How to book a sailing through United Cruises
Getting frequent flyer miles for a cruise? It might sound weird, but it's a thing. If you're a points and miles aficionado, cruising is another way you can rack up miles. And if you're a cruise nut but haven't yet ventured into the world of points and miles, there's no better time than now to capitalize on one of your favorite ways to travel.
For an upcoming sailing, I reserved a cabin via United Cruises — a booking channel that allowed me to earn MileagePlus points for my voyage while saving a bit of money on my cabin.
Here, I'll explain the ins and outs of booking through United Cruises to earn (or burn) points on your next cruise vacation.
Why I chose United Cruises
I'm new to the points and miles game. Due to 2021's cruise industry restart, I found myself sailing quite a bit — and flying United to get there — which meant I achieved airline status for the first time ever and earned a ton of miles. Now I'm hooked on earning and have been making sure to rake in miles whenever I can. That's where United Cruises comes in.
I chose United Cruises because United is my airline of choice, I have status within the MileagePlus program, and the opportunity to earn extra miles was enticing.
I should also add that I recently became a proud cardholder of The Platinum Card® from American Express, which has a Cruise Privileges Program that allows cardholders to earn points and offers discounts and onboard credit with certain cruise lines. I originally planned to book through Amex, but I discovered the portal didn't have as much inventory as United Cruises' did. Plus, I wouldn't have earned miles, and I would only have been eligible for the full $300 onboard credit offered by Amex if I had booked a suite — something that wasn't in the budget.
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How you'll earn miles
The first step to earning miles through a United Cruises booking is to make sure that you're a MileagePlus member. (If you aren't already enrolled, you can sign up at united.com.)
Before booking your cruise through the United Cruises portal, sign in using the link at the top right of the screen. If you're booking over the phone, your agent should ask for your MileagePlus number, so have it readily available. This will make sure any miles earned are credited to your MileagePlus account.
Even when no promotions are in place, United MileagePlus members will receive miles based on cabin type, with 2 miles per dollar spent awarded for inside and ocean view cabins, and 4 miles per dollar given for balconies and suites. (Miles are awarded on the amount of the base fare only; they won't be accrued for taxes or additional purchases, such as Wi-Fi or drink packages.)
If you're a United MileagePlus Visa cardholder, you can earn up to 2 additional miles per dollar spent on travel purchases — including cruises — depending on the type of card you have. United Cruises also frequently runs offers that allow you to earn additional miles for cruise bookings. I've seen promotions offering as many as 10 miles per dollar spent, up to 60,000 miles, for balcony and suite accommodations booked with a MileagePlus credit card via United Cruises.
Miles will post to your account anywhere from six to eight weeks after sailing. Note that, if you book multiple cabins, you will only earn miles for the one in which you're staying. Miles for the other cabins will be awarded to passengers whose names are attached to those rooms. Miles earned through United Cruises also do not count toward elite status with the airline unless you book using one of United's fee-based credit cards.
Another important caveat is that you'll incur a $25 fee per booking for any reservations made through the United Cruises portal or handled by an agent over the phone — something that wasn't disclosed to me when I called. (I noticed the charge on my bill after the fact, but it is spelled out on the check-out page for online bookings.)
For my balcony cabin booking, which cost $2,146, I'll be earning 4 miles per dollar — a total of 8,584 miles. I also qualified for a special promotion that earned me 10,000 additional miles for booking a balcony room. Based on TPG's valuations at the time of publication, those 18,584 miles are worth about $206. That means I still come out ahead, even after the $25 fee.
Other reasons to book through United Cruises
If you've already got a ton of United miles burning a hole in your pocket, you can redeem them for the purchase of a cruise. If you have enough, you can cover the entire cost with miles, or you can use a combination of miles and cash. However, use caution when redeeming airline miles for a cruise.
"In general, cruises are a better way to earn airline miles than to redeem airline miles," says Katie Genter, a TPG senior writer. "So, it's typically best to redeem airline miles for flights, not cruises. But, you may occasionally get good value when redeeming miles to book an airline vacation package that includes a cruise.
"It's best to compare the cost in miles to a comparable paid rate to calculate your redemption rate. Then, compare that redemption rate to TPG's valuation of the airline miles. If you're getting a significantly lower redemption rate than TPG's valuation, it's typically best to avoid that redemption.
"Of course, there are exceptions. For example, you may have more miles than you can use for flights. Or, you may be short on cash and need to redeem miles to take a well-needed vacation."
A United representative told me that an exchange rate is applied to the dollar price of the cruise to get the mileage price. That means the mileage price for each cabin type can vary across cruise ships and sail dates.
In addition to earning and burning miles, you can take advantage of discounts and perks like reduced or waived deposits, onboard credit and free bottles of wine, offered by some cruise lines. Plus, World Travel Holdings -- the agency that backs United's cruise bookings -- offers a 110% guarantee that you won't find a better deal elsewhere at the time of booking, and you'll have access to 24/7 support if anything goes wrong during your sailing. (That's what the $25-per-booking fee is for.)
How to find and book a cruise through United Cruises
There are two ways to book a cruise via United Cruises. You can call an agent by dialing 800-211-2039, or you can make the booking on your own using the online portal.
After navigating to the United Cruises website, use the "Cruise Search" box to narrow down your choices by where you'd like to go, when, for how long and with which cruise line and ship.
Once the search results appear, browse the listings, noting any deals that look promising. To learn more about a sailing, click the "View Itinerary" button next to it. On the next page, in addition to the itinerary, you'll be able to review information about the ship, including dining and entertainment options.
If you've decided you'd like to go ahead with the booking, scroll down on the page, find the sailing date (noted in the far-left column) that best fits your schedule, and click the "Select" button for that row.
Next, you'll be taken through the site's five-step reservation process.
In this section, you'll indicate how many people are in your party and enter your mailing zip code to see if you qualify for any local promotions. You can indicate if you're a repeat cruiser or if anyone in your party qualifies for a senior citizen discount. The form will also ask if you'd like to sign up for emails or use future cruise credits from your cruise line to pay for all or part of your voyage.
In step two, you'll choose the type of cabin you'd like. On this page, you'll find information about what each room style provides, along with introductory pricing for the least expensive cabin in each category. When you find the room type for you, click the "Select" button under the price. Before choosing, take care to read the fine print, as some cabins have quirks (balconies with obstructed views, for example).
Here, you'll select the exact cabin you want. Use the provided deck plan to see which cabin locations are available, and click the "Select" button next to the room number you've chosen.
In this step, enter the name, birth date, country of residence, gender and contact information for yourself and each member of your travel party. This is also the section where you'll select your dining preferences — pick a fixed dining time or choose flexible dining, where applicable.
On the final tab, you'll be shown a summary of the cruise you're booking, along with a final price, broken down by base fare and port charges, and taxes and fees. You'll be asked if you'd like to purchase travel protection for your sailing. (I advise purchasing a third-party travel insurance plan for your cruise instead.) On the final page, you'll be asked to enter your payment information, billing address and select whether you'd like to pay a deposit or the entire amount due.
After your booking is completed, you'll be taken to a confirmation page, and a receipt will be sent to the email address you entered when making the purchase.
Is it worth it?
The platform is mostly straightforward. It can get confusing when you're trying to find a specific room type or cabin number (such as accessible cabins or ones near the elevators), or if you're trying to avoid a specific type of accommodation or location on the ship (such as rooms near the noisy kids club or directly under the pool deck). I ended up calling the customer service number to have an agent book for me over the phone.
Even if you're not a MileagePlus member, you can still book through United Cruises. You'll receive whichever non-miles-related deals and promotions are available at the time, along with the support of a dedicated cruise agent if you need help at any stage of booking or travel.
However, Summer Hull, TPG's director of content, advises that 2 miles per dollar generally isn't a great return. So, although United Cruises is one way to price sailings, you'll want to check other avenues to make sure you're getting the best value — especially if you're booking an inside or ocean view cabin. Absent a sizeable mileage bonus of some sort, it might not be worth it, and you could be better off booking through a travel agent who doesn't charge a fee and who can snag you some extras like onboard credit.