5 Ways to Earn Onboard Credit

by  Donna Heiderstadt | Mar 27, 2018
Cruise cocktails
Cruise cocktails / iStock

There’s something so rewarding about taking a cruise and signing up for a spa treatment, dinner at a specialty restaurant, and a shore excursion—and knowing that some or all of those charges will be covered by an onboard credit. Yet if you’re like many cruisers, you may not be totally in the know about how to earn onboard credit, which most cruise lines use as both an enticement and a reward. Here are five easy ways to rack up onboard credit to spend on your next cruise.

Book When Cruise Lines Are Offering Deals

Cruise lines know that onboard credit is bait they can dangle to turn you from browsing their sailings to actually booking one. While many cruise deals automatically include some amount of onboard credit, it varies by cruise line and typically ranges from $100 to $200 per cabin, but can be $500 or even $1,000 depending on the cruise line and cabin category you book.

Using onboard credit to incentivize bookings is also a promotional strategy of deals websites and online travel agencies, some of whom tack on additional onboard credit above what the cruise line is offering—especially during Wave Season—to entice you to book with them. So it’s always a good idea to shop around and compare what’s being offered.

If having a credit to offset your expected onboard expenses—for example your alcoholic beverages if they’re are not included in your cruise fare or you didn’t purchase a beverage package—is a priority, definitely sign up for email alerts from your favorite cruise lines and deals websites so you’ll know when the best offers are being made.

Sign Up for Cruise Line Loyalty Programs

Frequent travelers won’t fly without accruing miles or points. So why cruise without being part of a program that rewards you with member discounts and onboard perks? Every cruise line has a loyalty program—the biggest are Norwegian’s Latitudes Rewards, Royal Caribbean’s Crown & Anchor Society, Carnival’s Very Important Fun Person (VIFP) Club, Princess’s Captain’s Circle, Holland America’s Mariner Society, and Celebrity’s Captain’s Club—and you’ll accrue points based on either the number of cruises you’ve taken or the cumulative nights you’ve spent onboard.

A select number of loyalty programs include direct onboard credit as a perk (most notably Oceania, Crystal, Viking, and MSC), and those that don’t, instead, offer discounts on future bookings, cabin upgrades, free specialty restaurant dining, complimentary WiFi packages, and other benefits that are in many ways the equivalent of onboard credit.

Book Your Next Cruise While Onboard

If you’re enjoying your sailing and plan to book another trip on the same cruise line (or even the same ship), head to the future cruise consultant desk to check out available offers. Cruise lines offer incentives to book onboard and these range from discounted fares to onboard credit for a future cruise or sometimes for the cruise you’re currently on.

Get a Cruise Line Credit Card

The large cruise lines, like airlines and hotels, are now in the credit card business. You can apply for one of these cards—which include the Royal Caribbean Visa Signature Card, the Norwegian Cruise Line World Mastercard, the Princess Cruises Rewards Visa, the Celebrity Cruises Visa Signature Card, and The Carnival FunPoints Mastercard—and accrue points for every dollar you spend, which can later be redeemed for onboard credit. 

Get Your Friends to Cruise with You

Cruise lines are always looking for ways to expand their passenger base and you can be the beneficiary of bonus credits by referring friends who’ve never sailed. Several lines (including Royal Caribbean and Princess) reward you with $25 in onboard credit for every referral cabin booked. A fun idea: Get four or five referred couples to join you and spring for pre-dinner cocktails for everyone as a bon voyage send-off.


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