This is a guest post from Robert Dwyer, a Saverocity reader and points & miles enthusiast.
I recently booked a Disney Cruise with Citi ThankYou points. At 1.25 cents per point of value (if you have a Premier
or Prestige card – Update: Only the Premier card gets 1.25 cpp uplift see this post from Joe for more info) it’s far from the most leveraged redemption: Transferring ThankYou points 1:1 to air travel partners for international premium cabin flights is a better option. As is using ThankYou points towards paid AA flights at 1.6 cents per point of value with the Prestige card.
But if going on a cruise or staying at an all-inclusive is what you really want to do, and you find yourself long on points and short on need for these other redemptions, using ThankYou points this way might be for you.
Why ThankYou points?
There was a time when Citi appeared poised to give Chase and AmEx a run for their money. Remember when the AmEx Platinum card lost AA lounge access? Citi swooped in with a 100,000 point signup bonus for the AA Exec card, which filled the lounge access void nicely. Just as those cards were coming due for their annual fee the Citi Prestige card appeared, offering lounge access and more.
And it wasn’t just AmEx they were going after. Their ThankYou point program, and the credit cards that earned them, were confusingly similar to Chase’s Ultimate Rewards cards. Mostly in a good way. The Preferred, Premier, and Prestige cards were the good, better, best to Chase’s Freedom/Sapphire Preferred/Reserve cards. Pair these signup bonuses with the Citi AT&T Access More card, with its 3x earning for “online” purchases and you have a surprising number of ThankYou points.
While AmEx’s Membership Rewards and Chase’s Ultimate Rewards also offer the ability to pay for a cruise with points, I find those currencies easier to get outsized value from in other ways. I prefer their 1:1 transfer partners (United, Hyatt, Aeroplan) to Citi’s. And they both now have easy leveraged redemption for air travel if you carry the AmEx Business Platinum card (2 cents per point) or the Chase Sapphire Reserve (1.5 cents per point).
Meanwhile that leaves us with Citi points that are more difficult to work with (and getting worse since the 1.6 cents per point option with AA is going away), subject to loss from account closure, and therefore in my mind – a good candiate to use towards a cruise.
Ironically the Chase Disney credit card is a rather terrible way to save money on Disney vacations. The signup bonus is weak, the earning structure is poor, and the perks are difficult to realize.
You might also consider signing up for a bunch of cashback and/or generic travel rewards cards that you can use to pay for any travel. While that can certainly work to an extent, there are only so many of these cards out there.
You can also use manufactured spending to get there on [say] a 2% card, but those avenues are always changing and seem to be getting more time consuming and less lucrative.
Having earned quite a few ThankYou points over the years through credit card signups combined with 3x on the AT&T Access More card made Citi a good bank to work with for this redemption.
How to book it
The booking process was straightforward, but there are some nuances to be aware of:
- Bookings are made over the phone. Call the number on the back of your card, choose the option for ThankYou points, then select the option for booking a cruise. The agent I worked with was first rate, well versed in the process of booking a cruise, and familiar with the nuances associated with Disney Cruises and using ThankYou points to pay for them.
- Although you typically only need a 20% deposit to book a Disney Cruise, you only get one shot to pay for the cruise with ThankYou points. You can pay just the deposit, the full amount, or anywhere in between. But you only get one chance to use ThankYou points (at 1.25 cents per point or otherwise) at the time of booking. So you’ll want to pay for as much of the cruise as you can with ThankYou points right at the time of booking.
- You can only use ThankYou points from a single account. But you can transfer ThankYou points from your spouse’s account to yours, limited to 100,000 per calendar year. So keep this restriction in mind especially if you’re planning around the end of the year. And keep in mind that Citi ThankYou points reportedly expire a few months after being transferred.
- You cannot buy cruise insurance directly from Disney at all when booking with ThankYou points.
- A couple of notes on cancellation per my travel agent:
- If you cancel before the timeframe where Disney starts charging cancellation fees, refunds are given in ThankYou points.
- If you cancel after the timeframe where Disney starts charging cancellation fees, refunds are given in the form of a check. If this sounds like a good scheme for cashing out your ThankYou points, realize the fees are like 50% of the cost of the cruise.
- If you don’t have enough ThankYou points to pay for the whole cruise additional costs can be paid with any credit card, Disney gift cards, or [I’m pretty sure] a Disney Savings Account. More here on using Disney gift cards to save on Disney vacations. I paid for the portion of the cruise which my ThankYou points couldn’t cover with gift cards without incident.
Although this isn’t the mostly highly leveraged redemption, I’m pleased with it and looking forward to our cruise. Most trips are a combination of airfare, lodging, food and activities and with a cruise a lot of these expenses will have been paid for with points.
This will be our third Disney Cruise. I swore them off after our second one, but enough time has passed that I’ve forgotten the bad parts and now [mostly] remember only the huge smiles I see when looking back at photos. You can read more about my thoughts on Disney Cruises in general here:
So how was the cruise? I’m glad you asked – we had a great time! Here’s a full review:
Questions or comments? Ping me on Twitter @RobertDwyer or leave a comment below.