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Cruise payment plans: All you need to know about paying for a cruise

Jan. 25, 2023
14 min read
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You're going on a cruise! You've spent time researching and narrowing down your destination, ship and sailing dates, and now it's time to book. But what can you expect in terms of cruise payments? What's the best way to pay for a cruise? Will you have to cough up the full fare upfront, or can you put a cruise on layaway?

Here, I'll answer those questions by discussing cruise payment schedules, different methods of paying for a cruise and the pros and cons of paying in full versus putting down a deposit and paying the rest later.

Note: Payment methods and schedules vary by cruise line and booking outlet. Not all options are offered by all lines or via all booking methods. Check with your cruise line or booking outlet for availability before making a reservation.

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How to pay for a cruise

Booking a cruise online with a credit card. SRDJANNS74/GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCK PHOTO

You can pay for your voyage in multiple ways. Most passengers put the charges on a credit card, which is often the quickest and most convenient method. Additionally, you can use gift cards (either cruise line-specific or those from major credit card issuers that aren't tied to a specific retailer), future cruise credits from your cruise line or even cash if you book in person through a travel agent.

Other options include payment by electronic check, PayPal or Apple Pay (depending on how you book) or points and miles on a third-party platform. You can also redeem free cruise certificates from cruise lines that award them for things like casino play, reaching a high loyalty status tier, winning high-stakes bingo or even cruises gone wrong.

You can choose to pay in full at the time of booking, which could earn you additional perks or savings, or make an initial cruise deposit with subsequent payments until anywhere from two to three months before your sailing date.

Specific financing and payment plan options vary by cruise line. For example, Carnival Cruise Line uses EasyPay to allow interest-free autopayments to be charged to you at regular intervals in order to pay off your cruise before you set sail. Princess Cruises' and Holland America's EZpay program offers a similar interest-free setup.

Carnival also offers Uplift as an option. Although some passengers are approved for no down payment and/or 0% interest, interest rates will apply for other cruisers, and under the program, your voyage doesn't have to be completely paid off before your embarkation date. Royal Caribbean allows passengers to finance their cruises using Affirm, with both interest-free and simple-interest options available. Some lines also allow payments through the popular payment app Klarna, which has different payment options, both with and without interest. (Check with your cruise line for details on its specific payment plans.)

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Here are the pros and cons of paying over two different time periods.

Paying all at once

If you have the funds to pay for the entire amount of your sailing right away, feel free. It means you won't have to remember to make additional payments. Plus, as an incentive, some cruise lines extend additional perks or discounts to entice travelers to lock in their plans at the time of booking.

For example, wave season deals often include incentives to pay in full. At the time of publication, Emerald Cruises was discounting cruise fares by thousands of dollars for anyone paying in full at the time of booking. Scenic was allowing passengers to choose from additional savings, free airfare or free pre- or post-cruise land tours for paying in full right away. Silversea was slashing fares for pay-upfront voyages by 10%-20%.

The drawback, however, is that you part with a lot of money upfront if you decide to pay immediately. For many cruisers who book a year or more ahead of time, that money could be more lucrative sitting in a bank account that earns interest instead of providing an interest-free loan to a cruise line.

Paying incrementally, with an initial minimum deposit

Travel agent and young couple purchasing a cruise. DIMA_SIDELNIKOV/GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCK PHOTO

Alternatively, you can pay a deposit — a portion of the cruise fare for each person on your reservation — to lock in your cabin. Then, in the months leading up to your sailing, you'll make additional payments, according to your cruise line's payment schedule, until you no longer owe anything. If you don't pay off the remaining balance by the final payment date — usually two to three months before embarkation day — the cruise line will cancel your reservation, and you won't be allowed to sail.

Incremental payments are a better choice if you're unsure whether you can or want to sail but want to lock in an attractive fare or snag a cabin on a new ship or unusual itinerary while you decide. If you pay off your cruise early, you can get your money back (except for certain discounted fares and nonrefundable deposits) should you cancel before the final payment deadline. However, it can be a hassle to go through the refund process and wait for the cruise line to return your funds.

Another obvious draw of this method is that it costs less upfront. You can pay over time instead of draining your savings or putting the full amount on a credit card and then incurring fees if you can't pay off your card in full.

Generally, there is no interest or penalty for paying over time if you go the deposit route, so in most cases you won't be charged more if you opt for a payment plan. Plus, you can always pay the balance off early or in larger amounts than are required by your cruise line.

One drawback is that you'll have to remember to make additional payments on time to avoid cancellation of your reservation. Plus, you might not be able to take advantage of a cruise line's cheapest fares if you're not willing to pay in full at the time of booking.

Note that if you book a last-minute cruise after the final payment date (typically, two or three months prior to sailing), you must pay in full; there is no deposit option.

How much is a cruise deposit?

Paying for a cruise with a credit card on a mobile phone. PRYKHODOV/GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO

The amount of the deposit required varies by cruise line, but typically you can expect to shell out a couple hundred dollars per person to reserve a cabin with most major cruise lines. It's based on several factors, including the length of the sailing, the overall cost of the voyage, the type of accommodations booked and whether or not the line is running a promotion. Sometimes, as a booking incentive, lines will waive deposits completely or heavily discount them.

At the time of publication, as part of their wave season promotions, Carnival Cruise Line and Costa Cruises were touting deposits as low as $50 per person, while Princess Cruises was offering them for $100 per person. Disney Cruise Line also slashed its required deposits by half — a big deal for a line that rarely offers discounts. Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Seabourn Cruise Line and UnCruise Adventures also were offering deposit reductions.

The next section outlines the specific deposit amounts for the most popular cruise lines.

Cruise payment schedules

Below are the payment schedules and deposit amounts for each of the "big eight" cruise lines.

Note: Deposits are per person and refundable prior to the cruise line's final payment deadline, unless otherwise indicated. For cruises booked after the final payment deadline has passed, payment is required in full at the time of booking.

Planning a cruise vacation. HORSTGERLACH/GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCK PHOTO

Carnival cruise payment schedule

For most sailings, Carnival requires a deposit of $100 per person for two- to three-day sailings, $150 for four- and five-day sailings and $250 for six- to nine-day sailings. Longer cruises and voyages to Alaska, Europe and the Panama Canal, as well as ocean crossings, require a deposit of $400 per person.

Deposits for Carnival bookings are generally nonrefundable unless cruisers specifically purchase fully refundable fares.

Final payment is required either 76 or 91 days from the sailing date, depending on the destination, cabin type and length of cruise booked.

See Carnival's website for more information.

Celebrity cruise payment schedule

For Sky Suite cabins and lower, Celebrity charges $100 per person for cruises up to five nights, $250 for six to eight nights and $450 for voyages of nine nights or longer. Those prices double, per person, for Celebrity Suites and above.

For Galapagos sailings, deposits for non-suites at the time of booking are $450 per person; suites are $900 per person.

Deposits for Celebrity bookings are generally nonrefundable at any time unless cruisers specifically purchase fully refundable fares.

For cruises of four nights or fewer, final payment must be made at least 75 days prior to sailing. For voyages of five or more nights, final payment is due at least 90 days in advance.

Galapagos sailings must be settled further in advance, with final payment due anywhere from 120 to 180 days in advance, depending on the ship.

More information can be found on Vacations To Go's website.

Disney cruise payment schedule

Disney Cruise Line's fine print states that deposits are determined at the time of booking, so they vary.

For non-suite and non-concierge voyages of five nights or fewer, the line requires final payment 90 days or more prior to embarkation day; for sailings of six nights or longer, payment must be made 120 days or more in advance. For suites and concierge-level accommodations, final payment is due 91 days or more prior to sailing.

You can read more in the line's terms and conditions.

Holland America cruise payment schedule

Holland America's deposit amounts vary widely, requiring passengers to pay anywhere from $350 to $2,900 per person, depending on the sailing.

For Alaska, Bermuda, Caribbean, Canada/New England, Europe, Mexican Riviera, Panama Canal and long Hawaii voyages, final payment must be made no fewer than 75 days prior to sailing. For all other cruises — including holiday voyages, voyages longer than 30 days and segments of voyages longer than 30 days — full payment must be received at least 90 days before embarkation.

Find more specifics on Vacations To Go's website.

Travel agent giving cruise tickets to a couple planning a vacation. DRAGANA991/GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCK PHOTO

MSC cruise payment schedule

Deposits for MSC Cruises are $99 per adult for voyages of four nights or fewer, $199 for five to 14 nights, $300 for 15 nights or longer and an amount equal to 15% of the overall price for world cruises. Additional deposits are not required for children sailing as the third and fourth passengers in a cabin.

For cruises of four nights or fewer, bookings must be paid in full at least 75 days before the sailing date. Those of five to 14 nights must be paid off 90 days or more ahead of time, and bills for any voyages 15 days or longer must be settled at least 110 days prior to departure. For world cruises, it's 120 days.

You can read more on MSC's website.

Norwegian cruise payment schedule

Deposits for Norwegian Cruise Line bookings vary greatly, ranging from $100 to $5,000 per person, based on cabin or suite type booked and the length of the sailing.

Norwegian's deposits are fully refundable, but all voyages, regardless of length or cabin type, must be paid in full at least 120 days in advance. That's earlier than what other cruise lines require for basic cabin types and standard-length sailings.

To learn more, see the chart on NCL's website.

Princess cruise payment schedule

When you book a Princess cruise, you'll owe a deposit of $100 per person ($200 for suites) for sailings of five days or fewer, $200 ($500 for suites) for voyages of six to nine days or $400 ($800 for suites) for cruises of 10 days or longer. For world cruises, you'll have to pony up 30% of the overall cost of the sailing.

For voyages of five days or fewer, you'll have to pay in full at least 75 days before your vacation. Cruises of six to 24 days require full payment 90 days or more ahead of time, and for world cruises, your bill is due 120 days or more before you set sail.

Check out the breakdown on Princess' website.

Royal Caribbean cruise payment schedule

Deposit amounts vary by sailing and the number of people in each cabin for Royal Caribbean bookings. Generally, passengers can expect to front $200 per stateroom (rather than per person) for sailings of five nights or fewer, $500 per cabin for six- to nine-night voyages and $900 per room for cruises of 10 nights or longer.

Deposits for Royal Caribbean bookings are generally nonrefundable at any time unless cruisers specifically purchase fully refundable fares.

For sailings of four nights or fewer, the final payment is due 75 days or more prior to the embarkation date. For five-night voyages and longer, the cruise line must receive all money no fewer than 120 days from sailing. The deadline for world cruises is at least 180 days prior to departure.

Read more on Royal Caribbean's website in the line's FAQ section.

Bottom line

Vacation preparation items. INSPIRATIONGP/GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCK PHOTO

Travelers have many options when it comes to paying for a cruise. You can pay in full at the time of booking or choose cruise payment plans that allow you to make a deposit for each person in your party and then pay off the balance over time.

Additionally, payment methods may include credit cards, third-party payment systems, gift cards, cruise certificates and cash.

Ultimately, the best way to make cruise payments is whichever one works best for you and your specific circumstances. What matters most is that you pay the cruise line in full by its designated final payment date, so your reservation is confirmed and you can set sail on departure day.

Have more cruise questions? TPG has answers:

Featured image by ANTONIO_DIAZ/GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO
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.

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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

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There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

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  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
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  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
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  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees