Introduction: A free cruise using points? Our NCL Epic Transatlantic Haven Suite

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I love this ship! I REALLY love the Haven!

I am becoming a frequent floater in my old age. I have to admit, I just love cruising and I really love the Haven concept – that is, a ship within a ship idea, from NCL. In fact, I love just about everything about NCL when it comes to getting on a ship. But more on that later on.

Today I wanted to cover how I paid for just about all of this trip with a number of different types of points and even, in the end, got cash back to use for my next cruise. I am not saying this is the “be all to end all” best possible way of always booking a cruise but this works VERY well for me.

Step one: I clear my cache on my computer and go to Top Cash Back. I tend to start almost everything I do on the web now starting at Top Cash Back because they are simple, reliable and the customer support is amazing. Oh, and when it comes to cruises they pay 12% cash back when booking a cruise via Expedia.

Not a bad start but it gets even better. You see when I go to cash out, up to 10 weeks AFTER the cruise is completed, I look for bonus offers via an Amex gift card. Most times the stock bonus is 3% if you choose this option but other times of the year it can be 5 or even 6% more. Thus I can net out, if I am willing to wait, up to 18% cash back on the price of my cruise. THAT is amazing to me. Bottom line from this I will get almost $674 back when I do cash out.

Step two: I always book at Expedia and I hold the Expedia®+ Voyager Card . Let me say, if you are a Delta flyer and EVER use Expedia you should hold the Citi Expedia+ card. Why, when it comes with $95 annual card fee? Every year they give you an annual $100 statement credit for travel expenses. I buy, on two separate purchases, a $50 Delta e-Gift card and thus they PAY ME net $5.00 per year to hold the card. This gives me GOLD status with Expedia that results in a 30% bump in Expedia points. The way I use Expedia points is to pay for hotels and I thus value them at 7/10th cents each. On this one single cruise the gold status resulted in an extra $26 in point value to me (see why I hold the Expedia®+ Voyager Card ).

Bottom line, with bonus, I cleared $113 in value by booking via Expedia and got all the exact same perks NCL was offering on their site vs. booking here.

Step Three: How I pay for this over time. The nice thing about Expedia, after the initial deposit, if you can book far enough out you can make many payments of any size you want. Well Barclays Arrival+ card lets you pay yourself back when you make a travel charge of at least $100. Thus, over time and with creative spending, I wracked up a bunch of points and kept making tiny payments. Oh, and for this specific trip, I had tons of “five back” cards (now dead fyi) with $25 credits on them. I made a LOT of $25 payment thanks to this amazing deal last year.

But even now, for another cruise I am working on, I am doing the same and making many $100-ish dollar payments and then paying myself back with points. Plus, important when using the automated metro machines in Europe, the Barclays Arrival+ card has real chip-N-pin that works when abroad. This is another reason I always hold this card. Next step

Step four: Look for Amex offers. I wish they would target me with these many times a year as I would always do them. With NCL you have the chance to prepay the tips. I really like this. The charge, unlike the purchase of the cruise itself, is billed by NCL. Thus when Amex offered a spend $300 get $100 back “Amex Offers to You” deal. I jumped on it. Again, not always repeatable but I do look and hold off paying the tips on any trip as long as I can to see if an offer pops up.

Step five: Use points to pay for your air! Most of us do not live where cruise ships depart from. I venture to say few have homes in both Barcelona and Port Canaveral so I had to position to BCN and I did that via a level 1 Delta One award ticket (see hidden Delta award charts) for 70,000 points each for my wife and I. Considering these tickets, one way, were running MANY thousands of dollars each I got tremendous value for my SkyMiles this way and enjoyed the ride over all in business class (well other than the CRJ200 ride to begin with out of South Bend). Cost was a $34.40 and I paid with my Citi Prestige Mastercard so that if anything went sideways I would have the sweet travel insurance that kicks in if there were a delay of any kind of over 3 hours.

Step six: Paying for my hotel with points. I know different folks value Chase Ultimate Rewards points for other uses i.e. for transfer to partners – I get that. I like, via my Chase Sapphire Reserve card, getting 1.5 cents value each for booking hotels. Now I am not a fan of the service they use to get this done, but more on that later. For now, my room that included a very nice breakfast each day was paid in full with points. My only charges were for a few incidentals like a drink by the pool.

Step seven: My flight home from Orlando to South Bend. Thanks to my $6,000 bumpertunity this past May I have had a bunch of “Delta Dollars” to burn up. I decided, after almost two weeks in a suite with a butler, to splurge on paid 1st class home as I did not want to risk coach maybe medallion upgrade after this kind of opulence. Out of pocket cost was zero.

Step eight: Lastly, I am shooting for lifetime Plaintum+ status with Norwegian. This will give me so many perks, no matter what class of cabin I book, once I hit it. NCL offers “insiders deals” that adds one extra night credit and after booking at Expedia I had them call NCL and add this perk to my booked reservation. The result was I got 39 nights credit for a 13 day cruise toward my lifetime status goal (1x for each day, 1x extra for booking a suite, 1x extra for the insiders deal).

So was this trip “free”? Let’s just say even paying $30 for the bus ride from the ship to MCO airport, two Ground Link rides in BCN, food and drinks and sight seeing in Barcelona, I still came out net ahead. Not bad for a 3 week vacation that I will cover over the next few weeks! – René

 

 

 

 

8 comments

  1. nothing for nothing but using points to pay for a cruise is not the best usage in my opinion. If you cruise a lot or have a really good cruise agent and or have the ability to negotiate call the cruise line directly, sometimes those can be the best deals.

    On another note the “haven” concept is wonderful, we have done this and will continue to book it paying for it or not. Again, negotiate.

  2. @ghostrider5408 – When I can score the points free it is a good use. Plus, I have all the airline points I can spend for YEARS. What I really need now is more hotel points. 😉

  3. The Expedia card with the benefits you described appears to be the Expedia + Voyager card.

  4. Thanks Rene for the info. I have a question that I am hoping you can answer. Is there a way to call and book with Expedia to reserve the cruise and then pay online through the topcashback site (using your link to sign up 🙂 ? The reason I am asking is that I want to use a cruisenext deposit certificate that I have to book the cruise and doubt I can use them online.

    Also, are suites always 1 bonus night credit per day?

  5. @Jim – As long as the cruise is far enough out, after you book, you have Expedia call and they can apply “cruise next” credits as part of your payment. I have done this.

    Yes all booked (not upgraded from non-suites) get extra night.

  6. @Rene – One thing people might need to be aware of is that the Topcash back 12% is only on the base fare of the first 2 guests in the cabin. I was surprised when booking a cabin for my family that only about 50% of the total was considered for the rebate. It appears taxes and extras (port fees, extra guests, etc.) are not included in the 12% cash back. Given the difference, for this mini-suite fare I would have booked this differently.

    It also looks like Amex has the Worlds Leading Cruise Lines cash back for the second quarter in a row …. I was really hoping the NCL cash back offer would have appeared for this one.

  7. Rene, Thanks for the post and video. We have not done the suite thing on a cruise line yet. Waiting for wife to retire and we can take the extended time when they do reposition. Obviously, those are the cruises that are normally cheapest making Haven more affordable.

    Our next cruise I did through United Cruises. I think we will end up with about 40K UA points. I find those the hardest to get of any airline.

    I also use the Arrival Plus card for must of my hotel stays. The recent changes with GCM and GC has put a significant wrinkle into using that card. I may convert it over to the new Arrival card that has the ability to convert to airline points.

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