Why I Booked a Cruise Now (When We Can Least Afford It)

I like to say that there is usually an exception to every rule. However, I’ve always felt it’s reckless to book a trip when you don’t have the money on hand to pay for it. Sure, if it’s your loved one’s dying wish to fulfill a bucket-list dream, I can sort of see it. But very few of us will end up in this kind of predicament.

Most of the time, the question of whether to go on a certain trip or not comes down to our desires. Let’s face it, travel isn’t really  essential. But just a few days ago I went ahead and booked a relatively expensive cruise without having the funds to cover it. Here is why.

Changing our anniversary plans

A few months ago, I’ve mentioned that my husband and I are thinking about booking a Windstar cruise in Tahiti for our 25th wedding anniversary next year. This is a very expensive treat but hey, how often are you married for a quarter of a century?! Once.

Anyway, I was recently talking to MIL about it and my son goes: “Mommy, can you please take me with you?” Just him, not his sister. I told him it’s really a cruise for adults, and that we would go as a family in a few years. When I told my husband about it, I knew  he would say out loud what we were both thinking. He has suggested that maybe we should put this money towards a family cruise instead.

I’ve already mentioned that I would be perfectly happy to fly to an island in a Caribbean and use miles and points towards our anniversary getaway. Or maybe even drive to Key West. Plus, my husband is already treating me to a fancy Costa Rica getaway this year.

It’s not that our kids are deprived in any way. In fact, it’s the complete opposite. They are spoiled rotten with fabulous vacations. But I knew my husband would not be able to resist changing our plans because many years ago he was that little boy sending his parents on a guilt trip.

In late eighties my in-laws decided to go on their very first cruise by themselves and leave the kids with grandparents. This was when cruising first started to go mainstream. My husband was about ten years old. When they came back, he was so mesmerized by their stories, he offered to give up all of his allowance if they could take him next time. You know, my FIL, not long before he died, was still talking about how bad it made him feel.

I know cruising isn’t for everyone, but it’s something our family loves. Not the party atmosphere or crowded pools, but the sheer romance of being in the open sea and watching the stars from the deck or better yet, your own private balcony. It’s hard to describe unless you’ve experienced it first-hand.

My original plan was to book a cruise over next Thanksgiving, a few months before the sailing date. This would give me time to save up some money. However, my husband has recently discovered that he has two weeks worth of flex time that will expire at the end of this year.

We could, of course, sit at home or do an inexpensive getaway somewhere in Florida. Or we could go on a cruise. I checked what sailings were available, and there was one I’ve been watching for the last decade. It was always out of our price range, but I’ve noticed that it was now 30% less than usual. I’m sure Covid pandemic uncertainty+possible recession has something to do with it.

The ship also had connecting balcony staterooms available, as there is no way I would agree to cruise with our two kids in a room that is 190 square feet. I asked my husband if he would be able to get a Thanksgiving week off. Approved!

Since everyone in my family is fully vaccinated and boosted, I finally feel comfortable going on a cruise. Plus, all of us except my son, had Covid in January, so I’m hoping we still have some natural immunity left. There are no guarantees, of course, but I feel Covid will be part of our lives going forward. There will be new variants, and cruising will always have some extra risk associated with it.

Paying for cruise via 0% offer on an existing card 

There was still a small matter of finding a way to finance this expensive treat. Normally, I don’t pay attention to 0% offers on purchases. I usually work on new sign-up bonuses or use existing savings to cover emergencies. But the only way we would book this cruise was by stretching the payments over 7 months or so.

Fortunately, several of my Barclaycards had a 0% promo on new purchases through March of 2023. I needed to acquire some Wyndham points anyway, so this card earning 2 points per dollar seemed like a logical choice. The total price was a bit over $5k for two connecting balcony cabins, which is a boatload of money. But again, this is a bucket-list item, and not just any cruise.

I normally recommend Cruisecompete.com where travel agencies fight for your business by sending offers to your email address. In my case, the cruise I was interested in wasn’t listed there. Cruise.com had an exclusive deal on my sailing, so that’s who I ended up purchasing it through. I did not attempt to get a free Carnival cruise for various reasons, but I recommend Nancy’s post if that’s something you are interested in doing.

After I used the Wyndham card, I found out that one of my Amex cards has a 0% offer on purchases through next July, which is an even better deal. Oh well. I did accept it because it may come in handy in the future. So why not? With Fed raising the rates, these offers may dry up in a near future.

So, I have 7 months to pay off this cruise, and I fully intend to do so before 0% offer runs out. Fortunately, we only have one more  payment on my husband’s car, so that should free up some cash. Our mortgage is paid off and we have no other debts. Well, except this cruise.

My only worry is our old van breaking down in a near future. But in all likelihood, we would try to fix it and just use Amex card with 0% offer. It’s cheaper than buying a new car, that’s for sure. We also have some Roth IRAs invested in CDs at a local bank, which can be cashed out without penalty. Well, at least the principal portion. That would be a drastic measure, but I consider Roth IRA to be my second layer of emergency fund. It’s just that my first layer is currently tied up in I-Bonds, which I can’t access until the end of April of 2023.

Cashing out points

Originally, I was planning to save my flexible points for possible future mileage transfers. However, I currently have enough miles for at least two years’ worth of vacations. And I need to pay off this cruise now. So, I went ahead and redeemed Chase Ultimate Rewards points towards my AirBnB booking in Paris at 1.25 cents apiece. It gave me almost $700 in cash I wasn’t counting on. I also used Capital One points to cover a recent $600 travel charge. That’s $1,300 that I didn’t technically have before, which will help with cruise expenses.

Yes, I could potentially get greater value out of my flexible points if I held out. But here is the thing. I’m certainly going to earn points going forward, and I still need to use up what I’ve accumulated so far. I need help with paying off this cruise right now, not in two years. The bird in the hand… and you know the rest. Plus, I’ve never been a fan of hoarding.

Speaking of, not too long ago, my BIL has reached out for advice on best bonuses for cruises. He has zero interest in miles, and is looking to offset the expense. My recommendation: Citi Premier card (our affiliate link). You can see more details on the offer in this post 

You can redeem 80k points towards $800 off cruise when booking through Citi Thank You travel portal. Alternatively, you can use them towards gift cards or mortgage/student loans at 1 cent apiece.

Final thoughts

Do I recommend you follow my lead? Of course not. I certainly hope you don’t decide to get in debt because a crazy internet blogger decided to do it. I’m not a fan of financing vacations, even at 0% interest rate. In all likelihood, this is a one-time thing. Between my husband’s “use it or lose it” vacation days and cheaper than usual prices on my dream cruise, we’ve decided to pull the trigger.

Plus, we’ve traded our anniversary cruise for this sailing. That means I won’t have to worry about saving money for Tahiti in 2023. I’m hoping we can can still do this cruise for our 30th anniversary, with would be ten years after the first time we visited French Polynesia. By then, our children may not want to vacation with us! As hard as it is to travel with kids, we wouldn’t have it any other way.

We have international trips planned for 2023 and 2024, so I’m not sure our financial situation will be that much better later. After we are done paying off this cruise, my goal is to stay out of debt if at all possible. If driving an old junker van allows me to take dream trips, I’m all for it.

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