How We Evaluated
I’m a travel writer who has been writing about credit cards for the last six years and studying card benefits for many years longer, so I know this space well. To examine cards for cruise travel, I looked at major credit cards that are co-branded with cruises, as well as cards that offer flexible points that can be used for cruises. I chose the best based on the value of rewards (both points and perks), fees, and general accessibility.
Things To Know About Credit Cards
- Most of these cards come with an annual fee, but some cards offer perks each year that are worth more than the fee total. The Chase Sapphire Reserve Card is probably the best example of this.
- APR rates and credit limits vary based on your individual credit. Credit limits and interest rates for each card are determined based on each cardholder's personal situation, so we did not take that information into account when evaluating these cards. One thing to remember is that if you pay your card off in full every month, you will not be charged interest.
- Banks have the final say on who they accept for a credit card. These recommendations were put together with the assumption that applicants would have average credit or above. That being said, banks decide who they will issue credit cards to using criteria including, but not always limited to, an individual's credit score when evaluating each applicant.
Finding a good credit card with perks exclusively for cruise travelers is a bit of a challenge, mainly because the cost structure for cruises is so different than for flights and hotels. Airlines and hotels can afford to offer upgrades to seats and rooms that would otherwise go unsold to incentivize customers to get their co-branded credit card and remain loyal.
While most cruises aren’t more expensive than premium airline seats, cruise lines have much higher fixed costs than airlines— even if a ship isn’t full . You’re typically a guest of an airline for 16 hours at most, consuming about two meals and a snack and possibly visiting a lounge. Meanwhile, cruise passengers will consume three meals a day for days or even weeks. And that’s only the start of it; from housekeeping to entertainment, cruise lines splash out a lot of the cash passengers pay. This is why their frequent-cruiser loyalty programs typically provide shipboard credits versus free travel: given the higher incremental costs, cruise lines can’t afford to give away as much.
When looking for a credit card that is optimized for cruises, it’s best to look for cards that offer a good signup bonus and have a cruise program. This is particularly valuable if the cruise program offers discounts you wouldn’t otherwise be able to receive like the one offered by the Platinum Card from American Express. Interestingly, we found that the cruise-branded credit cards didn’t offer points or perks that were any better than the general travel-reward cards that ultimately made our cut. In fact, they were a lot worse, especially in terms of the rewards earned. Spending on a cruise card might only earn you 25% of the rewards that cards recommended in the list below would.
Please note: The offers mentioned above were valid at time of publication but are subject to change at any time. Some may no longer be available.
When you sign up for one of these cards, Reviewed may receive an affiliate commission from The Points Guy Affiliate Network.
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Caroline Lupini is a personal finance and travel writer and a valued contributor to the Reviewed.com family of sites.
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