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Should you get a cruise line credit card? Here's a closer look

Aug. 19, 2022
16 min read
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You have a credit card affiliated with your favorite airline, and it gives you free checked bags and extra miles to redeem toward free travel. You have a card associated with your favorite hotel loyalty program, and you earn free nights and elite night credits. If you're also an avid cruiser, does it make sense to get the credit card linked to your favorite cruise line in the hope of earning free cruises and making your way more quickly through the loyalty program tiers?

We'll explore the benefits of applying for a card with your favorite cruise line and compare that to using a more general travel rewards card. You might be surprised at which type of card actually gets you free cruises more quickly.

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Should you get a cruise line credit card?

Perhaps surprisingly, the best credit cards for booking cruises are usually not cobranded cards.

Before you apply for a cruise line's credit card, consider which benefits and perks it offers. Then, compare those to TPG's list of the best travel credit cards. It's likely that those cards — though they don't say "cruise" in the name of the card — will actually serve you better.

Why? Because they earn more valuable rewards, often at higher rates, which you can still use to pay for your future cruises. Plus, travel credit cards tend to offer protections cruise line credit cards don't, such as covering the costs associated with canceled trips or flight delays that could cause you to miss your cruise.

If you're chasing high-level elite status in a cruise line's loyalty program, know that owning and spending with a cruise credit card will not get you to certain tiers more quickly. In fact, the two points-earning programs are entirely separate.

A cruise credit card earns points based on dollars spent that can be redeemed as credits to cover card purchases. A cruise line's loyalty program issues a separate type of point, based on days or cruises sailed, that leads to status levels that offer increasing cruise perks, discounts and freebies. Thus, having a cruise line's credit card can help you earn a free cruise but won't help you earn status with that cruise line.

Related: A beginner’s guide to cruise line loyalty programs

Details on cruise line credit cards

Carnival® World Mastercard®

(Photo by The Points Guy)

Sign-up bonus: Earn 20,000 FunPoints after your first purchase or balance transfer. This is enough for a $200 statement credit toward your next cruise booking. The current offer does not state a timeline for when the purchase or balance transfer must be made in order to qualify for the bonus.

Annual fee: $0.

Earning structure: Earn 2 FunPoints per dollar spent with Carnival Cruise Line and World's Leading Cruise Lines (which includes Princess Cruises, Holland America, Cunard, Seabourn, Aida, Costa and P&O Cruises) and 1 FunPoint per dollar on all other purchases.

Redeeming points: Points are redeemed at 1 cent apiece in value toward Carnival bookings and onboard purchases, with a minimum redemption of 5,000 points. Redemptions can only be made for purchases made within the past 90 days.

Cruise-related perks for cardmembers: Get 10% back as a statement credit when you book a Carnival shore excursion on Carnival.com prior to your cruise and pay with your Carnival credit card.

Other cardmember perks: New cardmembers enjoy a 0% introductory APR for 15 months on balance transfers made within 45 days of account opening (then a variable APR of 17.24%, 23.24%, or 27.24). There are no foreign transaction fees when using your card, and you can enjoy multiple perks offered on all World Mastercard credit cards.

Issuing bank: Barclays.

Public application link: Carnival® World Mastercard®

The information for the Carnival 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.

Celebrity Cruises Visa Signature® card

(Photo by The Points Guy)

Sign-up bonus: Earn 10,000 MyCruise Rewards bonus points after one qualifying transaction on the card within the first 90 days of account opening.

Annual fee: $69 (there is also a no-fee version with fewer benefits but the same welcome offer).

Earning structure: Earn 2 points per dollar on purchases with Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean and earn 1 point per dollar on all other purchases. The earning rate is the same on both versions of this card.

Redeeming points: Use points for 1 cent apiece in value toward future cruises or onboard purchases.

Cruise-related perks for cardmembers: The following perks are only available to those who apply for the Visa Signature version of the card with a $69 annual fee: $50 airfare discount on Flights by Celebrity purchases, offered after account approval, plus a 10% discount on Premium Beverage Packages, 10% discount on Private Journeys shore excursions and 50% off a second guest at any specialty restaurant. Cardholders can also earn a $300 discount on qualifying purchases for future cruises after spending $5,000 in purchases within the first 60 days from account opening.

Other cardmember perks: Cardmembers also enjoy numerous discounts, offers, travel perks and event access with Visa Signature perks. Both versions of the card have no foreign transaction fees.

Issuing bank: Bank of America.

Public application link: Celebrity Cruises Visa Signature® card

The information for the Celebrity Cruises Visa 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.

Disney® Premier Visa® Card

(Photo by The Points Guy)

Sign-up bonus: Earn a $300 statement credit after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.

Annual fee: $49 (there is also a no-fee version with fewer perks and a smaller sign-up bonus).

Earning structure: Earn 5% back as Disney Rewards Dollars on purchases made directly at DisneyPlus.com, Hulu.com or ESPNPlus.com. Earn 2% back on purchases at gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants and most Disney locations. Earn 1% back on all other purchases.

Redeeming points: Disney Rewards Dollars can be redeemed toward Disney theme park tickets, Disney cruises and onboard spending, Disney movies at participating theaters and on purchases at ShopDisney.com. Cardholders also can redeem their rewards for a statement credit against airline tickets purchased with their card. (This option is not available on the no-annual-fee Disney Visa.)

Cruise-related perks for cardmembers: Cardholders enjoy an introductory 0% promotional APR for 6 months (then 15.49% to 24.49%) on Disney vacation packages and onboard discounts when paying with your card, including 10% off Castaway Cay Getaway Packages.

Other cardmember perks: 10% off at select Disney dining venues and on Disney merchandise purchases of $50 or more, plus access to limited-time perks and special offers from Disney.

Issuing bank: Chase.

Public application link: Disney® Premier Visa® Card

The information for the Disney Premier 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.

Holland America Line Rewards Visa® Card

(Photo by The Points Guy)

Sign-up bonus: Earn 5,000 bonus points after your first purchase or balance transfer on the card. The current offer does not state a timeline for when the purchase or balance transfer must be made in order to qualify for the bonus.

Annual fee: $0.

Earning structure: Earn 2 points per dollar spent with Holland America and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.

Redeeming points: Redeem points at 1 cent apiece toward onboard credit, cruises, gift cards or merchandise from Holland America.

Cruise-related perks for cardmembers: None.

Other cardmember perks: Enjoy a 0% introductory APR for the first 15 billing cycles on balance transfers initiated within 45 days of account opening. After the introductory period, the standard APR of 17.24, 23.24 % or 27.24% will apply. Plus, cardmembers have access to concierge services and pay no foreign transaction fees.

Issuing bank: Barclays.

Public application link: Holland America Line Rewards Visa® Card

The information for the Holland America Visa 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.

Norwegian Cruise Line® World Mastercard®

(Photo by The Points Guy)

Sign-up bonus: Get 20,000 bonus points after making at least $1,000 in purchases on the card within the first 90 days of account opening.

Annual fee: $0.

Earning structure: Earn 3 WorldPoints for every dollar spent on Norwegian Cruise Line purchases, 2 points per dollar on eligible airline and hotel purchases and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.

Redeeming points: Redeem points at 1 cent apiece in value toward future cruises, onboard credits, car rentals, hotel stays, cash or gift cards. You can also redeem a fixed amount of points for a room upgrade certificate or free cruise certificate, which can vary in value.

Cruise-related perks for cardmembers: None.

Other cardmember perks: Enjoy World Mastercard benefits with DoorDash and ShopRunner, multiple travel protections and cellphone insurance, as well as no foreign transaction fees.

Issuing bank: Bank of America.

Public application link: Norwegian Cruise Line® World Mastercard®

The information for the Norwegian Mastercard has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Princess Cruises® Rewards Visa® Card

(Photo by The Points Guy)

Sign-up bonus: Earn 10,000 bonus points after your first purchase on the card.

Annual fee: $0.

Earning structure: Earn 2 points per dollar on Princess cruises purchases — including onboard purchases — and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.

Redeeming points: Use your points at a value of 1 cent each toward cruises, onboard credits and discounted airfare.

Cruise-related perks for cardmembers: None.

Other cardmember perks: New cardmembers enjoy a 0% introductory APR for 15 months on balance transfers made within 45 days of account opening (then a variable APR of 17.24%, 23.24%, or 27.24%). Cardmembers have free access to their FICO credit score online, access to concierge services and pay no foreign transaction fees.

Issuing bank: Barclays.

Public application link: Princess Cruises® Rewards Visa® Card

The information for the Princess Cruises 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.

Royal Caribbean Visa Signature® card

(Photo by The Points Guy)

Sign-up bonus: Earn 10,000 bonus MyCruise points after your first qualifying transaction within 90 days of account opening.

Annual fee: $0.

Earning structure: Earn 2 MyCruise points per dollar spent on qualifying Royal Caribbean purchases and 1 point per dollar on everything else.

Redeeming points: Redeem points at 1 cent apiece toward cruise upgrades and discounts, free cruise redemptions, shore excursions or onboard purchases.

Cruise-related perks for cardmembers: You can earn a $50 discount with Royal Caribbean's Air2Sea program after making at least $3,500 in purchases within the first 90 days of account opening (offer not available for students).

Other cardmember perks: Cardmembers have no foreign transaction fees and can enjoy numerous discounts, offers, travel perks and event access with Visa Signature perks.

Issuing bank: Bank of America.

Public application link: Royal Caribbean Visa Signature® card

The information for the Royal Caribbean 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.

Comparing cruise credit cards to general travel credit cards

(Photo courtesy of Princess Cruises)

Now that you've seen the sign-up bonuses, earning rates, redemption options and extra perks for the cruise line cards, let's take a look at how they stack up against general travel rewards cards.

Credit cards from cruise lines tend to have a flat redemption rate of 1 cent per point. Thus, it will require significant spending on your credit card to earn enough points for a free cruise this way.

On the other hand, rewards that you can earn from other travel credit cards have higher values, according to our monthly point valuations. Paying for your cruise with a general travel credit card may earn more points in the long run, along with offering points that are more valuable and allow more options in how you redeem your points. Yes, you can use these points to pay for cruises, but you could also redeem them for other parts of your upcoming vacation.

Moreover, the welcome bonuses from cruise credit cards are not strong. They range from $50 to $300 in value. General travel credit cards offer bonuses that are worth much more than this — sometimes providing more than $1,000 in value. Additionally, cruise credit cards usually don't offer travel protections for any problems you encounter during your trip.

Let's look at an example of how a cruise line cobranded card stacks up against a general travel credit card.

Comparing a common travel rewards card to a cruise line credit card

Compare the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card to the Royal Caribbean Visa Signature® card.

While the Royal Caribbean card has no annual fee, it earns 2 points per dollar only on Royal Caribbean spending and 1 point per dollar on everything else. These points can only be used with Royal Caribbean and are worth just 1 cent apiece.

On the flip side, the Sapphire Preferred has an annual fee of $95. The points it earns, however, are worth 2 cents apiece according to TPG's valuations. Plus, you can earn 2 points per dollar on all travel spending (not just one cruise line) and 5 points per dollar if you purchase travel through Chase's portal. Plus, you'll earn bonus points on additional spending categories, including dining, streaming services and online grocery purchases.

Royal Caribbean's sign-up bonus is easier to earn; you get 10,000 points (worth $100) after your first purchase on the card. You can also earn a flight voucher worth $50 after spending $3,500 on the card within your first 90 days of having the card. While you have to spend $4,000 within three months to earn the Sapphire Preferred's sign-up bonus, it's a much more generous 60,000 points (worth $1,200). That bonus's spending requirement is only $500 more than you need to earn the $50 flight voucher with the Royal Caribbean card — and the 60,000 points could easily earn you multiple free flights (or free hotel nights before and after your cruise).

Additionally, the Sapphire Preferred has far more perks built into what it offers card members than Royal Caribbean's minimal Visa Signature benefits. While both cards offer no foreign transaction fees and include some kind of rental car insurance, the Sapphire Preferred also gives cardholders trip delay reimbursement, trip cancellation insurance and lost/delayed baggage reimbursement. If you paid for at least part of the trip with your Sapphire Preferred, this could come in handy during travel disruptions.

The Sapphire Preferred is also the more flexible card because its points can be redeemed in a variety of ways. Just like with the Royal Caribbean card, you could use the points from your Sapphire Preferred to book a cruise in the Chase travel portal, paying with your points as if they were cash.

Related: How to book a cruise using points and miles

Additionally, you could also use your Chase points to book hotels or rental cars, book activities from tour operators available on the site or transfer your points to Chase's airline and hotel partners to book flights and hotel nights. While the Disney Visa and cruise credit cards issued by Barclays do allow you to redeem points for flights, the spending required to earn enough points for these redemptions will be significant, since points are worth just 1 cent each.

Given the weaker sign-up bonuses, lack of travel protections and significant spending required to earn a free cruise, cruise line credit cards pale in comparison to travel rewards credit cards. If you decide to apply for a credit card of any type, review our guide to application rules from each bank. These will help you understand the application process and your chances of approval.

Related: TPG beginner’s guide: Everything you need to know about points, miles, airlines and credit cards

Bottom line

A cruise credit card will not earn you special status with your cruise line, give you a ton of travel perks or get you free cruises quickly. You'll likely get more bang for your buck with a more general travel card. That's true not only because travel cards earn points on your whole vacation (flights, hotels, cruises, transportation to the cruise port, etc.) and allow you to use those points in a variety of ways, but also because they provide perks such as trip cancellation insurance, trip delay reimbursement and other valuable trip protections.

If you are loyal to a particular cruise line and feel its credit card could add value thanks to discounts on shore excursions or other onboard benefits, combining this with one of our best travel credit cards may be your ideal solution. Spend just enough on the cruise card to access the initial bonuses and then only use it to pay for cruise-specific purchases. Use your general travel card for everything else.

The reality, however, is that most people will be better served by a general travel card. If you ask us if you should get a cruise line credit card, the answer in most cases will be "no."

Planning a cruise? Start with these stories:

Additional reporting by Erica Silverstein.

Featured image by UIG via Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

TPG featured card

Best starter travel card
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

1 - 3X points
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
1XEarn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases

Intro offer

Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points60,000 points
For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

Annual Fee

$95

Recommended Credit

670-850
Excellent, Good
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases
Best starter travel card
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
1XEarn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

    Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points
    60,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $95
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent, Good

Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases