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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