Credit cards that can help you earn a cruise

Convenient and relaxing, cruises are the ideal vacation for many. Yet, with an average outlay of $214.44 per passenger per day (according to stats from Cruise Market Watch), several days at sea can cost you a bundle, especially if you’re traveling with your family.

So credit cards that let you earn a cruise through your spending might seem like a great way to reduce the price of your dream trip. You have many choices. Not only do many cruise lines have their own co-branded rewards cards, but some general-purpose travel cards offer cruise rewards, too. So, which is the best route?

First, here’s a look at some cruise-line-specific cards and which redemption options they offer.

Carnival FunPoints card: No annual fee. This card lets you redeem your FunPoints for cruise discounts (in the form of a statement credit), onboard purchases, shore excursions and onboard experiences (such as spa credits). You can also redeem for cruises with Princess, Costa Cruises, Holland America Line and more.

You earn 2 FunPoints per dollar spent with Carnival and 1 FunPoint per dollar spent elsewhere. Point value varies. For example:

  • 10,000 points = $100 off a cruise
  • 12,500 points = $100 onboard credit

princess cruises credit cardPrincess Cruises Rewards Visa: No annual fee. You can redeem for cruise discounts (in the form of statement credits), statement credits against airfare and onboard experiences (such as a balcony breakfast). You’ll earn 2 points per dollar spent with Princess and 1 point per dollar elsewhere. Point value varies. For example:

  • 200,000 points = cruise discount “up to $3,000”
  • 50,000 points = $500 statement credit against airfare

holland america credit cardHolland America Rewards Visa: No annual fee. No foreign transaction fees. You can redeem for statement credits against cruises and flights, onboard experiences and purchases (beverage cards, for example).

Earn 2 points per dollar spent with Holland America and 1 point per dollar elsewhere.

  • 5,000 points = $50 beverage card
  • 25,000 points = $250 statement credit against airfare
  • 40,000 points = $500 statement credit against cruise

royal caribbean credit cardRoyal Caribbean Visa: No annual fee. Earn 2 MyCruise points on Royal Caribbean Purchases (as well as with Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises) and 1 MyCruise point per dollar elsewhere.

Points can be redeemed for onboard credit, stateroom upgrades, travel merchandise, cruises on Royal Caribbean and other brands listed above, and charitable donations.

  • 10,000 points = $100 onboard credit
  • 5,000 points = $50 onboard credit, upgrade worth $50

Norwegian cruise cardNorwegian Cruise Line MasterCard with WorldPoints: No annual fee. You’ll earn 1 point per dollar in net purchases and double points on Norwegian Cruise Line purchases. Redemption options include cruises, room upgrades, onboard credits, car rentals and hotel stays. For example:

  • 5,000 points = $50 onboard credit
  • 10,000 points = $100 onboard credit, $100 cruise discount or up to 2-category stateroom upgrade on a cruise of five days or more

celebrity cruise cardCelebrity Cruises cards:

No-annual-fee version: Earn 2 points for every dollar spent with Celebrity (and sister lines Royal Caribbean and Azamara Club Cruises) and 1 point per dollar spent elsewhere.

Annual-fee version ($69): Earn 2 points for every dollar spent with Celebrity (and sister lines Royal Caribbean and Azamara Club Cruises) and 1 point per dollar spent elsewhere. Plus a variety of additional cruise discounts, dining discounts, beverage package discounts and companion airfare discounts. You also get 10,000 bonus points each year you make $10,000 in purchases.

For both cards, you can redeem for onboard credit, merchandise and cruise vacations. For example:

  • 10,000 points = $100 onboard credit
  • 5,000 points = $50 onboard credit

In sum: Cruise line-specific cards give you average rewards for all your spending and extra rewards for spending with their line. Your redemption value hovers around 1 cent per point (sometimes a bit more, sometimes a bit less), and your redemption options are generally limited to cruises (or cruise-related upgrades, meals and drinks) — although some cards let you redeem for statement credits against airfare.

Another option — generic travel rewards cards

This breed of card allows you to accumulate “points” or “miles” that can be cashed in as statement credits toward travel. You can often redeem for cash back or merchandise as well, but expect the value of your points to be lower than it is for travel redemptions.

General-purpose travel cards are a particularly flexible option because they let you redeem towards a slew of travel expenses — airfare, train tickets, campground fees and, of course, cruises — and not just on a specific line. Each point or mile is generally worth 1 cent each when it comes time to redeem for cruises or any other type of travel.

Here’s a look at a few options (all of which let you redeem for cruises):

Capital one Venture ($59 annual fee, waived first year) and VentureOne ($0 annual fee): You’ll earn 2 miles per dollar on all qualified spending with the Venture and 1.25 miles per dollar on the VentureOne.

After you book your cruise, you can redeem your miles for a statement credit against it.

Chase Sapphire Preferred ($95 annual fee, waived first year): You’ll earn 2 points per dollar on travel and dining and 1 point per dollar on everything else. When it’s time to book your cruise, you can spend your points via Chase Ultimate Rewards and get 20 percent off.


American Express Blue Sky ($0 annual fee): Earn one point per dollar on all eligible spending. At redemption time, however, you’ll get extra value out of your points, as 7,500 points are good for a $100 statement credit against travel (including cruises).

So what’s the best credit card for cruises?

The case for cruise cards: Co-branded cruise line cards are best for those who are loyal to a particular line and spend enough on that particular line to get a lot of benefit out of the double points. If you take your family of four on two cruises a year, your favorite cruise line’s card may fit the bill. These cards are also beneficial because they allow you to redeem for all sorts of on-board extras and upgrades. Finally, most cruise cards don’t have annual fees, so you can pocket all the savings.

The case for general travel cards: If you don’t cruise that often, you’re probably better off getting a general-purpose travel card. If you decide to nix the cruise and take a flight to Europe and travel around by rail instead, your points/miles will still be good for that. Furthermore, if you’d like to shop around for the most affordable cruise, your points/miles will be good on all cruise lines — not just the ones specified by your card.

While some of the cards above have annual fees, they might offer extra points on all travel purchases (not purchases made with a specific cruise line), or even on all purchases. That means a greater variety of purchases will help you make extra headway toward a discount on your next cruise.

Written or last updated on Oct. 24, 2014

 
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