Family Travel Series: How To Choose A Cruise Based On Points?

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This is part of the Family Travel Series on Choosing a Cruise by TPG Director of Operations, Danielle. Other posts include: Choosing a Cruise While Maximizing PointsIs the Disney Credit Card Worth It For A Cruise?How to Choose a Cruise Based on PointsUsing Frequent Flyer Miles for Cruise FlightsHow to Get a Passport for Your Child.

After much deliberation, we finally decided on and booked our family cruise! As many of you predicted, a lot of the options we’d seen just two short weeks ago were no longer available (at least for our cabin preference) when we sat down over the weekend to do our final research, so the choice ended up being easier than we thought.

But without further ado (and totally against our preconceived notions about this cruise line) we will be traveling aboard the Carnival Destiny in an Ocean Suite (fridge, minibar, private verandah, VIP check-in, and whirlpool tub) for 5 nights, departing out of Port Miami on May 19. This cruise sails to Grand Cayman Island and Ocho Rios, Jamaica – both places we are curious to visit (Mike’s family vacationed in the Caymans for years, and next year my cousin will be having a destination wedding in Jamaica).

Choosing Cruising

After seeing many veteran cruisers recommend CruiseCritic.com, we checked reviews before making our final decision. Overall, even though the Carnival Destiny does receive a decent CruiseCritic reader satisfaction rating of 76% we know this is an older ship and we aren’t expecting our first cruise experience to rock our world. However, the ship did earn solids ratings (by the site and readers) with their children’s program, family-friendly activities, dining options, courteous staff (especially recommended by readers), value for your money, and cabins (including the tubs in the suites – a must for our little ones), which were the amenities that were personally important to us for this trip. Disney cruise? We will see you next time!

Getting The Most Points For Our Purchase

Our next step was deciding just how to book it in order to earn the most points. Below is a list of all of the earning opportunities we researched for accruing points and miles based on our cruise fare spending. Since offerings are different on each website, we found our cruise first and then looked for the best way to book to provide a side-by-side comparison.

Our total spend was $2943 (including taxes) and I included what the points earned would have been when purchasing the cruise on a Chase Sapphire Preferred (2x points per dollar spent on travel), BA Visa (1.25 Avios per dollar spent), and Amex Premier Rewards Gold (1 point per dollar spent). 

Note: the price for our cruise and cabin was nearly EXACTLY the same on each website, including Expedia.com and CheapCaribbean.com.

United Cruises: 1,500 United MileagePlus miles (and possible additional bonus for booking a suite – does anyone have experience with this? I got all the way to where you enter credit card info and it still wouldn’t confirm if I’d actually received any additional bonuses!) plus any points accrued by using a points-earning credit card of your choice.

Haul: 1,500 UA miles plus 3,678 Avios or  2,943 Amex MR points or 5,886 Chase Ultimate Rewards points, and since Ultimate Rewards is a transfer partner of United, that equals out to 7,386 MileagePlus points if you were to transfer. No onboard credits.

CruiseCompete.com: Best offer received from one of their affiliated agents was a $225 onboard cruise credit plus any points accrued by using a points-earning credit card of your choice.

Haul: $225 credit towards activities on deck plus 3,678 Avios or 2,943 Amex MR points or 5,886 Chase UR points.

Ultimate Rewards Shopping Mall: 2 points per dollar spent via CruiseDirect plus $25 onboard credit plus 2 points per dollar spent on travel using Sapphire Preferred (since you must use a Chase Ultimate Rewards card to book through this portal).

Haul: $25 credit towards activities on deck plus 11,772 Chase UR points.

American Airlines Cruises: 1 AAdvantage mile per dollar spent (note: a $100 onboard credit was offered on Monday, but not at time of booking) plus any points accrued by using a points-earning credit card of your choice.

Haul: 2,943 AA miles plus 3,678 Avios or 2,943 Amex MR points or 5,886 Chase UR points

Amex Membership Rewards Portal: 2 Membership Rewards points per dollar spent if you book the cruise through the MR portal.

Haul: 5,886 Amex MR points.

Important to note: even though we actually do not have an Amex card, for the sake of research we did speak with the Platinum concierge desk to see what “perks” might be offered. Unfortunately Carnival is not a preferred Amex vendor so for this cruise there was nothing additional that being a Platinum cardholder would have garnered, as confirmed by many of the readers. However, I think it is worth mentioning that the cruise counselor was incredibly nice and had personally been on the Carnival Destiny and spoke to its credit.

We went for the big Chase Ultimate Rewards haul of nearly 12,000 points for this particular redemption. Not only do we feel it’s important to diversify our points portfolio, and are fans of the flexibility of transferable points, but we love Avios (as we will elaborate on in the next post) since our travels pretty much exclusively revolve around short domestic hops.

So by booking through CruiseDirect on the Ultimate Rewards website with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card we will earn 11,772 Ultimate Rewards points which can be transferred to 11,772 Avios since British Airways is a 1:1 Ultimate Rewards transfer partner. This is more than triple what we would have earned by putting the spend on our BA Visa at 1.25 points per dollar (3,678 Avios) alone.

Of course, the other options would have yielded some AA and UA miles, but since we don’t have any significant balances in those reward programs we weren’t as drawn to those choices. It also occurred to us that we might use those Ultimate Rewards points towards our airport hotel stay the night before the cruise, for instance at a Priority Club property, but after we did some preliminary pricing we are finding costs so low ($105 for Holiday Inn – $160 for a Crown Plaza) that I’m fairly certain we will just pay out of pocket for that night. Plus, CruiseDirect also gave us a $25 onboard credit to sweeten the deal—cocktails for the adults after the kids are asleep!

The other deal that most tempted us was from CruiseCompete, but we pulled the trigger slightly too early – literally the next morning was when the offer came in from an agent offering us $225 in onboard credits. To us, $200 (subtracting out $25 since CruiseDirect was already throwing that in), might have been too significant to pass by. Bird in the hand, and all! So we could have booked through CruiseCompete on our BA Visa and received $225 and had 3,678 Avios (or 5,886 Chase UR points if we used the Chase Sapphire Preferred), though I’m certain we’ll reap just as much value on short-haul flights from all those extra Avios we will have from transferring Ultimate Rewards points.

Now that you’ve read all the way through our situation – what would you have done (given our lack of status and experience)? Lessons learned? What did we miss?

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