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What Credit Card Is Best For Cruises?

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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.

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 within first 90 days, worth 220 towards travel statement credit. This also applies to 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.

Barclaycard Arrival™ World MasterCard®

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  • Earn 20,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days — that's enough to redeem for a $200 travel statement credit
  • Earn 2X miles on travel & dining and 1X miles on all other purchases
  • Get 5% miles back to use toward your next redemption, every time you redeem
  • Chip card technology, so paying for your purchases is more secure at chip-card terminals in the U.S. and abroad
  • No foreign transaction fees on anything you buy while in another country
  • 0% introductory APR for 12 months for each Balance Transfer made within 45 days of account opening. After that, a variable APR currently 16.24%, 20.24% or 24.24%, depending on your creditworthiness.
  • Complimentary online FICO® Credit Score access for Barclaycard Arrival cardmembers
Intro APR Regular APR Annual Fee Balance Transfer Credit Rating
N/A 16.24%, 20.24% or 24.24%* Variable $0 See Terms Excellent/Good