In the event that any of you have not yet discovered the various credit cards having cruise points (like frequent flyer miles) you should check it out.
NCL has the best deal, dollar for dollar, but Carnival's new program (just launched in Feb.) uses a company which honors the points on any major cruise line.
Last year my husband and I did 3 cruises that we only paid the port and tax on and 1 where we got one passenger fare free. If you are in a position to charge a lot each month (I'm a business owner and most of my vendors take credit card payments) you can rack up a free cruise in no time.
Thought you'd like to know.
Just booked cruise #22
Norwegian Sun 11/05
I'm not sure exactly how their new program works since it's only 6 weeks old but the literature seems as though you use whoever you wish. With the old program you called the credit card company to redeem your "miles" and they gave you a number which you then gave to Carnival's accounting department. All of this, irregardless of how you'd booked the cruise. There is no limit on how many points you can accumulate per month, although there is a cap on the annual amount.
NCL has certificates issued in $500 denominations that you use as you would a gift certificate. You can earn up to $1000 credit per year and $250 credit per month. The thing to do then is have them split your credit limit between several cards (I have four) so you can maximize your purchasing power.
We've had the NCL card (MBNA) since Sept.'03 and have over 1500 points ($) towards our next cruise. I also think that that card is the best one in the field thus far. You get 3% for purchases and 4% for NCL-related charges (cruises, on board purchases, etc.)
We also now have the new CCL card (Juniper Bank), which replaced the Capital One CCL card. We don't really have a handle on its point values yet, since they haven't sent us much info on the redemption program, options, etc. But points which we had accumulated on our Capital One card will be transferred to the Juniper card account at the beginning of June.
I also haven't seen anything telling us that we can use the new card for cruise lines other than Carnival. We'll have to wait and see, but in the meantime we continue to make most major purchases on our NCL card.
I have a friend who has had a Carnival Visa for years (or maybe Mastercard, can't remember). She is THE shopping queen and has gotten at least one free fare every year as long as I can remember. If you shop a lot and/or put everything on your credit card, I think they are a good deal.
Just DON'T get the credit card offered by a certain independent online travel agent. I think it's the only online travel agent with its own credit card, if that narrows it down. That agent has the WORST customer service I have ever experienced!
The benefits may seem better than the cruise lines' cards, but you'd be much better off with those because of the customer service.
You can charge anything you want on the cards. With NCL and Carnival (SeaMiles program) you get additional points for money spent with that particular cruise line. If say, you put your cruise deposit on your credit card you would earn points. And if your cruise was far enough off that you could accrue enough points by the time the balance was due you could certainly pay for it that way IF that credit card programs works on a dollar basis (like NCL) and not a points per cruise basis like Carnivals and Royal Caribbean's.
Now, I've probably confused you so let me see if I can make sense out of it.
With NCL the points accrue and when you have 500, or multiple thereof, you can request a certificate which is good for - what else, but $500! You use it like a gift certificate.
Points accrue as follows: They give you something like 250 points when you sign up then you receive 3 pt/ $100 you charge on the card, unless the purchase is with NCL and then you receive 4 pt/$100. You do not receive points for balance transfers (rats), cash withdrawal, finance fees, etc.
With Carnival & Royal Carib. there is a point value applied to the cruise - just like most air mile programs. An inside cabin for a 7 night Caribbean cruise is 45,000 points, an outside is 50,000. They have a provision for using some points for up to a $500 discount but it is on an individual basis - depends on the exact cruise, the cabin you've booked, availability, etc. and it is not available for use on 1-A category.
I am not familiar with Celebrity's program but since they're owned by Royal Carib. I would think it might be similar. Unfortunately, no one else seems to have the NCL style program which I think is superior for obvious reasons of economy.
Hope that helps. We did several cruises last year free or almost so and I've booked one for November that I owe a whopping $76 on, but I think I can live with that.