I posted Monday that Royal Caribbean has made a few adjustments to its credit card loyalty program. MyCruise Rewards will replace Royal Rewards, and can now be earned (and burned) with any of the three major Royal Caribbean Cruises brands. The program gets started in earnest on August 30, 2013 when existing Royal Caribbean cardholders will be converted into the new program.

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I like the new option to earn double points with the three brands, and better yet, to use them across the brands. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the program, it’s just that I believe there are better options out there if you are looking to pay for a cruise with your hard earned credit card points. I have previously posted about using Ultimate Rewards to pay for a cruise.

Let’s look at the earning side. With the RCL card products, you are earning one point per dollar for most purchases, although it’s not unheard of for the card to offer special double points offers on varying purchase categories. However, the only sure way to earn double points is for spending with one of the three cruise lines. That might work if you’re known as Super Mario and essentially live on a Royal Caribbean ship, but what about the rest of us? Good options include the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, the Fidelity Rewards American Express Card (Fidelity account required), the Capital One Venture Card, and finally, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card has been covered extensively on the blogs so I will not spend much time on it. Double points for dining and travel, a 7 percent annual points dividend, and a 20 percent points discount if using your points to purchase travel, including cruises. I love Ultimate Rewards, but you already know that.

The Fidelity Rewards American Express Card is a favorite of mine. I’ve carried one for a few years now. At heart, it is a 2 percent cash back card on all purchases. You earn two WorldPoints per dollar spent. You can keep the points, or setup your account to automatically deposit cash into your Fidelity account. Spend $2,500, get $50 deposited into your account. Let’s imagine that you use your MyRewards card like MrsMJ does. Charge everything to that card, and use the points for onboard spending money for your cruise. Trust me, we need lots of that. You have to redeem 5,000 MyRewards points to get a $50 dollar onboard credit for your cruise. Assuming you don’t buy the cruise on the card, that takes $5,000 in spending. Spend $5,000 on your Fidelity Amex, and you’ve got $100 dollars to spend anyway you like or use those funds to cover your onboard expenses. I do not carry the Capital One Venture Card but that does not mean it should not be considered for cruise purchases. You earn two “miles” per dollar on all purchases. Easy redemptions to cover your charges.

I haven’t paid a lot of attention to the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®. I think it’s a good product, it’s just that I am not currently in the market for any new cards, so I haven’t been doing much in the way of research. In preparation for this post, I went through a math exercise on each of the card products mentioned here. In the end, the Barclay Arrival World MasterCard came out looking OK for cruise purchases. If you apply for a new card, you will earn 40,000 bonus miles if you make $3,000 or more in purchases in the first 90 days from account opening. That works out to $400, or $440 dollars if you redeem for travel purchases since you are going to get 4,000 points back. The new account bonus miles make this card more attractive in the first year than most of the other cards I’ve mentioned except the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card which offers a 40,000 Ultimate Rewards bonus after $3,000 in spending during the first three months. For posterity’s sake, here’s a quick look at some basic spending benefits across the cards mentioned.

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Obviously, in the first year, any new account bonuses would change this math. One other caveat – that $1,000 cruise I was referring to would need to be a Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, or Azamara cruise to earn double points with the MyRewards card. There’s a 10,000 or 15,000 point bonus for the MyCruise Rewards cards depending on which one you apply for, and the Barclay Arrival World MasterCard is offering a 40,000 mile bonus when you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days from account opening. I did not include the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card because I’ve covered Ultimate Rewards and cruising previously, and depending on how you choose to spend, the rewards you earn can vary widely. Finally, many of us spend quite a bit more than $10,000 on our cards, but I’m a fan of the KISS method.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again – there are better values in miles and points than in spending your points on cruises. However, if you’re inclined to give it a try, I hope this is somewhat helpful to you. I’d love to hear your thoughts. There are better values in credit cards and cruises than the new MyCruise Rewards products for most people. That said, there is an exception. If you cruise Celebrity at all, and I do…because I LOVE Celebrity Cruises, the Celebrity Cruises Visa Signature premium card (with a $69 annual fee) probably deserves a place in your wallet. It also deserves its own blog post, which is coming soon.

-MJ, August 29, 2013

Disclosure: If you apply for and receive a credit card product through some of the links in this post, I will receive a referral bonus.