I’m a big fan of optimizing, and sometimes that takes the shape of combining one trip with another. When I wrote this, I was away for a four-day anesthesia meeting in Hawaii, but we actually enjoyed the tropical paradise for 23 days, visiting three different islands.
My flight to Hawaii was reimbursed by my employer, and the other three round-trip flights (for my wife and 7 & 9-year old boys) were booked with miles thanks the sign-up bonus miles from a pair of American Airlines credit cards from Citi that my wife and I opened. If you have a business, you can also consider obtaining the Citi Business version with an equal or larger bonus.
Over the last three years or so, we’ve booked at least a couple dozen free domestic and international flights by using the points and miles from introductory offers on different credit cards. While many of the offers are particular to one airline or hotel chain, others are more flexible.
The most flexible points simply allow you to be reimbursed for any charge that can be considered travel, and those will come in handy if you choose to join us for the floating festivities.
Our Cruise to Cuba
When we returned from FinCon17, we immediately made plans to attend the 2018 conference in Orlando. We usually take a cruise about every other year, and our boys really enjoyed our last cruise, which was their first.
I was delighted to learn that there was a perfectly timed cruise to a destination I’m pretty excited to see: Havana, Cuba. [post-publication edit: You can no longer take a cruise to Cuba. I’m soooo glad we went when we did!]
The Havana portion is a twelve-hour stop, which isn’t a vast amount of time to explore, but it’s more than you get at your average port of call.
- Saturday, 9/22/2018: Departs from Tampa at 4:00 pm
- Sunday: Arrives in Key West at 1:00 pm. Departs at 7:00 pm
- Monday: Arrives at Havana, Cuba at 8:00 am. Departs at 8:00 pm
- Tuessday: Day at Sea
- Wednesday, 9/26/2018: Arrives at Tampa at 7:00 am
We opted for 6 pm dining, which Royal Caribbean considers early dining, which more closely resembles our family dinner time at home. It’s nice to go straight from dinner to the evening’s entertainment or other activity.
Cruise for Free with Travel Rewards?
While I have been known to give away Bitcoin, I’m not about to give away a cruise. You’re going to have to do a little bit of work to get your free cruise, but there’s plenty of time to make that happen with bonus rewards from credit cards.
Unlike many of the airlines, you won’t find credit cards with bonus miles that can be directly redeemed for a cruise. There are, however, several cards with bonus offers that can be used to reimburse you dollar for dollar for any travel, and of course, a cruise counts.
Currently, a family of four in an oceanview stateroom can book the cruise for about $1,800. For a couple, it’s about $1,300.
Bonus offers for meeting minimum spending requirements on some of these cards are valid for $500 or more in travel. Also keep in mind that for a couple, both couples can apply for the same card (smarter than getting a companion card for a spouse) which allows you both to receive the lucrative reward points, potentially resulting in $1,000 or more in free travel for each card you both acquire and meet the minimum spend.
Some of the best options for flexible travel reimbursement (such as cruising) include:
- Capital One® Venture® Rewards (compare this card)
- Capital One® Spark® Miles for Business (compare this card)
- Capital One Savor Cash Rewards (compare this card)
- Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®
- Citi ThankYou® Premier Card
I’m not allowed to link directly to the last two cards, but they can easily be found via the left sidebar on CardRatings when viewing other card offers. With our normal spending, we’ve been easily able to meet the minimum spending requirements of $3,000 to $4,500 in the first three months to earn the thousands of dollars in travel rewards available through the above cards.
Several of the cards mentioned above specifically reimburse travel. You can also consider any card that rewards you with money, and there are some great cash back credit cards that offer 2% back on all purchases and up to 6% or more back on specific and common spending categories. How’s that for passive income?
Why Cruise to Cuba?
Based on the offers I’ve seen, cruising is easily the most affordable way to visit the country. Tours of the country are very expensive compared to its neighbors in the Caribbean.
In twelve hours, we were able to take in many of Havana’s highlights, including the beautiful streets, antique cars, expansive churches, plazas, and quite possibly a mojito or two.
I also like the fact that someone who is only able to take one week off can take this cruise and also attend all of FinCon while only burning one week of vacation. If you’re not into FinCon (the Financial Conference where media & money meet), I’m sure you could find something else fun to do in Florida, home of the happiest place on earth, among other things.
Why cruise in general? To be perfectly honest, I have a bit of a love / hate relationship with cruises, but when we do them about every other year and combine them with another event, it’s mostly love.
Our prior two cruises were taken after attending a nearby wedding and the other after taking our boys to Universal Orlando. It’s hard for me to justify flying across the country only to jump on a cruise ship.
If I’m going to fly far away, I want to do something else while I’m there. Similarly, if we’re going to be near a port for a different reason, and have the time to spare, it makes sense for us to look for a cruise.
What I love about cruises:
- Very good, unlimited food
- Quality entertainment is included
- Visits to a variety of ports
- No need to drive
- Variety of onboard activity (trivia, a capella troupes, comedians, and main stage shows)
- Childcare often included or well worth the cost
- Friendly staff from around the world
What I hate about cruises:
- The same crappy stores near every port (I’m looking at you Del Sol and Diamonds International)
- The pound a day I’ll gain if I overindulge in the very good, unlimited food
- The ridiculous people that complain about the very good but not perfect food and service after getting a last minute deal on the cruise for a couple hundred bucks.
- The way it can get a bit crowded, and your only escape is a tiny stateroom
- When it’s over and we have to start taking care of ourselves for a change.
If you’re going to explore using travel rewards to travel for free, please use these links to explore those cards to support this site and its charitable mission.
A generous and temporarily increased welcome bonus of 60,000 points & Peloton membership credits on the Chase Sapphire Preferred & premium card perks with the Chase Sapphire Reserve!
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card60,000 Points with a $4,000 spend in 3 months
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is an excellent first (or only) rewards card. $50 annual hotel credit for bookings via the Chase UR tavel portal & 5x points for all travel via the portal. 3x points on dining, 2x on other travel. Flexible rewards good for cash, travel, or transfer to travel partners, great travel protection & new Peloton, Lyft & DoorDash perks! $95 Annual Fee
Chase Sapphire Reserve60,000 Points with a $4,000 spend in 3 months
The Chase Sapphire Reserve offers great travel perks including Priority Pass lounge access, a credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓ and a $300 annual travel credit. When using Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal, get 10x points on hotels and car rental & 5x points on flights. 3x points on other travel & dining. Elevated Peloton, Lyft and DoorDash benefits. $550 Annual Fee
What do you love or hate about cruises? Would you consider cruising for the first time if you’ve never been? Let us know down below!
38 thoughts on “Take a Free Cruise Using Travel Rewards”
Thanks for the great info here. Quick and probably simple question-these credit cards with great travel benefits often have annual fees. Do the benefit simply make it worth paying the annual fee or do you call the company and cancel before 12 months to get out of the fee? Is that even possible? I’ve only had cc’s with no annual fees.
Also-Is there any issue with opening multiple credit cards in regards to hurting my credit? Thanks and wish I could join you all!
Since you’re into points not sure if you have the Chase Ink (business) but with that card you can buy Royal Carribean gift cards through Gyft.com (must pay through PayPal using ink) and pay for your cruise. Every dollar you spend for any gift card through Gyft.com (must pay w/ PayPal using Ink) you receive 5 Chase points. I always do this to include buy gift cards for all my onboard expenses.
Great tip! I was not aware of that. I have had a Chase Ink Business Card, but I’m not sure it’s still active.
Welp, looks like my family and I will be joining you guys! I already have that week off, so it works great! I’ve been wanting to go to Cuba and also have wanted to get a chance to meet you, so why not combine them…
I’ll be going to FinCon for at least a day or two afterwards while my family goes off exploring. Looking forward to it!
Awesome! I’ll add you to the list.
p.s. Excited to talk worldschooling. That’s a big part of our plans going forward. Cheers!
Ok, I am officially excited for CUBA!!! The Mr and I have been wanting to go here for some time now and it is even better than we get to go with your guys (and the other awesome people signed up so far), as well as teaming it up with FinCon. Is it September yet??
I’m not into cruising, but I love the idea of stopping over in Cuba since we’ll be in Florida anyway. I just ran the idea by my husband, and he’s into it, so maybe we’ll see you there?
That would be swell! Sorry we missed you in NYC — I imagine you’re feeling better by now.
Let me know if you do book the trip, and I’ll add you to the list here.
While the cruise sounds great, we’ve already been to Havana during that short period that they were ‘open’ to individual tourists.
There’s so many great places to see. Here’s a small guide based on our personal experiences so please do not book any excursions from the ship: http://ajourneywelove.com/where-to-go-in-havana-cuba/
Key West is also a fun place to go to ! Have fun and will see you in FinCon
Sir, congratulations for the incoming trip. Do you enjoy doing social experiments? If you do , I will suggest this:
Ask the tourist guide that you heard of/like the music of Willy Chirino, Gloria Estefan, Ricky Ricardo or Andy Garcia and you want to buy CD, DVD s of these cuban-american(“ tell me where I can buy these stuff”).
Introduce as an anesthesiologist and ask to visit a nearby hospital to share some experiences with anesthesiologists there.
Listening to a podcast from J David stein the other day I was surprised because he naively said he didn’t find many policemen in the streets( being Cuba a communist country). The explanation is: there are three kinds of policemen in Cuba:the one that dresses as such, then the one dressing plainclothes and the most important is the one that every cuban carry inside her/his mind. Enjoy the trip, and please don’t drink water or ice because chances are the only recollection of Cuba would be an E coli or a Salmonella, and YES Havana WAS a wonderful city.
To prime you for the cruise, might I suggest this favorite travel essay by the late David Foster Wallace?
Buena suerte, PoF et al!
Sounds like a fantastic trip!
I am curious about how you redeem the points for the entire cruise $1,800? Do you pay with multiple cards? For example, if you had 2 Capital One® Venture® Rewards cards for you and spouse with $1,000 rewards on each. Do you pay $1,000 on one card and $800 on the second?
I only ask as my wife and I started opening up these types of cards in the past few weeks. In the past we had only been accumulating Chase points, which are easy to transfer/redeem, etc.
With a cruise, you’re typically expected to put down a deposit and pay the rest a few months prior to the sailing date. So you could put the deposit on one card, and pay for the balance with the other.
If the balance exceeds the point value on one card, I would expect you could easily pay with two cards with a phone call.
Thanks that helps a lot!
My wife has convinced us to do a cruise in west Carrie Ian in April. I’m not a fan of the concept of cruising but I’ve promised to have an open mind. We’ll see. Here’s hoping yours goes well.
As long as you go in with an open mind, I expect you’ll enjoy it, FTF. There are some things not to like that I outlined above, but the ships are pretty incredible, and there’s often something worth seeing or doing at the port once you get away from the shops and crap that populate the first half mile or so from the port.
I took a first cruise with 41 girlfriends last year! Super fun. My roommate and I didn’t gain an ounce because we took the stairs everywhere, except one elevator trip up with the luggage, and once down at the end with the luggage!
41 girlfriends. Who are you, Tiger Woods?
A cruise with a bunch of friends would be a great time, and we are stairs takers almost exclusively. It’s pretty easy to out-eat the stair-stepping though with the decadent desserts, frequent four-course meals, and soft-serve ice cream machines callin’ my name.
While this sounds like a great trip, you and your family should seriously rethink cruise ships as a form of vacation, let alone travel. They produce massive amounts of pollution and the air quality aboard is worse than in the most polluted cities. Here are two articles that do a much better job than me at highlighting just how bad they are:
Last but not least, thank you for your great blog – I’ve introduced quite a few DO and MD friends who, for whatever lame reason were unable to catch the Mr. Money Mustache bug, but they do seem to really enjoy your blog.
Thank you for sharing your perspective, Justin. I would like to see more environmentally practices from the cruise lines, but I suspect a behemoth of a ship like those can never be remotely good for the environment. I’ll take a gander at the articles you shared, and thank you for sharing them.
As far as others not getting into MMM, no matter how the message is framed, some will see his family’s level of spending and consider his to be a life of depravity. I don’t see it that way, but I do like to travel a lot more than they do. For that and a variety of other reasons, our annual budget is more than double that of MMM’s.
I love the irony of financial freedom meeting a dictatorship.
Great post PoF!
I’ll be seeing you in Orlando for FinCon, but I’m not sure about cruising to Orlando just yet. I’ll be taking my wife and a seven month old girl along so I’m not sure if a cruise is a good idea. Have done a cruise with a small child before? If so, how was it? I would like some insight please 🙂
In addition to your great list of cards for flexible travel reimbursement, I would like to add Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve. Overall, I think Chase Ultimate Rewards are the most useful/flexible/rewarding points out there. I know that you’re a well-versed travel hacker/optimizer, but if any of your readers want to read my post about “travel hacking”, it can be found here.
Also, nice taking advantage of the Citi AA cards to rack up American Airline AAdvantage miles. Those sign up bonuses were huge. In addition to the Citi cards that you mentioned, the Barclaycard AAdvantage Aviator card (not an affiliate link) is also great because you can easily rack up 50,000 AAdvantage miles with a single purchase (it can be something as cheap as a pack of gum!).
And as I mentioned to TPP above, anybody can open a business card without owning a “traditional business”. I have opened ten in the past two years under my name as a sole proprietor and using my SSN instead of a tax ID number. It’s really easy.
Cruising with a 7 month old is MUCH better than a year and a half old (ask me how I know). Just make sure you remember to bring swim diapers or at least pack a few extra cloth diapers if you ever plan to spend a day at the beach (again, ask me how I know) 😉 Best of luck!
Hi Dr. Sam Silvers,
Thanks for chiming in! I really appreciate the input. My wife and I love to travel and we are soon-to-be first time parents. Everything will be a brand new experience for us!
Thanks for the tip on the swim diapers. And it’s awesome you guys use cloth diapers. My wife and I are planning to do use cloth diapers (and try our best to avoid disposable plastic diapers) too! I never realized how toxic disposable diapers can be for infants until my wife did a lot of research.
I’m assuming you went cruising with a rambunctious year and a half your old…
Thanks again ?
Yup. It was awful – all he wanted to do was run up and down the hallways saying “GO!” at the top of his lungs. Staying put in the room was not an option. Also, he didn’t qualify for the child care (that whole diapers thing). Cloth diapers rock. My cousin in Alaska did them with no running water. When I saw her do that, I was like, “If this woman can do CD w/o running water, So can I!” Just make sure you have someone you can email or ask questions of before you start as it takes a teeny bit of getting used to (making sure you have the right gear, etc). I used Arm and Hammer sensitive type detergent and the liners (they helped loads). I’d double layer for bedtime until about a year old when they’d blow through them at night so nighttime after a year old is toxic diapers (trust me, after you CD for a bit you really hate it when you have to use the disposables. They’re so gross! They leak/don’t seal as well around the legs and back as CD’s do!) Also, if your wife is a doc, she can join our PMG FB Travel group – it’s a GREAT resource for people traveling with kids. Otherwise there’s always the Girls Love Travel FB group too.
Best of luck!
Thanks again for the tips. My wife isn’t a physician (she’s an attorney), but we can check out the facebook groups for additional tips and support.
And wow, your cousin sounds pretty cool. No running water? I wouldn’t be surprised if she lives a simple/frugal/minimal life in a tiny house that is off the grid with a generator and composts their own waste. (My wife and I watch too many videos on people who live alternative lifestyles in tiny houses ;P)
I doublechecked and Royal Caribbean’s policies do allow babies over 6 months onboard. Like Dr. silvers said, a 7-month old’s behavior is much easier to manage than an 18-month old.
I am pretty sure RC also takes kids in diapers (we went Princess back in the day and that was the first and last Princess cruise we did with a kid. Their child care is sub par compared to RC).
Looking forward to the cruise. Booking this is my 45th day of scheduled cruises for 2018. I love to cruise. I did a two week course on cruising in January from a cruise ship exploring Mexico. You can find the videos on my Facebook page. If you don’t know much about cruises, it will fill you in. One 2-5 min video daily. Check out my videos and join us in Havana!
Dr. Cory S. Fawcett
Prescription for Financial Success
I know my mom has a cruise company related rewards credit card.
I do like that someone else makes the food, and just arriving at each port.
I get land sick, where for the week or 2 after a cruise it still feels like I am on a ship. It can come with vertigo and nausea. It is better if we have more trip planned after, and worse going back to an office with limited windows and an air handler system that sounds like the ship.
My mom and I are doing a trip this fall, so my time is already booked. Have fun on your cruise and Fin Con!
Still very tempting… what an awesome list of attendees so far!
We just recently took a Disney cruise. Left the youngest (16 months at the time) with her grandparents. Took the 4 and 6 and 1/2 year old. They had an absolute blast. Was well worth the money in my opinion as our one big trip for the year. Most of our other medical trips are related to medical conferences like the one you are going to in Hawaii! (I am gonna have to check that out sometime myself).
I like how you say you’ll gain a pound a day “IF” you indulge in the food. Dude, its a cruise. You better indulge in the food! I gained a few pounds on our recent cruise and promptly lost it by working second shift where I don’t have time to eat (that’s not too good for your wellness :-/)
As soon as my side hustles start to take off a little more than they currently are I’ll probably step into the business credit card world. Will check back at that time to help support the site.
You don’t necessarily need a traditional “business” to open up a business credit card. I have opened several business credit cards under my own name as a sole proprietor and earned hundred of thousands of miles and points. And I just put my regular income in the application and my social security number instead of a “tax ID number”. Anything can be a business. Your job as an anesthesiologist. Your blogging business. Buying or selling things online. And so on. It’s very easy to open up a business card as a sole proprietor. In addition to the bonus points and miles, there are other benefits of opening up a business card. The main one is that most business cards are not reported to personal credit bureaus.
You should start a side hustle: “Cruises on FIRE” 😉
Cruises on fire! Ha. That sounds like a problem 🙂 Maybe “Credit Cards on Fire”!
You have a point there. Perhaps this is why I’m not an entrepreneur, suck at coming up business ideas 😉
It doesn’t conjure up the best imagery, does it?