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The Truth About Cruise Perks

Cruise lines often offer perks to passengers at the time of booking to make the cruise more appealing. What are those perks and how they work? Most importantly are they worth it? Let’s take a closer look.


Free gratuities

Gratuities are the service charges that get added automatically to your cruise account at the end of the voyage. They vary based on the type of cabin. Different cruise lines charge different amounts per passenger per day.  Generally speaking, the average is between $14.50 and $16.50 per passenger per day (Here is an example). The exception to this is if you book your cruise in Australia. In that case, the gratuities are built in the cruise fare.

Cruise ships
Cruise ships

It is very common, for cruise lines, to offer free gratuities as a perk during sales and special offers. This perk is quite good especially if you are booking a long cruise. As an example, for 21 days cruise gratuities can add up to $304.50 per person.

Onboard Credits

Onboard credit (often called OBC) is free money to spend while onboard. Generally speaking, they are non-refundable and must be spent while cruising for drinks, spa treatment, shopping, etc. Some cruise lines allow passengers to use the credit at the casino others do not (Here is an example).

Onboard credits amount, as a perk, are usually different based on the type of cabin you book and the length of the cruise. As an example: for a seven-night cruise if you book an inside cabin you’ll get $50 OBC. But if you book a balcony you might get $150.

This type of perk is usually quite good, but you will have to check with the cruise line what are you allowed to spend the money on. On top of that, you will have to make sure you spend the whole amount because OBC are non-refundable (there are exceptions to this but this is beside the scope of this article).

Free cabin upgrade

This promotional perk sounds better than it is. Most of the time, it means that you’ll get the same type of cabin you were originally booking just in a better area of the ship. For example, you were booking an aft inside cabin, you will get a midship inside cabin. Very rarely you will get a free cabin type upgrade (ie. oceanview to a balcony for the same price).

Cruise Cabin
Balcony Cabin

This perk is not the greatest and usually is never offered by itself but combined with another one. It became very valuable only when it is a cabin type upgrade.

Free drinking package

Every mainstream and premium cruise line does not include alcoholic drinks in the cruise fare. However, they do sell drinking packages. Almost every cruise line has different kinds of packages starting from soda all the way up to premium wines and liquors.

Photo by ahmad syahrir from Pexels

This is one of the most wanted perks, and it’s usually only attached to balcony rooms and higher (rarely you’ll get it with ocean view cabins). Some cruise lines charge extra for gratuities on the drinking package so be aware! Another thing to watch for is the type of drinking package. As I mentioned before cruise lines have different packages. Usually, the cheap version consists of bottom shelf spirits, domestic beer, and house wine and it is the one that is included in the perks.

Free specialty dining

Specialty restaurants are dining venues onboard, not included in the cruise fare. They can be theme restaurants (ie. southern style BBQ, Crab and Seafood, Molecular Gastronomy, etc.), ethnic restaurants, celebrity chefs restaurants, etc. They usually have a cover charge or a-la-carte type of menu.

When this perk is offered, it can include one or more cover charges for one of the specialty restaurants onboard. This perk, most of the time, is combined with one of the previous ones, rarely by itself.

Free internet minutes

The Internet onboard of a cruise ship is quite pricy because it relies on satellite technology. Sometimes as part of another promotion, the cruise line offers a certain amount of internet minutes for free. Nowadays it is becoming very popular, among cruise lines, to offer free social media as a perk. This will allow passengers to post their photos and chat with friends on social media for free for the entire duration of the cruise. On the other hand, the cruise line will get free publicity from passengers posting photos of themself having fun onboard, pretty clever!

Free photo packages

Photo packages that include a specific amount of photos or unlimited are common among cruise lines. Occasionally those photo packages are offered as a part of a promotion.

Casino credits

Casino credits are a special kind of OBC that can only be used to gamble at the casino. Generally, those credits are offered to past passengers that spent a certain amount of money at the onboard casino on previous voyages. Those credits are almost never offered to the general public as a promotion.

Casino on the cruise ship - don't spend all your money on a sea day!
Poke the head in the Casino

It is not unusual for cruise lines to offer even free cruises to their high roller casino passengers.


Here’s the thing – generally these perks are not really free they are just built in your cruise fare. If you are wondering if it’s really a “deal”, the best thing to do is to do some math. Ask your agent how much is the cruise fare without the perks and calculate how much would the gratuities or drinks cost and see if it is really worth it. You’ll soon discover that those perks are not a huge saving.

Twice or three times a year, however, cruise lines have special sales and they combine 2 or 3 of the above perks together that’s the time to book! Usually, during those sales (normally around January-February and September and October) the perks can be really advantageous!

It’s also worth mentioning the future cruise deposit. This is a deposit for a future cruise booked onboard. Most of the time booking on board will give you extra onboard credits that normally you won’t get and they are combinable with any other sale!

Happy Cruising!

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