Should I book my flight through my cruise line?

Dec 24, 2021

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Choose a cruise deal with airfare included, or book an air-cruise package, and your cruise purchase can really be one-stop shopping. You always get transportation, food and lodging all in one price with a cruise, but book your airfare through your cruise line, and you’ll take care of the majority of your travel plans in one transaction.

But should you book your flights through your cruise line? While doing so can offer various benefits, you will want to consider whether the pros outweigh any cons. The answer will depend on your particular travel situation, and whether you’re contemplating a cruise with flights included in the deal or simply paying for flights through your cruise line.

Learn more about the benefits and drawbacks of cruise and flight packages to determine whether it’s a smart move to book your flights via your cruise line.

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5 reasons why you should book your flight through your cruise line

The airfare can be a good deal

Some high-end cruise lines include flights as a booking perk. Oceania Cruises offers economy airfare with the most inclusive (and expensive) of its three OLife Choice promotion tiers, while Regent Seven Seas Cruises lures travelers with free business-class flights to Europe. It’s hard to find a better deal than free, even if you might not have as much control over your booking as you’d like.

Even cruise lines selling you flights claim to have low rates. Royal Caribbean claims that its airfares are so competitive that it will refund you 110% of the difference in onboard credit if you can find a cheaper flight. It makes sense that cruise lines’ in-house travel agencies can get access to the lowest rates or bulk fares not available to the general public.

You’ll still earn points and miles

Buying a cruise line air package is similar to purchasing flights through a travel agent. You can add your frequent flyer number to the reservation to earn miles and access your elite perks — but watch out for extremely discounted fares that might not qualify. Plus, if you pay with a rewards-earning credit card, you’ll also get points or miles for your purchase.

TPG pro tip: Look for credit cards that earn extra points on travel purchases, so your cruise-and-flight purchase can earn you free travel faster. Among our top-rated credit cards for travel are the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, which gives you 2 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on travel purchases, and the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which offers 3 points per dollar on travel.

(Photo by The Points Guy)

Related: These are the credit cards to use to maximize your next cruise vacation

The cruise line will assist you with travel disruptions

The cruise line’s travel department has the back of all cruisers who purchased flights through them. If your flight is delayed due to weather or a mechanical problem, agents will assist you with rebooking. Should the flight issues lead to you missing your ship, the line will make arrangements to get you to the next port of call.

The same is true if your cruise ends unexpectedly early due to weather, mechanical issues or an illness outbreak. The cruise line’s air department will rebook cruise passengers who booked their flights through the cruise line, but independent travelers will be left to fend for themselves.

You can book now and pay later

Are you a planner and book your cruise a year in advance? With airline change fees, you might not want to pay for airfare months in advance, in case your plans change. Some cruise lines’ air-cruise packages, such as Carnival Cruise Line’s Fly2Fun Air Program and Holland America’s Flight Ease, allow you to pay for your flights when your final cruise payment is due (typically about 90 days prior to sailing) rather than at the time of booking.

(Photo courtesy of Oceania Cruises)

Related: 15 ways that cruising newbies waste money on their first cruise

Cruise lines don’t charge booking fees

Cruise lines will not charge you service or convenience fees to book your flights through their air departments. You only have to pay the airfare and the applicable airline taxes and fees.

5 reasons not to book your flight through your cruise line

You can’t pay with miles

If you’d love to book your flights with credit card points or airline miles, you’ll need to do that through the airline, not the cruise line.

You might also want to watch out if you hope to pay for coach airfare through your cruise line and then upgrade with miles. As cruise lines often negotiate special low rates with the airlines, these fare classes are often ineligible for mileage or elite upgrades.

Cruise lines charge deviation fees for custom itineraries

Some cruise line air bookings come with restrictions around when you can fly. Should you wish to arrive several days early or spend a week in the area after your cruise, perhaps even flying home from a nearby city, you might need to pay the cruise line a deviation fee of a few hundred dollars.

Related: 11 extra charges on cruise ships that will drive you nuts — and what you can do about them

You can’t always pick your airline, schedule or flight routing

Many cruise lines now offer choice and flexibility with airline arrangements, letting you pick your airline, travel time and routing. However, some of the cheaper, more restrictive options leave the booking exclusively to the cruise line’s air department, allowing you no say in your flight route — unless you pay the aforementioned deviation fee or pay more for a flexible booking option. For example, with Viking, you’d need to upgrade from their base Inclusive Air option to the pricier Viking Air Plus fares in order to choose your specific flights.

Free airfare isn’t free

Remember that free airfare perk? It’s not actually free. The cruise lines increase the base cruise fare to cover the extra perks. Decline the airfare, and they will reimburse you with an air credit or charge you a cruise-only rate. If you can find fares cheaper than the credit, you’ll save money by not booking your flights through your cruise line.

This advice especially applies to travelers flying from smaller airports that aren’t among the major ones covered by the free airfare deal. Most cruise line airfare fine print states that passengers flying out of other airports will pay an additional fee. If you can book flights that are cheaper than the fee plus the air credit, you should do that and skip the not-actually-free airfare.

The cruise lines can charge service fees for changes

Cruise lines can add their own fees and surcharges on top of the typical airline charges. Some lines, such as Carnival, charge a flat fee for flight changes, in addition to the fees and fines imposed by airlines. If saving money is the most important consideration, you might want to book independently to avoid any extra surcharges.

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Featured photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean.

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