Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new information.
Bulk toilet paper, discount brand-name clothing and … a cruise? You might not have your next sailing top-of-mind while running errands, but you should know that the places where you stock up on groceries, redeem credit card points and get help with a flat tire might also be able to sell you a cruise.
As you mull options for making a vacation purchase — travel advisor, online travel agency, cruise line, direct booking — it’s also a smart idea to consider these lesser-known cruise sellers.
Here, I’ll discuss some cruise booking options you might not have thought of, including ones where membership could score you a discount or added bonus.
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Wholesale clubs, where you pay for an annual membership in exchange for shopping in bulk or at a discount, are great places to take advantage of deals on cruises because they offer lowest-price guarantees, onboard perks and even cash back. Both BJ’s and Costco sell cruises as part of their respective BJ’s Travel and Costco Travel offerings.
Although both clubs sell cruises from most of the major lines — Carnival, Celebrity, Disney, Holland America, Norwegian, Princess and Royal Caribbean — BJ’s has a larger selection that includes MSC Cruises, as well as most luxury and river cruise brands. Prospective travelers will have access to whichever promotions partner lines are offering at the time.
With Costco, Executive Members get an annual 2% reward certificate on travel purchased through Costco Travel (certificate sent at time of membership renewal). Members who book through the Costco portal and use a Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi to pay will also get 3% cash back.
BJ’s Travel offers a 110% guarantee that you’ll get the best price possible on your cruise booking. BJ’s also offers other perks. At the time of publication, BJ’s was offering its members 5% back on cruises, as well as BJ’s gift cards, with the purchase of a cruise. Plus, if you use a BJ’s Perks Mastercard to pay for your reservation, you’ll get 1% cash back.
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Additionally, both companies feature timely deals, such as deposit waivers, onboard credit, prepaid gratuities and other extras, according to what the cruise lines are promoting. The only catch, of course, is that you have to be an active member or cardholder in order to take advantage of the promotions and savings provided by these clubs. Costco also has opted out of many cruise lines’ upgrade bidding programs, which means you’re likely to be stuck with the cabin you originally book.
Although the American Automobile Association and Canadian Automobile Association are known mainly for their roadside assistance, they also offer travel planning services similar to what you’d get from a travel agent.
In addition to cruise planning help from a dedicated agent, you can bag discounts and extras that are available when you book. If you need a pre- or post-cruise hotel, flights or directions to the port, AAA and CAA can help with those, plus round-the-clock assistance if something goes wrong during your vacation.
If you’re looking to maximize the return on your cruise investment even further, book using either the AAA Member Rewards Visa credit card from Bank of America or the National Bank CAA Rewards Mastercard, depending on your country of residence.
The former offers 3 points per dollar spent on eligible travel and AAA purchases, which can be redeemed in a number of ways — including more travel. The latter allows cardholders to get up to 2% back in CAA dollars, when they book through authorized CAA travel agencies. CAA dollars can be applied to travel bookings, travel accessories and even CAA membership fees.
General deal and discount websites
If you’re looking for deals in your area, you might turn to Groupon, a website and app that entice shoppers to try the products or services of partnering retailers at a discount. Customers can search for general or location-specific bargains and purchase time-sensitive vouchers for the products and services in which they’re interested.
Occasionally, cruises are available.
In the past, I’ve seen Groupon offers for inexpensive sailings with MSC Cruises and Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line (now Margaritaville at Sea). These types of deals come with various restrictions, and you have to know your travel dates up front. But, if deep discounts are important to you, I’ve discovered fares from as low as $65 per person, per night.
Remember those cute Entertainment Books that came stuffed with tear-out coupons for local businesses — the ones every single school seemed to sell and which your parents would buy and then promptly forget about? Starting in 2022, the company has stopped printing the books and, instead, is featuring all of its deals on an app.
That’s key info to have, especially when I tell you that Entertainment has a travel arm, and it includes cruises. Entertainment Cruises sells voyages from most of the popular ocean, river and luxury lines, and it has a 110% guarantee that you won’t find a lower price or better deal elsewhere at the time of booking. The best part is you don’t even have to have an Entertainment membership to book through Entertainment Cruises.
Travel loyalty program portals
There are few things more satisfying than earning travel by simply traveling, but many cruise line loyalty programs aren’t lucrative. That’s why it’s exciting that you can also earn points and miles by booking cruises via some of the hotel and airline loyalty programs in which you might already be enrolled.
Several airlines — including Alaska Air, American Airlines, British Airways, Delta, Frontier, Spirit and United — have cruise booking sites that allow you to earn miles every time you purchase a sailing. Bonus points — literally — if you book through one of the portals using the corresponding airline-branded credit card, which will earn you additional miles for buying a voyage.
If you’re more of a hotel loyalist than a frequent flyer, you can also book cruises through hotels like Hilton via Cruises Only or through Marriott’s Cruise With Points program to earn Hilton Honors or Marriott Bonvoy points, respectively. Bonvoy offers the most value of the two, giving cruisers 3 points per dollar spent, up to 30,000 points.
As with airlines, hotels will award even more points for cruise bookings made using cobranded credit cards, such as one of Marriott’s Bonvoy cards, which will award you an additional 3 points per dollar for cruise bookings made through the portal.
Additionally, Hyatt has partnered with Lindblad Expeditions to allow World of Hyatt loyalty members to book sailings with the line. They will receive one Hyatt qualifying night for each night of their voyage and 5 points per dollar spent on the cruise fare.
For anyone looking to burn instead of earn, Hyatt allows points to be redeemed for Lindblad sailings. Similarly, Marriott’s program also allows Bonvoy members to cash in their points on a cruise. But, if you’re looking for value beyond points, booking through these channels can help you to snag up to 75% off cruise fares, onboard credit and other perks for many of the most well-known cruise lines.
You can also cross-earn across travel verticals. For example, if you’re a member of United’s MileagePlus frequent flyer program, you can book your sailing through United Cruises while paying for it with, say, your Bonvoy card, thereby earning both United miles and Marriott points.
Credit card portals
If you’re an American Express, Chase or Citi cardholder, you can utilize your card’s respective travel portal or dedicated agents to book a sailing, potentially earning some extra points and perks in the process. As an example, American Express Travel offers a Cruise Privileges Program, which grants passengers up to $300 in onboard credit per cabin, as well as bonus points on cruise bookings made through Amex.
Although cruisers can’t book sailings directly via the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, they can call an agent to handle the reservation over the phone. You can pay with points if you have enough saved, or use a credit card that will earn you points toward future redemptions. Chase’s cruise program doesn’t offer as many extras for cruisers as Amex’s does, but Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders do get up to $300 in annual statement credits when they book travel, including cruises.
Meanwhile, Citi allows its cardholders to book cruises via its Citi Travel Portal. You can, of course, pay with any credit card, but if you already have a Citi Prestige® Card, you can use it to earn 3 points per dollar. The platform also allows you to apply Citi ThankYou Rewards points toward your sailing, but you’ll have to call a Citi agent who can help you apply them.
The information for the Citi Prestige Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
One of the major drawbacks to these portals is that they only partner with select cruise lines, often excluding at least one or two major brands and some niche options like river cruises.
How it works
In many cases, these providers will sell cruises to consumers either through the cruise lines directly (Groupon) or via a travel agency, such as World Travel Holdings, which oversees bookings made with BJ’s, Entertainment and the airlines mentioned above.
If you want to earn points or miles, score perks and extras, and save some money on your cruise fare, these less-conventional booking methods are a great place to look. Just be sure to do some comparison shopping to ensure you’re getting the best deal, and know which credit cards to use to maximize your spending.
Keep in mind that, if you book through one of these third parties, you should inquire ahead of time about whether assistance is available if something goes wrong. Some of the avenues mentioned — auto clubs, airline and hotel booking portals, and wholesale clubs — will have someone available to help. However, with others (like Groupon), you’re likely to be on your own and will have to sort out any snags with the cruise line directly.
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