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If your idea of a perfect getaway involves taking the scenic route to far-flung locales, then you may have a co-branded cruise credit card or two in your wallet. Cards like the Princess Cruises Rewards Visa® Card or the Holland America Line Rewards Visa® Card can help you earn rewards on purchases that you can redeem for discounts and amenities when booking your next cruise.
The coronavirus pandemic may have thrown a wrench in your travel plans, as many cruise lines have temporarily halted operations. With the future of the industry uncertain, you may be wondering whether it's still worth it to hang on to your cruise line credit card.
If you're undecided about keeping your card or letting it go, here are a few things to consider.
Review your card's rewards program
The value of any travel credit card, including cruise line cards, lies primarily with its rewards program. How you can earn rewards, and how you can redeem them, can be important when deciding whether to hang onto a particular card or not.
With cruise line cards, it's typical for you to earn the most rewards when booking cruises or charging onboard purchases. The Princess Cruises Rewards Visa® Card, for example, lets you earn 2 points per dollar on all Princess Cruise Lines purchases. But charge anything else to your card and you'll earn just 1 point per dollar.
The Carnival® World Mastercard® offers a little more flexibility since you can earn 2 points per dollar spent on Carnival Cruises and with brands from the World's Leading Lines. That means you have more than one option for earning twice the points on cruise purchases, but you'll still only earn 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.
If you're accustomed to using your cruise credit card to book cruises, you may not get as much value from it when there are no boardings on the horizon.
Check the rates, fees and perks
Aside from the rewards, you should also look at what keeping a cruise credit card on hand could cost you, especially if you anticipate using it less often.
If you haven't reviewed your card's terms and conditions lately, take time to give them a glance. Specifically, zero in on the card's annual fee, if any.
A cruise credit card with no annual fee may be easier to justify keeping around compared to one that charges an annual fee. Again, this hinges on when you think you'll realistically be able to book cruise travel again, especially if your card limits rewards redemption to cruise purchases only.
If the card has an annual fee, look at what benefits or features are included that might make up for that.
Take the Norwegian Cruise Line MasterCard, for instance, which pays 3 points per dollar on Norwegian purchases. If you're a Bank of America Preferred Rewards customer, you can earn 25% to 75% more rewards on purchases made with this card, cruise-related or otherwise. Since this card pays 2 points per dollar on eligible airfare and hotel purchases and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases, the Preferred Rewards bonus could be a nice incentive to keep it open.
» Learn more: Is it worth paying an annual fee for a credit card?
Consider making a switch, but choose wisely
Switching to a cash back rewards credit card, such as the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer or the Chase Freedom Unlimited® might be a better fit to take advantage of earning a percentage back everywhere you spend.
Some cards let you split the difference, earning a percentage back on purchases that you could then redeem for cruises. The Disney's Premier Visa® Card, for example, lets you earn 2% cash back on gas, groceries and purchases at most Disney locations. All other purchases earn 1% back. Those rewards can be redeemed for Disney cruise packages as well as other travel purchases, including airfare.
The other option is to choose a travel rewards card that lets you earn points on purchases that you can redeem for cruises, travel, airfare and other travel-related purchases. The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is a solid option; this card allows you to earn 2 points per dollar on travel (5 points if you book through the Chase travel portal) and 3 points per dollar on dining, along with 1 point per dollar on all other purchases. When you redeem points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® you get 25% more value. This card does have a $95 annual fee, but you could get more mileage from it than you could with your cruise credit card if cruise lines remain shut down for an extended time.
» Learn more: Cash back vs. travel: How to choose credit card rewards
Make sure you redeem before canceling
If you have a bank of points you've accumulated with a cruise card you plan to cancel, don't let them go to waste. Check your card's redemption options to see if you can use them for anything other than cruise purchases, such as gift cards or a statement credit. If that's not possible, consider whether you may be able to transfer rewards to a partner travel program. And if all else fails, you may be able to donate your unused points to a good cause.
When in doubt about how you can redeem rewards for a cruise card you plan to cancel, call up your card issuer. They can guide you on the best way to use points, and they may even throw a juicy retention offer your way to keep you as a customer if you do get serious about canceling the card.
How to Maximize Your Rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2021, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card