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How I Booked 7 Insanely Free/Cheap Cruises in 2022 & Why You Should Too!

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Cruise Hacking Carnival & Royal Caribbean 2022
Odyssey of the Seas is simply stunning at night.

Cruise Hacking Carnival & Royal Caribbean 2022

Last week I did an entire solo episode of the MtM Podcast on cruises while sailing across the Atlantic from Tampa to Barcelona on a free cruise! During that episode I detailed a lot of the cruise hacking opportunities that have come up this year, but I thought I would write out exactly how & why I have booked each of my 6 7 cruises this year. I’ll give you a hint. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get them this cheap again.

Background on 7 Cruises in 2022

As I said I have a total of seven cruises on the books for 2022 with two already completed. If I sail on all of them I will spend a total of 54 nights on cruise ships this year. That may sound like a lot, but considering we are traveling pretty much full time through October, it is probably saving us money as you’ll see. But even if it isn’t, we are getting to check off some incredible “bucket list” itineraries even if there are some disappointments.

My 2022 cruises are as follows:

  • 6 night Caribbean cruise on Odyssey of the Seas (completed in February)
  • 14 night Transatlantic cruise on Carnival Pride (completed a few days ago)
  • 7 night Northern Europe cruise on Voyager of the Seas (sailing in May)
  • 8 night Alaska cruise on Carnival Spirit in early July
  • 5 night Western Caribbean cruise on Carnival Paradise in August
  • 7 night Eastern Caribbean cruise on Carnival’s brand new Mardi Gras in September
  • 7 night Mexican Riviera cruise on Carnival Panorama out of Los Angeles in December

So how did I get each of these cruises and how much did I pay?

This view never gets old for me.

Royal Caribbean Cruise Hacking

Last year Royal Caribbean released an amazing Amex Offer giving $500 back on $1500 in spend with Royal Caribbean. I had the offer on three cards (but left one on the table) in our household and I immediately began searching for cruises with a total cost of around $1500. The first cruise I booked was for Allure of the Seas in January, however a bout of Covid delayed us a bit and we ended up moving it to Royal Caribbean’s newest ship (at the time) Odyssey of the Seas.

Odyssey of the Seas – This 6 night cruise including all taxes came to just over $1500 for a balcony cabin. We used the Amex Offer to bring our cost to a few dollars over $1000.

Voyager of the Seas – I booked this cruise to finally get to St. Petersburg Russia, however that port was cancelled. We paid about $1400 for an inside cabin (see upgrade info below) + added prepaid gratuities for one person to bring it over $1,500 to trigger the Amex Offer. We also have a $250 on board credit due to our MGM Rewards status which I’ll explain below.

Cruise Hacking Carnival & Royal Caribbean 2022
Royal Caribbean ships have insane stuff like skydiving simulators, but there are a few things Carnival does better like live musicians in my opinion.

MGM Rewards & Royal Caribbean Partnership

Royal Caribbean and MGM Rewards have a partnership where elite members from MGM Rewards with a Gold or higher status get perks on board Royal Caribbean when you book through the casino desk. I have MGM Rewards Gold status due to their match with Hyatt (I am Hyatt Globalist), so I was able to get a $125 credit on our Voyager of the Seas cruise. My wife was able to match her Caesars Diamond status from Founderscard to MGM Rewards Gold in Las Vegas and she also got a $125 credit.

Pro Tip: While a few people I know have had success badgering Royal to get this credit when booking through a third party, my experience is you need to book through the casino desk to get the credit, but you can transfer the cruise to a travel agent before final payment is due. For that reason I didn’t get a credit on the Odyssey of the Seas cruise, because I booked through a travel agent.

RoyalUp Program – Amazing Upgrades!

Cruise Hacking Carnival & Royal Caribbean 2022

As I said before I booked an inside cabin for my Northern Europe trip with a net cost of ~$1,000 (+ $250 on board credit) after the $500 Amex Offer. That was great, but I made it even better by getting a $6K suite for only $400 more. Royal Caribbean has a program called RoyalUP where they allow you to bid for upgrades. The good thing is you can bid no matter if you are in the cheapest cabin or a more expensive one.

When they sent me an email I bid $200 per person ($400 total) for the 1 bedroom Grand Suite and got it! (I also bid less for balcony and Junior Suite upgrades.) We get full suite privileges including access to a private lounge, concierge service and more during our cruise. We paid $1,400 total (still have our $250 credit) which is a decent amount less than even the cost of a regular balcony cabin. I’ll take it! Of course, getting an upgrade isn’t guaranteed but if you are okay with an inside and want a chance at something much nicer for not much more money than this can be a good strategy.

I priced this out the day I found out we got the upgrade! This was the cost of the same suite category on the same sailing in a room not far from the one we got. I’d say we got a suite deal!

Carnival Cruise Hacking

While people love to rag on Carnival, I think they are fine and have sailed with them a number of times in the past and have just completed our Transatlantic crossing. I do prefer Royal Caribbean but believe it or not there are a few things Carnival does better. Plus “free” is free right?!? 😉

3 Free Casino Match Cruises

To start, three of our cruises this year are free for the first two guests not including taxes/fees because of their Fun Match offer. I matched my Caesars Diamond status from Founderscard and MGM Rewards Gold and received an offer for a free balcony cruise plus an offer for a free oceanview cruise. My wife matched the same statuses but had a glitch and never got a free cruise offer. After contacting Carnival they extended an oceanview offer to her. It was frustrating that she didn’t get the same offers as I did, but at least we got another free cruise.

Our three free cruises are the Transatlantic in an Oceanview, Mexican Riviera in an Oceanview and Caribbean on their newest ship Mardi Gras in a balcony. We paid the taxes and nominal extra person charges for our daughter, but the fares for us were zero dollars including on the 14 night Transatlantic. Each of the free cruises also includes free drinks in the casino and $200 in slot play. Not bad.

Cruise Hacking Carnival & Royal Caribbean 2022
I just got off the Carnival Pride after a 14 day Transatlantic cruise and had a great time.

VIFP Past Guest Offers Have Been Insane!

The other two cruises were booked because of insane offers I got as a past guest of Carnival. Like I said before I have been booking these cruises to check off bucket list items. The Transatlantic had LONG been something I had wanted to do, St. Petersburg was supposed to happen and Alaska has been on my list forever. I hit my 49th state in 2012 so Alaska has been waiting as state #50 since then.

Carnival Spirit Offer – When I saw an offer for an oceanview on Carnival Spirit for just $100 per person on an 8 night Alaska cruise over the busy July timeframe I jumped on it. With my daughter’s fare we paid a total of $325 plus taxes for this entire cruise. Prior to Covid I had not really ever seen an 8 night cruise for $100 let alone an Alaska cruise in the height of the summer season! Score. Plus Spirit is a sister ship to the Pride which we enjoyed so I am sure it will be fine.

Carnival Paradise Offer – This was the last cruise I booked and is one I may potentially cancel. Carnival Paradise was my first ever cruise ship. Back in 2009 during the Swine Flu Epidemic I was able to book a 4 night cruise for $99 plus taxes. At the time that was an amazing deal, but considering everything I’ve seen this year it was alright. But I know the Paradise’s days are numbered so for nostalgia’s sake I wouldn’t mind sailing her again. For a 5 night cruise we paid $357 + taxes for 3 people or $119 per person. I’m still within the cancellation window so I am wavering on if we need to do it. But I wouldn’t mind sailing my first ever ship one more time and the price is right, although not as good as most of the other deals and Paradise doesn’t have a lot of the amenities of newer ships.

@milestomemories The 6 best activities to do on @Royal Caribbean #odysseyoftheseas including the amazing #northstar and #bumpercars. #fyp #milestomemories #cruise ♬ original sound – Miles to Memories

Mandatory Tips & Taxes

In the totals above I have left out the tax amounts (except with Royal Caribbean where I included the total paid including everything), because they vary by itinerary, etc. More ports = more taxes and ports in more expensive countries (for example Alaska) add up too. In addition both Royal Caribbean and Carnival charge a set fee per day per person for tips ($14-$17). You can remove or adjust this, but it isn’t something that I recommend.

Cruise Hacking Carnival & Royal Caribbean 2022 – Bottom Line

This post went a little long, but buried within it is a framework for finding cheap cruises right now and taking advantage of deals when they come. I think listening to the cruise hacking episode of the MtM Podcast along with this post should help you get started on the path of saving on cruises, because this is just the tip of the iceberg. Now if you don’t mind I’ll be heading back out to sea for awhile! 🙂

Disclosure: Miles to Memories has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Miles to Memories and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.

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Shawn Coomer
Shawn Coomer
Shawn Coomer earns and burns millions of miles/points per year circling the globe with his family. An expert at accumulating travel rewards, he founded Miles to Memories to help others achieve their travel goals for pennies on the dollar. Shawn also runs a million dollar reselling business, knows Vegas better than most and loves to spend his time at the 12 Disney parks across the world.

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  1. Adding new data point. This week, submitted Caesars Diamond (from Wyndham Business card) and Atlantic City day trip matches to MGM Gold and Hard Rock Rock Royalty. Within few days had a $100 Carnival oceanview offer, the next day it turned into a Balcony offer. Ended up booking a 12 night northern European cruise for Jul 2023, my two kids added $399 each and taxes/port fees for itinerary that docks in 6 EU countries was hefty….total $2300 for a cruise that would have cost $5800 cash. I’d never book for that cost, but getting room and board for an almost 2 week northern European trip for four that costs $2300 is a great opportunity to see so many expensive destinations in an easy fashion. As I was comparing cruises, they added a 2nd offer for a $100 oceanview cruise. Thank you for posting this info, it has led to booking a one-in-a-lifetime experience for the family. I’m booked out on trips for summer 2022, fall 2022, spring break 2023, and now summer 2023 so we’ll see if I find a way to use the oceanview deal. Thanks again!

  2. You’re the man Shawn! I am taking advantage of our free MSC cruise for 7 nights to the Caribbean in June thanks to your team and website. Also, I just did a status match on MSC cruise website last week and they upgraded me to Diamond MSC cruise status which means ton of free perks during the cruise ;). I uploaded my Caesar’s Diamond card and it got matched. Can’t wait, so excited!

    • Thanks Ing! I need to do some of the Atlantic City stuff to add a free MSC cruise to my roster! Glad to know their status match is still working as well. So much opportunity in the cruise space right now.

  3. IIRC, I remember reading that you do a thriving business with reselling goods through your home. Correct me if I’m wrong but doesn’t being away until October cause problems with that? If not, I want to be you.

    • We sell mostly toys and have structured things so we will mostly sell in Q4. We have also gone home for short periods twice this year and shipped stuff in and will do it once or twice before the summer is up as well. No doubt we could make more being home and running it full time all year but this allows us to balance stuff but we’ll be full force for Q4.

  4. So by doing 2 casino matches…mgm and caesars you got targeted for 2 separate free cruise offers?
    Any tips to avoid what happened to your wife not getting offer?

    • I didn’t do two matches but instead uploaded two competing statuses at the same time. First they sent an oceanview and then a balcony and they were separate so both could be redeemed. Not sure how to avoid what happened to my wife. They simply told me it was a “glitch”.

      • Shawn, I just did a day trip yesterday to Atlantic City to turn my Wyndham Diamond into Ceasars Diamond, MGM Gold, Hard Rock Rock Royalty, and Ocean Prime. I was going to do one submission, but you did two separate ones and got two separate offers?!?!?!

        Please confirm if I’m reading you right, and what statuses did you send with each? I literally was about to submit so thanks!

        • No I got two offers based on submitting multiple statuses at once. You can only submit once per VIFP number. I think you have the right plan with all of those statuses! If they send you for example a free oceanview they may also send you a free balcony as well. Those are two separate offer codes and each can be booked.

  5. Nice post on this. I think it’s worth mentioning that certain areas have much higher port fees than others. For example Alaska cruises have very high port fees per person so even on a $0 free cruise it can cost quite a lot in the end by the time you add port fees, taxes, gratuities and such.


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