You can pay for cruises with United MileagePlus miles. You will probably have to call to book, and you will get about 0.8 cents of value per United airline mile.
Sometimes you can use airline miles to book more than airfare. You can use the airline portals to book hotel rooms and car rentals with your airline miles, although this is rarely a good value. You can also book cruises with air miles under certain circumstances. Whether or not you should use valuable miles to pay for cruises is another matter.
Do you have a healthy stash of United miles? You can use these miles (called MileagePlus miles) to book cruises. You can research these cruises online but you’ll need to get on the phone to actually book the cruise. I went through the process of making a dummy booking all the way through to speaking with a United Cruises agent. Please note that I did not actually complete a pay-with-miles cruise booking.
Finding the Portal to Book Cruises with United Miles
The portal for United Cruises is cruises.united.com. This will take you to the cruise search engine that will quote prices in DOLLARS. You can use this site to compare what you would actually pay in cash to determine whether or not the MILES price that you’ll be quoted later is a decent value. To get to the place where you’ll see the price quoted in miles you’ll need to click the yellow button on the left called “Prefer to use your miles to book?”
This will take you to an entirely different website cruises.mileageplus.com. I clicked on the Royal Caribbean button to come to a list of cruises on Royal. I picked a six-day cruise on Empress of the Seas that sails in November 2016 from Miami.
You Can’t Book Cruises Online with United Miles
The next screen shot shows a preliminary offering for this particular cruise. If you click the select button you will be prompted to log in to your MileagePlus account.
You will then wind up back on the cruises.united.com page where prices are quoted in dollars. I tried about 10 times to get out of this loop on both my laptop and IPhone. This was when I gave up and called an agent at United cruises.
Phone Convo with United Cruises Agent
Before the agent would price a cruise, she asked for all my personal info such as address, birth date, phone, and MileagePlus number. She can put this info into the computer to easily complete a booking later on; however, she could also use this info to see if I qualified for any discounts. I did qualify for state (Georgia) and senior discount, and was quoted a price of 25,952 miles per person, or 51,904 miles for two. This sounded great until she told me the total for two including taxes and fees would be 88,744 miles! Let’s look more closely at these fees. I’ve always been annoyed that preliminary quotes by travel agencies and cruise lines never include taxes and fees, but sometimes there are even fees that get paid to the travel agency.
Service Charges to Book Cruises with United Miles
United Cruises and Mileage Plus Cruises are actually run by the mega online travel agency World Travel Holdings. I did a blog article a while back on Sneaky Hidden Fees of Online Travel Agencies and found that all of the websites to whom they franchise charge a booking fee of $24.99. So I was not surprised to see the following disclaimer when I clicked on the (very tiny) Terms and Conditions link:
Notice that the ratio of the fee cash price to the miles price (2499/2975) is 0.84. This number, or close to it, will come up later when we compare the dollars/miles price of the cruise.
Comparing the Cash and Miles Prices of Cruises with United
Let’s compare how much money we would have to pay for this same cruise. Going back to cruises.united.com we find this same cruise has a base price of $289 for one. You also earn two MileagePlus miles per dollar spent, and two more miles per dollar if you use one of your United credit cards, for a total of 4 miles per dollar spent.
The final price of $760.46 includes the taxes and fees.
Is Booking Cruises with United Miles a Good Value?
To determine if booking with miles is a good value, we need to compare the final dollars to miles price. United Cruises values a $760.46 cruise at 88,744 miles. $760.46/88,744 miles is $0.0086 dollars per mile, or 0.86 cents per mile. When I use my United miles to get an award ticket, I often get 2 cents or more value per mile.
If you use your United miles to book airfare, then using them to pay for cruises is an extremely poor value. If you have the miles, but know that they will expire before you can use them to book tickets, then why not use them to pay for a cruise? You CAN pay for a cruise with United miles, but know that you are getting less than one penny per mile for them.