What is Onboard Credit? 5 Things You Should Know

By Theresa Boehl

When you’re new to cruising, it can seem like booking a sailing comes with its own secret language. Promotions are filled with head-scratching concepts and terminology not necessarily used in other types of vacations. One term that can be confusing for cruise newbies is “onboard credit,” sometimes called “cruise credit,” “shipboard credit” or “OBC.” Below, we touch on frequently asked questions about onboard credit and share info on how to make the most of it when you’re planning a cruise vacation.

1. What is Onboard Credit and Why Would I Receive it?

In simple terms, onboard credit is a perk that’s usually offered as an incentive for booking a cruise. It’s similar to resort credit that you might get at a hotel that you can apply toward a spa treatment or a special meal, for example. Essentially, it’s free money to be used for a wide range of onboard activities, experiences, and products.

It’s referred to as a “credit” because the money works like a bonus already applied to your account — it’s not actual cash, and sometimes, as we’ll discuss below, it can’t be saved or carried over in the event you don’t use it during your sailing.

Amounts for onboard credits vary widely. In some cases, they can be as low as $25, and in others, as high as hundreds of dollars. It all depends on the cruise line or travel agency you book through, the cabin you choose, seasonality, and other factors.

2. How is Onboard Credit Different from the Future Cruise Credit?

There’s been a lot of talk lately about Future Cruise Credits (also called Future Cruise Certificates or FCCs) due to the sudden cruise cancellations that took place in the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

An FCC differs from an OBC in that it’s an “IOU” from cruise lines to customers who already booked their trips but weren’t able to travel due to canceled sailings. Rather than refunding their trips, the cruise lines issued credits to encourage passengers to choose a future sailing to which they could apply that prepaid money. So, an FCC has more to do with making good on original reservations (and securing that business!) than offering a perk when booking.

That being said, if you were issued an FCC, you may still end up receiving some onboard credit at the time of rebooking, whether it’s a perk offered by the cruise line or by a travel agency specializing in cruises.

3. What Can I Use Onboard Credit For?

This is the fun part. The beauty of onboard credit is that it’s like a gift card that lets you splurge on things you likely wouldn’t have spent your own hard-earned money on. From spa treatments and specialty dining to high-end shopping and shore excursions, there’s a long list of ways you can take advantage of your bonus. Some cruise lines will even let you use your onboard credit at their casinos.

For many cruisers, however, the OBC represents a way to offset their vacation expenses, as it can be applied to alcoholic drinks/beverage packages and in some cases, gratuities.

Of course, there are some limitations on its use. Ship’s medical services wouldn’t usually be covered by the credit, for example. When in doubt, visit the ship’s guest services desk.

4. How Can I Get Onboard Credit?

There are a few different ways to get onboard credit, but by far the most popular is as an incentive when you book. Sometimes you’ll see onboard credit advertised in cruise promotions along with details like the sail date, cruise length, cabin type, etc. Many cruise lines use the onboard credit as a major selling point for their cruises.

In addition, some cruise lines offer onboard credits as part of their loyalty programs or for stockholders or members of the military. Occasionally, cruise lines will boost your account with a bonus when something doesn’t go as planned during the cruise, such as the skipping of a port due to bad weather or mechanical issues.

Don’t think onboard cruise credit is something only the cruise line can offer you. The right travel agents can increase your onboard credit amount, especially as a reward for repeat bookings with them. A major online travel agency like CruisesOnly can always get you more onboard credit than you would get booking on your own. It pays to have a knowledgeable, experienced agent on your side!

5. What Happens to my Onboard Credit if I Don’t Use It?

That all depends on the kind of cruise credit you have. If yours is non-refundable, it means you need to use all the credit before the end of your cruise, or you lose the value. The good news is that it’s not at all hard to find ways to make use of that money onboard — in fact, it’ll likely slip through your fingers before you know it!

If your onboard credit is refundable, you’re entitled to get any remaining funds back at the end of your cruise.   

In most cases a credit is non-refundable if it was offered as a promotion directly from the cruise line. If you worked with a travel agent on your booking, there’s a good chance your onboard credit is refundable (another reason choosing an agent is a no-brainer!). Try to get clarification on the kind of credit you have at the time of booking.

Ready to start exploring your options for cruises that offer generous onboard credits? Check out the promotions at CruisesOnly, America’s largest cruise agency.

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