There are 2 types of cruise line loyalty points — and you need to earn both
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By the time I started cruising, I was already familiar with the hunt for airline and hotel elite status.
Until I figured out you can simply earn status just by carrying the right credit card or taking a status match challenge, I made spreadsheets with my expectations and goals and kept track of every flight and hotel stay. I didn’t miss an opportunity to attain status. It was a continual process where learned the benefits worth pursuing year after year and those I could let go.
With that background in mind, when I started booking cruises, I figured I’d pick up a cobranded credit card to take advantage of a similar benefit to boost my cruising elite status tier. But, that’s not how it works in the cruise industry.
As I investigated different credit cards from the major cruise players, I realized that there are actually two types of cruise loyalty points: those that contribute to elite tier status and those that you can convert into rewards like onboard credit, discounts on cruise fares, upgrades, branded merchandise and even free travel.
To earn elite status, it takes butt-in-cabin sailings. Cruise credit card points, on the other hand, don’t convey status. They instead offer other benefits.
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The beauty of double-dipping cruise line loyalty points
It can be confusing at first but many cruise lines have two types of points. Most of the time when cruisers talk about the points they’re earning, they’re referring to the ones that will give them elite status.
That’s important because — just like with the airlines or hotel chains — status comes with privileges. The higher you climb on the status ladder, you get access to new benefits likes priority embarkation or tender service, a complimentary meal in the specialty restaurants or a drink package, and even a free cruise.
If you’re new to cruising, you’ll want to learn about the cruise line’s loyalty program. You’ll likely be automatically enrolled upon your first cruise.
But, if you want to supercharge your cruise vacation options, you may want to look into carrying the cruise line’s cobranded credit card. These products offer a second type of points that you can accrue to redeem on everything from cabin upgrades to reduced cruise fares to onboard credit to free third or fourth guests in your cabin and more.
It makes sense to pay attention to both kinds of cruise points so you can make the most of every cruise and get as many VIP perks and bonuses as possible.
Let’s talk about the cruise lines’ credit card points programs and then I’ll tell you why you may be better off with a good travel rewards card instead. But let’s dig into the cruise line programs first.
Carnival Cruise Line FunPoints
Carnival’s VIFP Club rewards points for every day you cruise.
But, the line also offers an entirely different type of points: FunPoints. You can earn this type of point by charging purchases to your Carnival World Mastercard from Barclays. The points can then be redeemed for things like a statement credit toward any Carnival purchase, onboard experiences and more. Loyalty Edge is the service provider that handles most redemptions.
You can earn 2x FunPoints for every dollar spent on any Carnival Cruise Line purchase (or money spent on any of the World’s Leading Cruise Lines, which include Costa, Cunard, Holland America, Princess, Seabourn and others) and 1x points on all other purchases.
If you’re a planner, the card also has another very valuable perk: a 10% statement credit on any Carnival shore excursion that you book on Carnival’s website before embarkation.
There’s no annual fee on this card and no foreign transaction fees. The card currently offers 20,000 FunPoints after your first purchase, which is enough to redeem for a $200 statement credit toward your next cruise.
Redemptions start at 5,000 FunPoints for a $50 statement credit toward an eligible Carnival Cruise line purchase in the last 180 days.
The information for the Carnival World 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.
MyCruise points: Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara
Royal Caribbean Group is the parent of Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara. As such, the lines offer some perks across all three lines. For example, there is reciprocity in all three cruise line loyalty programs and each of them participates in the MyCruise points program. Unlike points that get you closer to elite status, MyCruise points can be redeemed for onboard credit, upgrades or even a free cruise.
You can earn MyCruise bonus points by spending on cobranded credit cards. If you’re into premium or luxury cruises, pick the Celebrity Cruises Visa Signature card. It rewards 2x points per dollar for qualifying purchases on Celebrity, Royal Caribbean and Azamara, and 1x points per dollar on all other expenditures. Sign up for the card now to get 10,000 bonus points (worth $100 in onboard credit) after making a qualifying purchase in the first 90 days.
If you’re more of a Royal fan, pick the Royal Caribbean Visa. It offers the same earning scheme and bonus as the Celebrity card. Both cards are from Bank of America and neither carry an annual fee or foreign transaction fees. The Royal Caribbean Visa also offers a $50 discount on Royal Caribbean’s Air2Sea program after making at least $3,500 in card purchases within the first 90 days of account opening.
In a calendar year, you can earn a maximum of 540,000 MyCruise points. Redemptions start at 1,000 points and can be used for cabin upgrades, cruise discounts, companion fares, cruise vacations, onboard credits or amenities, merchandise and charitable donations. Just be aware that points expire five years after the month they were earned so earn these and burn these!
The information for the Celebrity Cruises Visa Signature and Royal Caribbean Visa cards has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Here are a few examples of how you can spend MyCruise points:
- 5,000 MyCruise points = $50 onboard credit or an upgrade on a three- or four-night Royal Caribbean cruise (not to exceed a value of $50)
- 10,000 MyCruise points = $100 onboard credit on any of the three cruise lines
- 25,000 MyCruise points = $250 onboard credit, companion fare on a three- or four-night Royal Caribbean cruise or an upgrade on a four- to eight-night June–August cruise
- 100,000 MyCruise points = $1,000 Celebrity Cruises or Azamara onboard credit or $1,000 off any Celebrity cruise
- 50,000 My Cruise points = $500 onboard credit or a three- or four-night Royal Caribbean cruise (not to exceed a $1,000 value)
- 125,000 MyCruise points = $1,250 onboard credit or a five- to seven-night Royal Caribbean cruise (not to exceed a $2,500 value)
- 240,000 MyCruise points = seven- to eight-night Celebrity Cruises Caribbean cruise (not to exceed a $2,400 value)
- 350,000 My Cruise points = seven-night Azamara Europe cruise (not to exceed a $7,000 value)
For a full list of redemption options, consult this PDF.
Disney Cruise Line credit card points
Disney, of course, has a branded credit card — the Disney Premier Visa Card — but the Disney Rewards Dollars it earns won’t count toward elite status in Disney’s Castaway Cay club. Instead, you can use the points earn statement credits to offset Disney purchases. The card can also get you discounts on things like onboard photo packages, spa treatments or Castaway Cay packages that bundle things like bike and or snorkel rentals on Disney’s private island in the Bahamas.
Right now, new cardholders can earn a $250 statement credit after spending $500 on purchases in the first three months from account opening ($49 annual fee). As far as rewards go, you’ll earn 2% in Disney Rewards Dollars on purchases at gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants and most Disney locations. You’ll get 1% on all other purchases.
You can redeem Disney Rewards Dollars on Disney Cruise Line packages, onboard activities and souvenirs, but also at Disney parks and resorts (including theme park tickets, resort stays, shopping, dining and more).
If makes sense to hold this card if you’re a Disney fanatic because it conveys a 10% discount on things like the Disney Cruise Line Castaway Cay Getaway Package, shopping and dining at Disneyland and Walt Disney World (some restrictions apply), and at the Disney store and shopDisney.com.
Cardholders are also invited to members-only photo opportunities with Disney or Star Wars characters at Disneyland and Disney World.
It’s also worth noting that the card offers an opportunity to purchase an eligible Disney package (such as a Disney Cruise) at 0% APR for up to six months.
Holland America Line credit card points
The Holland America Line Rewards Visa Card, issued by Barclays Bank, lets you earn points that convert to onboard credit. But, those points don’t convey elite status. Right now, new cardholders can earn 5,000 points after their first purchase. In this program, 5,000 points equal a $50 onboard credit.
For every $1 you spend on HAL purchases, you get 2 points. It’s 1 point per $1 on everything else. There is no annual fee or foreign transaction fees.
In addition to onboard credit, you can redeem points for statement credits, gift cards, merchandise and even travel.
When it comes to redeeming points for a statement credit, you can apply your points to any purchase from Carnival, Costa, P&O Australia, P&O Cruises, Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, Aida, Cunard or Seabourn. You can also apply points against an airline purchase. Apply your points to any eligible purchase that’s posted to your account within the prior 180 days.
For gift cards, redemptions start at 3,300 points for a $25 gift card.
Through this card, members get access to Loyalty Edge, a travel agency where you may redeem points for airline tickets, hotel bookings and car rentals. The number of points needed varies per redemption.
The information for the Holland America Line Rewards 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 WorldPoints
In addition to elite-qualifying points, NCL cruisers can chase WorldPoints. You can earn those through the Norwegian Cruise Line World Mastercard from Bank of America. Earn 3 WorldPoints for every $1 spent on Norwegian Cruise Line purchases, 2 points for every $1 spent on eligible airline and hotel purchases and 1 point per $1 for all other purchases. The card doesn’t carry an annual fee and there are no foreign transaction fees.
Redeem WorldPoints for things like stateroom upgrades, last-minute cruises, onboard credits, cash, flights, hotels, car rentals and gift cards.
Right now, you can sign up for this card and get 20,000 bonus points after making at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening.
Here are just a few ways you can use your points:
- 5,000 points = $50 onboard credit
- 10,000 points = $100 onboard credit or $100 off any cruise ($50 per person)
- 20,000 points = up to four-category cabin upgrade on a five-day or longer cruise
- 90,000 points = oceanview stateroom on a three- or four-day Bahamas cruise for two
- 100,000 points = $1,000 onboard credit or $1,000 off any cruise ($500 per person)
- 157,900 points = oceanview stateroom on a seven-day Caribbean or Mexican Riviera cruise for two
- 227,900 points = balcony stateroom on a seven-day Caribbean or Mexican Riviera cruise for two
You can see a full list of WorldPoints rewards options here.
The information for the Norwegian Cruise Line World 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 credit card points
Pacific Princess in Sydney Harbour. (Photo courtesy of Princess Cruises)The points you earn with the Princess Cruises Rewards Visa Card from Barclaycard may not convey elite status but they are still very valuable. Redeem for statement credits, onboard purchases, onboard credit, onboard amenities and discounted airfare. There is no annual fee or foreign transaction fees associated with this card.
It earns 2 points per $1 spent on all Princess purchases, including onboard spending, and 1 point per $1 spent on anything else.
Right now, new cardholders can earn 10,000 bonus points after using the card for the first time. You can then redeem those 10,000 points for a statement credit of up to $100 toward your next cruise purchase.
Redemptions start at 5,000 points for a $50 statement credit.
Like the card offerings from Carnival and Holland America, Princess Cruises Rewards Visa cardholders also have access to Loyalty Edge, which handles many types of redemptions you can choose from.
The information for the Princess Cruises Rewards 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.
But a good travel rewards card may still be your best bet
Depending on your vacation goals, it may or may not make sense to pick up one of the above cruise line credit cards.
At TPG, we believe that the best travel rewards cards offer flexibility. Our favorites offer transferrable points that can be used at a variety of travel partners, confer the ability to book any travel with the points so you can get what you want, when you want it.
For cruisers, consider the Chase Sapphire Reserve® that rewards 3x Ultimate Rewards points per $1 on travel and dining. You can transfer those points to 13 hotel and air partners, which is valuable when you’re positioning for a cruise and need to book flights and pre-/post-cruise hotel stays.
In addition to transferring points, you can use Chase’s travel portal to book your flights at a rate of 1.5 cents per point. You can do the same with many cruises, though you must book those over the phone at 1-855-234-2542. The card also has a nice annual $300 travel credit, airport lounge access and more. But, the annual fee is a hefty $550.
Alternatively, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card has a lower annual fee ($95) but the rewards-earning ratio is a bit different than the Reserve: 2x points per $1 on travel and dining and redemptions in the Chase travel portal are pegged at 1.25 cents per point.
Finally, if you’re simply looking for a reward card to help defray the costs of a cruise regardless of how you want to book, consider the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card.
This card awards a simple 2 points per $1 on most charges (with 5 points per dollar awarded in select categories). You can redeem Capital One miles to offset travel-coded purchases on your statement at a conversion rate of 1 point = 1 cent. In other words, offsetting $1,000 toward a cruise charge would cost 100,000 points.
Or, you can transfer Capital One miles to a variety of airlines, such as Air Canada’s Aeroplan and JetBlue TrueBlue, so you can book award flight directly through them. This card has a $95 annual fee.
Getting a cruise line’s cobranded credit card can make sense in some cases.
Perhaps you’ll get a period of time to pay off the cruise at 0% APR, or maybe you’ll get some extra onboard perks or discounts. But if you aren’t always loyal to a particular line, or you just want more flexibility and a higher rate of return for your rewards, a cruise-specific credit card won’t always be the absolute best choice.
Featured image by Anton Watman/Shutterstock.com
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