Best credit cards for cruises
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While the cruise industry came to a screeching halt at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, most of the major cruise lines are back in full operation now. In fact, guests looking for a cruise in North America and elsewhere will find a full roster of ships and itineraries to choose from. This includes options from budget-friendly operators like Carnival and MSC Cruises, as well as luxury or adults-only cruises with companies like Virgin Voyages and Silversea.
All of this means that it’s a great time to start earning rewards for your next cruise. But, which credit card for cruises should you choose? That depends on what you hope to get in return.
Best credit cards for cruises in 2023
Many travel credit cards can help you to 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, not just with a specific carrier.
Here are the best credit cards for cruises in 2023:
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: Best for its bonus offer
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card offers a welcome bonus of 60,000 points — worth $750 in travel when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards — after spending $4,000 within three months of account opening. With the card’s relatively low spending requirement, anyone can earn $750 toward their next cruise within a short amount of time.
The Sapphire Preferred also makes it easy to quickly earn points, allowing cardholders to earn 5X points on travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards; 5X points on Lyft rides (through March 31, 2025); 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.
Discover it® Miles: Best for no annual fee
The Discover it® Miles is a solid rewards credit card for cruises if you don’t want to pay an annual fee. This card gives you 1.5X miles for each dollar you spend, and Discover will match all of the miles you earn during your first year of card membership (after the first year is up). You can redeem your miles in the form of statement credits to cover eligible travel purchases (including cruises) at a rate of 1 cent per mile.
With this 1.5X earning rate, spending $10,000 on your card within a year will net you 15,000 miles. With Discover’s offer to match your rewards, Discover will turn your 15,000 miles into 30,000 miles at the end of your first year, which you could redeem to cover $300 in cruise fare. Better yet, the Discover it® Miles card offers a 0 percent intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months, followed by a variable APR of 16.49 percent to 27.49 percent. This means you could charge your cruise to your card and pay it down interest-free for more than a year.
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: Best for flexibility
The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card keeps everything simple by offering 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 2X miles on all other purchases. You can also earn 75,000 bonus miles — worth $750 in travel — when you spend $4,000 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 1 cent per mile. You can also cash in your rewards for purchases through Amazon.com or PayPal, or transfer your rewards to Capital One airline and hotel partners. A $95 annual fee applies, but you can recoup this fee by utilizing the card’s up to $100 fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck.
Chase Sapphire Reserve: Best for a premium travel card
If you’re a frequent cruise traveler seeking a premium travel credit card, check out the Chase Sapphire Reserve®. This card includes an annual fee of $550, but you’ll get perks like a $300 annual travel credit (good toward cruises and other travel); airport lounge access; up to a $100 credit toward Global Entry, TSA PreCheck or NEXUS; and 50 percent more points value when you redeem points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
Additionally, the Chase Sapphire Reserve provides 60,000 points — worth $900 through Chase Ultimate Rewards — after spending $4,000 within three months of account opening. You’ll also earn 10X points on hotels and car rentals booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 10X points on Chase Dining purchases through Ultimate Rewards, 10X points on Lyft rides (through March 31, 2025), 5X points on air travel booked through Ultimate Rewards, 3X points on general travel and restaurants and 1X points on other purchases.
Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card: Best for VIP perks
If you’re in search of a credit card for cruises that comes with VIP benefits, you should consider the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card. It has a $395 annual fee, but cardholders can enjoy up to $300 in annual travel credits for Capital One Travel purchases, up to a $100 fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, Priority Pass Select airport lounge membership and access Capital One airport lounges, among other benefits.
New cardholders are also eligible to earn 75,000 miles after spending $4,000 on purchases within three months of account opening. That’s on top of earning 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel and 2X miles on all other purchases.
When it comes to redeeming rewards for a cruise, Capital One Venture X cardholders can cover all or part of a cruise that’s charged to their card with a redemption rate of 1 cent per mile. Other redemption options include transfers to Capital One travel partners, purchases through Amazon.com or PayPal and more.
What about travel insurance for cruises?
Considering all of the costs that go into taking a cruise (cruise fare, airfare, hotels and so on), you’re also probably wondering about travel insurance. Many of the best travel cards offer travel insurance — such as trip cancellation and interruption insurance, baggage insurance and emergency travel services.
But if you want to purchase travel insurance, your best bet is to purchase a plan that comes with “cancel for any reason” coverage. Many cruise lines offer specific travel insurance plans you can add to your cruise booking, too. For example, with Carnival Vacation Protection, you’ll get trip cancellation and interruption coverage that lets you cancel for any reason. You’ll also get baggage insurance (up to $1,500), medical coverage (up to $10,000) and emergency evacuation coverage (up to $30,000) — all starting at $49 per person.
Is a card that offers rewards for cruises right for you?
The best credit cards for cruises 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’re debt-free and plan to stay that way
- You’re disciplined enough to use a 0 percent intro APR offer for purchases without racking up long-term debt
- You find travel card benefits like airport lounge access or TSA PreCheck credits appealing
- You’re not in a hurry to earn a free cruise with rewards
- Your credit score is very good or excellent
If you’re struggling with debt, you may want to steer clear of credit and save up for the cruise you want. While everyone needs a vacation — and taking a cruise 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 credit card for your goals:
- Decide if you want a 0 percent intro APR. Many rewards credit cards offer a 0 percent intro APR on purchases for a limited time, which can help you make payments on a cruise without any interest. These offers should be used sparingly and only if you have a plan for repayment, but they can still be a good deal.
- Compare bonus offers. If you’re able to meet the spending and timeframe requirements to earn a welcome bonus for a new credit card, you could earn a bonus worth hundreds of dollars or more toward your next cruise.
- Understand which travel benefits you want the most. Note that many of the best 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.
- Check for earning rates that make sense with your spending. Be 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 be sure any perks or benefits you receive make the annual fee worth paying.
- Look for no foreign transaction fees. If you plan to visit cruise ports outside of the U.S., you’ll want to be sure your credit card doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees.
The bottom line
If you’re thinking of picking up a credit card for your next cruise, you should select one that gives you the most bang for your buck. This means picking a card with a generous welcome offer and plenty of rewards for 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, too.