When you take a Carnival cruise, you may find yourself with some onboard credit to spend. And you’ll want to know what you can spend this money on.
Onboard credit may seem like free money, and in a way it is, but it still makes sense to spend it wisely to get the most value from it.
In this guide, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about onboard credit (also known as OBC). I’ll then list all of the ways you can spend it on your Carnival cruise. I’m starting with the best-value options but we’ll discuss all of them, including the ways that you’ll want to avoid.
What does onboard credit mean?
Onboard credit is money that is credited to your account for use during your cruise. On a Carnival cruise, your onboard account is called ‘Sail & Sign’. When you make purchases on the ship, these will be charged to your account. At the end of your cruise, you can settle your account with cash, a credit card or onboard credit.
How To Get Carnival Onboard Credit
- Booking Deals – If you book your cruise during a promotional period, you can get between $25 and $1000 of OBC per stateroom
- Price Drops – If the price of your cruise drops after booking, you may receive the difference in OBC
- Cancelled Cruises – If your cruise is cancelled and you rebook for a later date, you may be given extra OBC on top of Future Cruise Credit (FCC)
- Compensation – If something goes wrong on your cruise, such as if the ship has a technical problem, you may be given OBC by way of an apology
- Shareholders – If you own at least 100 Carnival shares, you will receive $50 OBC on cruises of 6 days or less, $100 on cruises of 7-13 days and $250 on longer cruises
- Carnival Mastercard – When you use a Carnival credit card you’ll get Fun Points that can be converted into OBC.
- Military – Members of the US and Canadian armed forces may get $50 OBC per stateroom when booking certain cruises
The Best Ways To Use Carnival Onboard Credit
When it comes to spending your onboard credit, some of the things that you can spend it on are better value than others. In fact, there are some things that will cost you more to purchase if you do so using onboard credit.
So, here’s a list of things you can spend your Carnival onboard credit on, from best to worst…
You can usually use your Carnival onboard credit to pay for gratuities (tips), so long as you haven’t prepaid them before you board the ship. However, onboard credit that comes from being a Carnival shareholder can’t be applied to gratuities.
Carnival cruise gratuities are $16 per person per day for those staying in staterooms and $18 per person per day for those staying in suites.
I believe that paying gratuities is the best use of your onboard credit, as these tips are something that we all should be paying, and you don’t get any benefit from pre-paying or using another payment method aside from onboard credit.
At the end of your cruise, if you have leftover onboard credit, it will automatically be offset against any gratuities that you owe.
Here’s how much Carnival gratuities cost, per day, for each passenger aged two and over:
|Cruise Duration (Nights)||Standard Staterooms||Suites|
Suggested read: Can You Opt Out of Gratuities On A Carnival Cruise?
2. Specialty Dining
You can use your Carnival onboard credit to book dining in speciality restaurants, but only if you make the reservation once you’re on board the ship. If you book dining using onboard credit, there’s a chance that your chosen restaurant might be full, so it’s best to do it as soon as you board.
Specialty dining on Carnival cruise ships costs from $6 per person for the Dr. Seuss Green Eggs and Ham Breakfast, up to $95 per person for dinner at The Chef’s Table.
If you don’t normally go for specialty dining, then perhaps you should take advantage of your free onboard credit to treat yourself to a delicious meal.
Carnival cruise speciality dining costs:
|The Steakhouse||$38 adult / $12 child|
|Ji Ji Asian Kitchen||$15 adult / $5 child|
|Cucina del Capitano||$15 adult / $5 child|
|Bonsai Teppanyaki||$32 per person|
|Rudi’s Seagrill||$38 adult / $12 child|
|The Chef’s Table||$75 to $95 per person|
|Green Eggs and Ham Breakfast||$6 per person|
|Culinary Classes||$30 per person|
Suggested read: Carnival Cruise Menus
3. Spa Access and Treatments
If you never usually go to the spa on a cruise, then this could be the ideal way to treat yourself by spending any onboard credit that you have.
On Carnival cruises, you can use your onboard credit to buy a day pass to the Cloud 9 Spa for just $22, giving you access to the relaxation room, thermal suite, hydrotherapy pool, hot tubs, experience showers, steam rooms, saunas and hammam.
The spa facilities will differ depending on the ship, but each Carnival ship has a range of spa facilities for you to enjoy. You cannot book a Cloud 9 Spa pass before your cruise, only on board the ship.
The more days you book spa passes for, the cheaper it will be per day:
|Cruise Duration||Per guest from||Per couple from|
|2 Day Pass||$30||$50|
|3 Day Pass||$49||$79|
|4 Day Pass||$69||$109|
|5 Day Pass||$89||$139|
|6 Day Pass||$109||$169|
|7 Day Pass||$129||$199|
|8 Day Pass||$149||$229|
|9 Day Pass||$169||$259|
|10 Day Pass||$189||$289|
|11 Day Pass||$209||$319|
|12 Day Pass||$229||$349|
|13 Day Pass||$249||$379|
|14+ Day Pass||$269||$409|
You can also use your onboard credit to book spa treatments like massages, body scrubs, facials, acupuncture, botox, fillers, teeth whitening, hairdressing, waxing, manicures, pedicures and eyelash treatments.
Carnival spa treatment prices:
- Massage – $103 to $209
- Acupuncture – $169 to $699
- Facial – $100 to $139
- Hairdressing – $34 to $159
- Nails – $41 to $111
On your daily planner, you’ll probably see special offers for discounted spa treatments at certain times. While cruise spa treatments can be expensive, if you book onboard at the right time, they can actually be very good value for money. Plus, Carnival’s spa treatments are cheaper than most other cruise lines.
4. Shore Excursions
If you purchase Carnival shore excursions on board your cruise ship, you can use onboard credit to pay for them. However, you must arrange these at the shore excursions desk on the ship, not online before you board.
Carnival shore excursions range in price from $14.99 per adult for a trip to the Pirates Treasure & Shipwreck Museum in St. Thomas to $799.99 per adult for a helicopter tour in Iceland.
On Carnival cruises, there are photographers ready to take your photo throughout the cruise – when boarding, in the dining rooms and on the deck. There’s no obligation to purchase any photos, but if you wish to, you can use your onboard credit to buy photos.
Photos are pretty reasonably priced on Carnival cruises, with prices starting at $11.99 for a small print and up to $299.99 for a package that includes a bundle of prints, a large wall canvas, digital copies and a calendar.
So, if you want to capture the memories of your special cruise forever, perhaps using some of your onboard credit on photography services would be a smart move.
6. Gift Cards
Some cruisers have reported that they have been able to buy Carnival gift cards at the Cherry On Top candy store onboard Carnival cruise ships using onboard credit. This can be a way to extend your onboard credit so that you can use it towards another cruise.
Each Carnival gift card can be loaded with between $100 and $1000 and you can buy five per transaction. They have no expiration date, so you could save them for as long as you like before using them to pay for your next cruise.
People who have asked Carnival to clarify whether this is okay or not appear to have been given mixed answers about whether this onboard credit hack works. Some people have been told that onboard credit that was earned from rebooking a cancelled cruise cannot be used to buy gift cards, but other types of onboard credit such as from a price reduction or shareholders credit can.
As far as I have seen, nobody has reported being turned away from the candy shop for attempting to buy gift cards with onboard credit. So, if you want to use your onboard credit towards your next cruise, it’s probably worth a try.
You can find more info about Carnival gift cards here.
On each Carnival cruise ship, you’ll find several shops selling souvenirs, jewellery, watches, clothes, accessories and liquor. You can use your onboard credit in any of these shops.
Purchases made at sea are tax-free, but that’s not to say that onboard shopping is any cheaper than it is ashore. Many items may still cost more because you’re essentially a captive audience so the prices of some items are inflated.
However, if you want to buy Carnival cruise souvenirs like Carnival-branded beach towels, bathrobes, t-shirts and toys, then onboard your cruise ship is the best place to do it, particularly if you have some onboard credit to spend.
Some popular souvenirs that you may be interested in include a Carnival-themed Monopoly game at $49.95, a Carnival windbreaker jacket at $39.95 or a Carnival mug at $14.95.
You can use your Carnival onboard credit to pay for a Cheers drinks package or to pay for individual drinks that you charge to your onboard account. To use onboard credit for a drink package, you must wait until you’re on the ship to buy the package – you can’t use onboard credit if you buy the package before your cruise.
The downside to this is that the Cheers package is cheaper if you buy it before you board the ship. So, if you pay for it with onboard credit, it will cost you more.
|Buy on website||Buy on ship|
|6 days or more||$59.95||$64.95|
|5 days or less||$69.95||$74.95|
So, on a seven-day cruise for two people, you would pay $70 more if you buy your drink package on the ship with onboard credit than if you bought it in advance.
For this reason, it’s not a good idea to use your onboard credit to buy a drink package. But, if you don’t plan on getting a package and want to just pay for the drinks you have, then using your onboard credit for these would make sense.
When you receive your bill at the end of the cruise, any onboard credit you have will be automatically be offset against your bar bill.
Suggested read: Carnival Drink Package Guide
You can use onboard credit to buy wifi on a Carnival cruise, but only if you wait until you board the ship to buy it. You will save 15% if you buy the wifi package online before you cruise, so buying internet access isn’t the best use of your onboard credit.
|Wifi Package||Online price||Onboard price||Saving|
|Social||$12.75 per day||$15 per day||15%|
|Value||$17.00 per day||$20 per day||15%|
|Premium||$18.70 per day||$22 per day||15%|
On a seven-day cruise, if two people wish to purchase the Premium wifi package, you can save $46.20 by purchasing the package online ahead of time rather than waiting until you board the ship.
If you want wifi, you should buy it before your cruise, rather than with onboard credit for the best price. The exception to this is if you only want to use wifi for a few days, rather than the whole cruise. This is because single-day plans are only available to purchase on the ship.
You can use your Carnival onboard credit in the casino, but you won’t be able to cash it out: you can only cash out your winnings. There is a 3% fee to withdraw your funds at a table game, but no fee to withdraw at the slot machines.
Some people wonder if they load $500 from their onboard credit into the casino, spin the slots a few times and then cash out, thereby converting their onboard credit into cash…
The answer is that no, you can’t do this. Only the amount that you win can be cashed out, the rest would go back onto your account as onboard credit.
Let’s say you load $100 of onboard credit onto your casino account. You play and win $10. You cannot cash out $110. You can only cash out your $10 winnings and the $100 will go back onto your account as onboard credit.
So, while you can use your Carnival onboard credit in the casino, it’s not a shortcut to converting your credit into cash. And if you received your credit because you’re a Carnival shareholder, then you can’t use it in the casino at all.
Playing Bingo on a Carnival cruise can be fun, but cruise ship bingo is generally a bit of a rip-off and there are better ways to spend your onboard credit than by buying bingo tickets.
On Carnival cruises, Bingo cards start at $10 each, although most people actually spend more than this as they get multiple cards. While in theory, you could win up to $5,000, this is very unlikely as it requires not only winning, but winning within a specified number of balls being called. The odds of this happening are tiny.
Many of the prizes at Carnival bingo aren’t cash, they’re things from the onboard shops like jewellery, spa services, free bingo cards and more onboard credit.
So, if you love bingo, sure, you can use your Carnival onboard credit to play and you’ll probably have fun. But for most people, there are better ways to spend your money on the ship.
Most people only visit the art auctions on cruise ships for a free glass of sparkling wine. And you can bet that serious art enthusiasts and art investors wouldn’t purchase the art on a cruise ship either.
So who does buy art at cruise ship art auctions? Usually, it’s people who have no idea what they’re doing, who get caught up in the excitement after a few too many glasses of free fizz!
You see, if you do your research, you may find that many of the pieces can be purchased for a fraction of the onboard price elsewhere. Also, you won’t actually take home the art you see on the ship – you’ll be shipped an identical copy from a warehouse on land.
So, if you want to spend your Carnival onboard credit in the art auction you can, but make sure you know what you’re letting yourself in for. The price of each piece can be anywhere from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars and it’s probably not a great investment.
Things To Know About Carnival Onboard Credit
What can Carnival onboard credit NOT be used for?
Carnival onboard credit can be used to purchase almost anything onboard the ship. The only things that you can’t use it for are medical expenses, additions like taxes and port fees and anything that you purchase before you board the ship.
How to see your onboard credit balance
To access information about your onboard credit, you can refer to Carnival’s online portal or mobile app. Log into your personal account and you’ll find a dedicated section where you can view details about your remaining credit.
You may also inquire about their onboard credit at the Guest Services desk on the ship. The friendly staff members are always ready to assist and provide any necessary information regarding onboard credit balances.
What happens to unused onboard credit?
If you don’t use your onboard credit during your cruise you will lose it. So you must spend it all before the end of the last night of your cruise to avoid wasting it.
Carnival’s terms and conditions state:
“Onboard credit is non-refundable, non-transferable and has no cash value. Any unused portion of the onboard credit will be forfeited.”
If you have onboard credit to spend on your Carnival cruise, then the wisest thing to do is first to put it towards gratuities, provided that you haven’t already pre-paid those. Work out how much you expect to pay in gratuities based on the number of guests in your room, your stateroom type and the duration of your cruise. Then subtract this amount from the amount of onboard credit you have.
This will leave you with an amount of onboard credit to spend on treating yourself. The best uses for any leftover onboard credit are speciality dining, access to the spa, shore excursions and photos.
You’ll also want to bring some cash as you’ll need this for things ashore. Take a look at my next guide to work out the best amount to bring: How Much Cash To Bring On A Carnival Cruise.
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