Bigger is better, if you ask three of the leading cruise lines. Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, and Carnival have all added massive ships to their fleets in the last few weeks. These ships boast features such as ice skating rinks, electric go-cart racing, water slides, rock climbing walls, robot bar tenders, and open air, tree lined central parks. Customers can also expect enhanced dining experiences, like barbecue smokehouses complete with craft beer.
These upgraded ships don't just come with enhanced amenities. In order to help pay for the expenses of these new experiences, these ships can hold up-to 4,000 guests. The cheapest price we could find for Norwegian's behemoth of a ship was $699 for a 7-night Caribbean cruise out of Miami, which worked out to be $1,680 for a party of two after taxes. That might sound like a lot, but remember that you're paying for lodging, food, and with NCL you can choose a complimentary booze package. Always use a shopping portal to get cash back or extra points on your cruise purchase. You'll need to poke around to find the best deal. Once you figure that part out, you'll need to know which card to charge for your cruise purchase.
First things first, all of the major lines have their own cruise credit cards. They all also kind of suck. With most of the cards you can expect to pay a $0 - $75 annual fee and earn 2 points per dollar on cruise purchases with that designated line and 1 point per dollar on everything else. You can also expect a sign-up bonus of around 10,000 points, which you'll earn after making your first purchase. The only cruise card we can recommend with a straight face is the Disney card and that is because Disney people are crazy (in the nicest way possible).
So what is a cruiser to do? Here are three cards that will give you more everyday value for your spend and help you make your next cruise a bit more affordable. For this exercise, we'll assume that you'll spend $12,000 a year on your credit card. $2,000 of that will be cruise expenses. This means using a vanilla cruise card you would earn 14,000 points plus your 10,000 welcome points, for a total value of $240.
For the Cash Back Lover
Blispay is going to be your best bet here. You'll earn 2% cash back on all of your purchases, but you won't earn a sign-up bonus. That means your $12,000 in spend will be worth $240. Blispay has no annual fee. The nicest perk you'll have here is that purchases over $199 offer 0% interest for 6 months automatically. If you're going to be paying off your cruise over a 6 month window, this can save you an additional $90 in interest.
For the Travel Generalist
The Bank of America Premium Rewards card has some tricks up its sleeve. For a $95 fee you'll earn 2 points per dollar on travel and dining purchases, and 1.5 points per dollar on everything else. You'll also be eligible to earn 50,000 points after you make $3,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening. We picked this card because you won't pay a foreign transaction fee when you swipe your card overseas, but also because it comes with a $100 annual credit for airline incidentals, like baggage fees, in-flight wifi, food purchases, etc. This effectively wipes out the annual fee, plus you're going to have to get to that cruise terminal somehow. The card also has a $100 credit if you sign up for TSA pre-check and pay with your card. Pre-check has saved us from being late for flights so many times. If $6,000 of your annual purchases are on travel and dining, then this card will net you 21,000 points a year, worth $210 in statement credits for travel, but you'll also have an extra $500 in tow from the sign-up bonus, bringing your grand total in the first year up to $910 if you're able to use the pre-check and incidental benefit.
For the Luxury Traveler
This one hands down goes to the Chase Sapphire Reserve. Commonly referred to as the CSR, this card has it all. Don't let the $450 annual fee scare you, and here's why. You'll earn 3x points on travel and dining at restaurants, with one point per dollar on everything else. You'll earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months of account opening. Points can be redeemed for 1.5 cents each when you book travel through Chase. This means you're earning 4.5 cents per dollar when you book travel or dine out with the CSR. This card also comes with a $300 annual travel credit that can be used for almost any travel (including your cruise), has the $100 pre-check benefit, and charges no foreign transaction fee. It also allows you access to over 1,000 airport lounges while you wait for your flight. #classy
If you don't want to redeem your points for a flat redemption value through the chase portal, you can also transfer them to over 10 of Chase's preferred transfer partners like United, Hyatt, or Southwest.
The math on this one gets tricky, so it deserves its own paragraph. Using our spend formula you'll rack up 24,000 points worth $360 each year, plus your new customer bonus which is worth $750 when redeemed for travel. When you add in your $300 travel credit, you have $1,410 for your cruise. Subtract the $450 annual fee and you still come out $960 your first year. If your spending habits remain the same, you'll earn $660 in travel credits/points each year, which nets out to $210. This is similar to the cruise cards, but with the added benefit of being able to use your points how you want to, and having that swanky airline lounge access.
A Penny for Our Thoughts
At the end of the day, your annual point value that you earn through natural spend is going to be about the same with any of these cards. The real value comes with your new customer bonuses, and the additional perks that the card offers like travel statement credits. Don't let credit card branding drive you to one product over another, and don't be turned off by annual fees. NCL won't give you the best deal just because you use their credit card (at least until they overhaul their credit card program). Most importantly, be sure to enjoy that frosty drink in a monkey cup as you ride off into the sunset on the Lido deck.