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Credit Cards

The best credit cards for booking cruises: How to save big on your next sailing

The best credit cards for cruising aren't what you may think.

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Wave season — the period between January and March when cruise lines offer some of their best deals — is here.

If the idea of dipping your toes into warm waters and eating your heart out at a buffet while en route to the next port of call has you itching to book a sailing, you may be wondering what credit card you should pay with.

With the right credit card for cruising, you can earn bonus rewards for your spending and then use those rewards to cover future sailings and even the travel to and from your cruise. A single card's welcome bonus could potentially cover the cost of a cruise and grant additional perks, such as travel insurance or onboard credits.

Although a number of major cruise lines offer cobranded credit cards, using a more general travel rewards card will usually offer greater value. Below, CNBC Select breaks down the best credit cards for cruises and why it may not be what you initially thought.

Best credit cards for cruising

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Best overall

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

On Chase’s secure site
  • Rewards

    $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, 5X points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3X points on dining, 2X points on all other travel purchases, and 1X points on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

  • Annual fee

    $95

  • Intro APR

    None

  • Regular APR

    20.24% - 27.24% variable on purchases and balance transfers

  • Balance transfer fee

    Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

Terms apply.

 

Who's this for? The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is one of the most well-rounded cards for booking cruises. It offers a generous welcome bonus, an easy-to-use rewards program, valuable travel protections and reasonable annual fee.

Cruise benefits: Cardholders earn 5X points on all travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, including cruises, making this one of the most rewarding cards for cruise purchases. Meanwhile, all other travel, such as trips booked directly through cruise lines or other online travel agencies, earn 2X points.

When you book cruises through Chase's travel portal you can pay with points, cash or some combination of the two. Your points are worth 1.25 cents each when redeemed this way. Just note that you'll need to call Chase's Cruises and Tours department at 855-234-2542 to book. Of course, you also have the option of transferring your points to Chase's various airline and hotel partners, giving you the opportunity to book not only your cruise with points but also award flights to and from your cruise, as well as pre-cruise accommodations.

Other perks: The card offers many built-in travel protections including trip cancellation/interruption insurance, travel and emergency assistance services, baggage delay insurance, trip delay reimbursement and rental car insurance. Other benefits include an up to $50 annual Ultimate Rewards® Hotel Credit, a 10% anniversary points boost, no foreign transaction fees and more.

Learn more: How to use the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal to directly book travel

Best for booking cruises with points

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

On Chase’s secure site
  • Rewards

    Earn 5X total points on flights and 10X total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3X points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases plus, 10X points on Lyft rides through March 2025

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $900 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

  • Annual fee

    $550

  • Intro APR

    None

  • Regular APR

    21.24% - 28.24% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    5%, minimum $5

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent

Terms apply.

 

Who's this for? The Chase Sapphire Reserve® is the higher-end version of the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, geared toward more frequent and premium travelers.

Cruise benefits: Cardholders earn 3X points on general travel purchases, including cruise bookings (after using your $300 annual travel credit). Unlike the Sapphire Preferred, cardholders don't get a bonus for booking cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. However, with the Sapphire Reserve, the value of your Chase points is bumped to 1.5 cents apiece toward travel booked through the Ultimate Rewards portal.

Other perks: Every year, you'll get an up to $300 annual travel credit that can be used toward cruises and other travel purchases. If you pay for your cruises with the Sapphire Reserve, you'll also be covered by a wide range of travel protections, including for trip delays, lost or delayed baggage, trip cancellation/interruption, trip delays, travel accidents and emergency evacuation or medical care. Additional perks include airport lounge access; elite-like benefits when booking hotels through The Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection; and a Global Entry, TSA PreCheck or NEXUS application fee credit.

Best for ease of booking

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Information about the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card has been collected independently by Select and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.
  • Rewards

    5X miles on hotel and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, 2X miles per dollar on every other purchase

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn 75,000 bonus miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening

  • Annual fee

    $95

  • Intro APR

    N/A for purchases and balance transfers

  • Regular APR

    20.24% - 28.24% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    0% at the regular transfer APR

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

Terms apply.

 

Who's this for? The Capital One Venture Rewards Card is an appealing choice for cruisers that like simplicity. The card has a low annual fee, doesn't have many spending categories to keep track of and the rewards are easy to redeem.

Cruise benefits: Everyday purchases, including cruise bookings earn 2X miles. Venture miles are great for booking cruises because you aren't limited to booking through Capital One Travel — you can book directly through the cruise line or your preferred travel agency and then get reimbursed for the purchase at a rate of 1 cent per mile after the fact. For additional flexibility, you can transfer Venture miles to 18 airline and hotel travel partners.

Other perks: Cardholders receive a statement credit of up to $100 to cover Global Entry or TSA PreCheck® membership, Hertz Five Star status and two complimentary visits to Capital One Lounges or Plaza Premium Lounges each year.

Best no-annual-fee card for booking cruises

Citi® Double Cash Card

On Citi's secure site
  • Rewards

    2% cash back: 1% on all eligible purchases and an additional 1% after you pay your credit card bill

  • Welcome bonus

    None

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% for the first 18 months on balance transfers; N/A for purchases

  • Regular APR

    18.24% - 28.24% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    For balance transfers completed within 4 months of account opening, an intro balance transfer fee of 3% of each transfer ($5 minimum) applies; after that, a balance transfer fee of 5% of each transfer ($5 minimum) applies

  • Foreign transaction fee

    3%

  • Credit needed

    Good/Excellent

Terms apply.

Who's this for? The Citi Double Cash card has no annual fee, no restrictive bonus spending categories and no headaches when it comes to redeeming your rewards.

Cruise benefits: Cardholders earn a flat 2% cash back on all purchases: 1% when you buy and 1% back when you pay. Once you've earned at least $25 in rewards, you can redeem them for a statement credit. These statement credits can be applied to any purchase, which could be a cruise or it could be any of the other costs associated with cruising.

Other perks: Cardholders have access to Citi Entertainment, which provides early access and special perks at music, theater, dining and sports events. You can also pair this card with other Citi credit cards, like the Citi Premier® Card, to unlock the ability to transfer your rewards to Citi's travel partners.

Best for premium cruise benefits

The Platinum Card® from American Express

On the American Express secure site
  • Rewards

    Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year, 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel, 1X points on all other eligible purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Apply and select your preferred metal Card design: classic Platinum Card®, Platinum x Kehinde Wiley, or Platinum x Julie Mehretu.

  • Annual fee

    $695

  • Intro APR

    None

  • Regular APR

    See Pay Over Time APR

  • Balance transfer fee

    N/A

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit Needed

    Excellent/Good

See rates and fees, terms apply.

Who's this for? The Platinum Card® from American Express is a luxury card designed for frequent travelers looking for excellent benefits.

Cruise benefits: Cardholders have access to Amex's Cruise Privileges Program. When you book an eligible cruise and cabin (minimum of five nights with double occupancy) through the program you'll earn one additional Amex point per dollar spent (2X points total). You may also receive $100 to $300 in shipboard credit per stateroom and exclusive amenities depending on the cruise line.

You may also be able to save on cruises by taking advantage of Amex Offers — targeted promotions at participating merchants. In the past, we've seen offers to save hundreds of dollars with various cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean, Carnival Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line and Celebrity Cruises.

Other perks: The Amex Platinum comes with a long list of travel and lifestyle benefits, ranging from annual hotel and airline fee statement credits to Saks Fifth Avenue, digital entertainment, Equinox, Walmart+ and Uber Cash credits. Cardholders also enjoy extensive airport lounge access, automatic hotel elite status with Hilton Honors and Marriott Bonvoy, cell phone protection*, comprehensive travel insurance and much more. Terms apply.

Learn more: How to use the Amex Travel Portal to book flights, hotels and more

Best for booking cruises with Costco

Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi

On Citi's secure site
  • Rewards

    4% cash back on eligible gas and EV charging purchases for the first $7,000 per year (then 1%); 3% cash back on restaurants and eligible travel purchases; 2% cash back on all other purchases from Costco and Costco.com; 1% cash back on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    No current offer

  • Annual fee

    $0, Costco membership required

  • Intro APR

    N/A for purchases and balance transfers

  • Regular APR

    19.49% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    5% of each balance transfer; $5 minimum

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent

Terms apply.

Who's this for? If Costco is your go-to for booking cruises and other vacation packages, look no further than the Costco Anywhere Visa® Card.

Cruise benefits: Costco Travel offers members significant savings on cruises and incentives like bonus Costco shop cards, shipboard credit, free beverage packages and other extras. Members with the Costco Anywhere Visa® Card earn 3% cash back rewards on Costco Travel purchases.

Other perks: When things go wrong, cardholders can take advantage of travel and emergency assistance, worldwide travel accident insurance, worldwide car rental insurance and damage and theft purchase protection. International travelers can also spend freely with no foreign transaction fees.

FAQs

How to choose the right cruising credit card for you?

The best cruising credit card for you depends on your goals and spending habits.

If you're dreaming of a Mediterranean cruise, travel to Europe will add to the cost of the trip. You may want to earn flexible rewards that can be used for airfare and hotels as well as cruises. However, if you want the ability to book any cruise with no restrictions, then earning cashback may be the way to go.

The best card for you should earn the most rewards in the categories where you spend the most. You may want to use your points and miles for a cruise, but the actual cruise fare is likely to be just a small portion of what you spend in a year. If your card earns bonus points on dining or groceries, you may be able to earn rewards more quickly and book your next sailing sooner.

Should I get a cobranded cruise line credit card?

A number of major cruise lines offer cobranded credit cards. However, the rewards aren't anywhere nearly as lucrative as what you'll get with a travel credit card that earns flexible rewards. 

The welcome bonuses for cruise line cards offer a fraction of the value you can get from the credit cards with the best bonuses. Not only that but the rewards you earn are typically tied to a single cruise line and can be cumbersome to use. Unless you're a diehard loyalist of a specific cruise line and you're looking for a card to complement your primary travel card, you'll find more value with a more general rewards card.

What credit score do you need for the best credit cards for cruising?

As a rule of thumb, the more valuable the credit card, the higher the credit score you'll need to qualify.

For the top cruise cards on this list, expect to need a good or excellent credit score (scores of 670 and above) to qualify. On top of that, there are other factors that are taken into consideration, such as income and whether you've recently applied for any other cards.

Bottom line

Paying for your next cruise with the right credit card can help keep you from breaking the bank.

The best credit cards for cruises aren't tied to specific cruise lines. If you want to use credit card rewards to cut the cost of your next cruise, a travel credit card that earns flexible rewards or cashback is your best bet. That way you won't be tied to using your points with a single cruise line and you'll even have the option of using rewards to cover other expenses associated with cruising, such as airfare and hotels.

Our methodology

To determine which cards offer the best value for cruising, CNBC Select analyzed over 230 of the most popular credit cards available in the U.S. We compared each card on a range of features, including: rewards, welcome bonus, introductory and standard APR, balance transfer fee and foreign transaction fees, as well as factors such as required credit and customer reviews when available. We also considered additional perks, the application process and how easy it is for the consumer to redeem points.

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For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, click here.

*Eligibility and Benefit level varies by Card. Terms, Conditions and Limitations Apply. Please visit americanexpress.com/ benefitsguide for more details. Underwritten by New Hampshire Insurance Company, an AIG Company.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.
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