Thinking about setting sail on the open seas for fun, food and relaxation? Well, today’s cruise ships can suit almost any sensibility and budget.

And just as you have many cruise options to choose from, there are numerous credit cards you could choose to pay with. Cruise line-specific cards might seem like an obvious choice, but they aren’t always the best. Flexible rewards credit cards have more redemption options, often provide heftier bonuses for new cardholders and usually earn more points in many categories.

Here are NerdWallet’s best cards for cruises, why we like them and why many co-branded cruise credit cards may not be your best bet.

Top credit cards for cruises

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Why we like it: It earns 2x points per $1 spent on travel (including cruises) and its points are worth 25% more when redeemed for travel. Plus, it offers travel protections.

Bonus: Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $1,250 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

Annual fee: $95

Details: The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is a traveler favorite because of its solid rewards rate, versatile Ultimate Rewards® points and a midtier price point. Points earned from the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card are easy to redeem. Just use them to book travel directly in the Chase portal for a solid value of 1.25 cents each for hotels, airfare, rental cars, cruises and experiences. (Or transfer points directly to many large travel partners like Marriott, United, Hyatt and Southwest.)

Though it can’t be done online, you can also use Chase Ultimate Rewards® points to book a cruise. Log in to your Chase account, navigate to the travel portal and search the “cruises” tab. A few cruise options will display there, but you’ll have to call Chase’s Cruises and Tours department to book. And even if you don’t see a great cruise option in a search, you may be able to book cruises that aren’t listed when you call Chase.

If you book a cruise with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, you’ll enjoy travel protections if the trip is canceled, interrupted or delayed.

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Why we like it: It earns 2X miles per $1 spent on all purchases, including travel and cruises. Miles are easy to redeem, and the card gives some travel protections, too.

Bonus: Earn 100,000 bonus miles when you spend $20,000 on purchases in the first 12 months from account opening, or still earn 50,000 miles if you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.

Annual fee: $95

Details: You’ll earn 2X miles on every purchase, every day. And while you may mistakenly think that miles can be redeemed for airfare only, Venture miles are actually incredibly versatile. You can use the Purchase Eraser to “erase” travel purchases with statement credits, book new travel directly through Capital One or cash out miles for gift cards. All of these redemption options give you the ability to lock in a fixed value of one cent per mile.

It’s easy to use rewards to book a cruise. After you’ve found the best option for you, book it on any website using your Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. Then, use your miles to erase some or all of the charges. Or you could opt to cash out Venture miles for gift cards for Carnival, Princess, Disney and Royal Caribbean cruises, to name a few. Alternatively, you could book a cruise directly through the Capital One travel portal using miles.

The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card offers travel accident insurance and offers up to $100 in credit toward the application fee credit for TSA Precheck or Global Entry.

Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card

Why we like it: It earns 2X points per $1 spent on travel and dining and 1.5X points on everything else. Points are worth the same no matter how you redeem them. Plus, you’ll earn more with an eligible Bank of America® account.

Bonus: Receive 50,000 online bonus points – a $500 value – after you make at least $3,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening.

Annual fee: $95

Details: The Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card offers solid rewards earnings and gives flexibility when you redeem said rewards. Earning potential gets even better if you’re a member of Bank of America®’s Preferred Rewards program, which is open to those with at least $20,000 in combined balances in Bank of America® or eligible Merrill accounts. Depending on the size of your account, you can get a rewards boost from 25% to 75%.

Bank of America® has one of the broadest definitions of “travel” of any credit card issuer. Use your Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card to pay for the cruise, airfare, parking fees and some ship excursions, and you’ll earn at least 2X rewards on the purchases. Points can be redeemed for a credit on your statement, gift cards, a deposit into a Bank of America® or Merrill account (checking, savings or 529 plan) or travel booked through the Bank of America® Travel Center. Each point is worth 1 cent, no matter how you use them.

Book with your Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card and you’ll get trip delay reimbursement, trip cancellation coverage and other travel assistance services.

U.S. Bank Altitude® Connect Visa Signature® Card

Why we like it: It earns a standout rate of 4X points per $1 spent on travel (including gas), and it will insure your cell phone while you’re cruising (and when you aren’t).

Bonus: Earn 50,000 bonus points when you spend $3,000 in eligible purchases within the first 120 days of account opening. That’s a $500 value redeemable towards merchandise, gift cards, cash back, travel and more.

Annual fee: $0 intro for the first year, then $95

Details: The U.S. Bank Altitude® Connect Visa Signature® Card is the midlevel option in the family of U.S. Bank Altitude cards. Use the card to book your cruise and you’ll earn a hefty 4X points on the bill. Plus, the card earns 2X on dining, streaming services and grocery store purchases, and comes with a $30 annual credit on streaming services.

U.S. Bank points are worth 1 cent each and can be redeemed for travel (including cruises), cash back or gift cards. (Points earned from the U.S. Bank Altitude® Connect Visa Signature® Card, though, cannot be transferred to its premium sibling, the U.S. Bank Altitude™ Reserve Visa Infinite® Card. That card allows holders to redeem points at a higher value of 1.5 cents each for travel through U.S. Bank.)

The U.S. Bank Altitude® Connect Visa Signature® Card also comes with cell phone protection, so your phone is protected on the high seas and on dry land. Use the card to pay your cell phone bill and you’ll get secondary cell phone insurance for a damaged or stolen phone.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

Why we like it: It comes with boatloads of luxury perks, extensive travel protections and bonus credits.

Bonus: Earn 75,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $5,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Terms Apply.

Annual fee: $550

Details: While you won’t get the highest possible value when redeeming points for a cruise (points will be worth just 0.5 to 0.7 cent each this way), The Platinum Card® from American Express can be a great card to book your trip with and carry while you cruise.

Cardholders of The Platinum Card® from American Express are entitled to the benefits of the American Express Cruise Privileges Program when they book at least five nights. You’ll get access to benefits like a credit of up to $300 redeemable toward dining and spa services onboard, plus amenities like wine, champagne and chocolate. Terms apply.

The Cruise Privileges Program works with a dozen major cruise lines, like Royal Caribbean, Holland America and Crystal. When you call this specific department at American Express and book with your card, you’ll earn 2X points on the price of a cruise. Terms apply.

The Platinum Card® from American Express also comes with luxury travel perks that can make your journey to the cruise ship more pleasant when you enroll, like automatic hotel elite status and airport lounge access. Plus, the card comes with an annual credit of up to $100 at Saks for pre-cruise shopping. Terms apply.

When you pay for your trip with The Platinum Card® from American Express, you’ll be covered for trip delays and cancellations, lost luggage and emergency medical assistance, and you’ll get primary rental car coverage, too. Terms apply — see rates and fees.

Co-branded cruise credit card options

There are many cruise line-specific credit cards that can be appealing to brand loyalists. Some offer exclusive perks and discounts that you won’t find anywhere else, and most don’t charge annual fees. Since many cruise lines have partnerships, the rewards earned on some cards are interchangeable among several cruise brands, too.

But the truth is, for most people, these cards aren’t the best option for cruises. In general, co-branded cruise line cards are underwhelming. They tend to offer subpar welcome offers and ongoing rewards, confusing redemption options, and, of course, the biggest drawback is that they lock you into using your credit card rewards solely on a cruise. When compared with other “flexible currency” cards, their value pales in comparison.

More on these cards:

  • Carnival World Mastercard: Offers a low promotional APR on purchases and on balance transfers, and gives a 10% statement credit when you book a Carnival shore excursion prior to your trip. But its tiered rewards redemptions can be hard to navigate.

  • Norweigan Cruise Line® World Mastercard®: You can redeem points not only for cruise-related charges, but for airline tickets, cash back and more. This card is eligible for Bank of America®’s Preferred Rewards program, meaning you can earn a 25% to 75% boost in the rewards rate if you have an eligible account with appropriate funds.

  • Princess Cruises Rewards Visa® Card: This card offers an introductory 0% APR on balance transfers, and points can be redeemed for onboard credits and amenities as well as other travel, like airfare and hotels. But the amount of points needed to redeem varies by how large your cruise purchase is, making the program confusing and cumbersome.

  • Holland America Line Rewards Visa® Card: Like the Carnival- and Princess-branded credit cards, the Holland America Line Rewards Visa® Card features a tiered redemption program, meaning the value of your points depends on what you choose to redeem them for and the amount of your purchase. Rewards are worth 1% to 2.5% toward Holland America purchases or 1% toward purchases on other cruise lines. You can choose to do a balance transfer and receive an introductory 0% APR.

  • Royal Caribbean Visa Signature® Credit Card: This is a run-of-the-mill co-branded card that earns 2X points per dollar on qualifying cruise purchases and 1X points on all other purchases. In addition to a small bonus, it offers a $50 discount on Royal Carribean’s Air2Sea program when you spend $3,500 on purchases in the first 90 days.

  • Celebrity Cruises® Visa Signature® Credit Card: Like its sister card (the Royal Caribbean Visa Signature® Credit Card, noted above), the Celebrity card offers a small bonus and earns 2X points per dollar on qualifying cruise purchases and 1X points on everything else. Points earned on both the Royal Caribbean and Celebrity versions of the card can be redeemed for purchases on either cruise line.

  • Disney Credit Cards: Disney cruises are among the most popular (and often priciest) of cruise options. There are two versions of the Disney card: the Disney Rewards® Visa® Card and the Disney’s Premier Visa® Card. Both earn Disney Rewards Dollars that are worth $1 each when redeemed toward eligible Disney goods or services, and both cards offer an introductory 0% APR.

To view rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, see this page.

The information related to the Disney Rewards® Visa® Card and Disney’s Premier Visa® Card the credit card has been collected by NerdWallet and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.

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