5 Best Credit Cards for Cruises (Hint: They’re Not What You Expect)

Cruises are an increasingly popular way to travel for singles and families of all ages—here’s our top five credit card picks.
Last updated Feb 27, 2020 | By Erin Hurd
Couple on a cruise

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There are cruise people, and there those who aren’t cruise people — yet. Gone are most of the old cliches about cruises being cheesy, stuffy, and only for seniors. Today’s ships can suit any style, any budget, and any age.

And the good news — especially if you want to cruise the high seas in high luxury — is that credit card rewards can help make cruises of any caliber much more affordable. But the best credit cards for cruises aren’t necessarily the ones you’d expect.

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Cruise-line specific cards: Are they your best bet?

There are many cruise line-specific credit cards out there, like the Carnival World Mastercard, the Royal Caribbean Visa Signature and the Norweigan Cruise Line World Mastercard, to name a few.

There’s also a Disney Premier Visa card from Chase. Since Disney cruises are among the most popular (and on the pricier side), the Disney credit card may seem like a natural choice.

But the truth is, most of these cruise-specific credit cards are not your best option for cruises. There’s nothing wrong with the cards, but when compared to other “flexible currency” cards their value pales in comparison.

The Disney card, for example, carries a hefty 3% fee for foreign transactions. The Princess Cruises Rewards Visa Card earns only the equivalent of a $100 ship credit as a bonus to new cardholders. And any co-branded credit card will lock you into that cruise line.

That means if you think you want to take a Disney cruise, but end up finding a fantastic deal on a Carnival Dr. Seuss-themed cruise instead, you’d be out of luck if all you had were Disney Rewards.

The 5 best credit cards for cruises

If you’re looking for the best credit card for cruises, a flexible rewards credit card might be a better choice than a cruise-line specific card. Plain and simple, flexible rewards give you more options, rather than locking you into cruises with one specific cruise company. Our top choices for flexible cards offer heftier bonuses for new cardholders, which can go a lot further towards the cruise of your dreams.

Not only that, but in many categories, you’ll earn more points when you use the card. That means you’ll be able to rack up the points more quickly and get closer to that ‘bon voyage’.

For example, if you used your Disney card to pay for your flights and your cruise, you’d earn 1% back in the form of Disney Reward Dollars. But if you used your Chase Sapphire Reserve card, you’d earn 3X on those purchases, and the first $300 would be erased with your annual travel credit.

The Reserve card would also give you trip protection to help cover your costs if a hurricane blows through the day you were supposed to be cruising the Caribbean, or if your flight is delayed and you miss the ship.

Here’s our list of the best cards for cruises:

Card Welcome bonus Rewards rate Annual fee
Chase Sapphire Reserve Earn 50,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months 10X points on Lyft rides, 3X points on travel (excluding $300 travel credit), 3X points at restaurants, and 1X points per $1 spent on everything else $550
Wells Fargo Propel Card Earn 20,000 points when you spend $1,000 within the first 3 months 3X points on eligible dining, transportation, travel, and streaming service purchases; and 1X points on other purchases $0
Citi Premier Card Earn 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months 3X points on travel, including gas; 2X points on restaurants and entertainment; and 1X points on all other purchases $95
Capital One® Venture Rewards® Credit Card Earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months 2X miles on every purchase, every day $95
American Express Platinum Card Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months 5X points per dollar spent on eligible airfare and hotel purchases, and 1X points per dollar on all other eligible purchases $550

Chase Sapphire Reserve

It’s been more than three years since the Chase Sapphire Reserve burst onto the premium credit card scene. It made a huge splash at the time, but it still reigns supreme as being one of the top earning travel rewards credit cards.

Despite its high annual fee that can be intimidating at first blush, this card consistently ranks as a favorite year after year. For starters, it boasts a generous sign-up bonus. You can earn 50,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months — that’s worth $750 of travel if you book through the Chase portal!

A annual fee of $550 can be hard to swallow. But when you realize that the Sapphire Reserve card includes a $300 annual credit, it lowers the impact of the fee quite a bit immediately. The $300 travel credit is incredibly easy to use — you don’t have to jump through any hoops or cut through any red tape. Just use your card for travel, including flights, hotels, rideshares, subway passes, or even cruises, and the charges will automatically be erased from your statement to the tune of $300 per year.

One of the reasons that the Chase Sapphire Reserve is such a crowd favorite is because Chase Ultimate Rewards points are straightforward and easy to redeem. Just use them to book your travel directly in the Chase portal for a solid value of 1.5 cents each for hotels, airfare, rental cars, cruises, and experiences. Or, you can choose to transfer directly to many large travel partners like Marriott, United, and Southwest.

Though it can’t be done online, you can use your Chase Ultimate Rewards points to book a cruise. Just search the Cruises tab when you’re logged into the Chase portal. A few cruise options will display for you there. But rather than clicking to book online, you’ll have to call their specialized cruises and tours department to book. Even if you don’t see an appealing cruise listed when you search, you should be able to book most any cruise you find on a cruise operator’s website by calling Chase.

Since you’ll be earning plenty of rewards when you use this card — 10X points on Lyft rides, 3X points on travel (excluding $300 travel credit), 3X points at restaurants, and 1X points per $1 spent on everything else — there’s a good chance you’ll be able to rack up points more quickly by using this card as compared to a Disney or Norwegian credit card. If you want a nice welcome bonus and flexible points that are easy to earn and redeem, the Chase Sapphire Reserve deserves a spot in your wallet.

#1 Premium Travel Credit Card

Benefits

  • 50,000 point sign-up bonus
  • 10X points on select streaming services (up to $1,500) from July 1, 2020 to September 30, 2020
  • 5X points with Instacart (up to $3,000), and at gas stations (up to $1,500) from July 1, 2020 to September 30, 2020
  • 3X points on travel and at restaurants
  • $60 annual DoorDash credit in 2020 and 2021
  • Priority Pass airport lounge access

Drawbacks

  • High annual fee
  • Excellent credit required


Wells Fargo Propel American Express

While this card doesn’t come with as hefty a bonus as the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Wells Fargo Propel card is another great card with flexible rewards. With this card, you earn 3X points on eligible dining, transportation, travel, and streaming service purchases; and 1X points on other purchases. And unlike the Reserve, this card has a $0 annual fee to boot.

The Propel card is often overlooked. And that’s a shame, because cardholders can find tremendous value and points-earning potential by keeping this in their wallets.

New cardmembers can earn 20,000 points when you spend $1,000 within the first 3 months. These points are worth a fixed value of one cent each, making the bonus worth $200.

You can redeem Go Far Rewards for statement credits that can be used toward your Propel credit card bill (or even directly into your Wells Fargo checking or savings account). For travel, you can use your rewards to book flights, hotels, or car rentals by logging into your account and visiting the Wells Fargo travel portal.

And of course, you can also use your points for cruises. Just visit the Go Far Rewards travel portal, and click on Cruises. You’ll see options that can be booked using your points, and you can also view a helpful map of destinations. If you don’t find an appealing option, go ahead and book the perfect cruise on another website and redeem your points for statement credit to cover the cost.

This card offers a tremendous way to rack up points quickly, and it won’t cost you a cent to carry in your wallet.

An Amazing Free Card for Travelers

Wells Fargo Propel American Express Card

Wells Fargo Propel American Express Card

Wells Fargo Propel American Express Card

Benefits

  • 3X points on several popular categories
  • 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers
  • No foreign transaction or currency conversion fees
  • Terms apply

Drawbacks

  • American Express cards aren’t as widely accepted as Visa or Mastercard
  • Extra bonus points do not apply to grocery store purchases


Citi Premier Card

Another rewarding flexible point “currency” program is Citi ThankYou Points. ThankYou Points earned from the mid-tier Citi Premier card can add up quickly, For starters, you can earn 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months — that’s equal to $750 in travel. This card also earns an impressive 3X on top categories like travel, including gas station purchases, and 2X on restaurants and entertainment.

Over the past couple of years, the ThankYou Points program has become more valuable with the addition of many new transfer partners. Some of these transfer partners are a bit more obscure, like Turkish Airlines and Qantas, but frequent transfer bonuses can unlock superb value from ThankYou Points.

Similar to the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal, Citi’s ThankYou program has a designated website where you can shop for cruises. You can use your points to book, and you’ll get a value of 1.25 cents per ThankYou point from your Premier card. One important note: you’ll be able to search for cruises on the ThankYou portal, but you’ll need to call to book them.

Capital One Venture Rewards

Another great flexible credit card rewards option with a hefty bonus for new cardholders! With the Capital One Venture card, you can earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months. Plus, you’ll earn 2X miles on every purchase, every day.

It’s just as easy to redeem your Venture miles as it is to earn them. You can use the Purchase Eraser to “erase” travel purchases with statement credits, book new travel directly through Capital One, or cash out miles for gift cards. All of these redemption options give you the ability to lock in a fixed value of one cent per mile.

Using your Venture Rewards for cruises is easy and straightforward. Once you’ve found the cruise that works best for you, you can book it on any website. Just pay with your Venture card, and use your miles to erase some or all of the charges. Or, you could opt to cash out your Venture miles for gift cards for Carnival, Princess, Disney, Royal Carribean cruises, to name a few. Alternatively, you could book your cruise directly through the Capital One travel portal using your miles.

Incredibly Flexible Rewards

Benefits

  • 50,000 bonus mile welcome offer
  • 2X miles on every purchase, every day
  • Up to $100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee credit
  • No foreign transaction fees

Drawbacks

  • Has annual fee
  • Requires excellent credit


American Express Platinum Card

Even though it’s not a great option for redeeming points for cruises, the American Express Platinum Card is a great credit card to look into when you’re thinking about a cruise.

That’s because as a Platinum cardholder, when you book a cruise of at least five nights you’re entitled to the benefits of American Express’ Cruise Privileges Program. This program gives you fantastic benefits like a stateroom credit between $100-$300 redeemable towards dining and spa services onboard, as well as unique amenities like canapés and premium wine.

The Cruise Privileges Program works with 14 major cruise lines, like Norweigan, Royal Caribbean, and Crystal. When you call this special department at American Express and book with cash, you’ll earn 2X points on the price of your cruise. (While you can use your American Express Membership Rewards to pay for your cruise, you won’t get great value for your points.)

The Platinum Card has an annual fee of $550, but comes loaded with benefits. With this card, you will earn 60,000 membership rewards points after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months. The card also comes with $200 in annual airline credits, $200 in Uber credit, and free lounge access. Plus, you can earn 5X points per dollar spent on eligible airfare and hotel purchases, and 1X points per dollar on all other eligible purchases.

Best Luxury Travel Benefits

Benefits

  • 60,000 Membership Rewards point welcome offer
  • 5X points on eligible flights and hotels
  • $15 in free U.S. Uber rides each month ($20 in December)
  • $200 airline fee credit each year
  • Access to Centurion and Priority Pass airport lounges
  • Terms apply

Drawbacks

  • High annual fee
  • Airline fee credit limited to one airline per year


The more cards, the merrier?

When it comes to credit card rewards, it can pay to consider a multiple card strategy to cover all your bases. Instead of putting all your proverbial eggs in one basket, you could enjoy the benefits of several programs and “stack” them to create the perfect cruise.

For example, say you’re certain you want to take a Disney cruise. And on that cruise, you plan on spending a lot of time in the spa. The kids will be entertained in the Kids Oceaneer Club, so why not!?

You could consider opening a Chase Sapphire Reserve card to earn the generous welcome bonus, use the $300 annual travel credit, and protect your trip. Use that card to earn 3X on travel (excluding $300 travel credit) and at restaurants purchases and rack up Ultimate Rewards points quickly. You could use your Ultimate Rewards points to pay for your family’s flights to the cruise port, and the cruise itself.

You could also open a Disney Premier Credit Card and earn a $200 statement credit after you spend $500 in the first 3 months. You could use your Disney card to earn 2% in Disney Rewards Dollars at gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, and most Disney locations; and 1% on all other purchases.

As a Disney cardholder, you would be entitled to a 20% discount on all spa services on port days. You’d also get a 10% discount on various merchandise, photo packages, and Castaway Cay packages at Disney’s private island. And you could pay for these discounted services and merchandise with the Disney Dollars you racked up.

How we chose these cards (methodology)

We chose the flexible cards above as the best credit cards for cruises because of their stellar welcome bonuses, generous earning potential and a wide range of choices.

When you’re planning your perfect cruise, consider pairing one of these flexible travel cards with a co-branded card like Disney, or with a straight cash back credit card. This way you’re leaving your options wide open, and you’re maximizing your rewards.

Bottom line on the best credit cards for cruises

You should always consider your priorities when choosing the best credit card for you. Would you rather get 2X miles on every purchase and not have to think about categories? Do you highly value the perks from the American Express Cruise Privileges Program and the exceptional Platinum Concierge help? Would the 20% off of spa services on a Disney cruise equal huge savings for you?

No matter how you’re looking to cruise, there’s a perfect card — or cards! — for you to help subsidize much of the cost. Happy cruising!