20 Ways to Get and Spend Onboard Credits for your Cruise

Nov 30, 2021 | CRUISE TIPS, MONEY SAVING IDEAS | 0 comments

Uncovering the Secrets of Onboard Credits

We often find there is always some mystery about cruise Onboard Credits (OBC’s). They are also sometimes known as Ship Board Credits (SBC’s) or Onboard spend.

Commonly asked questions include: What are they, what can you do with them and are they worth having? Plus, how to get more onboard credits? How to use a carnival onboard credit? How do you get a cruise onboard credit?

In this article, we share our thoughts on how to use your onboard credits and answer a few of the most frequently asked questions on this topic from cruise passengers.

What is an Onboard Credit or OBC?

An onboard credit or OBC is a shipboard cash credit or Free Money. Sometimes also referred to as Ship Board Credits (SBC’s). The cruise lines or travel agencies often give onboard credits as a promotion or an incentive to book. They can also be a reward for referring a new customer or being a shareholder in the cruise line. In most cases, these onboard credits can typically be used towards most items related to your cruise vacation, just like cash. Major categories include shore excursions, drinks and gratuities for the crew.

Onboard credits are generally non-transferable and non-refundable, so you must use them during your cruise. OBC’s and SBC’s are acronyms for On-Board Credit, or Ship Board Credit, part of the “cruise jargon” you’ll want to understand before your cruise.

On Board Credit Secrets

How to Get On Board Credits

Look for the Deals

Generally, when cruise lines have slow-moving inventory and want to fill the space, they will often create fantastic offers that include significant onboard credits (OBC). Cruise deals that come with onboard credit tend to be greater for cruises booked well in advance.

If you wait and book your cruise at the last minute, you may be lucky and get a low price, but you won’t have any onboard credit to spend. Booking early does mean you sometimes pay slightly more but guarantees your onboard bill will be a lot lower (and this always feels better once you’re actually on your cruise).

Deciding which is the best deal for you is where you have to do some research. Go online and look at what is on offer, and then talk to your travel agent to find the right deal for you.

Book a Cruise While on a Cruise

One of the most little-known benefits of booking a cruise while onboard is the ability to purchase a Future Cruise Credit (FCD). These often entitle you to a discount (5% on some ultra-luxury lines like Seabourn) on the next cruise you choose but also come with generous onboard credits, all designed to lure you into booking.

While you are on board, cruise lines will maximise what they can to encourage you’ll sail with them again. Almost all cruise lines have designated sales desks onboard their ships, with future cruise consultants to help you choose your next cruise.

When Something Goes Wrong

It’s not the best way to earn an onboard credit, but you may be entitled to compensation if something goes wrong on your cruise. So if you experience unexpected itinerary changes or there are delays in boarding, experience a significant malfunction, or you’re just generally not happy with the service, it’s worth speaking to the cruise line. They want to keep you as a customer and will typically go out of their way to appease you. A healthy onboard credit always goes some way to making things better.

Loyalty Program Offers

Loyal customers are vital to cruise lines, and they will try their hardest to keep you sailing with them. Returning cruisers play an essential part in the success of the cruise lines, and that’s why an onboard credit often features in their loyalty programs. It’s a well-known business fact that the cost of looking after your existing loyal passengers is a cheaper option than the high cost of finding new cruisers for the brand.


Another great way to earn an onboard credit is to encourage your family and friends to book with your prefered cruise line. Most cruise lines have schemes to reward referrals for new cruises booked by first-timers to the brand in return for these referrals. Ideal for a trip with family members who have not cruised before, you could both end up with a discount and /or an OBC.

Price Drops

A little known secret is that once you have booked and paid for your cruise and the price goes down, you can still ask the cruise line to either refund the difference or make up the difference with onboard credit. Not what you would call Free Money, as you have already paid for your cruise upfront, but it always feels better when you get something back for staying alert. Your cruise travel agent should be able to help you with this.

Become a Shareholder

The most favoured route for extra onboard credits for regular cruises is to invest in the brand by becoming a shareholder. Most of the major cruise lines including Carnival Corporation, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings offer a shareholder benefit or perk in the form of an onboard credit. There usually are minimum share holing requirements to benefit from an onboard credit. You typically redeem your benefit by contacting the cruise line at least two weeks before your sail date and providing proof of share ownership.

Recommended Read: Cruise Line Shareholder Benefits and Perks

Travel as a Group

If you travel with friends or family, it is always worth asking our travel agent to create a “Group”. A group often attracts unique benefits for the travel agent, some of which they may be willing to pass on to you. These are pretty often lower prices but sometimes include onboard credits for everyone booked in the group. Always ask your travel agent to pass on this benefit to you.

Book With a Specialist Cruise Travel Agency

As with most things, if you deal with an expert, it always pays dividends. It is also true when booking a cruise vacation. A specialist cruise agency will have insider information that you just don’t have access to but will know the best deals available.

If you want someone who knows the best deals inside out and whether a ‘deal’ with onboard credit on it is a bargain or not, then you need someone that specialises in cruises.

Most travel agents can be encouraged to offer you an onboard credit for booking with them. The larger travel agencies have deeper pockets when it comes to sharing some of their commission with you. The better travel agents reward loyalty, so if you’ve booked cruises with the same travel agent for a while, they should offer you an OBC in return for your commitment to them.

On board Credit Use Travel Agent

20 Best Ways to Use Your Onboard Credits on a Cruise

Onboard credits (OBC’s) are a feature of modern-day cruising and a lovely perk to have. It’s like having free money to spend while on your cruise.

That’s why it’s essential when deciding on a cruise to ensure you get the best deal; always look beyond the base price of the cruise and see what extras are included. A slightly more expensive cruise may include prepaid gratuities, speciality dining, Drinks packages or a good amount of onboard credits so it may work out cheaper in the long run. Often overlooked, All-Inclusive Cruises often represent better value than paying as you go.

1. Gratuities

Unless you have chosen an All-Inclusive Cruise, gratuities will be charged to your shipboard account based on the length of the cruise and the grade of the stateroom selected. Your OBC’s can go some way to paying this charge.
Related Article: Guide to Cruise Ship Gratuities

2. Shore Excursions

One of the best things about cruising is the ability to visit and experience different activities, cultures and destinations, making shore excursions so important—a great way to spend your onboard credits.

Recommended read: Secret Ways to Save on Shore Excursions

On Board credits used for Shore Excursions

Activity-Based Shore Excursions are a great way to use OBC’s

3 – Drinks

Unless you have chosen to go the All-Inclusive route, drinks can add up on a cruise: bar drinks, cocktails, wine with your meals and even speciality coffees and soft drinks are expensive. Using your onboard credit is an excellent way to help cover these costs.

4 – Drink packages

Always a dilemma, and it depends on the actual deal on offer. Most cruise line Drinks Packages are complex and have niggly restrictions but may be worth the risk. Another spot-on way to use your onboard credits.

5 – Speciality Restaurants

Most of the cuisine onboard cruise ships is of a very high standard, and you will seldom be disappointed. But for that special occasion or to try something a little different, nothing beats trying some of the speciality restaurants onboard. You will experience fantastic food and service and create lasting memories – another great way to use your onboard credits.

6 – Internet Packages

There are two schools of thought when it comes to using technology while you are on vacation. Some people love the idea of being out of touch for the duration, and others can’t bear the thought of not being connected to the Internet! If you are one of the ‘must haves’ and need to connect Internet at sea, you will find that it has long been an expensive addon. But whilst technology onboard cruise ships continues to improve, pricing remains a challenge. OBC’s are a perfect way to offset this cost.

7 – Shopping On Board

The shopping onboard is usually pretty good, and it is generally Duty and Tax-Free most of the time. Yippee. On larger ships, you will find everything from high-end Jewelry, Watches, Luxury Designer clothing, logo wear, souvenirs and a store packed full of those items you forgot to pack.

8 – The Spa

You will never find a better opportunity to spoil yourself in a Spa than on a luxury cruise ship. With so many treatments on offer, including massages, manicures and pedicures, hair treatments – this list goes on; your onboard credit in the spa usually applies to anything on their treatment menu.

9 – Fitness Centre Classes

Use of the Fitness Centre or gym on a cruise ship is normally included in the cruise fare, and there are usually some free classes, and there are also some others available for a fee. If you promised yourself to keep fit on your cruise, don’t just walk past the Fitness Centre; give it a try.

10 – Chef’s Table

Offering a wide range of dining options is becoming to norm on most new cruise ships. Speciality dining is expected nowadays, but a new trend is the Chefs Table, where a group of up to 12 guests are treated to an exclusive dining experience. These tend to sell out fast, so it is worth booking early on your cruise.

11 – Professional Photos

One of the ways the cruise lines like to increase their onboard income is to have the ship’s photographer snap you at every opportunity. Having said that, they do produce some fantastic pictures for the family photo album. Formal portraits are always a great way to do record a special event and take home memories of a lifetime. Sometimes it is worth investigating a photo package that can be cheaper if you sign up online before you go.

12 – Speciality Teas and Coffees

All cruise lines include basic tea and coffee for free. The difficulty comes if you fancy an espresso, cappuccino and other speciality coffee or upmarket teas anywhere on the ship, which can attract an extra charge. Some lines offer drinks packages for such teas and coffees. With Ultra Luxury, all-inclusive lines, these speciality drinks are all included in the cruise fare.

13 – Art Auctions

Some cruise lines feature onboard art auctions. These are very popular, and there are some superb works of art available via the auctions. Attending these auctions is free; however, your OBCs can normally be used towards pictures or artworks if you decide to purchase something.

14 – Exclusive Retreat Areas

Increasingly popular are exclusive ‘Retreats’ on cruise ships for those in need of a bit of extra Rest and Relaxation. These tranquil retreats are located in exclusive areas of the ship with private cabanas and luxurious sunbeds for chilling out. Additional Spa Treatments are also available for guests to enjoy personalised spa services.

15 – Special Treats

There are always little extras when you are on board, but it is not always the complementary offerings that attract us! Italian gelato or Godiva Hot Cholate sometimes calls you more than the free stuff. Special treats at sea are great fun but are laden with added fees. Use your OBC as an excuse to treat yourself. You know you are worth it!

When YoUr On Board Credit Can’t Be Used 

As mentioned, onboard credit is almost like having cash in your account to spend as you wish. But as with all things, there are some limitations, so it is worth checking in advance. 

These are some things that we are aware of where you sometimes can’t use your OBC.

  • Future Cruise Deposit (FCD)
  • Flights
  • Cruise Ship Medical Facilities
  • Items purchased ashore
  • Casino

What if You Don’t Use Up Your On Board Credit?

As the old saying goes, “Use it or Lose it”. The same applies to onboard credits, as most onboard credits are generally non-refundable.

There are some exceptions, including if your cruise is cancelled or you take an FCC, in which case any OBC would usually be retained. There are so many ways to spend on onboard credit that losing it should never happen. Friends of ours always spend right down to the last dollar and beyond!

Onboard Credits (OBC) Conclusions

We always treat Onboard credits as a cash bonus and make sure we use them up – no point in surrendering them back to the cruise line. Maximise them using our tips and then enjoy spending them.

We hope this article has helped you understand the science behind onboard credits, how to get them and how to spend them. If you do need more information, please leave a question in the comments below.

FAQ’s – Frequently Asked Questions

What is an onboard credit?

When you book a cruise, you may receive onboard credit as an incentive that comes with your booking. Essentially, this credit is a kind of cashback that can only be spent onboard the ship and must be used during your cruise.

How do onboard credits work?

When you book a cruise, you may receive onboard credit as an incentive that comes with your booking. Essentially, this credit is a kind of cash back that can only be spent onboard the ship and must be used during your cruise.

How do I know if I have onboard credit?

Call your travel agent or cruise ship representative to verify that your onboard credit has been applied to your account. Ask about the amount available from any sales promotions.

Can you pay gratuities with onboard credit?

ONBOARD credit can only be used on board. Only on the ship, nowhere else. It can be used for ANYTHING on the ship. Speciality dining, gratuities, alcohol, casino donations, excursions, fun shop purchases, etc.


Can you buy cruise credit?

You can call the travel agency or cruise line and purchase onboard credit to be placed on their account, which usually also results in a note in the guest’s stateroom, explaining where the credit came from.



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Mike & Anita

Welcome all cruise enthusiasts!
We’re Mike & Anita, your spirited guides to cruising the high seas (and Rivers), and we’ve clocked in over 600 days at sea.

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A passionate cruiser and photographer with more than 600 days at sea, and just a few, but growing number of Luxury River Cruises. Our expereince as hotel inspectors for a prestigous French brand help us uncover all the good things about luxury cruising. All-Inclusive Food and Wine Cruises always attract our attention!

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