How Credit Card Rewards Paid For Our 5 Day Carnival Cruise

We recently returned from a fun-in-the-sun vacation on a 5 day Carnival cruise. The best part of the vacation was that it was almost completely free due to credit card rewards. We did end up having to pay just a tiny bit of money, but everything else was covered by credit card rewards!

Most people would never think 2 people could take a 5 day cruise for almost nothing, so I thought I’d share how we were able to pull it off. First I’ll cover how much everything cost, then I’ll share how we used credit card rewards to pay for everything.

How Much Our Five Day Carnival Cruise Cost (Everything Included)

I’ve done write ups on how much our cruises have cost in the past (read our first 5 day cruise costs here and our 7 day honeymoon cruise costs here) so I’m not going to explain what all of these costs are for. If you want to read about hidden costs on a Carnival cruise, click here.

The cruise itself, with all fees and prepaid tips included cost us $770.96. This was the first cost we paid and we paid it all with our credit card rewards. The next cost we paid was a shore excursion, snorkeling in Grand Cayman, that we planned a few weeks ahead of the cruise. It cost $73.98 and was also paid for completely with credit card rewards.

About a week before we left for the cruise we booked a hotel for the night before the cruise left. We always do this so we don’t have to worry about traffic or missing the cruise! We booked through and got a killer deal at the Hilton Garden Inn just a few miles from the port. It only cost $63.76 and was again paid for completely with credit card rewards.

On our way to the port we had to fuel my car. Total fuel (both on the way there and on the way back) cost us $71.64. We also stopped to stock up on a few vacation necessities and a meal on the way to and home from our cruise which cost us $58.32. Unfortunately, we couldn’t pay for these costs with our rewards at the same rate at which we could redeem our miles for travel, so we paid for these costs out of pocket.

When we finally arrived at the port and had to pay to park our car. These cruises really know how to nickle and dime you! The parking cost $75.00 and while we put it on our credit card, it didn’t count as travel so we didn’t use our reward points for this part either.

We always bring some cash to pay for tips and purchases in the ports. This time we only paid additional tips to the porters ($2) who took our bags when we arrived at the port and $4 to rent a locker on one of our excursions. We got by pretty cheap with our cash spending this cruise.

While we were on the ship we enjoyed our cruise and knew how much money we had left in credit card rewards and we wanted to make sure we spent it all. We both bought a t-shirt and we bought a few drinks here and there on the cruise ship. In the end, we spent the last $75.20 of our credit card rewards on our on-board cruise account.

Total Cost Of The Cruise

The total cost of our cruise was $1,194.86 and we were able to pay for $983.90 of it with our credit card rewards. That means we only had to pay $210.96 out of pocket for a 5 day Carnival cruise. Pretty sweet huh?

We could have done even better and completely paid for the cruise with credit card rewards, but we wouldn’t of had as much fun and we wouldn’t have been able to redeem our rewards at maximum value. We’re super happy with how our trip turned out and how we didn’t have to pay hardly anything for it, compared to a normal cruise!

How We Earned Our Credit Card Rewards

To earn the rewards to pay for our cruise, we used a sign up bonus credit card. I signed up for the card first and hit the minimum spend threshold to earn the sign up bonus. Next, my wife did the same thing.

We continued to put our normal spending on these cards until we hit our desired point amount for our vacation. Then we redeemed our rewards for travel to get the maximum value possible! It’s pretty simple!

Have you ever used credit card rewards to get a cheap or free vacation? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below!

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About Lance Cothern

Lance Cothern, a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) licensed in the Commonwealth of Virginia, is the founder of Money Manifesto. You can read more about him here or connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Pinterest.


  1. Great job, Lance! I am still scared to go on a cruise though.

  2. Nicely done with the cruise.

    When I do these sort of things, I always think of the “cost” as the time and effort I spent researching, signing up for, and reaching spend requirements for these cards. It’s pretty fun though, so the cost still isn’t that high.

  3. Barbara Lynn Henderson says:

    You are an inspiration to all and I love that you teach people how to better themselves financially!
    Barbara Lynn

  4. Great Ideas! You’re such an inspiration to everyone for making their lives financially better.


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