SeaMiles, which introduced its first cruise loyalty credit card (for Carnival) two and a half years ago, just launched SeaMiles Visa Rewards. This new "universal" credit card rewards cruisers for purchases with points that can be used to save money on cruise travel with any line, at any time -- there are no travel blackout dates or restrictions (which is often a sore spot for airline reward card holders).
What's also different about this card compared to cruise line credit cards -- even SeaMiles' Carnival card -- is that points are treated like cash rather than a trade-in (for example, 30,000 equals $350, period, not an interior cabin on a three-night Bahamas cruise as it works for Carnival). And they can be used toward any cruise on any line, unlike, say, Royal Caribbean's Royal Points, which can only be redeemed through Royal Caribbean.
The only catch? SeaMiles must be applied to bookings made through SeaMiles or one of their preferred agents; a list can be found on seamiles.com.
Here's how accrual and redemption work: For every $1 spent on a cruise booking through SeaMiles or a SeaMiles partner agent, you'll earn three points. For every $1 you spend on everyday expenses (gas, groceries, lunch at Taco Bell, new shoes at Bloomingdales) or a cruise booking through a non-SeaMiles partner agent, you'll earn one point.
Every 5,000 points is equivalent to $50; for every 20,000 SeaMiles redeemed, you'll also earn a $50 bonus credit -- that's why the 30,000 mentioned earlier is really worth $350. Check out this chart for more points-to-dollars conversions. When you're ready to redeem points (the minimum redemption is 5,000), call SeaMiles or a preferred agent and the corresponding dollar value will be applied toward your booking; you can use SeaMiles to pay for some or all of any cruise balance.
Here are the rest of the financials -- and the fine print:
0 percent fixed APR for the first six billing cycles following opening.
No annual fee, a nice bonus for a reward card (most airlines' credit cards carry an annual fee of $40 to $90).
17.24 percent variable APR -- competitive in the general reward card market, but a little high in the cruise niche. Continental Airlines, United, US Airways, JetBlue and Delta offer an 18.24 percent variable APR on cards with varying annual fees. Meanwhile, Royal Caribbean offers a 14.24 variable APR to Platinum Plus card holders (those with better credit) and 18.24 variable to everyone else, and NCL offers a 9.9 variable APR to Platinum Plus customers and 15.99 to everyone else -- both with no annual fees.
Note: Variable APR's are determined by the bank, not SeaMiles or any cruise company or airline.
SeaMiles can also be applied to airfare and resort stays, and your membership also grants you access to discounted rates on cabin upgrades.
Unused SeaMiles expire five years from the date they were earned, though SeaMiles President Peter Rooney tells us that this is a technicality "for accounting purposes" only, and that SeaMiles will continue to honor expired points. Because this scenario won't arise until, well, five years from now, it's hard to road-test it; check back in 2012!
SeaMiles hopes to launch more line-specific cards in the future, according to Rooney, with different benefits and rewards program. In the meantime, you can apply for the SeaMiles Visa Rewards card here. Of course, your application and credit report are subject to review, and all cruises are subject to availability.
--by Melissa Baldwin, Senior Editor