I have made no secret of the fact that Chase Ultimate Rewards points are my favorite points currency. Their usability is tops as far as I am concerned, and that’s whether you are spending them directly or transferring Ultimate Rewards points to one of their airline partners like British Airways or United Airlines, or hotel partners like Hyatt or Marriott. One of the questions I get from time to time (OK, five times a day) is what is the best way to leverage points for cruises. My usual response is that there is none, and you should use your points to pay for long-haul flights in a premium class of service. Then, I clarify what I really mean. :) IF you have lots of points in your pocket, and really don’t need or desire to take any long-haul flights, or have enough miles or points to otherwise cover that, then by all means, use your points to pay for all or part of your cruise. You can even use Ultimate Rewards points to pay for one of the more popular shore excursions in Nassau. More on that later. While much (but not all) of what I am going to talk about in this post could be applied to any of the proprietary rewards currencies, the focus of this discussion will be on using Ultimate Rewards.

Earning

You know the drill. Your Chase Sapphire Preferred card earns 2X points per dollar on dining and travel (3X on dining the first Friday of the month right now), and 1x point per dollar on everything else. If you’re new to the card, you can apply now and earn a 40,000 point bonus after spending $3,000 dollars in 3 months from account opening. The Chase Ink Bold and Ink Plus products offer spending bonuses of 5X points per dollar on the first $50,000 spent annually at office supply stores, and on cellular phone, landline, internet, and cable TV services, 2X per dollar on the first $50,000 spent annually at gas stations and for hotel accommodations when purchased directly with the hotel, and 1X per dollar on everything else. If you have yet to apply for these cards and elect to do so, you can earn a 50,000 point bonus after spending $5,000 dollars in the first 3 months from account opening.

Spending

You receive 20 percent off when using your Ultimate Rewards to purchase travel including airfare, hotels, car rentals, and cruises. What does that mean to you? If your cruise costs $1,000 dollars, you will spend 80,000 Ultimate Rewards to pay for it. You cannot book cruises online at the Ultimate Rewards travel site. You must call Ultimate Rewards travel to do so, and they will apply your points to purchase your cruise.

There is, of course, more to the cost of most cruises than meets the eye. There’s onboard spending and shore excursions. If you wish, you can apply for a cash back statement credit for your on board spending. If you spend $500 dollars on board, 50,000 Ultimate rewards points will cover that. In most cases, that’s the only way you can cover shore excursions with Ultimate Rewards as well. I say most cases because one of the better deals I’ve seen using Ultimate Rewards will get you access to the Atlantis water park on Paradise Island, Bahamas. I learned of this from Points and Travel, so Hat Tip here.

Atlantis is not the only hotel on Paradise Island, the Comfort Suites Paradise Island is located adjacent to Atlantis and offers access to many of Atlantis’ amenities including its fantastic water park. Hey, I may be 43 years old, but I ride those water slides and not so lazy river at Atlantis like a champ! In fact, a visit to Atlantis is the only reason I even bother to disembark the ship in Nassau at this point in my cruising career. Cruise lines sell shore excursions to the water park, and they are costly. Currently $169 dollars per adult for my upcoming Enchantment of the Seas cruise, and $119 dollars per child. In other words, $576 dollars for a family of four! There are a couple of approaches to this. If you happen to be an elite member of Amtrak’s Guest Rewards program (or carry the Guest Rewards credit card) you can transfer 10,000 Ultimate Rewards into Guest Rewards. Then redeem those 10,000 points for 30,000 Choice Privileges points. Rooms are currently pricing at 25,000 Choice Privileges points. Lacking the Amtrak option, you can book a room at the resort through Ultimate Rewards travel, and get he same 20 percent off deal that you do for booking your cruise.

Summary

Ultimate Rewards can help you set sail on a cruise vacation. They can be used to pay for all or a portion of your cruise and related expenses. I don’t pretend to represent that this is the best value for your hard earned points, but it is a way to spend them if you desire. I have stated before that I think mileage programs as we know them are going to change, and if this happens, Ultimate Rewards and their alternatives for spending are going to become comparatively more valuable. Much like a cruise vacation, the choice is all yours. Look for future posts on using other rewards currencies for cruises.

-MJ, May 6, 2013

 

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