What Credit Card Is Best For Cruises?

by on September 29, 2013 · 13 comments

in Credit Cards, Cruises, Sunday Reader Questions, Video Blog Post

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TPG reader Michael asks:

“What card is best for cruises? Cruises appear to be excluded from the American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card 3x since cruising isn’t air travel. So, are the Chase Sapphire family of cards the best? What are your suggestions? Cruising carries a hefty price tag, and I’m somewhat surprised no credit card is bidding for it with extra incentives.”

In general, cruise line co-branded credit cards are far from ideal. I actually suspect they’re targeted at travelers who think they’re the best for cruises because they have the cruise line associated with them. However, when you take a closer look, you’ll see they’re not usually a great value proposition.

There are many options for a cruise credit card.

Cruse line co-branded credit cards are far from ideal.

That’s because cruise points tend to be fixed value, which means that you can redeem them for statement credits on your cruise purchases at a rate of 1 cent per point in general. They don’t have miles or points that let you redeem for free cruise awards at a better value. Not only that, but their sign-up bonuses tend to be lower, and some even carry annual fees. Some do have modest category spending bonuses of 2X points per dollar on cruising purchases, but when you take a look at other credit cards like the Barclaycard Arrival, which offers 2X points on all purchases, or the Sapphire Preferred, which offers 2X points on all travel, including cruises, but also airlines, hotels, car rentals, etc., cruise credit cards are really not a great deal.

Barclay Arrival

The Barclaycard Arrival lets you redeem your points at 1 cent apiece.

The Arrival, for instance, will also let you redeem your points at 1 cent apiece for travel expenses (and earn a 10% mileage refund on travel redemptions) that include cruises but also car rentals, hotel stays, airline tickets – all those other expenses that go into taking a cruise, while a cruise credit card will not.

Cruise cards like the Carnival one are generally not worth it.

Cruise cards like the Carnival one are generally not worth it.

To take a specific example, the Carnival Cruise card from Barclaycard. It has a sign-up bonus of just 5,000-10,000 points usually, worth $50-100 towards cruise expenses, earns 2 “FunPoints” Per $1 on Carnival purchases and 1 on everything else, and has no annual fee. But instead you could get the version of the Barclaycard Arrival with no annual fee, and get a bonus of 20,000 Arrival miles when you spend $1,000 in 3 months, worth $220 towards travel expenses not limited to cruises – or one particular cruise line – as well as other travel expenses even on board that you can’t generally use cruise points for, and which earns 2X points on all travel and dining – a much better earning and redeeming prospect all around.

I’d actually recommend going for the Arrival card with the $89 annual fee waived the first year because the spending requirement is the same but the sign-up bonus is double at 40,000 miles worth $440 in travel redemptions and 2X points on all purchases in any category and the one I would get if I were specifically interested in cruises.

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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  • Pattytravels

    The American Express Platinum offers up to $300 OBC, bottle of wine and dinner at one of the speciality restaurants or upgrade on some cruises. We are traveling on Royal Caribbean and received all of these benefits. We did not have to book through their travel company to get the award we just had to use the card to make our down payment.

  • pacheco18

    For us theAmex Platinum bonus has little value when you compare it to double points from the Chase Sapphire card. We cruise 3X a year. Some of the cruises cost as much as 15-20K. I can get at least one free business class international ticket with the extra points I will get. For us, it’s the Sapphire card for all things travel.

  • bryanschmiedeler

    I used to think this was true (and it was) but Royal Caribbean recently released (or rereleased) a credit card that made me think twice. It is good for RC, Celebrity, and Azamara cruise lines, and does offer some decent benefits.

    MJ covered it well:

  • Dee

    I got some promo emails a while back from United MileagePlus about bonus points on cruises. Might be worth looking into.

  • Wandering Sheppard

    I find the best for me is book on United’s portal with a co-branded card. Depending on the category, you can really earn United miles. For the Onboard account, I’d use the Sapphire. This would max return on United however those UR points are now flexible.

    Royal has a card that is giving 10K points which equates to $100 in Onboard Credit (think hotel charges) it’s no fee and Visa Signature. So there’s a churn there for some free drinks, shore excursion, or spa treatment.

    Lastly, if United is not your thing, the other airlines have a portal. I believe most are fixed awards (10,000 per booking, for example). Also, most promos are offered by cruise likes. So if you see one somewhere, it might make sense to call the agent directly. Unlike other travel channels, cruises pay agents commissions for bookings. Price may not be negotiable, but those Onboard credits are nice.

  • Lively

    I agree with WS. United portal is your best value for miles. However, the miles do not post until after the cruise is over.

  • Ken

    Pattytravels, Did you transfer the reservation over to Amex to get the benefits? If not, how did you manage to add those benefits to your booking?

  • Randy

    Pattytravels, same question as Ken. Also, don’t you have to book at least a balcony cabin to get those benefits? Thanks.

  • girlycheckin

    Two years ago, when I was booking my first cruise, MasterCard offered a promo offering a $50 or $100 onboard credit (forget which) if you used MasterCard for your Sign & Sail account (you didn’t need to use it for your deposit or balance, just the S&S). You had to pre-register for the promo during a very short sign-up window and I just had to trust that I’d get the onboard credit when I cruised a few months later, but I did. I haven’t seen them do it again since then but definitely worth keeping an eye out.

  • mbcca2300

    Has anyone else tried what Pattytravels did? Do you have to book through Amex Travel? Does it have to be a balcony?

  • Gabriel Chaparro

    I did get 3X points with American Express Premier rewards on Royal Caribbean on Dec 2012. at least for the on board charges, the actual cruise package I paid it with a foreign credit card.

  • Alan

    I’ve got the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. They do offer cruise booking through their portal with the 25% bonus, but I think the flexibility of the Barclaycard makes it the winner, even if the bonus isn’t as much. Cruise prices can fluctuate so much, and there are so many different freebies depending on who you book with.

    You could, in theory, save more money by price shopping for a cruise and then erasing the charge than you could by being locked into Chase’s redemption program. Plus there are so many things like onboard credits, free drinks, etc., that can be worth real money. It would be easier to snag these with the Barclaycard than with Chase Ultimate Rewards.

  • Johnp

    I book often through AmEx Platinum Travel using my Platinum card with them; only once(after numerous cruises) have I received monetary, credits, wine, upgrade, et cetera(no benefits whatsoever). And when I phoned ExAm they took all the info and thereafter never got back to me nor credited me. I have found the travel agents, while pleasant, do not prove any better and maybe worse than any other travel agent outside of AmEx. And be watchful if you book a “guarantee category cabin” as AmEx told me they are “exempt” from AmEx benefits. Good luck.
    Amex Platinium card member since 1967.

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