Sunday Reader Question: Using Miles and Points for Cruises

by on January 8, 2012 · 20 comments

in American Express, Chase, Citi, Credit Cards, Sunday Reader Questions

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TPG reader Gloria writes:

“I have been saving up United mileage to treat my parents with a trip to Europe for my dad’s 60th Birthday in June.  However, Dad now changed his mind and would rather take a cruise in Alaska instead with my aunts and uncles.  I am wondering do you know of any way to plan for a cruise trip with mileage? (They live in San Francisco)  Or if I decide to just pay for it myself, is there some deal out there where I can earn some extra miles?”

Cruise companies have frequent sailor programs, but they are not nearly as lucrative as airline and hotel programs. They are not currencies like many loyalty programs – they mostly just give discounts and on-board perks.

So how do you use points or miles for a cruise? There are a number of ways, but none of them are particularly great redemption values, relatively speaking in comparison to air or hotel awards. But as I always say, the thing that matters most is that you personally get value out of your redemptions. Some airlines offer cruise redemptions from time to time, but they are usually horrendous values. Your best bet is using credit card points, which usually have a fixed value of at least 1 cent per point.

To be honest, I’ve never redeemed for a cruise and never will, so this isn’t really my area of expertise. But after doing some research, I put together a list of redeeming/earning opportunities. Please feel free to chime in on your experience if you have ever used points for a cruise and I’ll update this post.

Using Credit Card Points:
American Express: Pay With Points: Each Membership Reward point = 1 cent towards the cruise so a $1,000 cruise = 100,000 points. If you have a Business Platinum card, each point = 1.25 cents, so that $1,000 cruise would be 80,000 points. Book in full or partial payment with points.

Capital One: Each point = 1 cent towards a cruise. Depending on the program, you may need to use a minimum of 15,000 points per redemption (which shouldn’t be an issue booking a cruise).

Chase: Each Ultimate Rewards point = 1 cent towards the cruise so a $1,000 cruise = 100,000 points. If you have a Sapphire Preferred card, each point = 1.25 cents, so that $1,000 cruise would be 80,000 points. If you prefer to book directly with the cruiseline you can get $200 Carnival and Royal Carribbean gift certificates for 20,000 points each. Book in full or partial payment with points.

Citi: ThankYou points = 1 cent towards travel. If you have the ThankYou Premiercard (which currently has a 50,000 point sign-up bonus), points are worth 1.3 cents each. You can also get $100 Carnival and Royal Caribbean gift certificates for 10,000 points each. Update: the bonus has been reduced to 30,000 points.

Earning Miles/ Points (many of these programs are run by the same company, so the deals are similar). As always, make sure you are getting the best deal – paying hundreds more to earn miles may not make sense:
Note: If you use your Sapphire Preferred card you will earn 2 points per dollar spent – plus you can stack it with a cruise mileage program below for the double dip.
If you pay with an American Express Platinum card, you also get Cruise Privilege perks, which include stateroom credits, upgrades and on-board amenities.
Citi is also offering 2,000 ThankYou points when you book a cruise through them through February 28, 2012.

Aeroplan: Expedia Cruise Ship Centers: 1 mile per $2 spent- better ratios for Expedia elite members. Up to 1,500 mile bonus when you book a cruise by March 31, 2012.

American AAdvantage Cruises: 1 mile per dollar spent, plus up to 12,500 bonus for balcony/suites

SkyMiles Cruises: Up to 10,000 miles per cruise and special bonuses.

United Cruises: Up to 20,000 miles per cruise, book with your United credit card to earn double miles.

US Airways Cruises: Earn miles based on dollars spent:

  • $500 – earn 500 miles
  • $1500 – earn 1,500 miles
  • $3000 – earn 3,000 miles
  • $5000+ – earn 5000+ miles

Bon voyage!

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Gpapadop

    Going on my first cruise in a month. Cruise cost was $2,260 and paid with a total of 226,000 Capital One Venture points. 220,000 of those points were acquired by the 100k match miles promo they ran early last year! I had to break the payments in two different cards. Extremely easy to get the credits for these costs online. I hope they run the promo again soon so I can book another cruise:-)

  • Jim

    Capital One also gives 2 points per dollar, so $50,000 spend gets you 100,000 points.

  • Anonymous

    Agreed. Getting credited (back) for travel related purchases is SO incredibly simple. Hopefully readers aren’t too concerned about this process. It makes the Cap One card really great to use.

  • IntheD

    You can also use Marriott rewards points to book through it’s not the greatest use of points but it can be done.

  • Tina

    You can redeem Discover cash for twice the value toward a cruise. For example, on Carnival, $100 cash back award gets $200 off the room. Any other posted discounts–past guest, on board credits, etc. also apply.

  • Robert

    I would actually like to take my family on a cruise: we’ve done it once and the kids, in particular, liked it a lot. For most people, cruises represent an affordable vacation option. But if you’re a frequent flyer guru, they actually constitute an expensive vacation, because there’s really no way to game it (other than find a cheap cruise offer). Like I can fly to exotic destinations for free, stay in lot of hotels for free (or little money), I can even reserve an Amtrak cabin on a transcon trip for almost nothing, but I can’t take a cruise for free or little money (I don’t consider redeeming CapOne points that I could pretty much use for anything to be “free”). Oh, well. I guess you can’t have everything for free! It does mean we’re probably not going to be cruising anytime soon.

  • Steelsnow

    Good research TPG. One other idea is to look at points offers through the online shopping malls – Orbitz, Priceline, Hotwire etc. Offer points through the Ultimate Rewards mall as well as the cash back sites. If you can find the cruise you want through one of these sites, you should be able to double dip with the 2 points per $ for using the card and the points for using the mall link. You MAY be able to stack that with the cruise line’s program for a triple dip, but YMMV there.

  • mizliz

    Tina can you elaborate on this a bit? I’ve got some Discover cashback and I’ve been wondering how to make the best use of it…this sounds promising.

  • Steve Schwartz

    If you use the AMEX Platinum or Centurion, they often offer either double points or a 25,000 point bonus for a cruise. On the other hand, people without those cards can use a Virtuoso agent for many of the same benefits and then, as you said, charge on the Chase Sapphire for the double points.

  • Steve Schwartz

    But those 100,000 points get you pretty much $1,000 whereas the Chase Sapphire 100,000 gets you Business Class to a lot of places with tickets that average over $3500. But only matters if you value that type of seat – not to sneeze at $1,000!

  • Ike

    Two quick warnings for those who try to buy a cruise through an airline or card portal:

    1. The prices are far higher on these portals than if you go through and get an online cruise agency to book your cruise. Just as a sample, booking a 10-night European cruise for four this summer costs approximately $4500 through CruiseCompete, $5050 through the cruise line, or $6000 through USAirways Cruises.

    2. Remember that there are a LOT of other costs associated with cruises, depending on the cruiser. Premium on-ship restaurants and coffees, alcoholic and carbonated beverages, shore excursions, spa services, tips for the crew, casino losses, laundry, movie rentals, etc. So if you are giving someone else a trip, make sure someone is aware of the additional potential costs.


  • Brian

    I just booked a cruise with my Citi Thank You Premier points over the weekend and was told that the points are worth 1 cent each. Your article says that they are worth 1.3 cents each. Are you sure what you said is correct?

  • Brian

    I did this about a year ago. It’s a decent deal but you’re not gonna be able to pay for an entire cruise doing this because of the limits of the terms and conditions. Here are the terms and conditions if you wanted to do this with Carnival. They also do the same thing with the other cruise lines. I think the terms and conditions are the same for other lines too.

    - Your certificate will only be applied to new reservations made through the Cruise and Vacation Desk at 1-877-835-8738 –
    - Your certificate may be combined with most cruise line offers, such as senior promotions, resident specials, and past passenger rates. Subject to availability, some restrictions may apply, please call for details.
    - You may apply one certificate per room booked.
    - Certificate amount will be applied towards lowest available cruise fare when received by the Cruise and Vacation Desk prior to your departure date.
    - Certificates have NO CASH value.
    - Payment must be made with your Discover Card.

    $80 certificate is valid towards a 6-night or longer cruise in all Stateroom categories.
    $120 certificate is valid towards a 6-night or longer cruise in an Oceanview or Balcony room.
    $160 certificate is valid towards a 6-night or longer cruise in any Balcony room.
    $200 certificate is valid towards a 10-night or longer cruise in all Stateroom categories

  • mikes

    I am a fan of DISC, but this is a worthless redemption. If you are willing to use any travel agent, cruisecompete will easily get you a better deal and then you can use a Sapphire or Cap1 to get double points. (Note: I’m assuming they require you to use DISC to redeem the cert, but that may not be the case.)

  • mikes

    With Cap1, you can redeem points for any value of travel expense. Specifically, you can redeem (at least with Carnival) for “Bon Voyage” gift (to yourself, of course) of for OBC. I’ve redeemed for $25 onboard credits, and probably smaller “gifts”.

    That doesn’t benefit greatly when trying to book an entire cruise, but it does mean that you can partial pay any amount with points by charging the right amount to the Cap1. (You do not have to pay for a cruise as deposit+final payment… you can make any number of payments of any amount along the way. )

    This will also allow you to “empty” the card before the annual fee arrives if you plan to cancel. Just remember to account for the points you’ll accrue when charging the cruise payment.

  • Tina

    mizliz – I see Brian copied the offer details below, which is how we have booked many of our cruises. As for other comments stating that there are better deals out there, I do not agree. The DISC travel desk is not the best, so I just have to do my own research first. I find the best rate out there for the cruise I want, and the DISC travel desk has always been able to match the offer (I have redeemed cash this way 5+ times). I have also used credit vouchers and other discounts along with the DISC cash.

  • zzd

    You can buy a cruise very inexpensively. The all-inclusive nature of cruises make them a price performer that is hard to beat. Why not use your points to get you to Miami, or better yet, a more exotic gateway such as Puerto Rico, and then just pay for your cruise of the Southern Caribbean in cash? Given that they are usually priced to sell out and the cruise ticket itself is basically a loss leader for the cruise line, it is no surprise that it is hard to beat just buying a ticket. Check out for all kinds of insider info on how to save money once on board.

  • James

    Sorry I’m late to the party – Also dont forget about the 100 share stockholder credit for Carnival (Carnival, Costa, Cunard, Holland America, P&O, Princess and Seabourn) and RCCL (Royal Carribbean, Azamara, Celebrity) – credits from $50 to $250 for 14 day or longer – this can really be worth it, especially for frequent cruisers. Benefit outlined here:

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