The Next Mission… Free Cruises Through Casino Status Matches!

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The Next Mission… Free Cruises Through Casino Status Matches!

I love going on cruises for vacation – it’s my absolute favorite vacation.

I know that some people hate ’em and think they’re nothing but a big old petri dish ready to spread disease to whoever gets on board. Some people don’t like the idea of being on a ship in the middle of the vast ocean. Others don’t like that you might only get 8-9 hours in port to explore other countries.

Guess what… I don’t care. I love ’em regardless. And that’s even before the idea of free cruises!

I love trying new foods in the main dining room. I love a good piña colada at a bar by the pool – ok, now it’s a virgin piña colada since I quit drinking a year and a half ago, but it’s still delicious! We love the shows, visiting other countries, or even just playing cards and people-watching.

More than anything though, I love sitting out on our cruise ship cabin balcony (once you go balcony, you’ll never go back!) at night and reading a book on my Kindle Paperwhite while listening to the ocean waves.

I actually don’t even care much about which ports we’re going to – for me, it’s all about being on the ship at sea. That being said, we’ve only done Caribbean cruises so far – trying some new places would probably get me more excited about visiting the ports of call.

I would love to live on a cruise ship for at least a few months (preferably longer) to see how I’d like it for the longer term. That’s high on my bucket list and I hope I can make that a reality sooner than later! My friend over at ESI Money talked about the idea of retiring on a cruise ship several years ago and that’s a dream I have (after trying it out, of course!).

We’re going on my 10th cruise this December and we booked a balcony cabin for the three of us on MSC Cruises sailing for an 8-day/7-night Caribbean cruise on a beautiful fun ship that’s only 3 years old. Total cost out the door, including the middle-ground drink package, WiFi for 2 devices, and a $150 shipboard credit: $1,791!!

That’s an incredible deal for sure! The power of flexibility in scheduling lets us find some great prices.

The problem with cruises though is that the price to take a lot of them can add up. Although the total cost can still be less than going on vacation to an all-inclusive resort somewhere, it still costs money to do it repeatedly.

But what if I told you that I found out how to score free cruises? It’s not my find by any means, but I’m more than willing to ride the coattails of people smarter than I am in this area. Free cruises? Heck yeah!

Let’s talk about our next mission and maybe you can jump on the path to free cruises as well!

How I got turned onto the free cruises idea

This was a total accident.

Regular readers know we’ve been taking advantage of credit card travel rewards for years. If you’re someone who pays off your balance every month, this is a no-brainer. We’ve saved thousands and thousands of dollars by doing this. And no, it’s not difficult to do. And no, our credit scores are not hurt by this. Both of our scores are well over 800 if you’re curious – mine is currently around 830 (850 is perfect).

By having a plan and strategically taking advantage of credit card sign-up bonuses, it becomes pretty easy to take those dream vacations for free or at a fraction of the cost.

If you’re interested in this whole idea, I highly recommend using Travel Freely as your gateway. It tracks your bonuses, tells you when you should/could apply for a new card, and provides recommendations on which cards to sign up for. All of this is done without you revealing any personal card data (it just needs the name of the card and the date you get it). And it’s 100% free – they make a commission if you sign up for a new card through their site (at no cost to you).

Travel Freely

I use Travel Freely for tracking our cards (it lets you add a second person as well!) and it’s just awesome. It doesn’t hurt that the developer of Travel Freely, Zac, is a good guy and really wants to help people to be able to… well, travel freely! You can check it out here.

We’ve done a ton of great traveling with our points over the years that we’ve earned through credit card rewards. But we still had a bunch of points and miles that we’ve just been sitting on until we’re ready to use them.

The problem is that points/miles don’t age well. The airlines and hotels love to devalue them… maybe a little too routinely. So just like time and inflation eroding your cash if it’s not invested, the same goes for your points if not used.

So I wanted to try to use up what we had – maybe take one big vacation somewhere… perhaps a cruise!

But we had points in my Capital One account and Lisa’s, points in my Chase account and Lisa’s, and then miles in our various frequent flier accounts. Figuring out a plan to use all these different points/miles in one vacation would be a little tricky.

After a lot of thinking, I came up with an idea. I figured out that you can book cruises through United using miles. So the plan was to move my Chase points to Lisa’s Chase account and then once we figured out the cruise to take, we would transfer all those combined Chase points from Lisa’s account to her United account. I wanted to use Lisa as the point person since she had a lot more United miles already than I did.

And that was it. We could book one for those fancy “free cruises” and life would be good!

But at the last minute, I decided to pitch my idea to the Frequent Miler Insiders Facebook group. This is a community of folks who are way above my pay grade on this stuff so their thoughts could be extremely valuable. So I posted this (click it to enlarge)

Easy enough right? It shouldn’t be a problem getting folks’ blessing on this one.

And then the comments started rolling in (click to enlarge them)

How about that last one? That’s Justin from the Root of Good blog, which has been around for almost 11 years! He retired at 33 back in 2013 and is an avid traveler – including a love of cruises. He’s on top of this stuff so reading this from him helped clinch it for me.

I had never heard of the idea of casino status matches but it seemed like the right rabbit hole to go down.

So, we used our points to book an all-inclusive vacation in Mexico which I’ll tell you about in a later post. And now, we’re heading down the path of gaining free cruises through casino status matches!

Can you really get free cruises through casino status matches?

As I mentioned before, this strategy isn’t something I figured out. There are much smarter people in the world of points and status-matching than me.

In this case, I’m using a detailed post from Nick Reyes, a genius I’m familiar with from the podcast, Frequent Miler on the Air, which he cohosts with Greg – another brilliant guy on the subject. I’ve been listening to this podcast for about a year now. If you’re into making the most out of loyalty points for travel, this is the show to listen to.

Here’s the article Nick wrote that breaks this all down:

How to get free cruises by gaming casino status matches

So we haven’t been down this road just yet to try it out. However, it all makes sense and isn’t that difficult to accomplish, particularly if you can sneak a quick trip to Atlantic City into the mix.

But based on everything I read, the potential to get free cruises is there. He talks about getting free cruises from:

  • Carnival
  • Holland America
  • MSC Cruises (the go-to for our last 3 cruises and our next one!)
  • Princess Cruises (our favorite!)

Then there’s the possibility of multiple cruises on these lines, too!

Now, are the free cruises truly free?

Not 100%. As it normally goes with the cruise line industry, a “free” cruise usually means you’ll probably have some costs involved. For instance, you might be responsible for port fees and possibly gratuities. And the free cruises are usually based on double occupancy, so if you have kids you want to bring along, plan on some cost there. The same might go for the type of cabin. There is info in his post about possibly getting a balcony, but that might not always be the case. However, you can pay the difference to upgrade if you want it.

In other words, as Nick puts it:

[I]t can be better to think of these “free” cruise offers as very deeply discounted cruises (far cheaper than you’d be able to book them in any other way).

— Nick Reyes – How to get free cruises by gaming casino status matches

That sounds fair to me. We love to cruise so if using casino status matches to get a heavily discounted rate works, I’m in!

Our plan to make this a reality

We haven’t started to chase after free cruises yet since we’ve been living the RV life (since October!). But we’re also getting close to the end of our RV road trip. In fact, when this post comes out, we’ll likely be almost back in Ohio… ready to sell the RV and settle down again.

And with that, we’re going to jump into the casino status matches game to work on the free cruises.

We decided that we’re going to do this in “2-player mode.” That means Lisa and I will each apply separately for the Wyndham Earner Business credit card. Then we’ll both follow the path for the casino status matches. The intent will be that we can hopefully gain two free cabins with each cruise we want to do.

Faith’s just about 14 now and I’m sure that hanging out with her parents is not high on her list of favorite things to do (especially after 8 months of being stuck in an RV with us!). Having two cabins opens up the possibility for Faith to bring a friend and they get one cabin while Lisa and I take the other… everyone wins!

By the time this comes out, we’ll probably already have applied for the credit cards so they’ll be ready and waiting when we get back to Ohio. We’ve got some big expenses coming up so we’re going to try to get the Wyndham Reward sign-up bonuses, too. Might as well earn some points for hotel or other vacation stays!

The Wyndham Earner Business Credit Card gives you Wyndham Diamond status so that part’s easy. And it looks like matching Wyndham Diamond status to Caesars Diamond is relatively simple and can be done online.

The harder part is doing the casino status matches at Atlantic City. The matches themselves seem easy enough to do, but we still need to physically make a trip out there.

It’s about a 7-8 hour drive from Northeast Ohio to Atlantic City. That’s not too horrible but after driving on our road trip for so many months, I thought taking a quick flight out there might be a good option. I was wrong. The flights all looked like they had far layovers and I thought that was weird. Then I went to FlightConnections (an awesome site) to dig a little further. Turns out that the only flights coming into Atlantic City are from Myrtle Beach or several cities in Florida…

It seems illogical for us to fly all the way south to go somewhere almost directly east. So I turned to Rome2Rio to look for other options. That site is chock full of great information and we looked at flying into Philadelphia first, taking busses, taking trains, and all sorts of other options.

Yeah, in the end, it just doesn’t make sense to do anything but drive… another road trip! I’m about ready to be done with road trips for a while, but it is what it is. 🙂

So we’ll head there for a couple of nights and do all our casino status matches. One cool perk there is through Ocean Casino Resort. Getting Ocean Prime status, which we’ll do through the casino status match, means we’ll automatically get a free MSC cruise (up to 10 nights anywhere in the world!). And with this one, you don’t even need to pay port taxes! I haven’t read the small print, but hopefully, Lisa and I will each get one (unless it’s one per household).

After that trip, we’ll be ready to submit our matches to Carnival, Princess, and Holland America to be upgraded in their programs. MSC will also match other cruise line statuses so we can submit it there later, too.

And believe it or not, that’s about it. At that point, the idea is that the cruise lines see that you acquired high-level status at other casinos and assume you’re a heavier gambler. They want you to throw away take a shot with your money at their cruise line’s casinos. And, to help persuade you to do so, they offer you free cabins to get you on board.

Easy enough, right? That doesn’t mean you need to gamble once on board, but doing so will likely entice them to send you more free cabin offers later.

So that’s the plan. I’m keeping my expectations low for the time being just in case, but getting the free MSC cruise(s) alone makes this worthwhile in my book. And between Nick’s recount of how it’s gone for him, Justin’s feedback in the Facebook group, and all the others in the Facebook group recommending this strategy, I have a feeling we’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Of course, I’ll keep you updated on how this mission goes. If you’re a cruise lover as much as we are, I’m sure going after free cruises with casino status matches might be intriguing to you, too!

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14 thoughts on “The Next Mission… Free Cruises Through Casino Status Matches!”

  1. I have met several people on cruises that had gotten on the ship as part of a casino deal of one sort or another. I know I have heard some of them mention a match program, but I never really looked into it. I guess I am ultimately curious as to how “free” is free. My understanding is that the casino room deals are usually inside cabins and you have to pay the upgrade to get the balcony. The “retail” upgrade on the ships is often more than the cost of the inside room. There are way easier and cheaper ways to get a balcony without paying full retail. On top of that, you have to work to get the casino points in the first place. I am not a gambler at all and I have no desire to ever go to Vegas, Reno or Atlantic City. If I went it would only be for the purpose of trying to qualify for the cruise. Those trips would cost money because it is hard to get a land vacation that includes the cost of driving or flying and food. I assume that you are staying at the casino on points. Ultimately, it seems that you end up working hard to convert your hotel points into a cruise. I think it certainly makes sense if you go to the casinos anyway since it just becomes a bonus. My method of getting discounts on cruises is to collect points on the cruise line’s credit card and then occasionally cash them in. I get about $2500 per year that way. I am certain there are ways to squeeze more money out of the card point system, but my method requires using just one card all the time. I don’t have to keep track of any card offers or remember to cancel this card or that one at the perfect time. To give you a bit of background, my wife and I were on 66 cruise days in the past year on Princess, always had a balcony, and went to NZ and Australia. For your comparison purposes, we spent roughly $16300 to get on the ships with enough ship board credits to cover the gratuities and several other perks. That works out to $125 per person per day. We’ve done better on occasion (usually half that for the Caribbean), but it was important to our plan to do NZ and Australia. I am curious if you can get your “free” casino into a balcony room on less than $100 per person per day if you count the costs associated with qualifying to get the “free” room.

    1. Sounds like you’ve got a good thing going, Darrell! And a Princess cruise to NZ and Australia sounds amazing! Well, I guess we’ll find out how this goes soon enough. I do like the idea of doing something a little different and we’ve never been to Atlantic City before, so for us, it’s worth giving it a go. I’ll be sure to do a write-up down the line as to the pros and cons with what we run into with it.

  2. Glad you’re jumping on the free cruise gravy train 🙂

    After flying to Philadelphia from Raleigh, with a connection in Baltimore, and dealing with a crappy rental car from Hertz, I am thinking more strongly about driving the ~7-8 hours to Atlantic City next time we have to go up there for the match process.

    1. Ugh, that does sound like a pain in the butt. Funny enough, if you count the time going to the airport, waiting, flying, and then driving to AC, it probably ends up being pretty comparable… but hopefully driving brings fewer headaches.

      So maybe you already know this based on your comment, Justin, but does this become something you repeat every year to keep the match cycle going?

  3. The match to Ocean Casino for Ocean Prime status can be done every 18 months at the soonest. So not quite every year but close to it. However I think it makes more sense to go around March 1st every other year since you get the Ocean Prime for March-June and then they auto-extend it for another whole year. I went March 2024 and now I have Ocean Prime status through June 2025 (and will get another MSC cruise after July 1st 2024 due to this!).

    So for me, I think it’ll be March 2024, March 2026, March 2028, etc go to AC for the match. If they keep on doing this match program, that is.

  4. So why would you need to go to Atlantic City at all? Why can’t you do everything online? This is not well explained. (Will you need to partake in gambling once you’re there in AC? Why exactly would you have to be there in person??)

    Also, when it comes to cruises, a major expense is the airfare for traveling between your home and the departure/arrival port. That still needs to be considered in this “free” cruise scheme? Correct?

    1. Hey, Jon – as I mentioned in the article, this all comes from a post from The Frequent Miler called How to get free cruises by gaming casino status matches. It’s an extremely detailed post that I wasn’t going to re-hash here. You can read each of the steps, including why Atlantic City is necessary and what needs to be done, in that article.

      And yes, in regards to airfare, you still need to consider that in your plans. For us, we still have a ton of frequent flier miles that will cover us for this, but otherwise, you need to account for that in your travel plans.

    1. That makes sense, Joe. What I will say is that you’re not required to gamble for any of this. The rooms should still roll your way from the different cruise lines… at first. But I would guess that if you didn’t gamble while on a ship, you might not get more offers from the cruise line after that. So it could still be something viable for a few cruises if that’s something that sparks your interest.

  5. I am going on a MSC cruise in Greece next month. Family of 4. Inside cabin. We paid for our 2 kids. They charged us around $1200 some of which can be used as onboard credit or gratuity. I did Wyndham > Caesars > Hard Rock > Ocean in Atlantic City. One card. I have friends who have been on such cruises. No other hidden fees. Good luck!

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