Most cruise lines charge onboard spend in USD and the weak Australian dollar means poor conversion rates.

But with the weak Australian dollar, your cruise expenses will increase by hundreds of dollars. Over the past five years the Australian dollar to the US dollar has been as low $0.58 and as high as $0.78. It is currently sitting around the 66-cent mark.

Savvy cruisers have found ways to make sure you get your bang for your buck.

Cruisers can pre-load themselves cruise cards before their cruise, they can load up USD while onboard, cruisers can go to an outlet and acquire USD in cash before their cruise or cruisers can simply pay with their credit cards onboard.

Why you need to think ahead

The most simple move to save yourself some money on your cruise is to load your on-board credit ahead of time. Once you’re on the ship, you’ll receive a significantly worse conversion rate. 

Sharon Summerhayes, owner of Deluxe Cruise & Travel advises that pre-loading your onboard credit can lead to significant savings. 

“For most cruise lines, you can call up and pre-purchase on board credit which is usually a better rate than the conversion rate on board,” she says.

“For example, purchasing on board credit with Royal Caribbean you are charged in AUD and the USD is worth 0.667. You would pay AU$1500 and receive US$1000.  If you had that charged to your card onboard, you would pay AU$1562 and you may get a conversion fee on your card account as it will be charged in USD.”

For example, seasoned cruiser Brian McGree reported that for his December cruise, the exchange rate for loading up his onboard credit before boarding was US$0.66 to AU$1.

However, once he was onboard, he reports a conversion rate of just USD$0.58. 

While these numbers may not seem overly significant, they can make a significant difference.

For example, if a family wanted to load up US$1000 for their cruise, with the pre-loading rate from McGree’s cruise this would come out to $1516 in AUD. However, with the onboard rate, to load up USD$1000 comes out to $1724, meaning more than $200 would have gone to waste.

The Royal Caribbean credit card
The Royal Caribbean credit card

Be card smart 

If you’re planning to use a credit card onboard, it’s worth being aware that even if you’re in Australian waters, you can incur international transaction fees when purchasing from a foreign merchandiser, for example many cruise lines that sail in Australia.

Many cruisers recommend the Wise Card, as it has no international transaction fees. Whereas other cards such as Commbank, incur a 3.5% transaction fee.

Using the example above, if you were to spend US$1000 onboard on your cruise, as a 3.5% surcharge, this would come out to AU$53 extra dollars spent during your cruise, versus if you used a card with no transaction fees. 

Furthermore, if you’re travelling overseas and using a travel card, not all travel cards are created equal, you should research the exchange rate in your target currency. There is a list of the different benefits and cons of popular travel cards here on Finders website. 

How to pre-purchase onboard credit

You should contact your cruise line about your best options for loading onboard credit before your cruise. Through doing this you can see significant savings.

For example, cruiser Jon Daniels shared his experience purchasing onboard credit (OBC) with Royal Caribbean on their 1800 number.

“Select option 2 tours on the menu. You request purchasing you want to [then] pre purchase USD OBC. They will give you a quote in AUD. Then it’s worth doing the math and double checking what rate they’re offering you. 

“You then pay using your credit card. The amount charged will be in AUD off your credit card as a service not as a cash advance. You will receive a receipt of purchase by email that shows the AUD amount charged.

“The pre purchased OBC will available once on board. You will receive a note in your cabin confirming the amount of USD OBC that is in your onboard account.”

Royal Caribbean's rock climbing wall is a popular activity
Some popular activities may come with an extra cost, that you can pay for using onboard credits.

Keep an eye on the Australian dollar

While cruise lines will generally adjust their offered rate in accordance with the actual exchange rate, it’s still worth keeping an eye on as fluctuations can significant repercussions on your finances. 

If your cruise line is offering a rate that is worse than the actual exchange rate, and you have a credit card with a more favourable rate which does not charge international transaction fees, then it’s likely worth spending with your card rather than loading up credit.