This article was originally published on August 10, 2023.

Key takeaways

  • Cruising is a great way to see a range of new destinations on a single trip, and to save money along the way.
  • Airline miles can help pay for flights to a cruise port, whether you opt for a cruise that departs from your home country or you're planning an international trip to a far-flung destination.
  • Hotel points and flexible travel rewards can be used to pay for other costs related to a cruise, including pre- and post-departure hotel stays and the cruise fare itself.

During the summer of 2023, my husband and I completed a 12-night cruise to Norway on the MSC Preziosa that included hiking through the wilderness, cruising through some incredible fjords, visiting small villages and festivals and noshing on all kinds of delicious eats. Not only did we get to visit the highest point in continental Europe (Honningsvag, Norway), but our MSC Cruises vessel stopped in Tromso, Trondheim, Alesund, Molde, Bergen and Kristiansand, Norway, with the addition of four sea days on the ship.

Our cruising was a big money-saver upfront since cruise fare includes not only lodging and transportation, but also three meals a day, snacks, drinks and entertainment around the clock. A lot of the activities we did on our cruise — like hiking and window shopping — were free as well, so this trip was not only interesting and unique, but also fairly affordable.

The total cost for the cruise came out at less than $3,000 in a balcony cabin, which was quite a steal when you consider everything that’s included in a 12-night Arctic Circle cruise with stops in seven different ports. But we saved some money in other ways that helped make this trip a lot more affordable — including on our transportation to get there.

Here’s a rundown of all the ways we made our cruise to Norway more affordable — without doing anything drastic or sacrificing the activities we cared about the most.

I booked one-way business class flights to Germany with airline miles

The first way we saved on this trip was on our flights to get there, and I am lucky in that I have all sorts of rewards currencies to spend. One of my favorite airline loyalty programs is the Air France/KLM Flying Blue program, which is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, Capital One miles, Chase Ultimate Rewards and the Citi ThankYou program.

Since our cruise was going to depart from Hamburg, Germany — and we had a few days before departure — I opted to book one-way business class flights from Chicago (ORD) to Berlin, Germany (BER) with the Air France Flying Blue program for 67,000 miles per person plus $225.50 in airline taxes and fees.

This stellar redemption allowed me and my husband a full, lie-flat seat for the duration of the journey, and with all the bells and whistles you would expect. For example, we were served champagne and gourmet meals with real plates and silverware during the longest part of the itinerary from Chicago to Paris. We also had all the power outlets and foot room anyone could ever ask for on an airplane. We both got a few hours of sleep, too, so we arrived in Berlin, Germany rested and ready to explore.

We used points for pre-departure hotel stays

For our stay in Berlin, Germany, I opted to redeem 12,000 World of Hyatt points per night at the Grand Hyatt Berlin. This was easy since World of Hyatt is a Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner, so all I had to do was move the number of points I needed from my Chase Ultimate Rewards account to my World of Hyatt account before booking.

Note that the cost for this hotel has increased to 15,000 points per night since I stayed there, but that’s still a good deal considering the cash price per night starts at over 250 euros (around $272 USD at current exchange rates).

For our overnight stay in Hamburg before the cruise, I redeemed 16,300 Chase Ultimate Rewards points for a stay at the Holiday Inn Hamburg – Hafencity. I got a rate this low by booking through my Chase Sapphire Reserve® rewards account, which offers 50 percent more points value when booking travel through Chase.

I redeemed Capital One miles for part of our cruise fare

Capital One miles are one of my favorite rewards currencies since these miles are so incredibly flexible as well as easy to earn. You can redeem miles from Capital One for gift cards, statement credits, travel through the Capital One Travel portal and even points transfers to airline and hotel partners.

While I normally transfer flexible rewards to airline and hotel loyalty programs to get better redemption values, I cashed in 58,000 miles for $580 off the price of my Norway cruise on the MSC Preziosa. This didn’t make my cruise free by any means, but it did help me use up some of my rewards while making my trip more affordable overall.

We used miles for our flight home

While I love flying business class for the overnight leg on international trips, I’m perfectly fine flying economy on the way home. With that in mind, my husband and I each forked over 44,000 United miles, plus $115 in airline taxes and fees, to fly home from Germany in the Main Cabin.

You can still find rates this low with the United MileagePlus program if you’re flexible with your travel dates. In fact, a recent search we completed found one-way flights in economy from Europe to the U.S. starting at 44,000 miles in June all the way through October of 2024.

This was more miles than I wanted to spend and probably more than a similar flight would have cost with other frequent flyer programs. However, I had some miles in the United MileagePlus program I hadn’t managed to use in several years, and I made up for the miles I was short by transferring some points from my Chase Ultimate Rewards account to United at a 1:1 rate.

The bottom line

When it comes to earning credit card rewards for travel, a lot of people have an “all or nothing” mentality. This means that, if they don’t feel like they can earn enough in rewards to pay for every aspect of their vacation, they just don’t bother at all.

I tend to take the opposite approach. I like to pay for part of my trips in rewards and the rest in cash. I do this to stretch my travel budget as far as it can go, but also to pay for some high-end components of each trip, like business class airfare and stays at five-star hotels. By taking a similar approach, you’d be surprised at just how much you can save while on vacation.