One of the most flexible (and valuable) travel points we can amass are Chase Ultimate Rewards points. Due to 5/24 it is hard to hold all the cards you would like to do all that I do to collect hundreds of thousands a year, but it could be a reason to wait for a few years to get cards just to hold cards like the Chase Freedom (learn more about points cards) as well as Chase Freedom Unlimited (learn more about points cards) as well as the Ink Business Preferred (learn more about business cards). Being able to pool points earned from all of these to my Chase Sapphire Reserve (learn more about points cards) to then spend them at 1.5 cents each on cruises is what make me a happy frequent floater! 🙂
I have booked another cruise (will share after the sailing but you can see other reviews here) and unlike the way I normally cruise for about 10-15% of retail this time I chose to burn a large chunk of my Ultimate Rewards points earned from the cards mentioned above. I thought I would share how it went and some things to think about if you are new to cruising or booking with NCL. As you can see from the above, NCL almost always offers a package of “free” stuff but there are “gotchas” you have to know about.
Let’s say, for example, you would like to cruise Alaska this summer on the NCL Bliss (I cannot wait to sail this ship one day, btw). There are lots of choices of cabins that do include the free-ish offers. But wait…
I would imagine if you wanted to cruise Alaska you would at least want a balcony room. But if you choose the cheapest displayed option, that is one where NCL chooses your room, you do not qualify for the free-ish perks.
So if you want a balcony room with the free-ish perks you have to pay a few hundred more to have a guaranteed balcony room (and even more if you want to pick a specific room yourself). Plus, once you do have a qualifying room then there are added gratuities for these “free” add-ons (so free is not really free at all).
Also do not forget that, in addition to all of the above, you will be billed another gratuities charge per day per person so a balcony on the Bliss above would add another $101.50 per person. At the end of the sailing, if you are not pleased with the service onboard, you can ask for this back (I am always thrilled and never have asked for it back, ever).
Now that you have the basics and overview of booking with NCL directly – how did my Chase Ultimate Rewards points booking go? First off, as just about everyone blogged about, Chase chose Expedia as their booking provider last year over Connexions Loyalty. However, Chase retained them for cruise bookings. Just about every Connexions Loyalty booking I have done over the past few years have been either painful or really painful to get done. This one was a bit better.
I called the number on the back of my Chase Sapphire Reserve card (learn more about points cards) and after verification was sent over to Connexions Loyalty to handle the rest. Since I had researched just the cruise, cabin and perks I wanted to feed the rep all the info. I also had “cruise next” credits to apply and with my NCL Latitudes number the rep was able to have NCL pull the certs and apply them before using any Ultimate rewards points (#ProTip – I used Amex “Offers for You” to buy $500 onboard refundable credits for just $400 net to pay for these). So far so good.
There are other perks I have learned booking with Ultimate Rewards points. I am able to pay for everything, including prepaying the daily gratuities charges, with my points. This even further reduces my costs and the value of spending points. But there was one hiccup. The credit card that Connexions Loyalty used (not my card, their card) was declined by NCL and I was given notice of this. It also revealed, as a side point, that Connexions Loyalty is getting a commission on the booking process for Chase. I called back to the Connexions Loyalty cruise folks and after talking to about 5 people got someone in their accounting department to use another card and pay in full what was due to NCL.
Overall I am really pleased with the value from my points booking and that I could get exactly what I wanted including all the offers NCL provided booking direct. I just wish one time I could have a smooth booking experience with Connexions Loyalty! – René