In this post, I want to cover a few different strategies to aid in shopping for and booking your cruises. Back in Credit Card Plays, we discussed the Barclaycard Arrival Miles and Ultimate Rewards options for paying for your cruises with points. I also covered Membership Rewards, but they are slightly less valuable for cruises, so my focus will be Arrival Miles and Ultimate Rewards. Arrival Miles are simple, and easy to use. Just book your cruise through the method of your choice and redeem the miles for a statement credit. Better yet, you’ll get a 10 percent rebate on the miles you redeem. Ultimate Rewards, on the other hand, will need to be redeemed by calling Ultimate Rewards Travel.
A key requirement of making this work is obviously finding the lowest possible cruise prices. As I mentioned early on, I believe the best strategy for affordably spending 30 days on a cruise ship on points lies in the 3/4 night Bahamas cruise market. Some disagreed, noting the party atmosphere, or lack of diverse itineraries, but avoiding those things is not the goal here, though it might be for many. In my Getting Informed post, I mentioned a few different websites that might help in aggregating different prices for easy comparison. Among my favorite websites for finding the best prices is vacationstogo.com. Even if you’re spending Ultimate Rewards and booking with them, you can use vacationstogo.com to price hunt, and even book with vacationstogo.com if you want to when you’re spending Barclaycard Arrival miles.
Use the Custom Search option on the homepage to search for the best deals. You can also search across multiple cruises lines and departure ports at the same time for comparison. In this case I picked the Bahamas, and three cruise lines: Carnival, NCL, and Royal Caribbean, all departing from Miami, which I picked as a port of focus because you can walk off one cruise line’s ship and onto the other in the same port if you need to do that to get the best price. In other words, start your adventure on NCL over the weekend. Walk off the ship Monday morning, and head to the Royal Caribbean terminal where you can board Majesty of the Seas for a 4 night Bahamas and Key West cruise.
A quick search of vacationstogo.com for 3/4 night Bahamas cruises in December produces the following:
Attractive prices over consecutive weeks and weekends like these will be key to achieving 30 days of boat drinks on points. The key to finding those? Timing and flexibility. My recommendation if you decide to try 30 days of boat drinks on points – focus on the period right after Labor Day and up until the week prior to Thanksgiving. Also, the week after Thanksgiving up to the week before Christmas can offer very attractive pricing. It’s also possible to find deals right after the new year, but that is also a time when people are looking to take their first opportunities to escape the cold weather further north. No time is absolutely perfect, but I think these suggestions produce the most low prices from week to week.
Once you’ve found consecutive weeks with acceptable prices, it’s time to book your cruises. It’d be nice if you can stay in the same stateroom every cruise, but that may not be possible if you want to focus exclusively on getting the lowest price. If you’re spending Barclaycard Arrival miles, you can book through any channel you desire. If you have a favorite airline mileage portal, especially one offering a bonus miles deal, go for it. When it’s time to use your Ultimate Rewards to pay for your cruise, then give Ultimate Rewards Travel a call at 866-951-6592.
In my next post, Backup Plan, I’ll talk about alternatives to the 3/4 night cruises, as well as the viability of booking a couple of cruises to get you started, and booking the rest of your 30 days of boat drinks adventure after you board a ship. We’ll also perform a math exercise with points.
-MJ, December 2, 2013