Best credit cards for cruises

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While the cruise industry came to a screeching halt in 2020 due to the pandemic, some cruise lines resumed operations internationally in late 2020 or early 2021. Cruises with departures from U.S. ports have taken slightly longer, mostly due to health and security protocols enacted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

But U.S. cruising is finally making progress. For example, Carnival Cruise Line resumed some itineraries from Galveston, Texas, and Miami in July of this year with more cruises to come throughout August, September and October.

Meanwhile, MSC Cruises just launched its first U.S. ship from Miami (the MSC Meraviglia) on Aug. 2, 2021, with several more ships (including the MSC Divina and MSC Seashore) set to resume sailings from Florida through the end of the year.

Cruise lines update cancellation policies

With cruising once again becoming a possibility, you may be wondering how to safely book your cruise and how to make sure you’re protected if your cruise is canceled or you need to cancel due to COVID-19. For the most part, you’ll be happy to know that most cruise lines have rolled out flexible cancellation policies meant to provide peace of mind.

For example, MSC Cruises offers a Total CruiseFlex program that lets you cancel and rebook your sailing up to 48 hours before departure (valid on bookings through Sept. 30, 2021). Royal Caribbean has a similar policy in place for cruises booked through April 30, 2022, which lets you cancel your cruise up to 48 hours before departure and rebook with cruise credit at a later date.

What about travel insurance?

Considering all the costs that go into cruising (cruise fare, airfare, hotels, etc.) and the general mayhem COVID-19 has wrought on most of our travel plans, you’re also probably wondering about travel insurance. How do you get travel insurance for cruises that covers pandemic-related costs, including quarantine?

Once again, cruise lines have stepped up to the plate with most of them offering specific travel insurance plans you can add to your cruise booking. With Carnival Vacation Protection, for example, you get trip cancellation coverage that lets you cancel for any reason. You also get baggage insurance, medical coverage worth up to $10,000, emergency evacuation coverage and more starting at $49 per person.

You can also purchase travel insurance that comes with protection for COVID-19, but you should make sure any plan you buy does in fact cover pandemic-related travel expenses. While more and more companies are adding COVID-19 travel coverage to their insurance offerings, you can still find plenty of companies that exclude pandemics or “disclination to travel due to a pandemic.” In any case, your best bet is purchasing a plan that comes with “cancel for any reason” coverage.

Also note that some credit cards offer travel insurance coverage, although many plans specifically exclude pandemic-related claims or quarantine. With that being said, you can still lean on a credit card with travel insurance for baggage delays, trip delays and other issues you run into.

Best credit cards for cruises in 2021

Plenty of rewards and travel credit cards can also help you cover the cost of your cruise with rewards, and some can also help with flights and hotels. Note that all of the cards that made our ranking can be used to book cruises with any cruise line, and not with just a specific carrier.

Here are Bankrate’s best credit cards for cruises in 2021:

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card: Best bonus offer

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card starts new cardholders off with 60,000 bonus points worth $750 in travel after spending $4,000 within three months of account opening. This means that, with a relatively low spending requirement, anyone can earn $750 toward their next cruise within a short amount of time.

This card also makes it easy to earn points at a rapid pace, with 5X points on travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards and on Lyft rides (through March 31, 2022); 3X points on dining (including eligible delivery services), select streaming services and online grocery purchases (excluding Walmart, Target and wholesale clubs); 2X points on other travel and 1X points on all other spending. A $95 annual fee applies.

Chase Sapphire Reserve®: Best premium travel card

If you’re a frequent cruiser seeking a premium travel credit card, check out the Chase Sapphire Reserve®. This card will set you back $550 per year, but you get perks like a $300 annual travel credit (good toward cruises and other travel), airport lounge access, a fee credit toward Global Entry or TSA Precheck membership and 50 percent more value when you redeem points for travel through Chase.

On the earning side of the equation, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® gives you 50,000 points when you sign up and spend $4,000 within three months of account opening. You also earn 10X points on hotels and car rentals booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards; 10X total points on Chase Dining purchases through Ultimate Rewards; 10X points on Lyft rides (through March 31, 2022); 5X points on flights booked through Chase (after earning your $300 travel credit); 3X points on travel and dining and 1X points on other purchases.

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: Best for flexibility

The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card keeps this simple by offering 2 miles for each dollar you spend. You can also earn 60,000 bonus miles worth $600 when you sign up and spend $3,000 within three months of account opening.

When you go to redeem, you can use your Capital One miles to cover cruise fare at a rate of one cent per mile. You can also cash in your rewards for purchases through Amazon.com or Paypal, or for transfers to Capital One airline and hotel partners. A $95 annual fee applies, but you can receive up to $100 in credit for a Global Entry or TSA Precheck membership.

Discover it® Miles: Best with no annual fee

The Discover it® Miles is a solid rewards credit card for cruises if you’re averse to paying annual fees. This card gives you 1.5 miles for each dollar you spend, and Discover will double all the miles you earn after the first year is up. You can redeem your miles to cover cruises at a rate of one cent per mile.

With this earning rate, spending $10,000 on your card within a year would net you 15,000 miles. Discover would double your miles to 30,000 after year one, which you could redeem for $300 in cruise fare.

Better yet, the Discover it Miles offers 0 percent APR on purchases for 14 months, followed by a variable APR of 11.99 percent to 22.99 percent. This means you could charge your cruise to your card and pay it down interest-free for more than a year.

Is a card that rewards cruises right for you?

The best credit cards for cruises aren’t right for everyone, but they can help you save money or access special perks if you know how to use them.

A credit card for cruises may be right for you if:

  • You are debt-free with plans to stay that way
  • You’re disciplined enough to use a 0 percent APR offer for purchases without racking up long-term debt
  • Travel benefits like airport lounge access or TSA Precheck credits appeal to you
  • You’re not in a hurry to earn a free cruise with rewards
  • Your credit score is very good or excellent

If you are struggling with debt, you may want to steer clear of credit and save up the cash for the cruise you want. While everyone needs a vacation and cruising is one of the best options out there, coming home to a mountain of bills (including interest payments) can ruin the fun in a hurry.

How to choose a credit card for cruises

The right credit card for your next cruise depends on the type of spender you are, your credit score and what you hope to accomplish. These tips can help you pick the best cruise credit card for your goals:

  • Decide if you want 0 percent APR. Some rewards credit cards offer 0 percent APR on purchases for a limited time, which can help you make payments on your cruise without any interest. These offers should be used sparingly and only if you have a plan, but they can still be a good deal.
  • Compare bonus offers. If you’re able to spend a few thousand dollars within a few months of signing up for your new card, you could earn a welcome bonus worth $500 or more toward your next cruise,
  • Check for earning rates that make sense with your spending. Make sure any credit card you pick offers rewards that align with your spending habits.
  • Consider annual fees. There’s nothing wrong with paying an annual fee for a credit card, but you should make sure any perks or benefits you receive are worth it.
  • Look for no foreign transaction fees. If you plan to visit cruise ports outside the U.S., you’ll want to make sure your cruise credit card doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees.
  • Understand which travel benefits you want the most. Finally, note that many premium travel credit cards have benefits like airport lounge access and annual travel credits. You’ll pay more for a card with a broader selection of perks, but the investment can be worth it if you travel often.

The bottom line

If you’re thinking of picking up a cruise credit card, you should select one that gives you the most bang for your buck. This means picking a card with a generous bonus offer and plenty of rewards on your spending. If you get some extra travel perks along the way, that’s even better. With the right credit card, you’ll be cruising before you know it—and with fewer out-of-pocket expenses than ever before.

Written by
Holly D. Johnson
Author, Award-Winning Writer
Holly Johnson began her career working in the funeral industry, which may make you wonder why she works in personal finance now. Yet, the funeral industry taught the author everything she needs to know about the value of one's money and time. Johnson left the mortuary business a decade ago in order to explore her passion for personal finance and travel the world, and since then, she and her husband have built a debt-free lifestyle that has them on the path to retire very wealthy in their 40s. Holly's love of budgeting also led to the creation of her debt payoff book, “Zero Down Your Debt: Reclaim Your Income and Build a Life You’ll Love."
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