Use these credit cards to maximize your next cruise vacation

Feb 19, 2022

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Editor’s note: This guide has been updated with the latest information. 


There is one common question we get from TPG readers who are cruise enthusiasts: How can I maximize earning and redemptions on cruises?

The truth is, the options are pretty limited. Most cruise line cobranded credit cards don’t offer decent value, leaving it up to travelers to get creative with the flexible-points currencies or fixed-value cards already in their wallets.

Today, we’ll take a look at the best ways to earn and redeem points for cruises, including which credit cards are best for cruises.

(Image courtesy of American Cruise Lines)

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In This Post

Earning points and miles on cruises

As mentioned above, cobranded cruise line credit cards are generally not a good option. For example, the Royal Caribbean® Visa Signature® Card offers a sign-up bonus equivalent to a $100 statement credit after you make at least $1,000 in purchases within 90 days of account opening, plus 10,000 bonus points (worth $100 in onboard credit) after you make a qualifying transaction within 90 days of account opening.

The information for the Royal Caribbean Visa Signature Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

If you’re a TPG reader, you know that you can do much, much better than that.

Best credit cards for booking cruises

Your best bet for earning points on cruise bookings is a credit card with a broadly defined bonus category for travel spending or a fixed-value card that offsets travel spending (more on that later).

That said, here are the cards with some of the best travel bonus categories for cruises:

Card Bonus Percent return (based on TPG’s latest valuations)
Chase Sapphire Reserve 3 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on travel (after the $300 travel credit). 6%.
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card 2 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on travel. 4%.
Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card 2 Capital One miles per dollar on all eligible purchases. 3.7% (or 2% if used for fixed-value redemptions).
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card 2 Capital One miles per dollar on all eligible purchases. 3.7% (or 2% if used for fixed-value redemptions).

All of these cards have two things in common:

  • They earn valuable, transferable rewards that can be put toward your next vacation.
  • They provide a number of travel protections that can help when things go awry.

However, if you’re loyal to a specific airline, it may make sense to use another card to maximize your earnings — especially depending on where you book.

Best websites for booking cruises

Besides the question of which card to use, the next question is which website or portal to use for booking your cruises. Here, you have a number of options.

Airline-specific cruise sites

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 United’s cruise-booking site, for example, you can see the current offers to earn up to 7 miles per dollar, depending on what type of cabin you book and whether you pay with a United card (such as the United Explorer Card).

(Screenshot from United Cruises)

United Premier elites can even enjoy bonus offers on select cruises, such as free dinner, wine or spa credits.

American’s cruise site has similar offers, allowing you to earn at least 1 AAdvantage mile per dollar spent or even more if you pay with an American Airlines AAdvantage credit card like the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®.

(Screenshot from American Airlines Cruises)

Delta’s SkyMiles Cruises site is structured slightly differently. As you can see from the chart below, you’ll earn miles based on the length of the trip (and cabin type), not on the amount you spend. A one- to five-night cruise, for example, will earn up to 1,500 SkyMiles in an interior or oceanview cabin.

(Screenshot from SkyMiles Cruises)

Readers in the TPG Lounge correctly pointed out that you won’t earn 2 miles per dollar for booking these cruises with a cobranded 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.

American Express Cruise Privileges Program

If you have The Platinum Card® from American Express ($695 annual fee; see rates and fees), you can also enjoy special benefits when booking through the American Express Cruise Privileges Program. You’ll receive an onboard credit of up to $300 per room booked, 1 extra Membership Rewards point per dollar spent and additional amenities depending on the cruise line.

Amex cardholders should also watch for Amex Offers that can save additional money on select cruise bookings, though they often require you to book through a specific channel.

(Screenshot from American Express)

How to find the best deal on cruises

Considering how expensive cruises can be, you might also consider forgoing the bonus miles from airline portals (yes, I did just say that) and looking for the largest cash discount or onboard credit possible when booking. Warehouse clubs such as Sam’s Club and Costco frequently offer package deals and even large cash-back or onboard credit incentives for members.

Another great trick is to book your next cruise even as you’re taking one, as many cruise lines offer reduced rates and enhanced offers to current passengers to entice you to return. In many cases, you don’t even need to know exactly what sailing you want — you can simply put down a placeholder that’s valid for a set period of time.

And don’t worry if you usually work with a travel agent. Any cruise booking made onboard can be “transferred” to your preferred agent, so you won’t miss out on any added perks the agency usually offers in exchange for your business.

CruiseCompete can be an easy resource for getting competitive quotes (including onboard credits) from a variety of travel companies all in one location. You can then make an informed decision about the best course of action for booking, factoring in points, price and perks.

Redeeming points for cruises

Booking a cruise using points and miles can also be limited, but it’s generally split into two categories: fixed-value eraser credit cards and cards that allow you to pay with points.

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

Miles from a fixed-value card, such as the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card, can be used on travel purchases at a rate of 1 cent each. Not only will you earn 2 miles per dollar by paying for the cruise, but you can also use your miles to erase some or all of the charge from your billing statement. Just be aware that you may be sacrificing some value on your rewards, as there are many other ways to maximize your Capital One miles.

Alternatively, cruisers can pay with points through the Citi ThankYou Travel or Chase Ultimate Rewards portals. Although we generally recommend transferring these points to airline and hotel partners to maximize their value, direct redemptions can make sense here, given the limited options for booking cruises with your rewards.

Note that with Chase, you need to call to redeem points for cruises (855-331-0773), and Disney Cruise Line is not an eligible redemption through Ultimate Rewards at this time. While you can view some cruise information on Citi’s travel site, you also have to call to book using your points (800-842-6596).

Disney Dream (Summer Hull / The Points Guy)
Disney Dream. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

You’ll also be able to take advantage of pay-with-points travel bonuses here, such as the 50% bonus on the Chase Sapphire Reserve that makes your points worth 1.5 cents each toward travel, 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.

Amex Membership Rewards points can be redeemed through Amex Travel portal for cruises, but at a paltry rate of 0.7 cents per point.

United’s cruise portal also gives you the option to redeem your MileagePlus miles for a cruise instead of paying cash, though the rates are less than desirable. This may be viable if you’re sitting on a massive stash of United miles and feeling burned by the carrier’s string of recent devaluations, but otherwise, I’d recommend against this route.

Take, for example, a four-night Bahamas cruise with Carnival Cruise Line with prices starting at just $114 per person for the sailing.

If you were to redeem your miles, you’d need to pay 16,286 miles for the same base cabin, which works out to a redemption rate of 0.7 cents per mile, well below TPG’s valuation of United miles. Unlike some other programs, you can’t even score a higher redemption value by booking a fancier cabin; you’re locked into this low value for all cabins across all cruise lines.

Factor in trip protections

You can (and perhaps should) purchase insurance for your cruise, but using the right credit card for your cruise can at least get you some built-in protections. Certain premium credit cards offer trip protections that apply to cruises, since the cruise line is your “common carrier.” These protections work basically the same as they would with airlines.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve, for example, offers trip delay reimbursement, trip cancellation insurance and even emergency medical coverage and medical evacuation coverage if you charge the cruise to that card (or use points from the card to book the cruise).

Related: When to buy travel insurance vs. when to rely on credit card protections

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

The Sapphire Reserve card would provide you up to $10,000 per covered trip (with a maximum limit of $20,000 per occurrence) against incidents such as sickness or severe weather.

If you think you’re going to rely on a credit card like the Sapphire Reserve for travel insurance, just carefully recheck your card’s benefits and limits against the coverage offered through independent travel insurance providers. And remember, you must pay for at least part — and sometimes all — of the trip with that credit card to take advantage of its protections.

In terms of medical evacuation coverage, the Amex Platinum is the top dog. If you’re on a trip of fewer than 90 days and are traveling at least 100 miles from home, this card has your back if you need medical evacuation (you don’t even have to use the card to pay for the trip). Note that getting COVID-19 will likely not qualify you for coverage. A Premium Global Assist (PGA) administrator must coordinate everything for you to avoid any cost, but there is no coverage maximum.

The benefit will also pay economy airfare for a minor under 16 to be returned home if left unattended; pay for an escort to accompany that minor if required to get them home; and get a family member to the place of treatment if hospitalization of more than 10 consecutive days is expected.

Related: A guide to travel insurance for cruises

Bottom line

Choosing the best credit card to pay for your cruise is a multilayered process. Are you looking to maximize the dollars spent, access card benefits or use points? Do you need built-in card protections? Regardless of those factors, the best card to use is typically not a cobranded cruise-line credit card but a solid all-around travel rewards credit card.

Additional reporting by Stella Shon and Chris Dong. 

Featured photo by Norwegian Cruise Line.

For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum card, click here.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs up to two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide including takeout and delivery in the U.S., and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $80 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck® after you apply through any Authorized Enrollment Provider. If approved for Global Entry, at no additional charge, you will receive access to TSA PreCheck.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
17.24%-26.24% Variable
Annual Fee
$250
Balance Transfer Fee
N/A
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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.