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Is a Cruise Credit Card Worth It?

Is a Cruise Credit Card Worth It?

*Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through a credit card issuer partnership.

This article was last updated Jun 07, 2019. Terms and conditions may have changed. For the most accurate information, please consult the issuer website.

Cruises are an increasingly popular way for travel lovers to see the world. In fact, the number of people who choose to take their vacation on the high seas is expected to surpass 30 million in 2019, a 6% increase from 2018.

However, the cost of cruising can be high — especially when you tack on all the on-board expenses. The average cruise ship passenger spends $1,293 on their ticket and another $498 while on the ship, on everything from gambling and alcohol to excursions and spa treatments. At $1,791 a pop, the average family of four is looking at a bill of around $7,000 for one cruise vacation.

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Luckily, there’s one way to bring that cost down: rewards credit cards. Whether it’s a credit card with a specific cruise line or a general travel credit card, being strategic about which credit card(s) you use could be the key to saving big on your next cruise.

What you need to know about cruise line credit cards

When considering what kind of a rewards credit card can best help offset the cost of your next cruise, it’s important to distinguish key differences between cruise-line cards and more general travel rewards cards. Here are some features to pay particular attention to when looking at cruise credit cards.

Sign-up bonus

Many rewards cards come with a “sign-up bonus” that allows you to earn a lump-sum of points in exchange for signing up and making a certain number of purchases. Cruise credit cards tend to offer less generous sign-up bonuses than other rewards credit cards, with most of them offering a value of around $50 to $100, while some of the best general travel credit cards offer sign-up bonuses worth upwards of $500. On the other hand, most cruise credit cards only require you to make a purchase within the first 90 days to earn the sign-up bonus, while general travel credit cards usually require you to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars within the first few months to get that bonus

Ongoing rewards

While the sign-up bonus gives you a good boost, you want to make sure you’ll earn well with the card’s ongoing rewards rate. Cruise credit cards offer bonus points for purchases with the cruise line that’s branded on the credit card, so you’re limited in where you use the card to rack up rewards points. Meanwhile, general travel credit cards tend to offer bonus points on everything from general travel or dining purchases, and many people find they can accrue rewards a lot quicker this way.

Reward redemption and perks

When it comes to redeeming rewards, cruise credit cards are less flexible. The rewards they offer can be redeemed for money off of your next cruise, whereas the best travel credit cards allow you to redeem rewards for a range of different travel purchases, from flights to hotels to cruises. Most cruise credit cards don’t offer a long list of additional perks, although the Carnival® World Mastercard® offers a 10% discount on pre-booked shore excursions.

Foreign transaction fee and annual fee

If you’re looking for a credit card for international travel, then credit cards with no foreign transaction fees are best — foreign transaction fees tend to add a 3% charge to every purchase you make abroad. High annual fees can also eat into your rewards value, although some premium rewards credit cards are more than worth the annual fee if you take advantage of all the perks and benefits. Cruise credit cards may come with fewer perks, but they’re good if you’re looking for no annual fee travel credit cards.

Travel protections

The best travel credit cards come with protections that keep you covered in case of emergency. A valuable one to look for if you plan to do a lot of cruising is trip cancellation/interruption protection. With this benefit, your credit card may reimburse you for any prepaid, non-refundable expenses, such as hotels, tours, or excursions, in the event that your trip is canceled or interrupted for a covered reason.

Covered reasons for the cancellation or interruption of a trip usually include accidental injury or illness, loss of life, severe weather, military orders, jury duty, terrorist acts, uninhabitable accommodations, quarantine, and the financial insolvency of the travel agency or tour company. While some premium travel credit cards do come with this protection, cruise credit cards don’t offer it.

The best cruise credit cards come with sign-up bonuses and perks for loyal cruisers while minimizing foreign transaction and annual fees. In the table below, you’ll find our picks for the top choices and what they offer.

Top cruise line credit cards

 Carnival® World Mastercard®

  • APR: 15.74%, 20.74%, or 25.74% variable
  • Welcome bonus: Earn 20,000 FunPoints® after your first purchase or balance transfer. That’s enough FunPoints® to redeem for a $200 statement credit towards your next cruise.
  • Ongoing rewards: Earn 2X FunPoints on Carnival Cruise Line and with the brands of the World’s Leading Cruise Lines. Earn 1X FunPoints on purchases everywhere else.
  • Foreign transaction fees: 0% of each transaction in U.S. dollars.
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Trip cancellation/interruption: Not offered

The information related to the Carnival® World Mastercard® has been collected by CompareCards and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.

Celebrity Cruises® Visa Signature® Credit Card

  • APR: 17.24% to 25.24% (Variable)
  • Welcome bonus: Get 10,000 MyCruise points after making a transaction within the first 90 days of account opening - enough for a $100 onboard credit
  • Ongoing rewards: Earn 2 MyCruise points for every $1 spent on qualifying purchases with Celebrity Cruises® and our sister brands, Royal Caribbean® and Azamara Club Cruises®. Earn 1 MyCruise point per $1 on all other purchases.
  • Foreign transaction fees: None
  • Annual fee: None
  • Trip cancellation/interruption: Not offered

The information related to the Celebrity Cruises® Visa Signature® Credit Card has been collected by CompareCards and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.

Disney® Premier Visa® Card

  • APR: 17.74% Variable
  • Welcome bonus: Earn a $200 Statement Credit after you spend $500 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening with a new Disney Premier Visa Card.
  • Ongoing rewards: Earn 2% in Disney Rewards Dollars on card purchases at gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants and most Disney locations. Earn 1% on all your other card purchases.
  • Foreign transaction fees: 3% of each transaction in U.S. dollars
  • Annual fee: $49
  • Trip cancellation/interruption: Not offered

The information related to the Disney® Premier Visa® Card has been collected by CompareCards and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.

Holland America Line Rewards Visa® Card

  • APR: 15.74%, 20.74%, or 25.74% variable
  • Welcome bonus: Earn 5,000 points after first purchase enough to redeem for a $50 onboard credit.
  • Ongoing rewards: Earn 2 points per $1 spent on all Holland America purchases, including onboard purchases Earn 1 point for every $1 spent on all other purchases everywhere Visa is accepted.
  • Foreign transaction fees: 0% of each transaction in US dollars
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Trip cancellation/interruption: Not offered

The information related to the Holland America Line Rewards Visa® Card has been collected by CompareCards and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.

Norwegian Cruise Line® World MasterCard®

  • APR: 17.24% to 25.24% (Variable)
  • Welcome bonus: Get 10,000 bonus WorldPoints® reward points after you make a qualifying transaction in the first 90 days of account opening - enough for $100 off your next cruise.
  • Ongoing rewards: Earn 3 WorldPoints® points for every $1 spent on Norwegian purchases. Earn 1 WorldPoints® point per $1 on all other purchases.
  • Foreign transaction fees: None
  • Annual fee: None
  • Trip cancellation/interruption: Not offered

The information related to the Norwegian Cruise Line® World MasterCard® has been collected by CompareCards and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.

Princess Cruises Rewards Visa® Card

  • APR: 16.24%, 21.24% or 26.24% (Variable)
  • Welcome bonus: Earn 10,000 bonus points after you use your card for the first time - that's enough to redeem for a statement credit of up to $100 toward your next cruise purchase
  • Ongoing rewards: Earn 2 points per $1 spent on all Princess purchases, including onboard purchases. Earn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
  • Foreign transaction fees: 0% of each transaction in US dollars
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Trip cancellation/interruption: Not offered

The information related to the Princess Cruises Rewards Visa® Card has been collected by CompareCards and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.

Royal Caribbean® Visa Signature® Credit Card

  • APR: 17.24% to 25.24% (Variable)
  • Welcome bonus: Get 10,000 MyCruise® points after making a transaction within the first 90 days of account opening - enough for a $100 onboard credit.
  • Ongoing rewards: Earn 2 MyCruise points for every $1 spent on qualifying purchases with Royal Caribbean® and our sister brands, Celebrity Cruises® and Azamara Club Cruises®. Earn 1 MyCruise point per $1 on all other purchases.
  • Foreign transaction fees: None
  • Annual fee: None
  • Trip cancellation/interruption: Not offered

The information related to the Royal Caribbean® Visa Signature® Credit Card has been collected by CompareCards and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.

Given that most of these credit cards come with no annual fee and no foreign transaction fee, they can save you money, as long as you choose a cruise line you’ll actually travel with.

Amy Reed of Jackson, Mich., signed up for the Carnival® World Mastercard® with a very specific goal in mind: earn 100,000 FunPoints and book a Carnival cruise for her and her family. “For the first two years we used this card exclusively,” Reed explains. “Every expense we could put on it we did. I also used the shopping portal to get bonus points.”

Her dedication paid off. Reed was able to accumulate 160,000 FunPoints, which she used to book a six-day cruise for her family of four.

The Carnival® World Mastercard® offers 2 points per $1 on Carnival spending and 1 point per $1 on all other spending— and most cruise credit cards rewards program are similar. It’s worth noting that at this rewards rate, you’ll need to put a lot of spending on your credit card, or plan a year or two in advance, to achieve what Reed did.

Dan Miller, owner of Points with a Crew, a blog that helps families pay for travel with credit card rewards, has yet to find a cruise credit card he finds worthwhile. “In addition to locking you in to one specific cruise line, the rewards and sign-up bonuses that they give pale in comparison to those of general travel rewards card,” he said.

Alternative rewards cards to consider to help pay for a cruise

For many cruisers, more general travel rewards cards provide a better value for saving money on cruises than credit cards co-branded with specific cruise lines.

Reed, for example, has mostly stopped using her Carnival® World Mastercard® in favor of “more lucrative” credit cards. She pays for her cruises with the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card that offers 3% back on cruise line spending, covers flights to departure ports using the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express, and pays for pre-departure hotel stays with points from Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card. Reed keeps her Carnival® World Mastercard®, though, because it has no annual fee, and she gets value from the 10% refund on Carnival excursions paid for with the card.

If you want to save money on a cruise, Miller recommends you get, “a credit card that you can use to offset general travel costs like cash.” Credit cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, and Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card offer points that can be used like cash in their travel portals to purchase anything from hotels and flights to tours and cruises.

In exchange for an annual fee, you get sign-up bonuses that are five times higher than those offered by the cruise credit cards mentioned above, more flexible redemption options, and greater travel protections.

  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

  • 3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. 3X points on dining at restaurants & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.

  • $300 Annual Travel Credit, Airport Lounge Access, and Flexible Redemption Options

Highlights
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Named "Best Premium Travel Credit Card" for 2018 by MONEY® Magazine
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • 3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. 3X points on dining at restaurants & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. $0 foreign transaction fees.
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,000+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select
  • Up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®

See additional details for Chase Sapphire Reserve®

More Info

  • 60,000 bonus points

  • 2X points on travel and dining

  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs

Highlights
  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel

See additional details for Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

More Info

  • One-time bonus of 50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $500 in travel

  • 2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day

  • Earn unlimited 10x miles on hotels when you pay with your Venture card at hotels.com/venture

Highlights
  • Enjoy a one-time bonus of 50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $500 in travel
  • Earn 2X miles on every purchase, every day. Plus earn 10X miles on thousands of hotels, through January 2020; learn more at hotels.com/venture
  • Named 'The Best Travel Card' by CNBC, 2018
  • Receive up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®
  • Fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime; no blackout dates. Plus transfer your miles to over 12 leading travel loyalty programs
  • Miles won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how many you can earn
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $0 intro annual fee for the first year; $95 after that

See additional details for Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

More Info

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card Chase Sapphire Reserve®
APR

17.49% - 24.74% (Variable)

17.74% - 24.74% Variable 18.74% - 25.74% Variable
Sign-up bonus One-time bonus of 50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $500 in travel Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
Ongoing rewards 2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases worldwide 3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. 3X points on dining at restaurants & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
Foreign transaction fee None $0 $0
Annual fee $0 intro for first year; $95 after that $95 $450
Trip cancellation/
interruption
None Up to $10,000 per person, $20,000 maximum per trip Up to $10,000 per person, $20,000 maximum per trip
Other perks
  • Flexible award redemption, 10+ transfer partners
  • Up to $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®
  • Flexible award redemption, 12 transfer partners
  • 25% bonus when you redeem your points through their Ultimate Rewards travel portal
  • Flexible award redemption, 12 transfer partners
  • 50% bonus when you redeem your points through their Ultimate Rewards travel portal
  • $300 annual travel credit
  • Complimentary airport lounge access
  • Up to $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®

 

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve® cards offer some of the most generous travel protections available, including trip cancellation/interruption reimbursement of up to $20,000 per trip. Because you’re typically prepaying bills in the thousands of dollars when you book a cruise, this protection can save you big money if you ever have to cancel a trip due to an emergency. Both of these cards also offer extremely generous sign-up bonuses

While it doesn’t offer trip cancellation/interruption insurance, the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card is still valuable, especially if you do a lot of spending on Hotels.com. It’s also the only credit card of the three to waive the annual fee for the first year, so you can take it for a spin risk-free.

All of these cards allow you to redeem points in multiple ways, either by booking travel through their own travel portals or by transferring points to their hotel and airline partners. This means you can redeem for cruises with the cruise line of your choice, which is exactly what Jay Rainey of Goshen, Ind., recently did—and it saved him over $2,000.

How a combination of rewards cards can offset cruise costs

Rainey uses the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card for its flexible points and generous travel protections. He used 171,000 Ultimate Rewards points he’d accumulated with this credit card to book a cruise for his family of four only two weeks in advance, despite very limited last minute availability. “I spent two hours on the phone with Chase trying to find a cruise [with availability],” recounts Rainey. “After some back and forth, we found this Bermuda cruise.” He jumped on the offer.

If that weren’t enough savings, Rainey was able to use another 14,000 Ultimate Rewards points to book a hotel for the night before the ship’s departure. To fly his whole family to the departure point and back home, he used 70,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards miles and a Southwest companion pass that he earned with the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card and the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card. “I couldn’t believe that [we] found such a deal last minute for a family of four,” Rainey said, excited over the fact that he managed to book what was essentially a $5,000 vacation for under $100.

These are the kinds of extreme deals you can get by taking advantage of travel credit cards with more flexible redemption options. By milking these points for all they’re worth, it’s easy to squeeze out enough value to make the card’s annual fee more than worth it.

Bottom line

Cruise credit cards can be an effective way to save you money on your next cruise, as long as you stay loyal to one cruise line. However, if you’re willing to pay an annual fee, more general travel credit cards offer greater value and more flexible rewards.

The most important thing is to avoid going into debt while earning credit card rewards. If you end up paying interest fees, you’ll be losing money rather than saving it.


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September 20, 2018