The Impulsive Traveler’s Guide to Cruise Hacking

Cruise hacking is a subset of travel hacking. And if the concept of travel hacking is new to you, here’s the deal: Travel hacking is simply the art of maximizing loyalty and travel reward points so you can get discounted (and most times free) hotels, flights, car rentals and cruises. And before I share the actual mechanics of how I scored a $1160 rebate on an upcoming cruise, a little context.

For the past three years, my wife and I have celebrated New Years in Europe. Our trips included stops in Glasgow, Manchester, London, Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam. While all these cities offer unforgettable experiences, moving from hotel to hotel mid-trip is exhausting. That’s what prompted us to explore the possibility of spending our next European New Year on a cruise. A cruise allows you to visit popular destinations, while also keeping the same hotel room.

cruise hacking

Planning Could Have Saved Us Thousands!

It didn’t take too long to discover New Years is possibly the most expensive time to take a cruise. After scouring the internet for an entire Sunday afternoon (not kidding), we settled on an MSC Cruise with several stops around Spain and Italy. The cruise totaled out to $3,648, another $1,756 for our flight and roughly $210 to cover two nights in a hotel.  Suffice it to say, spending $5,614 represents a pretty sizable chunk of change. And blowing this kind of money is the opposite of cruise hacking!

Despite our excitement, my wife and I could have planned better. Just a month earlier we squandered 100,000 Alaska Airline Miles to fly first class from California to Pennsylvania. Had we flown coach, the leftover Alaska miles would have covered the Europe flight. We also discovered that some airlines allow you to use miles to purchase cruises.

To make up for our frivolous mileage spend, we decided to think ahead. If we were going to pay cash for this trip, we may as well leverage the spend in preparation for a future trip. Because we didn’t have much time (before flight prices increased), we booked our $1,756 flight with my Alaska Airlines Visa. This at least earned us 1756 airline miles, which isn’t much.

Cruise Hacking With Credit Card Reward Points

MSC allowed us to reserve our room with a non-refundable $398 deposit. Once set, I quickly applied for the Capital One Venture credit card. The card gives you 2X miles per dollar on every purchase, and 50,000 bonus miles once you spend $3,000 within the first 3 months. When the card arrived, we immediately contacted MSC and paid the remaining balance of $3250. We also made a few additional purchases, including a hotel. This gave us a total of 61,330 miles.

When I initially applied for the card, I didn’t realize how quickly Capital One would reward us for the purchases. Unlike other cards that usually take a few cycles to process, the miles were ready for use in days. I was also happy to discover Capital One Venture also allows you to redeem travel purchases!

venture card travel hacks

Capital One gave us the option to redeem our miles to towards the hotel (which we booked through Expedia) and a portion of the cruise. We selected the cruise, and the 61,330 miles reduced our cruise total by $613 or $2637. While not the most groundbreaking example of cruise hacking, saving a few hundred dollars was better than nothing. But it wasn’t good enough…

Prompted by the cash back rewards at Capital One, we researched other credit cards. My wife found and applied for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. After spending the required $4,000 minimum (which also required some creative spending I’ll share in future articles) we received an additional credit for $547.

Chase Sapphire Rewards Travel Hacking

When added up, the credit card rewards reduced our total out of pocket spend from $5,614 to $4,454, providing a total savings of $1,160. Here is how it looks from a reimbursement perspective:

  • $110 – Hotel, first night (Reimbursed!)
  • $100 – Hotel, last night (Reimbursed!)
  • $1,756 – Flight for two (Reduced to $596)
  • $3,648 – Cruise for two

While these reimbursements aren’t life changing, getting some cash back is better than paying full price. Had we done our research a year (or even six months) in advance, we could have generated enough reward points to cover the entire trip. So bottom line, when it comes to cruise hacking, advanced planning is key!