Points & Miles

The Best Credit Cards for Frequent Cruisers

No matter what line you're sailing, these cards will help you earn and spend points to knock the cost of your itinerary down. 
Cruise Mediterranean. People. Rocks
Ferran Feixas/Unsplash

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Cruises are back and better than ever following a pandemic-fueled rough patch that dropped an anchor on the industry for more than a year. The pause has led to pent-up demand, as travelers are ready to explore the epic new ships, glamorous itineraries, and never-before-seen dining experiences that are waiting for them at sea.

But, how you pay for a cruise can make a big difference, thanks to bonus points and added perks along the way. While some cruise lines have their own co-branded cruise credit cards, those may only interest travelers who stay loyal to one company. Instead, check out these five travel credit cards, which deliver solid value when booking some of the newest ships of the year, no matter what line you're cruising on.

The Platinum Card from American Express

In addition to earning Membership Rewards points, American Express offers the Cruise Privileges program, which tacks on benefits for many sailings. When you book a cruise of at least five nights through Platinum Concierge, you’re eligible for $100 to $300 in shipboard credit and two Membership Rewards points per dollar spent on the cruise fare.

Travel protections for the card also include trip delay or cancellation coverage, and if your luggage goes missing, you’ll get help from American Express to cover missing necessities. Onboard, the perks await with amenities that vary by cruise line, including welcome bottles of Champagne or behind-the-scenes tours of the ship.

Try this out on… Celebrity Beyond, the newest ship from the Readers' Choice Award-winning cruise line, which is sailing around the Mediterranean this summer. It features the cruise line’s first Michelin-starred restaurant at sea, where you can take advantage of your onboard credit while tucking into a menu from Chef Daniel Boulud.

United Explorer Card

United has a dedicated booking site for cruises; if you have the United Explorer Card, you can earn some major bonus miles when you book a sailing, too. Depending on the type of cruise and cabin category you choose, you can earn as many as seven miles per dollar spent when paying with this card.

If you have United MileagePlus Premier status, then you’re eligible for bonus offers like food, beverage, or spa credits on your sailing, too. While American and Delta have similar cruise bonus offers with bonuses for using their credit card, United’s offer is the most generous.

Try this out on… Azamara Onward, the fourth ship for the newly independent cruise line. This summer, it is sailing to the Mediterranean before heading to the Caribbean later this year. If you like the small-ship sailing experience, Azamara offers great value. Its ships typically spend more time in ports—including overnight stays—giving travelers more time to explore the destination.

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

The Capital One Venture Rewards  credit card is a favorite for its low annual fee ($95) and the opportunity to earn two miles per dollar spent on all eligible purchases. The miles you earn can be redeemed like cash when paying for airfare, which means you might be able to cover the cost of your flights to the cruise. Alternatively, you can use miles to “erase” travel-related charges to your credit card. Cardholders can redeem miles in the form of statement credits, which is another incredibly useful perk if you want to temper that extra spending in port.

Capital One also offers the ability to redeem miles in exchange for cruise line gift cards with companies like Carnival or Royal Caribbean. The card has travel accident insurance protections, too, which adds value when using the card to pay for travel.

Try this out on… Emerald Azzurra, the new, 100-passenger super yacht for Emerald Waterways destined for Red and Mediterranean Sea ports. Active cruisers in particular will enjoy the ship, which offers water sport equipment and electronic bikes to use in port.

Chase Sapphire Reserve

This card earns three Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on travel, including cruises. Chase Ultimate Rewards can be redeemed like cash for a variety of travel options (at a value of 1.5 cents per point), making it one of the most flexible and valuable loyalty point offerings. You can also transfer points to airline or hotel partners to offset the cost of a pre- or post-cruise vacation. The substantial trip protections that come with the card have you covered in case your flight is delayed or cancelled or your luggage gets lost en route, too.

Try this out on… Royal Caribbean Wonder of the Seas, the line’s newest ship and the largest in the world. Sailing the Mediterranean this summer, some passengers may never want to leave the ship thanks to onboard activities like the FlowRider, a water park, zip lines, and a dedicated neighborhood just for suite passengers. (Of note, Royal Caribbean investors with at least 100 shares also receive complimentary onboard credit—the amount varies based on the sailing length, but can be as much as $250 for stock investors.)

Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard

If earning American Airlines elite status is a priority, this card can help get you there. The airline’s new loyalty points system allows you to spend your way to status without ever setting foot on a plane—including when paying for a cruise with the card.

Other benefits include comped checked bags on American flights, plus discounts on in-flight food and drink purchases. When using the card for trips booked with American Airlines Cruises, you’ll earn two miles per dollar spent. You’ll also double dip your way to AAdvantage elite status both by using the card to pay for the sailing and for using the airline’s dedicated cruise site.

Try this out on… Seabourn Encore, the 300-suite ship sailing the Mediterranean this summer. With a focus on the ultra-luxury segment, Seabourn is known for exceptional dining and swoon-worthy experiences like tuxedo-attired staff who wade through the shallow sea to pamper guests with Champagne and caviar.

Condé Nast Traveler has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Condé Nast Traveler and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.

See rates and fees for The Platinum Card.

For AmEx Platinum's trip delay and trip cancelation coverage, eligibility and benefit level varies by card. Terms, conditions, and limitations apply. Please visit americanexpress.com/benefitsguide for more details. Underwritten by New Hampshire Insurance Company, an AIG Company.

For AmEx Platinum's baggage insurance plan, eligibility and benefit level varies by card. Terms, conditions, and limitations apply. Please visit americanexpress.com/benefitsguide for more details. Underwritten by AMEX Assurance Company.