The Truth Behind On-Board Credit: Insiders Tips For Conning The Cruise Lines Into Giving You Extra

June 15, 2015

Is there anything better than free money? (Well we suppose a free cruise but aside from that)… Is there anything better than free money?

The free money we’re talking about today is on-board credit and if you’re a first time cruiser you may be wondering just what that is…

To explain it in its simplest terms; a cruise ship is a cashless environment. You don’t need to bring any money on-board.

Instead, when you’re checking in, you’ll register a credit or debit card with the cruise line. Then, every time you make a purchase on-board, be it for a drink, spa treatment or a shore excursion, the price will be added to your on-board bill. At the end of the cruise you’ll receive a copy of everything you’ve spent and on the morning you disembark this money will automatically be taken from your account.

On-board credit then is ‘free money’. You’ll receive it for a variety of reasons (which we’ll discuss below) but this credit will be added to your on-board account at the start of the cruise and you’ll spend this ‘free’ money on whatever you want.

It’s worth noting you can’t take this money with you; so you couldn’t withdraw it like a cash machine to spend in a port and you definitely couldn’t take it home with you if you haven’t spent it all by the end of the cruise (so for goodness sake make sure you do spend it) but it can be used to purchase anything you want on-board.

Sounds great doesn’t it?

Well now you know what it is let the team give you a few tips on the best way of getting it…


How to get on-board credit in the first place…

There are a variety of different ways you can get on-board credit, depending on the type of cruise you’re looking at, when you’re looking at cruising and when you’re looking at booking it.

Below we cover some of the easiest ways for you to get your own chunk of on-board credit…


Do your research

If you’re on the hunt for on-board credit the first thing you need to do is some research.

When are you looking to cruise?

When are you looking to book?

As a general rule of thumb ‘cruise deals’ that come with on-board credit tend to be for people that plan ahead.

If you wait and book last minute chances are you’ll get a good price… but you wont have any on-board credit to spend. Booking early does mean you sometimes pay slightly more but guarantees you’re on-board bill will be a lot lower.

Deciding which is best for you is where the research comes in we’re afraid.

Take a look at some offers for this year and next and try to judge which is likely to be best for you. If you’re not sure you then you may want to speak to a specialist cruise consultant (which leads us on nicely to)…



Book with a specialist cruise consultant

Sometimes in life you just need an expert; someone with in-depth, insider information that you just don’t have access to and booking a cruise holiday is no different. Any travel agent will do for this purpose but just remember what George Orwell said (and we admit we’re paraphrasing a bit here) “all travel agents are created equal, some are just more equal than other!”

If you want someone who knows the best deals inside out and whether a ‘deal’ with on-board credit on it actually is a bargain or not then you need someone that specialises in cruises.

You never know, they may even just add a little bit of extra OBC (on-board credit) onto your account as a thank you for booking with them (if you don’t ask you don’t get!).

You can speak to our specialist cruise consultants here…

Specialist cruise consultants


Just charge it

OK, so you’ll have to be a serious cruise fanatic for this one but if you are (as we’re guessing so many of you reading this will be) then it may be worth shopping around for a new credit card.

Certain banks and card providers (RBS for example) have special deals in place for loyal card holders that work by giving you extra on-board credit on your cruise when you book said cruise using your credit card!

If you’re booking it anyway that’s money for nothing!



Watch out for that price drop!

We’ve all been there, you’re shopping around for something, umming and ahhing and then it seems like only five minutes after you buy it it drops in price.

As with everything else the same thing can happen with cruise holidays too unfortunately.

Book early and you get lots of offers (like free parking or on-board spend), book late and you get a cheaper price.


Is there anything you can do if the price drops to such a low price your on-board credit deal doesn’t seem worth it?

Alas no (or not normally).

Nine times out of ten you won’t be able to do anything but there are cruise lines that will help. Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises and Princess will all take a look at the price drop (they may still not do anything) but in some cases they’ve been known to give away extra on-board credit to make up the difference.

Remember, if you don’t ask, you don’t get!

Price drop


Phone a friend 

Sometimes if a product is good enough it’s worth shouting about!

Some cruise lines, especially the American ones, give extra on-board credit (typically $25) if you recommend a friend after you’ve booked.

You hear that? Get referring!

Phone a friend


Have a moan

OK so it’s not the ‘nicest’ of ways to get on-board credit but if you’re not happy about something it’s worth trying your luck.

If your itinerary changes unexpectedly or if you’re late boarding (and it’s the cruise lines fault, not that you were stuck on the M42) it’s worth speaking to the cruise line. Customer service is important to them so they may make a gesture of good will in the form of on-board credit.

complaints dept.


Buy the cruise line

Relax, we don’t mean the whole cruise line. Buying a few stocks and shares though does entitle you to some extra on-board credit whenever you book.

The teams top ‘stock’ tip would be Carnival shares. If you buy Carnival Corporation PLC stocks you can then get extra OBC along all their brands!

on-board credit Wall street


Book a cruise… on a cruise

Maybe not the best advice for your very first cruise but not bad for your second would to be to purchase what’s known as a future cruise credit.

Whilst you’re on your cruise you can head down to the Future Cruise holiday desk (normally located on deck’s 4 or 5) and book your next cruise. Doing it this way always nets you extra on-board credit. Don’t worry if you’re indecisive though, cruise lines like Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line will let you buy a ‘deposit on any future cruise (normally around $100) which will then give you the same amount of OBC when you use it.

Future Cruise Sales desk


Making your on-board credit last when you’re on-board…

Getting the on-board credit is one thing, keeping it is another. Eventually you’ll need to start spending your own money but the team have several tips to stretch out your on-board credit as long as possible…


Shore excursions

On-board credit is ‘free’ money so spending it on something like a shore excursion may seem like a good idea; you need to be careful though!

Time was you could pre-book your shore excursion before you boarded via your cruise personaliser (always a good idea) and the money would be deducted from your on-board credit.

Not any more though.

Whilst you can still pre-book shore excursions you now have to pay for them up front, meaning to use your on-board credit you have to wait till you’re on-board to book.

This is obviously the cheaper option but can mean the more popular excursions will already be sold out.



Spa treatments

Treating yourself to a spa treatment that you might not normally book at home is another great use of on-board credit but there’s an easy way to stretch the OBC even further…

Book your spa treatments on a port day.

As the ship will be mostly empty (with everyone off in port exploring) cruise ship spas tend to put on port day sales, with sometimes as much as 50% off treatments, so if you’ve seen a particular port before why not skip it and bag yourself a bit of a discount on a spa day!

Spa treatments


Don’t waste money on soft drink packages

A lot of people use their on-board credit on buying a soft drinks package for either themselves or their kids but they’re not a great use of your money to our mind.

A soft drinks package will let you purchase a (soft) drink from any bar around the ship for free so can be a great money saver, especially if you’re traveling with a young family.

The thing is though soft drinks are already free!

You can get all the soft drinks you want from the buffet restaurant free of charge (yes there may be a little bit of a walk – but it’s free)! In fact some of the newer, bigger ships even have soft drinks dispenser scattered around the ship. On Royal Caribbean’s Quantum and Anthem of the seas there’s one located in the Seaplex (the teen hangout area).

Why pay for something you can go and collect free of charge?

drinks package


Avoid the ship’s photographer

We’re sorry but there’s just no excuse for wasting your money on the ship’s photographer any more. These days almost everyone’s got a camera in their pocket that will take photos at least as good as any ship’s photographer can take and we guarantee any pictures you snap will look a lot less forced or staged than posing for a professional photographer will look.

Our advice? Save your on-board credit for other purchases!

selfie dogs


Who needs a key-ring?

We love everything about cruising and cruise ships (we kind of have to, it’s our job!) but if we did have a complaint it would be about overpriced souvenirs.

As tempting as it may be to use £15 of your on-board credit to buy key ring with a cruise lines logo on it we can think of better ways to remember your holiday!

If you’re the kind of person that likes to buy souvenirs our advice would be to buy them in port.

Yes you won’t be able to use your on-board credit but it will be a lot cheaper in the long run.

cruise souvenir


Don’t answer that email!

In recent years cruise lines (especially Royal Caribbean) have made steps in speeding up Wi-Fi at sea but once you lose sight of land it’s still notoriously slow.

You can buy Wi-Fi access with your on-board credit but our advice would be to wait till you get to land.

You may think that won’t help you as you’ll still have to pay roaming chargers but here’s our top tip….

As you’re getting off the ship follow the crew on shore leave! They’ll know exactly where all the local ‘hot-spots’ are for free Wi-Fi and they’ll be happy to share this information with you.

free wifi


(Don’t) roll the dice…

Cruise ship casinos are a big no-no when it comes to using your on-board credit.

You’re just not allowed.


You can buy casino chips (and hopefully win some back) with your on-board account but you won’t be able to use any credit you have; even if there’s hundreds of pounds of OBC on there – The casino will always cost you real money so be careful!

on-board credit - Dice


What do you normally spend your on-board credit on? Do you just use it as part and parcel of your holiday spending money or do you ‘treat’ yourself to something nice with it?

Let us know in the comments below…