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Sunday Reader Question: Using Miles and Points for Cruises

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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!

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