European river cruises: How to cut costs, hassles of trip


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European river cruises: How your cards cut costs, hassles of trip

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European river cruise – with stops in enchanting ports and a crew that pampers
guests – can be a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, and your credit cards can help
you get there, cutting your costs and making your travel more enjoyable.

What is a river

A river cruise is a unique way to explore the incredible
cities and countries across Europe, sailing from destination to destination,
taking in the sights and sounds directly from the water, says Colleen McDaniel,
senior executive editor of Cruise Critic.

“Rather than being transported by bus, or needing to pack
and repack from place to place, river cruises are a comfortable and convenient
way to cover just as much ground,” she says.

Many river cruise lines, like the wine-themed Viking River
Cruise my husband and I took recently through the French countryside, include
complimentary excursions in ports of call. Because the sight-seeing tours are
small, you are able to learn more about the port from your tour guide.

While big ships sail along the coasts,
river cruising is more intimate. Far fewer passengers (190 on our river cruise)
and a “long-ship” design make for a smoother, more soothing way to savor the
food, wine and sights outside your window.

Cruising in a smaller ship has a bigger price tag, too.
Depending on your departure city, number of days and type of cabin room, a
European river cruise can cost between $2,500 to $4,000 per person for a
balcony stateroom.

That river cruise price, though, includes the
costs of shore excursions, drinks and other perks that would be ala carte if
you had booked an ocean cruise instead, according to Sherman’s

Tack on your airfare and any hotel stays and you can see why
it helps to save up for a European river cruise.

Here’s how your credit cards can cut your costs and make
your river cruise adventure, including getting there and back home, more
enjoyable. (I’ve included a few card tips, too, based on my river cruise

See related: 10 credit and money tips for travel abroad

Save your money: Pack no
foreign transaction fee cards

Before you go, get a credit card that doesn’t charge a foreign
transaction fee
. Whether you’re traveling outside the U.S. for a river cruise,
a business trip or just ordering something online from a retailer based abroad,
pay with a credit card that doesn’t tack on 3 to 5 percent charge for purchases outside the U.S.

Think of all you’ll be charging prior to, during and after
your cruise – your flights, snacks on the plane, hotel stays, meals, maybe a
carriage ride the night before you embark, the shops at your
cruise stops or the costs of any excursions. Paying extra every
time you dip or swipe to pay adds up fast.

Tip: Call your card issuers to let them know of your travel plans, especially if you are going out of the country to prevent your cards from being blocked due to suspected fraudulent activity. 

See related: Alerting issuers about your travel plans may soon be obsolete

Travel stress-free:
Airline cards

No matter how you fly to Europe for your cruise, your credit
cards can cut your airfare costs and spare you the hassle of long lines at
security checkpoints and the hubbub of the crowd as you relax ahead of your
flight in the airport lounge.

A credit card with a big sign-up bonus can cut
your trans-Atlantic airfare by half or more.

For example, the Barclaycard
Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard
is currently offering 60,000 points if
you meet the minimum spend, which is worth up to $600 in statement credits. The
Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard
also has a hefty sign-up bonus of 50,000
points, which could jumpstart your way to a free flight.

An airline
or flexible travel
credit card that offers a credit for Global Entry will speed you through
security and customs when you return. Cards with this perk include the Bank of
American Premium Rewards credit card, the Capital One Venture Rewards Card and
United Explorer Card (each with a $95 annual fee) and the Chase Sapphire
Reserve or the American Express Platinum (with $450 and $550 annual fees,

Once through security, you can avoid crowded gate areas by waiting
for your flight in the quiet and comfort of an airport lounge. If you’re
famished from your flight, grab a meal and drink before you catch a cab to your

Credit cards with airport lounge access include Chase
Sapphire Reserve
(with access to the Priority Pass lounge network), United
MileagePlus Club card (access to United Clubs or Star Alliance Lounges) and the
Honors American Express Ascend card
(10 complimentary lounge visits a year
after a one-time enrollment in Priority Pass Select).

Tip: Another perk of your airline credit card? Priority boarding
and usually at least one free checked bag (depending on your credit card).

See related: Picking the right credit cards for around-the-world travel

Rest easy before (or after
your cruise): Hotel cards

After a long flight, you might need a long nap, or at least
a good night’s sleep. A hotel credit card often can unlock a free room
upgrade if not a free room altogether if your card includes an annual reward of
a free one-night hotel stay or enough of bonus points for a free night.

Depending on your port cities at the start and end of your
cruise, pack the hotel card with the properties you where you plan on staying.

The big hotel groups, IHG, Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott and SPG
(and their related credit cards), are likely to have hotels wherever you’re
looking to crash or to revive yourself before touring the city before or after
your cruise.

For example, ports like Amsterdam, Barcelona, Bordeaux and
others all feature great hotel picks in the Marriott portfolio.  

Or maybe you just want a great place to lay your head
without having to worry about any allegiance to a particular brand or family of
hotels. If you want a good night’s sleep and a heap of points, the Capital
One Venture Rewards Credit Card
and the Capital
One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card
might be just the ticket. Each card
earns 10x miles on purchases made at

Your river cruise:
Enjoy the ride (and score some points, too)

The thing I’ll most remember about our nearly weeklong Viking
River Cruises tour of Chateaux, Rivers and Wine is the feeling of being

An example? In the omelet line at breakfast, the chef soon
knew exactly what I wanted.

When you travel aboard a ship with dozens of passengers
instead of thousands, you get to know your fellow cruisers much better, and
everyone is neighborly.

For instance, when I left my handbag in the shipboard lounge
for six hours, it was still there when I realized where I had left it. And not
one thing – my phone, my credit cards, my few euros – was missing.

One couple on our cruise was charging everything to earn
rewards with every purchase. They had no cash at all – not even a few euros for

Chelsea Hudson, personal finance expert at,
says this can make sense.

“Everyday purchases while traveling can earn you a free
flight for your next vacation if done correctly,” she says. 

Hudson also suggests all that charging on a trip to Europe
can help you to meet the minimum spending to earn a big sign-up bonus on a new
rewards card – giving you a heap of points for your next travel adventure.

After our wine-themed cruise through the French countryside,
we extended our stay with a first-time visit to Paris.

The river cruise and stay in Paris made for a wonderful
trip, full of memories.

If you’ve ever dreamed of a river cruise, don’t let some
popular misconceptions hold you back.

 “Because river ships
don’t have the bells and whistles that ocean-going ships do – things like water
parks and Broadway-style shows – some might think that they will get bored of
the more laidback experience onboard,” McDaniel says.

“When comparing the alternatives – like a bus tour – a river
cruise can actually be far more enjoyable. There’s plenty of room to spread
out, delicious restaurants in which to dine and oftentimes really engaging
onboard enrichment programs.”

That definitely was the case on our European river cruise – it
was full of smooth sailing, beautiful views, friendly passengers, great food
and wine and top-drawer customer service from the crew.


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