Most people use a credit or debit card by default for their onboard account. But is that really the best option for them on their cruise?
Most people use a credit or debit card by default for their onboard account. But is that really the best option?

By and large, your cruise holiday includes the vast majority of what you will need onboard, however there is no doubt that you will quickly uncover something which you would like to purchase once you’re on the ship. From drinks to spa treatments, there is something for everyone aboard nearly every ship.

It is therefore critical that you keep track of your onboard spending to ensure you don’t blow your budget. Being the cashless societies that they are, it’s extremely easy to leave your wallet in your stateroom and flash your cruise card with seemingly reckless abandon as you go, only to be hit with a very sobering bill at the end of the cruise. However, there are a number of ways you can manage your account and prevent another type of “bill shock”.

If you want complete and total budget control, the best way to do this is via a cash account and not to link your credit card. A cash account will only allow you to charge to your room when you have preloaded your account in advance with funds. This method will also cut you off when you have exhausted those funds.

A handy tip is that once your cruise booking is paid in full, you can start to load your onboard spend account with money, months or even years ahead of departure. It’s like a piggy bank you won’t need to smash open until your holiday begins.

A collection of cruise ship keycards.
Your cruise card is your literal key to the ship and your onboard account aboard any cruise ship.

Most cruise lines have a minimum cash amount you need to load at once in order to activate your account – around $100 a day for the duration of your cruise. The only exception to this is Princess Cruises, which requires you to submit a credit card just to print your boarding passes! However this can be worked around by logging onto your Cruise Personaliser and printing the travel summary document rather than your boarding passes. You can also visit the Guest Relations desk straight after boarding, remove your credit card authority and load up your account with cash.

Most cruise lines will push you into ensuring you have a credit or debit card on file, claiming it’s “the easiest and quickest way” to settle your onboard account. This can cause some serious headaches as the cruise lines will automatically pre-authorise an amount to your credit card equal to how much you spent that day. This is done to cover for passengers who walk off the ship at the end of their cruise without settling their account.

This can prove to be quite costly as each of those pre-authorisations eat away at the limit on your credit card. If you’re using a debit card, this can be a real issue as it can freeze your money for up to two weeks after you get back from your cruise! If you are going to use a credit card, make sure you use a card that doesn’t charge high international transaction fees and has competitive exchange rates to the currency on which your ship operates.

Guest services desks appear on every cruise ship, such as this one on Oceania Marina.
Every cruise ship offers a general reception services desk to handle your onboard account.

Many people don’t have a credit card though, so if you have no choice but to use a debit card, there is an option to expedite the removal of the holds and return of your funds. Upon returning home, give your cruise line a call – they generally will have an option to speak with someone regarding your post-cruise experience. These specially trained operators will be able to submit the required paperwork in order to get the funds released as soon as possible, with your bank then generally releasing your funds within 48 hours.

When it comes to onboard accounts, don’t link it to any of the Cash Passport or pre-loaded multi-currency travel cards offered by many different banks and financial institutions designed especially for travel. The cruise lines’ systems can’t work out which currency to use and will therefore default to your Australian dollars account, despite you loading the card up with hundreds if not thousands of dollars in foreign currency!

Cruise Advice’s top tips for onboard accounts:

  • If you can, prepay things such as beverage packages, gratuities and speciality dining experiences – this will help to minimise your bill at the end of your cruise and quite often, there are discounts for purchasing in advance.
  • Call your cruise line and ask what their exchange rate is for pre-purchasing refundable onboard credit – adding your own onboard credit in advance can often give you access to near commercial exchange rates.
  • If you cruise frequently, look into obtaining a credit card that has a small international transaction fee, or no fee at all, as some cruise ships charge from foreign accounts and usually in a foreign currency such as US Dollars.
  • Get a printed copy of your account each day from the Guest Services Desk or from the automatic account kiosks and check the transactions on your account are actually yours.
  • If travelling with children, make sure that they have their charging privileges reduced so that they can’t ring up large charges in the arcade or onboard candy stores.
  • Take a printed copy of any documentation showing onboard credits you are entitled to, as sometimes glitches can occur with the ship not being notified of your entitlement.
  • Keep in mind many ships now have ATMs which can be accessed onboard should you be using cash for your account and run over your budget.

What are your tips for managing your onboard account? Tell us below!

Cruise ship casino on Legend of the Seas can be an expensive activity.
Cruise ship casinos can burn through your onboard account or cause a huge bill on your credit card. Set your limits.

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