Cruise Line Loyalty – How the Bank Rewards Programs Stack Up
In my final post of this series on cruise line loyalty, I’m focusing on the bank rewards programs – Barclaycard Arrival Miles, Amex Membership Rewards, and Chase Ultimate Rewards. Personally, I think these programs represent a better value than the cruise line cards, especially the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard. This like all things depends on your personal situation.
The Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard is one of my favorite card products. You earn two miles per dollar for every purchase, and if you redeem for travel, you’re getting 2.2 percent cash back thanks to the 10 percent mileage rebate for redemptions. They’re a better deal than most any cruise line card unless you live on a cruise ship because you earn 2 miles per dollar for every purchase, not just a specific cruise line. I’m a simple guy who appreciates simple things…and Arrival Miles are simple.
Cruise expenses show up as travel, and then I redeemed for a travel credit. No muss, no fuss.
I’ve said before that I’m not a big Membership Rewards player, and I’ve never used the MR points I have collected to cover cruising expenses. When you book with American Express Travel you can pay for all or a portion of your cruise fare with Membership Rewards points. You can book online or call, but either way, a phone call is going to be required to redeem points for your cruise fare. The bad news is that your redemptions are worth a penny per point. So a $300 cruise fare would be 30,000 points, and there are no rebates or points discounts for booking travel. If you happen to use the Business Platinum Card, then you are still eligible for the 20 percent redemption bonus on Membership Rewards that used to apply to the personal card as well so that cruise would only cost you 24,000 points. Membership Rewards, as great as they can be, aren’t quite as good as Ultimate Rewards or Barclaycard Arrival Miles for cruise expenses in my opinion.
The real benefit of Amex and cruising is the Cruise Privileges Program, a feature of the Platinum and Centurion charge card products. The basic benefits are an onboard credit of anywhere from $100 to $300 depending on your accommodation choices. You’ll also receive other amenities that vary by cruise line. For example, my wife and I received a complimentary specialty dining as well as a bottle of wine from Celebrity, and the wine wasn’t cheap stuff. We were given a list of options, and we went with Cakebread Chardonnay. If you’re a Centurion cardmember, you may receive more benefits from some cruise lines. You do not have to book with Amex Travel to enjoy these benefits, but you do need to pay with an Amex card. Any travel agent can call Amex, get a tracking number, and then have your benefits applied to your booking. You can find participating cruise lines here.
I love Ultimate Rewards! They’re great for transferring to airline programs to book award travel, and they’re great to use for paying for travel, including cruises, too! While I prefer to use them for airline transfers, UR points can be used to book a cruise, and like other travel modes, you get a 20 percent discount on redemptions too. In other words, a $1000 cruise will cost you 80,000 points. You do have to call Ultimate Rewards travel for cruise bookings, but other than that, it’s a pretty straight forward deal. It’s also important to keep in mind that if you charge your onboard expenses to your Chase Sapphire Preferred card, you’ll be earning 2 points per dollar spent too!
In conclusion, there are points earning and redeeming opportunities in cruising. I’ve said many times that the most valuable points redemptions are usually for airline tickets. With frequent flyer programs evolving, who knows if that will always be true. If you want to use points for a cruise, the bank card rewards programs are usually a better deal than the cruise line cards because there are better earning opportunities, especially with the Arrival Plus card. No matter which choice you make, enjoy your cruise!
-MJ, October 24, 2014