12 Ways to Use Your Carnival Onboard Credit Like a Pro

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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.

Spending onboard credit on Carnival cruise

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, listed from the best-value options to 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 youse cruise, you can settle your account with cash, a credit card or onboard credit.

How to get Carnival onboard credit

There are many ways that you can get Carnival onboard credit. These include:

  • 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 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
  • Military – Members of the US and Canadian armed forces may get $50 OBC per stateroom when booking certain cruises

Recently, when cruises were cancelled due to the shutdown, Carnival cruisers were given the option of a refund OR 100% future cruise credit (FCC) plus $600 onboard credit (OBC).

Therefore, there will be many people who have $600 onboard credit to use on their next Carnival cruise and are wondering what to spend it on. Read on for the info you need to decide.

What can Carnival onboard credit 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.

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.”


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 it 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…

1. Gratuitites

Carnival chef
Gratuities are distributed to the crew you interact with as well as those behind the scenes

You can use your Carnival onboard credit to pay for gratuities (tips), so long as you haven’t prepaid them before you board the ship. Gratuities cost $14.50 per person, per day for most rooms on Carnival ships, so paying them with onboard credit is a good way to avoid this bill at the end of your cruise.

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 DurationStandard StateroomsSuites

So, on a seven-night cruise for two people in a standard stateroom, you would pay $203 in gratuities. If you have $600 OBC to spend, this would leave plenty of credit left to spend on other things.

2. Specialty dining

The Chef's Table
The Chef’s Table

You can use your Carnival onboard credit to book dining in specialty 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

3. Spa access and treatments

The Thermal Lounge
The Thermal Lounge

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 DurationPer guest fromPer couple from
Day Pass$22$44
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

Prices are based on North America cruises and may change.

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.

Here are some approximate 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

Carnival excursion
Grand Cayman shore excursion

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.

Depending on your cruise itinerary and your vaccination status, you may only be allowed to leave the ship as part of an official Carnival-sponsored bubble tour. If this applies to you, then using your onboard credit to pay for excursions is a good idea.

But, if you’re allowed to disembark and explore independently, then you might find that you’re able to save quite a lot of money by planning your own shore excursions rather the purchasing the official Carnival tours.

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.

5. Photos

Carnival photography
You’ll only pay for the photos you want to keep

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 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

Cherry on Top
The Cherry On Top is the place to buy gift cards

Some cruisers have reported that they have been able to buy Carnival gift cards at the Cherry On Top candy store on board 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.

7. Shopping

souvenir shop on Carnival ship
There’s lots of Carnival merchandise to buy on board

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.

8. Drinks

Carnival drinks
It’s cheaper to buy a drink package before you cruise

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.

Carnival drink package prices:

  • Buy online: $51.95 per day, plus 18% gratuity = $61.30 per day
  • Buy on board: $56.95 per day, plus 18% gratuity = $67.20 per day

So, on a seven-day cruise for two people, you would pay $82.60 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

9. Wifi

Carnival wifi
It’s cheaper to buy wifi before you cruise

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. Depending on the package, you will save 15% to 20% if you buy the wifi package online before you cruise, so buying internet access isn’t the best use of your onboard credit.

Carnival wifi prices:

PackageOnline priceOnboard priceSaving
Social$6.80 per day$8.00 per day15%
Value$10.20 per day$12.00 per day15%
Premium$13.60 per day$17.00 per day20%

On a seven-day cruise, if two people wish to purchase the Premium wifi package, you can save $47.60 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.

10. Casino

Carnival casino
You can use onboard credit in the casino but can’t cash it out

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.

11. Bingo

Bingo on Carnival cruise ship
You can use onboard credit to play bingo

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.

12. Art

Carnical cruise ship art auction
You can use onboard credit in art auctions

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.

My recommendation

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.

Don’t Overpay For Your Carnival Cruise!

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Please don’t book with any old company just because they have a cheap deal. I recommend that you find the best price and then take it to a trusted travel agent who will beat it, as well as giving you the best service.

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1 thought on “12 Ways to Use Your Carnival Onboard Credit Like a Pro”

  1. Hi cruise mummy
    We are booked to sail with PO cruise on Iona ship on 18th December for 16 nights.
    What are your thoughts will we enjoy sailing with so much going with new variant. Latta

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