Taking a cruise can be a very affordable vacation, particularly if you find one that costs less than $100 per night. However, I live about 700 miles from the Florida ports, so I always have to fly. Since the pandemic, flight costs have skyrocketed, and so have hotel fees.

Nevertheless, I booked the Jewel of the Seas cruise ship for a transatlantic in April 2023, and I pulled it off using travel credit cards and savvy. I received free flights, including a business class transatlantic leg, free hotel rooms, and minimal expenses for the cruise.

Since 2021, I’ve been learning how to use credit card points and miles programs for free travel, so it was time to put my hard work into action.

Here’s how I did it.

Planning the Cruise With Miles and Points

I chose a Transatlantic cruise because I’ve never done one before, but I love sea days. They’re so relaxing.

Transatlantic, transpacific, and repositioning cruises include many sea days as the ship is relocated from one region to another during a specific season.

In this case, Jewel was moving from the Caribbean to Northern Europe for cruises in Norway, the British Isles, and Iceland.

Jewel of the Seas cruise ship docked in Port Canaveral FL with sign next to it reading Welcome to Jewel of the Seas

Embarking Jewel of the Seas at Port Canaveral, FL

Also, I wanted to keep the costs as low as possible so I’d have more money free to do things like the Chef’s Table, a few premium dining experiences, cool excursions, and more.

I’ve been learning about using credit cards and loyalty programs for earning points and miles for a couple of years, and finally got my first card in the summer of 2021. Since then, I’ve been on a mission to integrate those strategies into cruising, my favorite type of vacation.

Cruise ship cabin with white linen queen bed against a window, blue loveseat sofa on the left side and vanity and medium brown wood storage on the right. Oceanview room on Royal Caribbean Jewel of the Seas

Oceanview room on Royal Caribbean Jewel of the Seas Deck 4 near the Centrum.

The quoted cost for an oceanview cabin was about $1,553, including taxes, for a 12-night cruise, which was about $125 per night.

I used a couple of strategies to get the most out of my booking.

Royal Caribbean NextCruise

Royal Caribbean, like most cruise ships, has an onboard travel agency called NextCruise that will help you book your next cruise.

A woman sitting at a desk looking at her computer under a sign reading NextCruise, the travel agency onboard Royal Caribbean Voyager of the Seas.

NextCruise office onboard Royal Caribbean Voyager of the Seas.

Typically, onboard booking services offer additional perks and discounts you can’t get on land.

I booked this Transatlantic cruise while on a previous cruise, so the deposit was only $100.

Royal Caribbean invoice showing a total amount of $1553

Royal Caribbean invoice showing a total fee of $1,553.

In addition, NextCruise offered a $100 discount or onboard credit as a “thank you” gift. So off the top, I saved $100 on my cruise just in the booking.

Saved $100 by booking with NextCruise

 

Travel Agent

NextCruise transferred the booking to my travel agent, who gave me an even better rate!

Royal Caribbean invoice showing a total amount of $1016

The total cost for single occupancy of a double occupancy cabin was $1,016, including port fees and taxes. For a 12-night cruise!

What a deal!

On top of that, my agent also threw in an extra $100 of onboard credit (OBC) that helped cover about half of the internet package fee.

Travel agent saved me $537 and gave me an extra $100 OBC

 

American Express Offers

Many credit cards now have exclusive offers you can add to your card. You logon to the bank’s website and there’s a section with cash back or points offers.

In my case, I’d discovered an offer for Royal Caribbean through American Express at just the right time.

Screenshot of an American Express Membership reward offering 25,000 points for spending $1,000 on a Royal Caribbean Cruise. Offer expired December 2022.

In addition to saving $100 through NextCruise, over $500 with my travel agent, and $100 of onboard credit, now American Express had an exclusive offer for Royal Caribbean.

Spend at least $1,000 on a cruise (not onboard services or cruise planner expenses) on the Gold card, and they would credit my account with 25,000 American Express Membership Rewards points!

I received the bonus points after I paid the final payment. And, yes, I paid the deposit on the previous cruise using my American Express Gold card because the offer was available while I was on my previous cruise.

Rewarded with 25,000 Amex Membership Rewards points through an exclusive Royal Caribbean offer

In the ship's centrum, people gather around on multiple floors to watch a man in a kilt and jacket host a game of "finish that lyric."

The Centrum, a hub of daily activity, on Royal Caribbean Jewel of the Seas Deck 4 near the main elevators.

With the cruise booked, I had to figure out how to get myself to Florida for embarkation and how I would get home from Amsterdam after disembarkation.

I’ve never booked anything using points and miles before, so planning everything this way was a completely new experience.

Most travel hacking influencers emphasize travelers can get more value for their points if they take advantage of credit card transfer partners, so that’s what I did!

Booking Flights

The first flight I wanted to secure was the long-haul return flight. I was traveling from Amsterdam to my North Carolina home.

KLM/FlyingBlue

I checked US hub cities for returning transatlantic legs including New York, Boston, Washington, Chicago, Atlanta, and Miami. Alternatively, I also looked for another European city I could take a short flight to and hope for a non-stop itinerary to Raleigh or Charlotte.

However, I noticed on KLM’s Flying Blue website that one of the cities they were promoting that month was Toronto. Flying Blue is the loyalty program for KLM and Air France.

Picture of toronto and a KLM flight 25% Promo for discounted frequent flyer miles.

I found a business class seat from Amsterdam to Toronto for $4,354, but that’s way outside my budget. 

Screenshot from KLM's website showing the cost of business class flight from Amsterdam to Toronto is $4378

When I searched using points, the same seat was available for only 55,000 FlyingBlue points!

A website query showing a flight from Amsterdam to Toronto for 55,000 Flying Blue miles.

I’ve never flown on KLM or Air France before, so I had no FlyingBlue points. I had to get some.

That’s where my American Express Gold Card and Membership Rewards points came in handy.

American Express is a transfer partner with several airlines, including KLM. This means you can earn points through American Express and transfer them to a partner for no fee.

I had access to Amex Membership Rewards points because during the summer of 2022, I applied for and received the American Express Gold Card with a 90,000 points introductory bonus.

 

Screenshot from American Express website showing the transfer value of 44,000 Membership Rewards points to FlyingBlue (KLM) is worth 55,000 FlyingBlue points.

American Express website asking how many points I wanted to transfer to FlyingBlue.

In addition, American Express’s Membership Rewards transfer bonus of 25% to Flying Blue that month. In the end, it only cost me 44,000 American Express Membership Rewards points.

I was thrilled with the result!

 

People sitting at small tables waiting for flights at Amsterdam KLM lounge.

KLM business class even gave me access to the lounge in Amsterdam.

And free breakfast!

Blue and white KLM 777 aircraft at Amsterdam Airport

KLM 777 aircraft at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

KLM business class seat with a pillow and amenity kit on the cushion

My (almost) FREE business class seat on KLM from Amsterdam to Toronto.

So although they sunk me for $260 in taxes and fuel surcharges, it was a bargain price for 7 hours in lie-flat business class.

Saved $4,354 by transferring 44,000 American Express Membership Rewards points to Flying Blue (KLM) to book business class

American Airlines AAdvantage Miles

Now that my long-haul flight was scheduled, I focused on returning from Toronto. I booked two American Airlines flights for 11,000 AA points and paid $57 in taxes.

Saved $263 by using American Airlines points

Previously, I received an 80,000 points welcome bonus from Barclay’s American Airlines AAdvantage card, so I used some of those to cover the flights. In addition, I used a flight credit from a previously canceled trip for the voyage to the port.

Several American Airlines aircraft at Charlotte airport gates

Hotels

Since hotels are another expensive part of traveling, I focused on finding hotels with convenient locations with amenities that met my needs, like a free airport shuttle and walking distance to activities.

Orlando

Because this was a transatlantic trip, I didn’t want to fly on the day of embarkation. If the flight was delayed and I missed the ship’s departure, I’d lose out on most of the cruise since the next port of call was seven days later.

I’d previously booked a port transfer that left from Orlando airport, so that meant I needed an Orlando hotel stay with an airport shuttle to return me to the airport in the morning.

Fortunately, Hyatt has several hotels available for 5,000 and 9,500 points per night, which is significantly less than most others. It makes it a really good value, but the only program I had access to that transferred to Hyatt was Chase.

Using Chase Ultimate Rewards points from my Chase Sapphire Preferred card, I transferred 9500 to World of Hyatt. I picked the Hyatt Place near the airport because it fit the bill.

Shockingly, the cash price for the room was $416–for a single night. For 9,500 points and no taxes or fees, that makes it a massive bargain!

A hotel room with two beds and white linens
Invoice from Hyatt showing the room booked for 9,500 World of Hyatt points

Saved $416 by transferring 9,500 Chase points to World of Hyatt

A hotel room with two beds and white linens

Amsterdam

In addition, I wanted to stay a couple of extra days in Amsterdam since it’s my first European journey, and I’ve wanted to see Amsterdam for years. So I booked a Hilton property near the cruise port, the DoubleTree.

The rates were over $500 per night, but again, Amex points to the rescue. Amex offered a transfer bonus of 60%, so my 47,000 points became 122,200 Hilton points, enough to cover two nights at this ideal hotel.

Front of the DoubleTree Amsterdam Central Station hotel, a 10 story glass building

Saved $1,075 by transferring 47,000 Amex points to Hilton

Hotel room with one double bed and white linens large TV in foreground and luggage by the window in the background
Hotel room with one double bed and white linens

I was pleasantly surprised by the wonderful view from my room at the DoubleTree in Amsterdam.

If I had to pay for a hotel room in Amsterdam, it probably would have been some tiny room on a low floor in a no-name hotel or hostel, and wouldn’t have had the opportunity for the wonderful view, great location, or portable wifi option.

Obscured view of Amsterdam city rooftops from DoubleTree Amsterdam Central Station from 10th floor with tulips in the foreground growing on the roof of the building blocking part of the view.View of a sunset with bright orange and red colors as seen from the 10th floor of the DoubleTree Central Station in Amsterdam

Daytime and sunset from my free room at the Amsterdam DoubleTree Central Station.

Shareholder Benefits

In June 2022, cruise line stocks were performing poorly, so I took the opportunity during the downturn to buy 100 shares of all three major lines:

  • Royal Caribbean (includes Celebrity)
  • Carnival (includes Princess, Holland America, Cunard, Costa, P&O, Seabourn, and Aida
  • Norwegian (NCL, Oceania, and Regent)

All three cruise lines reward you with onboard credit for each cruise you take.

The credit depends on the length of the cruise. In this case, RCL credited me with $100 in addition to the bounty my travel agent offered and the discount NextCruise provided.

Here’s the breakdown:

Activity Money Saved Points Program
$100 discount on cruise $100 RCCL NextCruise
$100 onboard credit (OBC) $100 Travel agent promotion
$100 OBC $100 Shareholder benefit
Flight to Orlando $458 American Airlines flight credit
Business class flight on KLM $4,354 44,000 American Express Member Rewards
Flights home from Toronto $286 11,000 American Airlines Advantage Miles
Hyatt Place Orlando Airport $416 9,500 Chase Ultimate Rewards
DoubleTree Amsterdam Central $1,075 47,000 American Express Member Rewards
Total free travel savings: $6,866

Final Thoughts

Sailing the ocean on a cruise vacation can be very affordable, but adding flights and hotels can quickly double or triple costs. However, if you utilize cruise points and miles to reduce those costs, you can save money and get upgraded amenities.

Using points and miles for a cruise vacation is tricky when you’re trying to reduce the cost of the cruise itself.

Cruise lines don’t offer miles programs the way airlines and hotels do. Typically, you cannot use your loyalty status as currency. So, my mission has been to focus on using cruise points and miles.

I am so proud of my accomplishment. I’m not a professional traveler, just a regular person who enjoys cruises whenever the opportunity arises.

It was a lot of work learning about points and the hours I spent searching for flights and hotels. But, man, it was worth it! I saved almost $7,000 for a wonderful and memorable trip.

From now on, I will try to use points and miles whenever I travel and I’m committed to finding ways to reduce the cost of cruise travel as well.

If this inspires you to start your own points and miles journey, here’s my advice:

Get started with one card, and if possible, have your spouse or ‘player 2’ get one as well. But don’t dive into the world of points and miles unless you can pay off the card balance every single month.

Let me know in the comments how you’ve used points and miles on your cruise vacations.

Thank You

I also want to send thanks to Zachary Burr Abel and Julia Menez for all the amazing content they create. I wouldn’t have known how to do this kind of trip on miles and points without them.

Give them a follow if you’d also like to learn how to use miles and points to save money on travel.

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