Everything to Know About Using Credit Cards on a Cruise

These days, having a credit card isn’t just a convenience, it’s a necessity. In fact, many people are traveling with multiple pieces of plastic, whether it be a multiple credit cards or some combination of debit and credit.

And while using credit cards has become an everyday part of most people’s lives, it’s not all the time that people use credit cards on their cruise. Truth is, there are a few things you should know about using plastic on your trip that you may not realize, as well as a few things you should keep in mind to keep your card safe while on your vacation.

Below, we’ve rounded up the important things for you to know about your credit card and cruising.

You Need Your Card for Your Cruise… But Won’t Use It On the Ship

In most cases, you’ll use your credit or debit card at check-in to set up your onboard account. Just like when you go to a hotel, the cruise line put your card on file for charges to your room account. The cruise line will then place a “hold” on the card — an amount that varies with the length of the cruise. However, once you’ve set up the account using your card, then you won’t use it on the ship for the remainder of the cruise.

(Note: You can use cash at check-in to make a deposit if you don’t want to use your card.)

What about spending on the ship? That’s done using your onboard account. When you check-in, you’ll receive your room key, which is credit-card style. Carnival, for instance, calls it your Sail & Sign card. Royal Caribbean calls it your SeaPass card.

The serves as both your room key and a credit card for spending on the ship. Want a drink at the bar? Just swipe the card and it goes on your account. Want to shop in the ship’s stores? That’s right — swipe the key card it it’s charged to your account.

This makes things extremely simple and also allows you to keep tabs on your spending by checking your account balance. At the end of your trip, you then pay the balance off in full, typically using the card you placed on file when you first checked in.

Acceptance of Credit Cards in Cruise Ports

These days the acceptance of credit cards is growing rapidly — and not just in the United States. Merchants in ports of call vary in their acceptance rate depending on where you go and the sort of places you make purchases.

For example, a highly popular and developed port like Cozumel will see credit card widely accepted at restaurants, shops, and beach clubs. You can use a card much like you would in the United States or Canada.

However, for smaller ports — and smaller shops — you are likely to run into places that don’t accept cards just yet. In either case, it’s always a good idea to bring cash in any port. This way if you shop at a vendor (or taxi driver) that doesn’t accept cards, then you have another method to pay.

Security of Using Credit Cards on a Cruise

Is it safe to use credit card in port? In our opinion, you run similar risks using your card anywhere else. These days many people have been victims of credit card fraud, whether due to website hacks, skimmers, or other methods of acquiring your card details — and that’s just using your card here at home.

In a port of call, you do run a risk of not being able to use merchants that you know and trust like you would at home. The good news is that these days most banks have a zero liability policy regarding credit card fraud. If there are fraudulent charges, they are often taken care of at no cost to you.

Where you might be more vigilant is with small scams sometimes played on tourists. For example, you hand over a credit card, it’s swiped and the merchant tells you that it didn’t go through. They then ask for cash instead. In fact, the charge did go through and you ended up double paying for the item when you give them cash.

As well, inputting a wrong amount to a transaction to increase the sale amount can happen. Simply ensuring you get a receipt for payment can help nip this issue in the bud.

Transaction Fees in Foreign Countries

Depending on your credit card, you may be charged foreign transaction fees for making a purchase in a foreign country. These fees usually run between 1-3% of the purchase amount, although many credit cards — especially travel-focused cards — offer zero foreign transaction fees.

The good news is that even with these fees, the exchange rate you normally get by making the purchase on the card makes it worth the extra charge. For example, if you pay in cash, a store in Mexico might have a posted exchange rate of $1USD = $15 Mexican Pesos. However, the actual exchange rate varies constantly. If the real rate is, say, $1USD = $17 Mexican Pesos, you would actually pay less for the item (even with fees) because you’ll get the better exchange rate on your credit card.

Call Your Credit Card Company Before Your Cruise

One important thing to note before you decide to use a credit card while taking a cruise — it’s always a good idea to let your credit card company know that you are going on a trip.

On the back of your card you will find a number to call for customer service. Give them a call and follow the prompts to alert the company of foreign travel. Sometimes this is completely automated, but with some companies you might have to talk to a representative.

When you alert the company of your plans, you help ensure that they don’t freeze your card for suspicious spending. If you are buying gas in New Orleans one day and dinner in Mexico the next, it can raise a red flag, which may get your account frozen while the charges are investigated. Letting the company know of upcoming travel makes sure you won’t be stuck with a frozen credit card on your cruise.

Have more tips for using your credit card while cruising? Let us know in the comments below.

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  1. Norwegian gave my 4 minor children room keys that were linked to our credit card. My 13 year old , autistic son, was able to charge over $300.00 in arcade charges in one day. When we went to management they said it is their policy to link all cards to the credit card so they can each be used as such, regardless of the age of the person. They stated we would have had to call to have their cards blocked if we didn’t want them to use the card as their personal credit card. We spent a great deal of time with several managers on the ship who all swore they could not rectify the situation and reverse the arcade charges. They insisted we had to fight this on land. So, here we are disputing it with the BBB as the next course of action since our direct complaint with Norwegian was denied. No parent , in their right mind would allow their children to run around the ship with a credit card (they call a “room key”). This should be illegal. they are 100% responsible for any charges my minor child was able to charge without our consent.

  2. Highly convenient… to spend more money. Just swipe and forget about it is how lots of businesses get you to spend more money. It’s basically the flip side of the common personal finance advice to use cash for your daily spending because you have to physically give the cash to someone every time you spend money. That constant reminder can reduce your spending. Putting everything on an account is the opposite – it removes as much friction as possible, makes it as easy as they can, so you will keep spending. It takes self-discipline to not overspend.

  3. You need to highlight insider ship card fraud

    I am on [a cruise ship] where my ship card was “lost” at the [spa] (*Note: Cruzely editors have removed the name of the ship in question)
    The manager simply walked over to Customer Service and got me a new one. She was unphased about the loss.

    Immediately I told customer service to close the account for that lost card They said they did and not to worry Facial recogntion is done against the computer till screen when a purchase is made. But the final transaciton report showed a charge of fourty five dollars for a pendant billed under the old card number to the Fragrance store on the shjio where they do not sell pendants. But this store takes transactions for the artisan tables that are set up in open space.

    These artisans do not have facial recognation screens. The person who did this knew this, had a copy of my printed name and signature from the Spa facial forms I had to sign for. They forged my printed name and signature under that lost card number where it was too similar to my own authentic handwritng to have been a customer who got the wrong card.

    So the service desk was not truthful about freezing my okd oost card account.
    when I rerted thhus fruaduient charge, the manger of customer service said again they froze my account so no more transaction cuod be accepted.

    I had to call Visa and report not to accept any dollar amount above the frozen amount.

    • Thanks for sharing. Sounds frustrating!

      We’re not sure of the details of your case and find it highly unusual that a staff member would do something like this. If what you say is really the case, then they would be risking their job for a $45 pendant. If the customer service team originally told you that the card was closed, then we hope you wouldn’t be charged for this transaction and it would be taken off your account.

      We have personally had a charge at a bar on a cruise ship before that wasn’t ours. It was quickly taken off of our bill without any fuss.


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