Cruising is my family’s vacation of choice, so I’m always looking for new ways to save money on cruises. I’ve already explained how to use Chase Ultimate Rewards for cruises, and why I think cruise line credit cards are a bad idea.
But there are many ways to book a cruise, and lots of room for creativity. Recently, I heard that I might be able to save money or earn cashback by using portals, so I started digging into the details.
What’s a Portal?
Basically, portals are websites either set up through a travel rewards program or a cashback rewards program. You visit the portal website, then either click through to the website where you’ll be making the purchase or make your purchase directly on the portal site.
The most common use of these types of portals is simply to get cashback at popular retailers, like BestBuy.com or Target.com, I never thought about using them to book a cruise. The thing is, cruises normally cost hundreds or thousands of dollars per person, so earning even a couple percent cashback could net you a decent amount of spending money for your cruise.
Unfortunately, you won’t find quite as many deals on cruises as you will on traditional retailers. If you think about it, millions of people shop at places like BestBuy or Target every single day. The purchases made at these stores are usually rather inexpensive and made on a more frequent basis.
Cruises, on the other hand, are a vacation that costs thousands of dollars. Most families are lucky to take one vacation a year, if that, so there aren’t as many cruise purchases which means portals would have to work harder to earn less money overall. Because of that, many portals don’t offer cashback on cruises at all.
What makes things even more difficult is the fact that the main cruiseline websites, like Carnival.com and RoyalCaribbean.com, don’t seem to work with these portal websites to offer cashback on their cruises. There are some exceptions, though, like these cruise companies who are on TopCashback:
Instead, in most cases the major brands work with travel agencies and large group sales to fill cruise ship cabins. Though, keep in mind that you can save money on a travel agent with this trick.
So at first it looks like a portal won’t get you very far with a cruise, but I’ve found a way around these common issues. You’ll need to use a portal that has a relationship with one of the large group sales resellers. Here’s what I’ve found.
eBates is one of the most popular cashback portals out there. I’m sure you’ve seen their commercials on TV. I personally use eBates and have received two checks from them so far, so I can say they’re legit.
eBates has relationships with two major websites that sell cruises. The first is CruiseDirect.com. eBates currently offers 2% cashback on cruises booked through CruiseDirect.com after going through the eBates portal. The second is Expedia, which offers 10% cashback on cruises booked after clicking through the eBates portal.
TopCashBack.com is another shopping portal website that can save you a ton of money. It’s been increasing in popularity and looks like it rivals eBates in many respects.
As their name would suggest, TopCashBack seems to offer the best rates on the two major cruise resellers that offer cashback. CruiseDirect offers 3.5% cashback after clicking through the TopCashBack portal and Expedia offers 12% cashback after clicking through the TopCashBack portal. And there are occasionally some direct cruise options (like Princess–see the screenshot earlier in this post) Keep in mind that rates can fluctuate, so be sure to do your own due diligence if you use this method!
Earn Miles through an Airline Portal
Most of what we talk about in the “travel hacking” world involves using points for travel. But cruises present an opportunity for you to earn points with travel. A popular way to do this is through the American Airlines cruise program. But keep in mind(!) you unfortunately cannot use your AAdvantage miles to book a cruise, but if you book through the American cruise portal, you can earn up to 30,000 miles.
Now, unless you get in on a promotion, you would need to spend $10,000 on the cruise to earn the full 30,000 miles (the typical deal is 3 miles per dollar spent). If you stack this with a signup bonus like on the Capital One Venture, you can add up the savings/earnings pretty quickly.
Let’s say your cruise costs exactly $10,000 and you earn 30,000 AAdvantage miles. Lets say those miles are each worth 1.4 cents. That’s $420 of value. If you also earned the Capital One Venture signup bonus then your savings would be significant.
That’s not too shabby, but you might be better served by the 10% Expedia deal on eBates, but I imagine this is going to come down to a number of factors, especially your own cruise itinerary and preferences.
Other Ways to Save
Just because I’ve listed a few portals above doesn’t mean others don’t exist. Check with your other credit cards to see if they offer a similar benefit for booking a cruise using their portal or using their rewards points. You can always search for other portals like eBates and TopCashBack because portals change their promotions often and new portals pop up, too.
Also, consider the Capital One Venture of some other “fixed value card.” Those are perfect for cruise redemptions in general.
And of course, you can also use your Ultimate Rewards, especially if cruises are your favorite and most used form of vacation travel. The Chase Sapphire Preferred card offers redemptions through the portal at a 1.25 cents per point value and the Chase Sapphire Reserve card does the same at a 1.5 cents per point value. You can read more about booking a cruise through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal here.
Make Sure You’re Getting the Best Overall Deal
No matter how awesome it’d be to get 10% or 12% in cashback on your next cruise, it isn’t always going to be a good deal. Don’t get so caught up in chasing cashback that you forget that the real purpose is to find the overall best deal on a cruise you want to go on. Look at the total cost after cashback and pick the lowest priced option that meets your desires.
Don’t Forget You Aren’t Booking Directly
Another thing to remember when you book using a portal and one of these cruise resellers is the fact you aren’t purchasing your cruise directly through the cruise lines. That means if you need to make any changes or make any special requests, you may have to rely on the reseller to get in touch with the cruise line depending on the cruise line’s policy.
Cruising is a blast. While saving money on cruises can be more difficult than saving money on flights or hotels, it’s still worth it to do a bit of researching to save a few percent on such a large purchase.
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