including cruise bookings) and dining purchases and 1x point on everything else. It also has no foreign transaction fees and comes with a $100 application credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre-check.
*** Chase Bank only allows you to sign up for one Sapphire card, so you have to choose between the Sapphire Preferred (mentioned above) and the Sapphire Reserve (this card). For serious travelers who will benefit from the lounge access, $300 travel credit, and increased value of the Ultimate Reward points, I would highly recommend signing up for the Reserve (this card) over the Preferred.
3. Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card [Learn How to Apply]
Current offer: 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months.
Annual fee: $95 (waived the first year)
Why it’s great: This card is best for its simplicity. To start, you’ll earn a 50,000 point early spend bonus that is worth $500 in free travel such as cruises or potentially more if you transfer them to one of Capital One’s airline partners. Then, you’ll earn a flat 2x points on every purchase, regardless of whether you’re booking a cruise, buying a cup of coffee or something else. What’s great about the fixed-value redemption option is that unlike the Chase cards previously mentioned, you don’t necessarily need to book your cruise through Capital One’s travel portal. You can book your cruise any way you want and then “erase” some or all of the cost of your booking after.
Through January 2020, the card is offering 10x points for booking hotels through hotels.com/venture. Cardholders also get a $100 rebate on Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fees.
4. The Platinum Card from American Express [Learn How to Apply]
Current offer: 60,000 Membership Rewards after spending $5,000 in the first three months.
Annual fee: $550
Why it’s great: Although Amex has run special offers where you can earn 5x points on some cruise bookings in the past, cruises are not a permanent bonus category on the Amex Platinum card so you’ll typically earn just 1x point per dollar spent on your bookings. So, you’re probably wondering what this card is doing on this list if it doesn’t offer any bonus points. Well, similar to the Fine Hotels & Resorts program, Amex offers something called the Cruise Privileges Program. By booking through the program, you’ll receive a shipboard credit and additional exclusive amenities unique to each cruise line, such as a spa voucher or bottle of premium champagne. Plus, from time to time, there are Amex Offers which let you earn 15,000 to 25,000 bonus points for putting your cruise purchase on your credit card.
The Cruise Privileges Program is valid for cruises of 5 nights or more on select cruise lines. To book, you can either visit americanexpress.com/cruises, call 800-525-3355 or contact the Platinum Travel Service. Worth mentioning, the business version of this card, The Business Platinum® Card from American Express OPEN [Learn How to Apply], also has access to this program.
Although the card normally earns only 1x point per dollar spent on cruises, you will get 5x points on flights booked with airlines or American Express Travel and 5x points on hotels booked on amextravel.com. The card has the highest annual fee of any of the cards on this list, but it comes with benefits like a $200 airline fee credit (good for one airline that you choose at the beginning of the year), a $200 Uber credit that gets reimbursed to your card in monthly increments of $15 (plus a $20 bonus in December) and $100 annual Saks Fifth Avenue credit that’s broken into two $50 statement credits for the two halves of the year. As you probably know by now, our favorite benefit, however, is the lounge access. In addition to a free Priority Pass membership, you also get access to American Express’s terrific Centurion Lounges!
The 60,000 point welcome bonus is worth $600 in free travel when redeemed through the Membership Rewards travel portal or potentially more when transferred to one of Amex’s travel partners.
In addition to earning points with your credit card, you may be able to earn miles for your cruise bookings by going through your preferred airline’s cruise portal. American Airlines, Delta, United and other airlines offer them. Similar to shopping portals, these allow you double dip your rewards. Plus, depending on the program and your status with the airline, you might be able to unlock some special perks like a complimentary specialty dinner.
Kara and I’s favorite cruising “hack,” however, is to book repositioning cruises. When seasons change, often times cruise ships need to relocate to a region of the world with a climate more suitable for cruising. For instance, on our first repositioning cruise, the ship was moving from Europe (where it’s cold) to the Caribbean (where it’s nice and warm). During a repositioning cruise, there are usually long stretches at sea with few port days included in the itinerary. Because of this, they are usually quite a bit cheaper than usual. (Our’s across the Atlantic came out to $54 per night per person, including all food, drinks, taxes, and port fees!)
If you need some more cruise inspiration, consider joining us on our Myanmar River Cruise Adventure where we’ll spend a week cruising up the Irrawaddy River. It’s going to be a luxurious adventure to one of the most unique countries we have ever visited. The trip is quickly approaching (Nov. 12-19) and we only have a few room left, so if you’re interested in joining, you’ll need to act quick. For more details, click here.
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