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How To Get Free Onboard Credit On Your Cruise

Holland America Noordam in Ketchikan, Alaska

There’s no better way to start a vacation than with free spending money. In an attempt to stay competitive, cruise lines offer perks from free drink packages, WiFi, gratuities included, and free onboard credit as ways to entice travelers to book.

Starting with onboard credit (OBC) means not fretting about the gratuities or the bar bill at the end of a vacation. Imagine having a spa treatment, bringing home professional photos, or doing some, dare I say, late-night gambling with your onboard credit.

It’s certainly nice to start a cruise and not worry about the final bill on debarkation day. Free OBC paves the way to a smoother, more relaxed vacation, especially when cruising on a budget. 

While I have taken cruises with free onboard credit, I have heard of others starting with as much as USD 1000. YES, you read that right. Imagine not having to control your spending.

Now, let’s get to the details. Follow these tips on how to get free onboard credit, and you’re well on your way to having a jolly good time.

What Is Free Onboard Credit?

Holland America Noordam, Cunard stateroom and a Carnival Serenity area
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Essentially, onboard credit is money applied to onboard accounts that passengers can spend onboard. Passengers can use it for shore excursions, gratuities, WiFi packages, specialty restaurants, or duty-free shopping in the onboard stores.

Some itineraries offer free onboard credit as an incentive to book. Once booked, passengers cannot use the credit to pay for the cruise.

However, should you book a spa treatment, specialty restaurant, or tour before embarkation day, you can apply the cruise credit towards these purchases. Why not treat yourself to a pedicure or massage during sea days? 

Using the credit is essential because anything unused is forfeited at the end of the cruise. So, here are some ways to get free credit on your cruise account.

Book Your Next Cruise On Board

During a cruise, visit the future cruise desk to determine the benefits of arranging the next one. Most cruise lines offer free credit when booking the next cruise onboard.

In most cases, passengers don’t need to specify the itinerary, ship, or date. What’s needed is just a simple deposit (as of Dec 2022).

CRUISE LINEDEPOSITONBOARD CREDITYEARS TO USE
NorwegianUSD 250INSTANT USD 1004 yrs
Royal CaribbeanUSD 100 ppUp to USD 2005 yrs
CunardUSD 300 ppUp to USD 400 pp4 yrs
HollandUSD 100-250Up to USD 2004 yrs
PrincessUSD 100 ppUp to USD 1502 yrs or refund
CarnivalUp to USD 10050% reduced deposit
CelebrityUSD 100 ppUp to USD 500No expiry date

Celebrity Cruises has the benefit of no expiry date. Their “cruise now” package requires passengers to select the cruise and cabin. By locking into a set itinerary, the cruise line gives up to USD 500 in onboard credit.

Their “cruise later” deal allows cruisers to give a deposit against an unspecified cruise, locking in a free onboard credit of up to USD 200.

Request A Credit

Request a free cruise credit from your travel agency when booking your next vacation. You heard me; merely ask for board credit by expressing your loyalty to their company.

The very worst they can say is no. Generally, it pays to book with the same travel agent and build a relationship.

After all, travel agencies love loyal customers and can give onboard credits, complimentary wine, and gift baskets at their discretion.

Serenade of the Seas cruise ship
Serenade of the Seas cruise ship

In 30 months, I booked nine cruises with the same travel agent. As a result, I earned complimentary champagne, fruit baskets, onboard credits, and drink credits.

Military Credits

Passengers who are military service persons or ex-military can earn enhanced onboard credits. Cunard and Princess Cruises give onboard credits of up to USD 250 per cruise.

Princess covers active, retired, and disabled military from the following: US Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, National Guard or Reserves, Canadian National Defense and the British Army, Royal Marines, Royal Navy, Royal Air Force or Reserves.

Alternatively, Cunard gives cruise credits to the following: United States Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, National Guard or Reserves, Canadian National Defense, United Kingdom Military Personnel, Royal Australian Navy, Army, Air Force, and Royal New Zealand Navy, Army or Air Force.

Carnival and Holland America offer cruise credits to military families from time to time, but offerings are few and far between.

The Majestic Princess Piazza or central atrium
Majestic Princess Piazza

Cruise Line Credit Cards

Cruisers who sail frequently can benefit from a cruise line’s credit card. Many of them offer sign-up bonuses.

The sign-up bonuses alone translate to cruise credits. Points accumulated can also be turned into free onboard credit or earn a free cruise.

Those weekly groceries and pumping gas trips can get you one step closer to taking a vacation. Generally, purchases onboard and with the cruise lines give double points.

So, the more you cruise and charge, the more you earn for the next vacation.

Carnival World Mastercard

With Carnival Mastercard, you will receive a bonus of 20,000 Fun points upon your first purchase using the card or from a balance transfer. Most companies don’t offer a bonus on a balance transfer, so this is a great perk.

Carnival Glory docked in Miami
Carnival Glory in Miami

The Fun points are worth USD 200 towards your cruise booking. Using the card will earn you two Fun points for every dollar spent on Carnival purchases and one Fun point everywhere else. The card carries no annual fee.

Celebrity Cruise Visa

The Celebrity Cruise Visa has no annual fee. You’ll receive 10,000 bonus points from qualifying transactions in the first 90 days of opening the account – worth USD 100 in onboard credit.

Any qualifying purchases with Celebrity Cruises earn 2 points for every USD 1 spent. All other purchases earn one point for every USD 1.

If you can accumulate a substantial amount of points, you can cash them in for a free cruise.

Disney Premier Visa

Disney Wonder in Vancouver
Disney Wonder in Vancouver

The Disney card charges a USD 49 annual fee. For this, you will receive a USD 300 credit after spending USD 1000 in purchases within the first three months. You will also receive a 10% discount on select Disney merchandise.

With a Disney Premier Visa, you earn 2% in Rewards Dollars on card purchases at grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants, and most Disney locations. Earn 1% on all your other card purchases.

Princess Cruises Reward Visa

The Princess Cruises Visa card has the same perks as the Carnival card. It includes the 10,000 points for the first purchase, which is worth USD 100 towards a cruise or onboard credit. 

It is also free of fees and earns the same points: 2 times on Princess purchases and one time everywhere else.

Royal Caribbean Visa

Ovation of the Seas NorthStar
NorthStar on the Ovation of the Seas

The Royal Caribbean Visa has no annual fee. New cardholders receive 25,000 Bonus Points when making qualifying purchases in the first 90 days of opening an account – worth USD 250 in onboard credit. 

Earn 2 points per $1 spent on qualifying purchases with Royal Caribbean and our sister brand Celebrity Cruises. Earn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.

Promotions With Onboard Credit

As cruise lines jockey to attract customers, there are more promotions with free onboard credit. Cruisers can often score deals with credits and other perks such as free gratuities, drink packages, WiFi, or money towards booking shore excursions.

These usually start as low as USD 25 for an inside cabin. However, on luxury cruise lines, passengers can get as much as USD 800, depending on the stateroom selected.

The Norwegian Bliss cruise ship
Norwegian Bliss

Promotions with high onboard credit are usually offered at least a year before the cruise. As the vessel fills up, cruise lines often remove the incentive. So, if you’re pricing out a 7-day cruise cost, one with free onboard helps to save money on your onboard account.

Price Drop Credit

After the final payment is made and the cruise drops in price, passengers can often qualify for a refund in free onboard credit. Conditions vary on when the traveler made the booking.

So, continue to monitor the price before embarkation and check with your travel agent to see if you qualify for a refund.

I regularly check the price of my booked cruises for price drops. Sometimes, I’ve requested a lower price as much as four times on one booking. It pays to keep checking.

Seabourn Odyssey leaving Vancouver
Seabourn Odyssey

Owning Shares

Owning shares in a cruise line can score onboard credit every time you cruise. You must own 100 shares of either Carnival Corporation, Royal Caribbean Cruises Limited, or Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Limited.

During the pandemic, cruise line stocks fell more than 50%. It was a good time to invest in their company.

I purchased, sold, and repurchased their stocks several times, earning enough to pay for a cruise vacation.

After the cruise booking, passengers should submit proof of ownership to the travel agency or the cruise line. The onboard credit amount varies by the length of the journey.

CRUISE LINEDAYS & OBC
Carnival Cruisesunder 7 days
USD 50
7 – 13 days
USD 100
14+ days
USD 250
Holland Americaunder 7 days
USD 50
7 – 13 days
USD 100
14+ days
USD 250
Princess Cruisesunder 7 days
USD 50
7 – 13 days
USD 100
14+ days
USD 250
Royal Caribbeanunder 6 days
USD 50
6 – 9 days
USD 100
10 – 13 days
USD 200
14+ days
USD 250
Norwegian Cruise Lineunder 7 days
USD 50
7 – 14 days
USD 100
15+ days
USD 250

Also, virtually all Princess onboard credits are stackable with other onboard credits. For instance, military credits can stack with booking, shareholder, and loyalty credits. Royal Caribbean usually allows one type of OBC or discount and cannot stack.

Mistakes Or Mishaps

While everyone wants a smooth vacation with no hiccups, sometimes things go wrong. A mishap is obviously not how anyone wants to earn free onboard credit because it does not make up for the accident.

For example, on my cruise to Hawaii on the Radiance of the Seas, half the bathrooms onboard the ship stopped working. A cruise ship’s worst nightmare, right? 

Imagine getting dressed in the middle of the night and walking the hallways, trying to find a functional washroom. The cruise line compensated passengers with free onboard credit, although most wanted a working bathroom.

Sometimes the mishap can result in a more considerable credit towards booking another cruise to win back your loyalty. I suffer from celiac and have some severe allergies.

One time, my cruise ship fed me one of my non-tolerable foods. I became so ill I spent the last three days in my cabin, unable to eat or leave my stateroom.

Sunset on a cruise ship in Alaska
Sunset on a cruise ship

Needless to say, it ruined my vacation. Once I returned home, the cruise line sent me a USD 300 credit to try their cruise line again.

Gifted Credit

Receiving a cruising gift of onboard credit can be one of the best birthday or Christmas gifts. I’ve got to the age where I don’t need more “stuff,” especially since I recently downsized my home and exercised a significant purge.

Why not request a gift card from your favorite cruise line for birthdays or Christmas? It’s something you WILL use and free money to spend on your vacation.

It’s a gift that keeps on giving, and you can tell your loved one you were thinking of them while you sipped margaritas with your toes in the sand, lol.

Referral Credit

Lastly, some cruise lines offer referral credits for spreading the good word about their service. Are you a first-time cruiser and planning to sail with Princess Cruises?

Those planning to cruise with Princess can get their free credit here.

While some cruise ship money is stackable with other credits, others are not. So, talk to your cruise line to see what you qualify for on your booking.
Happy travels ~ Karen

A cruise ship, a cruise ship swimming pool, and the promenade deck on a cruise ship

Pan

Saturday 4th of February 2023

Interesting article. Karen, which cruise lines can you refer to for OBC? In your article you write Holland America, and in comments I see other cruiseline ship names. Am planning a cruise and not sure which cruise line, so would be good to know which ones you can refer to. Thank you. And, is this credit only from booking direct with the cruise line, or also if I book with agents (probably only direct?)

Looking forward to hearing from you by email.

Forever Karen

Saturday 4th of February 2023

I updated the article to include the links to the onboard credit since the lines have changed the way they do it. You can get free onboard credit for Princess of Holland provided you haven't sailed with them previously.

Janine

Monday 19th of September 2022

Hi Karen We're cruising in Dec on Princess from Australia . Any OBC would be appreciated.

Forever Karen

Monday 19th of September 2022

I can only get you free onboard credit if you haven't already booked, and have not cruised with Princess before.

Mary Black

Monday 31st of August 2020

Hi Karen, is there a time limit for claiming obc for ex military please?

Forever Karen

Tuesday 1st of September 2020

There is no time limit for claiming a Military onboard credit. These credits are available for active, retired, or disabled military personnel. Each cruise line's policies vary on which military they recognize and proof of military service must be provided. The amount of onboard credit varies by length of cruise. If you have a cruise booked already, contact your cruise line to see if you qualify for the credit. Happy cruising ~ Karen

Elena Hausmann

Thursday 9th of January 2020

Hi Karen, We are going to be first time cruisers with princess. I put it on a hold yesterday. I have to make the deposit by Saturday which I haven't done yet. I am surprising my husband for his birthday. A free onboard credit of any kind would be amazing and appreciated.

Brian Hosier

Friday 10th of January 2020

Hi Elena, I have sent a referral using your email. You should receive an email from Princess with a link to confirm the referral. Just click on the link and register with Princess before your booking and you will receive a free onboard credit when you make the booking.

Happy Cruising. Karen.

Angie Biglin

Saturday 15th of December 2018

Tried to email you with regards to your free onboard spending credit however your email address is not being accepted. Could you please email me as my husband and I are goin on Princess for the first time in 2019

ForeverKaren

Sunday 16th of December 2018

Hi Angie, Thank you for your correspondence. I have put in a referral to Princess Cruises for you. However, if you are already booked, you may not be eligible for the free onboard credit. Have a wonderful cruise and let me know how it went. Happy travels ~ Karen