Recently, I was asked what I thought about options for redeeming hotel points for cruises. I have not previously given this option a good look, though I tacitly knew it was available with Marriott Rewards. Turns out that you can cash in your Hilton HHonors points for a cruise too. Let’s take a look at what’s available.

Marriott Rewards

I’ve been an on and off customer of Marriott’s over the years. Just depends on my travel patterns. I appreciate Marriott’s consistency of service as much as anything. I’ve collected a few points here and there, most of which have been redeemed for hotel stays. Like many airline programs, you can book your cruise using Marriott’s portal and earn bonus rewards points. Currently (ends 10/31/14), if you book an oceanview or higher stateroom, you’ll earn 6 points per dollar spent. Better than a stick in the eye if you’re booking a cruise anyway. Here’s the example provided.

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Actually paying for your cruise is a much less attractive deal.

hilton hhonors cruise

You can book a $5,000 cruise for 1.25 million points…..wow. Or knock $500 off for 125,000 points. For just 105,000 points, I can book a room for 3 nights at the JW Marriott Marquis in Miami in January. Currently, the hotel is pricing at $431 per night if you’re paying. My point? The only way I’d spend a Marriott Rewards point on a cruise is if they really, really, really annoyed me beyond the point of no return, and I wanted to liquidate…. something that I never envision happening. Actually, I’m not even sure I’d pay for a cruise with points under that circumstance either! :) If you’re minting points left and right, then have at it.

Hilton HHonors

Hilton offers earning and redeeming options as well through their cruise booking portal. Again, if HHonors is a program you play in, then you may as well pick up a few points for doing something you’re going to do anyway. Earnings are currently based on the number of nights booked with double points for oceanview and higher staterooms. Currently, cruises of 1 to 5 nights are offering 12,000 bonus HHonors points, while 13 or more nights earns 100,000 bonus points. On the redemption side, you can spend 120,000 HHonors points for $250 off your cruise or up to 480,000 points for $1000 off!

hilton hhonors cruise

Some of the points amounts Hilton wants for a room nowadays are so mind-blowingly shocking that I might actually be tempted to throw a few HHonors points at a dollars off coupon for a cruise, that is if I had any HHonors points left. Cruising brings me joy. Paying 582,000+ points for 3 nights at the Hilton Miami Downtown, not so much.

Conclusion

Both Hilton and Marriott offer you the opportunity to earn points if you’re booking a cruise, much like the airlines do. If you’re playing in a program, there’s no harm in picking up a few extra points for something you’re going to be doing anyway. Redeeming hotel points for a cruise is a bad deal as far as I can tell. I say just don’t do it.

Up next in cruising coverage – a look at the value of premium beverage packages.

-MJ, October 25, 2014

Introduction

Cruise Line Loyalty – Carnival Cruises

Cruise Line Loyalty – World’s Leading Cruise Lines (Other Carnival Corporation lines like Princess and HAL)

Cruise Line Loyalty – NCL

Cruise Line Loyalty – Royal Caribbean MyCruise Rewards (including Celebrity and Azamara)

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.

Arrival Miles

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.

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Cruise expenses show up as travel, and then I redeemed for a travel credit. No muss, no fuss.

Membership Rewards

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.

Ultimate Rewards

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

I mentioned several weeks ago that the Atlantis Resort in Nassau would be joining Marriott’s Autograph Collection, and Marriott Rewards this fall. The change is now official for new reservations effective October 16, 2014, and you can earn and redeem Marriott Rewards for Atlantis stays. Of course, the big question is “how many points to stay there?!” We now know the answer courtesy of Marriott‘s FAQ on the topic.

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Of course, I speculated before that this might become an option to pay for one of Nassau’s best cruise shore excursions. Now we know the numbers (resort fees probably figure in here somewhere too). I probably would not consider this for two people, but a family of four or more? I just might. Depends on how long you’re in port, and what other uses you might have for the points. Sometime over the next year, I’ll take the opportunity to test my question.

-MJ, October 23, 2014

MJ Logo5

I’ve written rather extensively about Quantum of the Seas. Royal Caribbean’s newest vessel promises to be a game-changer within the industry. The company refers to her as the industry’s first Smart Ship. I tend to agree that they are finally taking technology to the next level for vacations at sea. I’ve heard many veteran cruisers complain that they cruise to “get away from it all” and I can’t disagree. While writing a blog doesn’t lend itself to being totally disconnected, in reality, I can take care of blog business for a set period of time each day and then disconnect. Further, no one is holding a gun to any cruiser’s head and making them use the internet options available at sea. So frankly, the idea of being unable to disconnect on a “connected” ship doesn’t float with me. Sure you can.

However, there is one thing I’m really going to miss – the personal connection with the dining room staff. No question, a big part of cruising is the dining. While I can’t call most of the main dining room dishes 5-star when thousands must be served, I’ve almost always been able to call the service 5-star. A big reason for that is the connection you make with your dining room server team. After a few days they know your wants and desires and you get to know them. It’s not unusual for new cruisers to tell me the stories of their first experiences at sea and the only names they remember will be those of their dining room staff or the people they meet at their dining room table.

With the advent of Dynamic Dining, that connection will be gone. You’ll pick one of many restaurants each night, and perhaps never have the same server twice. I suspect that most of the cruise market is indifferent to this, and in fact, I’m looking forward to giving Dynamic Dining a try. There’s certainly a lot to love about Quantum of the Seas, and I can’t wait to board. But I expect I’ll miss the personal connections made at the dining room table….not just with the service staff, but my fellow cruisers too.

-MJ, October 22, 2014

Something caught my eye this morning – a week aboard the beautiful Celebrity Reflection for as little as $399 per person. The cruise departs Miami on November 29, 2014, the Saturday after Thanksgiving, but hear me out. Some air travel deals are still out there for the big day itself, the Friday after Thanksgiving, or even Saturday morning. (Note – I always recommend arriving a day early if you can.)

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If inside cabins aren’t your thing, Veranda’s are as low as $599 and Celebrity’s MJ recommended Aqua Class is starting at $899 per person. Trust me, if I weren’t setting sail on Quantum of the Seas 2 days after this cruise begins, I’d have to think about this one. Click here for more cruise details.

I was honored to present at the 2014 Chicago Seminars on my favorite topic, cruising. I’m trying a slightly different method of sharing my presentation on the blog this year, and appreciate any feedback on how well it works. I converted the presentation into a movie. If you see a slide of particular interest to you, just click pause. I’ll include a link for a .pdf file as well. For those that were there, you’ll see the fun pictures of me with great looking hair are missing. :)

Of course, I know the context of the session is missing so please email or comment if you have any specific questions. I’m also including link to a .pdf file containing the presentation. The .pdf file includes links to content referenced during the presentation.

Click here for the presentation – 2014 Chicago Seminars

Reference Materials

 

Introduction

Cruise Line Loyalty – Carnival Cruises

Cruise Line Loyalty – World’s Leading Cruise Lines (Other Carnival Corporation lines like Princess and HAL)

Cruise Line Loyalty – NCL

Cruise Line Loyalty – Royal Caribbean MyCruise Rewards (including Celebrity and Azamara)

Cruise Line Loyalty – How the Bank Rewards Programs Stack Up

Highlights

Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines Ltd. owns several cruise lines. The three best known are Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, and Azamara Club Cruises. We’ll focus on those today as they participate in the MyCruise® Rewards program and offer multiple credit card products that tie together in a common points currency. Beyond cards and points, these three lines offer elite status reciprocity, the closest thing to status matching in cruising, and an imminently useful benefit if you would like to experience different styles of cruising but not start over at the bottom of the elite ladder on a new cruise line. I’ve covered the elite status programs at Royal Caribbean and Celebrity previously in my status matters series.

Since then, Celebrity has restructured its elite status program and changed the way points are earned, which I reviewed here. I did not include Azamara in the series, but I recently wrote about their elite loyalty program here. Personally, I am Diamond Plus with Royal Caribbean’s Crown & Anchor Society, and enjoy reciprocal status with Celebrity at the Elite Level. As a result, I’ve enjoyed the benefits of elite status on Celebrity even though I’ve only taken 3 cruises with them. I have not yet made the phone call to match over to Azamara Le Club Voyage Discoverer status. It’s worth the call! But what about the points?

MyCruise® Rewards Credit Cards

MyCruise Rewards is a credit card point loyalty program shared by Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, and Azamara. I don’t have hard data on this, but I would speculate that the Royal Caribbean card is the most popular of the MyCruise points cards, so I will focus on that and then get into why the Celebrity card may be the most beneficial.

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Royal Caribbean offers a Visa Signature card that currently features the following benefits and bonuses:

  • Earn double MyCruise Points for every $1 spent on Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises purchases
  • Earn one point for every $1 spent on your everyday purchases
  • 10,000 bonus points after your first qualifying transaction — redeemable for $100 onboard credit
  • Zero Liability for Fraudulent Charges, which helps protect you from fraudulent transactions
  • Discounted companion airline certificate† after $3500 in card purchases within the first 90 days with the Visa Signature card (students, Platinum Plus® and Preferred accounts are not eligible)
  • Perks like Visa Signature Concierge Service*, lost luggage protection, emergency cash worldwide, common carrier travel accident insurance and more
  • No annual fee

At the moment, they’re also offering a $75 credit in addition to the 10,000 (worth roughly $100) bonus point offer if you make $1,500 in purchases in the first 90 days. So, with not much effort you can get $175 in value towards a cruise. Like most cruise points programs, MyCruise Rewards is a “penny per point” earn and burn program with the exception being you earn 2 points per dollar for spending on your cruise. On the redemption side, there are a few sweet spots where you can achieve 2 cents per point in value. For example, for 50,000 points you can purchase a 3 or 4 night cruise for two up to a maximum of $1,000 in value.

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Of course, the value per point depends on how close you get to maximizing that $1000 price point. Could be useful around holidays, but most of the time, you can buy the same cruise for under $200 per person. There are other nuggets like this. You can review the entire award chart here. I won’t pretend that there aren’t better cards out there for many miles and points enthusiasts….even cruise enthusiasts. But I do believe the MyCruise Rewards card products are the best of the bunch for a couple of reasons. First, there’s a common points currency across multiple cruise lines, focused on different experiences. Second, there’s one card product out of the bunch that offers some benefits that make it worth carrying if you cruise Celebrity.

The card includes a $69 annual fee, but for the right kind of Celebrity cruiser, the card will pay for itself before you ever use a rewards point. The basic earning scenario is the same, you earn 2 points per dollar spent with Celebrity Cruises as well as Royal Caribbean International and Azamara Club Cruises, and 1 point per dollar on all other charges. You’ll also receive a 10,000 point first purchase bonus which is worth a $100 onboard credit. The real beauty of this card is the extra benefits it comes with.

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You can read the fine print here. I ran some numbers using our last Celebrity cruise as an example. MrsMJ and I purchased the Premium Alcohol package for a 14-night cruise. The price was $54 per person per day (plus gratuity). 54 x 14 = $756 per person before gratuity. If I had carried this card at the time, I could have gotten $75.60 back per person which more than pays the annual fee. The specialty restaurant discounts can add a few bucks to the total value of the card as well. That’s just one cruise. A regular Celebrity cruiser would achieve greater value.

In closing, I find MyCruise® Rewards to be the better of the cruising credit card points loyalty programs. That said, even an average miles and points enthusiast like me can find better values in other products. We’ll conclude the series next week with a look at the bank card products and how they measure up for saving money on your next cruise.

-MJ, October 17, 2014

Royal Caribbean International is offering free wi-fi in New York City subway stations! Why would a cruise line sponsor free wi-fi? To celebrate the coming arrival of Quantum of the Seas in the New York area, of course! Quantum of the Seas, the world’s first “smartship,” promises to be a marvel in many ways. I can’t wait to sail aboard Quantum in December! According to Royal Caribbean,

“The world’s first smartship Quantum of the Seas is set to arrive into New York Harbor on Nov. 10, 2014, and Royal Caribbean is counting down the days until her big debut. In anticipation of the ship’s arrival, Quantum of the Seas is making waves across NYC billboards, screens and digital displays capturing the attention of New Yorkers everywhere…including underground. With Quantum of the Seas introducing a wave of technological features that have never before been possible at sea, including ultrafast wireless capability that allows for unprecedented connectivity, the cruise line partnered with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to bring free Wi-Fi to underground subway platforms in Manhattan and Queens.”

So check your email while waiting for your train. Or better yet, book a cruise aboard Quantum of the Seas!

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Of the many unique features of Quantum of the Seas, none is more unique than North Star. I can think of no better way than a mechanical arm with a gondola attached, but I’ll go with Royal Caribbean’s description – an engineering marvel that takes guests to new heights in a jewel-shaped glass capsule that gently rises more than 300 feet in the air, taking guests on a spectacular journey and delivering awe-inspiring, 360-degree views. Here’s an image (courtesy of Royal Caribbean) of the newly installed North Star on Quantum of the Seas.

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I’d call it a novelty more than anything else, but it’s a novelty I’m looking forward to trying when I board Quantum of the Seas in December. Like most things cruise ship, there’s more to designing and installing North Star than meets the eye. Here’s an excellent video describing the process.

Introduction

Cruise Line Loyalty – Carnival Cruises

Cruise Line Loyalty – World’s Leading Cruise Lines (Other Carnival Corporation lines like Princess and HAL)

Cruise Line Loyalty – NCL

Cruise Line Loyalty – Royal Caribbean MyCruise Rewards (including Celebrity and Azamara)

Cruise Line Loyalty – How the Bank Rewards Programs Stack Up

The Loyalty Program

Norwegian Cruise Line is the third biggest cruise line after Carnival Corporation and Royal Caribbean. NCL pioneered what they call Freestyle Cruising®, with no set dining times, and multiple dining options (some included, some with a fee) around the ship. NCL rewards its most frequent guests through its Latitudes Rewards program. Latitudes is a 4-tier program with Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum status. Loyalty members earn 1 point per cruise night with an additional point for suite or Haven accommodations. You can also earn a bonus point per night for booking 9 months or more in advance, or for booking a Latitudes Insider offer. I’ve covered the Latitudes Rewards program in greater detail perviously in my status matters series on cruise line elite status.

The Points Program

Like most of the big lines, NCL offers a credit card rewards program which is separate from its loyalty program. NCL has partnered with Bank of America to offer the Norwegian Cruise Line MasterCard®.

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This card is somewhat unique in that it earns Bank of America WorldPoints®. WorldPoints aren’t universally popular in the loyalty world, and I’ll just leave it at that. I’d add that the popular Fidelity Amex 2% cash back card is actually earning WorldPoints that are then converted into cash. This card earns 2 points per dollar spent on NCL purchases, and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases. Currently, their’s a bonus point offer for new accounts:

  • Receive 10,000 bonus WorldPoints® after using your card within the first 60 days – enough for a $100 onboard credit when redeemed prior to cruise or $100 off your next cruise!
  • For a limited time only receive $50 Norwegian gift card after you make at least $500 in purchases in the first 90 days (students not eligible).

Redemptions are simple and straightforward, if not of extremely value. But like all things, value is in what YOU want. You can redeem for everything from $50 onboard credits to free cruises for two.

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A big negative of the card, aside from the earning structure, is that it charges a 3% foreign transaction fee. On the positive side, it is free of an annual fee. In the end, the card is pretty much in line with the other cruise line card products. If you have the room in your card inventory, take it for the quick onboard credit bonus, and sock drawer it. If you’re a Bank of America customer, it can serve as “free” overdraft protection for your checking account too. Next up – MyCruise Rewards.

-MJ, October 11, 2014

 

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Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through the credit card issuer Affiliate Program.