Counting out cash to spend on your cruise ship by pre-paying a cash account.

Cruise ships are, for the most part, cashless societies – it’s easy for everybody in a lot of ways. It’s much easier for obvious reasons to send money electronically to whichever bank they use than to try and find a way to deposit cash over the counter.

This applies generally to all expenses and purchases onboard, with guests set up with their own personal spend account as soon as a cruise booking is confirmed. This account tracks and itemises everything you buy while on your cruise. Everything from a drink at the bar (if not covered by a pre-purchased drinks package), specialty dining, merchandise, any purchases made in the boutiques or duty free and even fines and penalties dished out for any damage caused (such as smoking in your cabin and the associated cost of fumigating it).

By far the easiest way, according to the cruise lines, is for passengers to simply register a credit card, with plenty of available credit, against their account and sit back and enjoy their holiday seemingly free from restriction and able to spend with nearly reckless abandonment.

Of course, not everybody has a credit card or wishes to use it as there can be plenty of pitfalls associated with doing so (read more HERE). Cruises also give you the choice of registering to keep your account cashed up to ensure an uninterrupted experience. Here are some of the advantages of opting for a cash account when on your next cruise.

It’s easy to keep track of what you spend

If you're fairly prudent with your expenses, it won't take long to figure out how much money you think you'll need for each day of your cruise.
If you’re financially prudent, it won’t take long to figure out how much money you’ll need for each day of your cruise.

Often, even after a gratuity is added, items you buy onboard will be charged to you in a fairly round figure (such as increments of $0.50 or whole dollars). Furthermore, depending on how much cash you have loaded onto your account, you may wish to set yourself a personal daily budget after doing some quick calculations on how much your favourite drink will cost you each time and the price of dining at specialty restaurants, if you haven’t pre-paid for them.

Early on in your cruise, you will generally work out for yourself how much you think you will spend each day and can continue on in this routine for the rest of your holiday. This set-up is probably not likely to work too well for shopaholics or those with a thirst for high-end liquor or those eager to have a flutter at the casino.

Most ships will require a cash account to be kept at a minimum level of credit, such as $100. Of course, once you reach zero, you can’t buy anything else until you load on more cash, and your ship will often send messages via your in-room television system whenever a warning needs to be sent that your account credit level is running low.

You can pay into it before you set sail

Loading up your account with cash early on will make your onboard spending easier and less stressful.
Loading up your account with cash early on will make your onboard spending easier and less stressful.

If the cash account is the way to go, think of it as a holiday piggy bank which you can begin to pay into months or even years in advance, depending on how far in advance you make your booking and when making the final payment on your cruise fare.

Most of the time, cruise lines operating in US Dollars will offer a poorer rate of exchange than what you can get from your local bank or financial institution. Exchanging your local currency for the currency in which your ship trades is a good move as you can then walk up to the Guest Relations desk as soon as you board and load up your account ready to go.

Some major cruise lines sailing in Australia, such as P&O Cruises, Princess Cruises and the two Carnival Cruise Line ships, trade in Australian currency, so there won’t be any fees at all. Celebrity Solstice even allows you to load up your account with a debit card, charged in AUD so there are no fees charged. The downside to this though is that this amount is converted to the ship’s USD base currency at its own exchange rate, almost always worse than your bank.

You get any leftover money back at the end of the cruise

If you don't end up spending what you load, you can get the difference refunded in full at the end of your cruise.
If you don’t end up spending what you load, you can get the difference refunded in full at the end of your cruise.

If by some change you load up your account with cash and then don’t spend it all, you can go and collect a refund from Guest Relations on the final evening before your cruise ends. Your ship will want all cash accounts settled by around 10pm the night before you get home (which then cuts you off from any last-minute purchases the next day before disembarking).

Of course, this requires you to be vigilant about keeping track of your account. It’s highly unlikely the ship will contact you to come and collect a refund as they may not have enough cash in stock or may not have the correct change. In extremely rare cases where a guest has hundreds or thousands of dollars in unspent credit, the ship may request a credit or debit card in which it can make the deposit, rather than hand over a wad of cash.

No daily pre-authorisations on your credit or debit card

There are no surprises with a cash account - and you can easily and regularly find out how much you have left anytime.
There are no surprises with a cash account – and you can easily and regularly find out how much you have left anytime.

An often unknown and misunderstood element of cruising is that travellers registering a credit card against their spend account will see daily pre-authorisations made for an amount usually equal to what they spend the previous day. This is to ensure the ship is covered for those who walk off at the end of their cruise without actually settling their account.

Of course, this can’t happen on a cash account, but in turn, the responsibility is then on you to ensure you have enough credit loaded to ensure you don’t have to repeatedly line up at the Guest Relations desk with more cash in hand.

It’s very important NOT to register a debit card with your cruise line. They hate it, and so will you. These pre-authorisations will freeze your money, meaning you can’t withdraw it, and it can stay frozen for up to a month AFTER you get home from your cruise. If your balance is already low and your cruise line can’t access the funds it needs, your onboard account will also be frozen and you’ll need to register a different form of payment.

You’ll minimise bank fees and get better exchange rates

Exchanging your local cash for the ship's currency is always much cheaper on land before you go.
Exchanging your local cash for the ship’s currency is always much cheaper on land before you go.

If you thought Travelex stands offered poor exchange rates at airports, cruise lines are even worse, often paying five or ten cents per dollar less than you can get elsewhere. If your cruise ship trades in USD, it’s wise to stock up on this well before your cruise.

Shop around and find the best rate for you, which may even be online, and load up with cash to take to Guest Relations ready to pay after you board.

What are your tips for managing a cash account onboard? Tell us in the comments below.

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