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Here at TPG we spend most of our time discussing the ins and outs of credit card rewards, frequent flyer miles and hotel redemptions. But one common question we get from readers is about another highly relevant travel topic: how to maximize earning and redemptions on cruises.

The truth is, the options are pretty limited. Most cruise line co-branded credit cards don’t offer anything approaching a decent value, leaving travelers to get creative with the flexible points currencies already in their arsenal. Today we’ll take a look at the best ways to earn and redeem points for cruises.

Earning Points on Cruises

As mentioned above, co-branded cruise line credit cards are generally not a good option. The Royal Caribbean Visa Signature Card, for example, offers a sign-up bonus equivalent to — wait for it — $100 in onboard credit after making your first purchase. We can do better than that!

Your best bet for earning points on cruise purchases is a card with a broadly defined travel bonus category, or a fixed-value “eraser” card (but more on that later).

Here are the cards with the best travel bonus categories for cruises.

Card Bonus % Return (based on TPG’s latest valuations)
Chase Sapphire Reserve 3x Ultimate Rewards points on travel (and dining) 6.3%
Citi Premier Card 3x ThankYou Points on travel including gas stations 5.1%
Chase Sapphire Preferred 2x Ultimate Rewards Points on travel (and dining) 4.2%
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card** 2x Venture Rewards Points 2%

**Fixed-value rewards cards offer a unique redemption advantage even if their earning isn’t as strong — keep reading to see why.

Separate from the question of which card to use is the question of which website or portal to book your cruises through. American Airlines, Delta and United each offer their own cruise-booking websites (operated by third-party travel agencies) that give you the potential to earn tens of thousands of bonus miles.

If you go to cruises.mileageplus.com, you can see the current offers, which range from 2-7 miles per dollar depending on what type of room you book and whether or not you pay with a United card like the United Explorer Card.

American’s site, aa.cruises.com, has similar offers, allowing you to earn 1 AAdvantage mile per dollar spent or 2 if you pay with an American Airlines AAdvantage credit card.

Delta’s offers, which can be found at skymilescruises.com, are structured slightly differently. As you can see from the chart below, you’ll earn based on the length of the trip (and room type), not based on the amount you spend.

Readers in the TPG lounge correctly pointed out that you won’t earn 2x miles for booking these cruises with a co-branded airline credit card. Instead, your entire bonus from the cruise booking will likely appear as a lump sum on your frequent flyer account, not on your credit card statement.

In addition, each airline cruise portal also offers individual promotions for specific cruise lines and departure dates that can potentially let you earn up to 100,000 miles, or several hundred dollars in onboard credit. These promotions can give you a huge return on your booking in addition to the credit card points you’ll earn, but always make sure you price-compare and check TPG’s monthly valuations to make sure the offer you’re booking — in terms of money and miles — is the best one you can get.

Redeeming Points for Cruises

Options are just as limited on the redemption side, and can be split into two categories: fixed-value eraser credit cards, and paying with points.

Points from a fixed-value card, like the Capital One Venture Rewards Card can be used to “erase” travel purchases at a rate of 1 cent each. Not only will you earn 2x rewards (2%) by paying for the cruise, but you can use your miles to erase some or all of the charge from your billing statement.

The other option involves paying with points through a portal such as Amex Travel or the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. While we generally recommend transferring these points to airline and hotel partners to maximize their value, given the limited high-value options for booking cruises, direct redemptions can make sense here.

You’ll also be able to take advantage of pay-with-points bonuses here, such as the 50% bonus on the Chase Sapphire Reserve that makes your points worth 1.5 cents each, or the similar 25% bonus on the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Ink Business Preferred Credit Card that gives you 1.25 cents per point.

Bottom Line

Flexibility is the key to maximizing the value of your points, but unfortunately there isn’t much wiggle room when booking cruises. You should strongly consider whether this is the best use of your hard-earned points or whether you should pay with cash instead. And if you do pay with cash, make sure to take advantage of bonus categories and bonus offers to potentially earn tens of thousands of miles for your purchase.

The Business Platinum® Card from American Express

Aside from the 75,000 points welcome bonus, Amex recently made huge improvements to the Business Platinum Card, including the fact that you will now earn 50% more points on purchases of $5,000 or more, earn 5x on flights and eligible hotels at Amextravel.com and cardholders will receive a $200 airline fee credit each year.

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More Things to Know
  • Welcome Offer: Earn up to 75,000 Membership Rewards® points.
  • Earn 50,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $10,000 and an extra 25,000 points after you spend an additional $10,000 all on qualifying purchases within your first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • Get 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com.
  • Get 50% more Membership Rewards® points. That's 1.5 points per dollar, on each eligible purchase of $5,000 or more. You can get up to 1 million additional points per year.
  • 35% Airline Bonus: Use Membership Rewards® Pay with Points for all or part of a flight with your selected qualifying airline, and you can get 35% of the points back, up to 500,000 bonus points per calendar year.
  • Enroll to get up to $200 in statement credits annually by getting up to $100 semi-annually for U.S. purchases with Dell. Terms apply.
  • Get one year of Platinum Global Access from WeWork. With this membership, you can access 300+ premium, inspiring workspaces in 75+ cities. To get this exclusive offer, enroll between 2/15/2019 and 12/31/2019.
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