Onboard credit can boost the value (and enhance your experience) on your cruise vacation. But what, exactly, is onboard credit? And how do you get it?
There are numerous reasons that onboard credit can be added to a passenger's cruise account. It can come from a cruise deal that you've booked or from the cruise ship casino, cruise credit card rewards or other sources. Even better, this cruise equivalent of free money can often be used almost without restrictions. Just keep in mind that you'll need to spend it before you disembark your ship -- onboard credit doesn't carry over to future sailings.
To help you maximize the value of your cruise by racking up as much onboard credit as possible, read our tips below and get planning just how you're going to spend that extra cash.
Shop for Cruise Deals That Include Onboard Credit
Cruise lines love enticing you to book by dangling onboard credit in front of you -- often with a booking deadline. “Book now and get extra onboard credit!” deals are worth taking advantage of if the cruise price is right. That credit can put a dent in all those extra charges that eventually end up in onboard cruise accounts, from drinks to manicures and even shore excursions. You can also use Cruise Critic's deals page to see just how much onboard credit is being offered.
Working With Travel Agencies Almost Always Gets You Onboard Credit
Whether you work with an individual travel agent or an online agency, onboard credit is a common booking bonus. Agency credit offers can often top the cruise line's own onboard credit offers for the same stateroom on the same cruise.
Booking a Future Cruise While on a Cruise
While onboard, you'll likely see plenty of cruisers working with staff on your ship to book future cruises with the same line. And that can be a big onboard credit win. Onboard credit for future cruises booked while already on a cruise can far exceed what you’ll get from most other sources. If you know that you'll be cruising again, it can be worth stopping by the future or next cruise desk to see what deals are on offer.
Refer a Friend and You Both Might Receive Onboard Credit Rewards
Spreading the good word about a cruise you loved isn't a thankless endeavor. Many cruise lines offer referral bonuses for new cruises booked by first-timers. So don't just book that amazing cruise deal yourself; get your friends to do the same and use their bookings to your onboard credit advantage.
Cruise Line Branded Credit Cards Can Help You Score Onboard Credit
Some cruise line credit cards allow you to turn your accrued points into onboard credit. Check the policies with your specific rewards program as you start researching a future cruise
Price Drops Put Money Back in Your Pocket
If you notice your cruise fare has dropped after you booked it, many times the line will make up the difference through an onboard credit offer. This form of onboard is money back, rather than money gifted, but it still beats paying a higher cruise fare with nothing in return. To claim your onboard credit, call customer service to discuss the price drop and your compensation.
Read More: 10 Hidden Costs of Cruising and How to Save
Shareholder Benefits Include Onboard Credit
If you love your cruise company enough to invest money in the brand, most major cruise lines offer a shareholder benefit in the form of onboard credit. Check the fine print to make sure you're eligible (there are usually minimum share requirements) and redeem your benefit by contacting the line at least two weeks prior to your sail date.
When Something Goes Wrong, Ask for Onboard Credit
It's not the best way to earn credit, but if something goes wrong on your cruise -- like the ship is stranded, misses port calls or experiences a significant malfunction -- you may be compensated with a future onboard credit offer. The amount will vary depending on the situation.
Check Your Cruise Account Before You Board and Book Deals on Wi-Fi and More
It’s worth noting that a few cruise lines let you access your onboard credit before you even board the ship. If a credit balance shows up in your cruise account, either on the website or in your app, that means you are allowed to use it for advance purchases of excursions, or Wi-Fi, drink and specialty dining packages. You'll likely score twice by doing so, as most of those are discounted if you purchase before you board the cruise. If you know you have credit coming and don’t see it in your account before your cruise, it’s worth a call to customer service.
Shore Excursions Are a Perfect Match for Onboard Credit
A pricey but significant part of many cruisers' experiences in port is shore excursions. While it might blow your onboard credit in one shot, applying it to an excursion offers a free or discounted way to embark on a special shore experience.
Check It Out: The Absolute Best Alaska Shore Excursions You Can't Miss
Specialty Restaurants Might Be on the House with Onboard Credit
Specialty restaurants offer an alternative to the standard main dining room and buffet options included in cruise fares. On most mainstream ships, these alternative eateries come with a price tag -- either a flat cover charge or a la carte fees for each item purchased. Whether you're celebrating a special occasion or just want to switch up your routine, onboard credit is a great way to cover or offset the cost.
Use Your Onboard Credit for a Spa Splurge
Many of us don't have the time or money to indulge in a little bit of me-time on a regular basis. But isn't that what a cruise is for? Onboard credit in the spa often applies to anything on their treatment menu, and that list could be a long one.
Lowering Your Drink Bill is Easy with Cruise Onboard Credit
Unless you're cruising with a river or luxury line, alcoholic beverages are rarely free of charge. Sure, drinks packages shave spending off your drink bill, but if you plan on keeping your beverage consumption light, using OBC is a better way to drink for free.
Feel Free to Splurge With Something Extra in Your Spending Account
From souvenirs to cupcakes, there’s a long list of temptations enticing you to spend a few extra dollars while you cruise. Onboard credit in your account means you can shop or eat whatever strikes your fancy. You’re on vacation, remember?
Onboard Credit Can Put Pricey Professional Photos Within Reach
A long-held cruise tradition, formal night portraits are a staple in the gallery of every cruising family's home. Onboard credit can be used to turn the onboard photographer into your own personal paparazzi.
Internet: Necessity or Splurge? Either Way, Use Your Onboard Credit
If you need to stay connected, internet at sea is necessary, but tends to be wildly expensive on cruise ships. Onboard credit can be used to purchase Wi-Fi packages, taking some of the bite out of a costly (but necessary) extra.
Boost Your Playtime If Your Cruise Allows Onboard Credit Use in the Casino
What could be better than gambling with someone else's money? On some lines, casinos are off-limits when it comes to onboard credit, so check if your line allows it before you hit the slots. That said, you could easily double your onboard credit with the help of Lady Luck, or you could lose it all. (But at least you had fun, right?) Most lines will allow slot play with onboard credit without a fee but will add an upcharge for table games.
You Might Be Allowed to Use Onboard Credit for Crew Gratuities
Onboard credit is an ideal way to pay the daily tips that are usually added to your stateroom bill. Using onboard credit for tips is allowed on all lines, but check before the start of your cruise so you can plan accordingly. Even so, cash tips are often the best way to convey your appreciation directly to a staff member, so consider bringing some bills with you in case.
Updated September 14, 2022