Budget always plays a role when it comes to choosing the right cruise for your vacation. But did you know that miles and points aren’t just for free flights and hotels? You can use them to book a sailing—and even earn miles on one, too—which can arguably be a better value.
Redeeming miles for flights can be tough because you have to spot award space for the specific route and date you want. What’s more, availability during the busiest travel periods, like holidays or school breaks, can be slim. But if you use your accrued hotel points and airline miles for a cruise, there’s no need to search for award availability—because you’ll be using them as a form of payment instead of cash.
Not sure if cruising is your thing? Why not take a short weekend sailing using miles to test it out? Whether you’re looking to sail near or far, we walk you through the best ways to redeem miles and points—through loyalty programs you probably already have—for a cruise.
American Airlines Cruises
This travel portal allows you to earn one mile with American Airlines for every dollar spent on a cruise vacation—including 26 different lines, from the major ones like Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, and Carnival, to small and luxury-focused brands like Azamara and Crystal. Sailing destinations include Alaska, the Caribbean, Hawaii, and the Mediterranean.
You can also use existing miles to offset the cost of your vacation through AA Vacations. As few as 1,000 miles can be redeemed to cover the non-flight portion of an itinerary, so that means applying it to any hotel stays or rental cars before or after your cruise, for example. The website provides an easy sliding scale so you can choose any combination of miles to redeem and dollars to pay.
For as few as 4,000 miles per night, you can book a cruise vacation through this online travel agency that accepts MileagePlus miles as currency. Prices vary depending upon length, destination, and luxury level, but using miles can be a great way to save some cash. What’s more, since United Cruises is actually a travel agency in its own right, you can score extra benefits like included gratuities, potential cabin upgrades, and onboard credits when booking through this site—even when redeeming points. Finally, if you’re looking to pump up your mileage balance, you can also earn miles for every dollar you spend when booking through United Cruises.
World of Hyatt
A soon-to-launch partnership between World of Hyatt and Lindblad Expeditions gives members the chance to redeem points for a wide range of expedition cruises and adventure travel experiences, like sailing to the Antarctic peninsula or spotting polar bears in the Arctic. If you still choose to pay, members earn five points for every dollar spent on the cruise portion of their trip. Booking through the partnership’s portal also delivers perks like a $250 shipboard credit, which you can use for things like upgraded dining experiences or gift shop purchases. Even better, these cruises count toward earning World of Hyatt status, which awards the most frequent travelers with extra perks like room upgrades and bonus points on future stays.
Through a special partnership with Norwegian Cruise Line, Club Wyndham members can redeem points for numerous cruise itineraries on a Norwegian ship. Even if you don’t have enough points to redeem, you can “rent” them for a fee of $12 per 1,000 points. That means that you can top off your timeshare points account to get to a free cruise faster. A three-night Bahamas cruise can start as low as 248,000 points, offering exceptional value for people who often rack up lots of points with business travel, but prefer to use them to offset the cost of a family vacation.
Credit card programs
Many credit card programs, like American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards, allow you to redeem points for travel at the rate of one cent per point. If you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve cards, your points are worth more and can be redeemed at a greater value (1.25 cents per point for the Preferred card and 1.5 cents per point for the Reserve card). Citi Premier cardholders can redeem their ThankYou points at a rate of 1.25 cents per point. If you use Membership Rewards points from the Platinum Card from American Express, you’ll enjoy bonuses like stateroom credits and welcome bottles of champagne on your trip.
To book cruises with credit card points, you can redeem on the credit card’s website, although Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou will have you call a reservations agent to book your preferred cruise. You can always sign up for a co-branded card, like the Carnival World MasterCard or Celebrity Cruises Visa Signature Card to earn points for direct redemption with the cruise line—but know that these cards offer limited value for people that don’t cruise frequently, because they can only be used for cruises and rarely earn bonus points on other categories the way other cards do.
But as we’ve pointed out, you won’t need a new credit card to help pay for your cruise; tap into the points you’ve already accrued on the one you have. Instead of letting those loyalty program balances languish, use it to take your next vacation without spending a fortune.