The only thing better than taking a cruise? What about taking a free cruise? And I’m not talking about secretly sneaking yourself onto the ship when no one is looking or other silly — and illegal — tricks.
Believe it or not, there are ways for you to cruise for free. And while it’s not some free pass to sail whenever and wherever you want, if you know how to play your cards — or get lucky — then it is possible.
We cover some of the most common ways that people score free cruises below. Just know that while all of these ways work, more likely than not you’re still going to have to pay to take a cruise.
Free Cruises Through Loyalty Rewards
The first way that you can get a free cruise? Well, it will definitely take some time and money, but you can get a free cruise if you stay loyal to the cruise line.
Every cruise line offers up a loyalty program. For every night you sail with the cruise line, you earn points. Usually it’s one point per night, but some cabin types and special offers can get you more for each night sailed.
The more points you earn, the higher your loyalty status, which translates into perks on board. This can be everything from discounts to free drinks, and yes, even free cruises. However, don’t think it will necessarily be easy.
For instance, Royal Caribbean’s Crown & Anchor Society offers up a cruise certificate for a 7-night balcony cabin to its Pinnacle Club level members. To reach that level takes 700 points. It’s the same level for Norwegian Cruise Line.
Gamble Your Way to a Free Trip
You likely know that if you head to Las Vegas and spend enough money, then you soon see offers for free rooms to entice you to visit again. What you may not know is that the same thing happens for cruises. Spend enough onboard in the casino and you’ll be treated like a VIP, including with the possibility of a free cruise.
Now, it is a little tough to call it a “free” cruise, because there’s little doubt that if you’re gambling enough to be offered one of these rooms then you’ve likely spent a decent amount in the casino.
Still, it is a way to get a cruise without opening up your wallet, along with lots of other perks. For instance, the highest levels of the Carnival Players Club can not only get the cruise, but also complimentary parking, Platinum stats on the ship, free drink package, shore excursions, and wi-fi.
Now how much do you have to bet to get free cruise offers? I’m not privy to that information, but I can tell you it’s more than what I spend in the casino.
Cruise Line Sales (Family/Kids Sail Free)
For most people, the easiest and most sure-fire way to cruise for free is to keep your eyes peeled for a sale. It’s something that can apply to anyone, doesn’t take sailing 700 nights with a cruise line, or gambling tons of money.
But to be sure, there’s no “free” sale where you get on the ship without paying a dime. Instead, cruise lines will offer deals where one person pays full fare, but another person in the cabin can sail for free.
For example, Princess is offering a sale as of this taping where kids — as the third or fourth passenger in a cabin — sail at no additional cost. Margaritaville at Sea is offering a limited time fare where you buy one cruise and get the next one free. So purchase a regular fare and the next trip is free.
If you keep tabs on the sales (we suggest signing up for a cruise line’s email list), then you see these sorts of offers from time to time.
One way to get a free cruise may be something that you don’t want to experience. Most cruises go off without a hitch. But from time to time, issues can come up. For instance, recently a Norwegian Cruise Line ship hit an iceberg in Alaska and was forced to return home to Seattle early. Other issues can range from weather to ship breakdowns, which lead to an interruption of the rest of the cruise.
Whenever there is an interruption or the cancellation of a cruise like this, passengers are usually compensated. A refund of cruise fare is the most typical offer to keep everyone happy, but it’s not unheard of for a credit good for a future cruise to be given additionally.
For instance, when Norwegian Sun clipped an iceberg in Alaska and had to return home, passengers were reportedly give a full refund for that trip, and then a 100% Future Cruise Credit. So while no one wants to have the trip ruined, it’s hard to be disappointed when you get a free cruise out of it.
Travel Agent & Media Cruises
Another way to sail for free is something that I’ve personally been able to experience from time to time. Whenever there is a new ship, cruise lines love to create some buzz around it in order to get people to book. That’s where if you’re a member of the media or a travel agent with a good history with the cruise line, you might score a free cruise.
Now these trips are normally short. They often run just a few days in order to let everyone see and experience the new ship, so it’s not the same experience as a full-fledged cruise. And frankly, if you are there it’s much more of a business trip than anything else.
Even so, there are some unique experiences that these cruises can provide like when I was able to sail on a test cruise for a ship before it began sailing again with paying passengers of the general public.
Credit Card Points
One of the easiest ways to cruise for free? Cash in those credit card points that you’ve been saving up to put toward your cruise.
These days just about every credit card comes with some sort of reward system. I personally use Citi’s Double Cash card. It has no annual fee and I earn 1% on every purchase and another 1% whenever I pay it off.
And if you’re the type that likes to play the credit card rewards game, then there are all sorts of offers for new cards where you can earn hundreds of dollars in bonuses for being a new customer.
It can take some time to earn enough rewards to actually pay for an entire cruise, but even if you’re a moderate spender, having enough for a cruise every couple of years isn’t out of the question.
Finally, if you want a free cruise then you might have to get lucky with a sweepstakes. Sweepstakes have been around forever, and they are still going strong. And while you might not realize it, there are regular contests you can enter to win a free cruise.
Earlier this year Pepsi and Carnival had a contest where 15 winners chosen at random from the entries won a free cruise for two aboard the cruise line to the Caribbean.
Norwegian Cruise Line just wrapped up its annual “Norwegian’s Giving Joy” contest where 100 teachers won a trip aboard its newest ship Norwegian Prima when it sails from Galveston in October 2022.
These sweepstakes might seem like a shot in the dark. And yes, the odds are most likely that you won’t win. Even so, somebody has to win a free cruise and there’s no cost to enter. So why not you?