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Royal Caribbean Gift Certificates: Buyer Beware

Update: The post below is still accurate regarding my experience with redeeming a gift certificate to Royal Caribbean, but I wanted to update people on the final outcome. I was eventually told over the phone that my gift certificate balance would be applied as onboard credit and whatever I didn’t use would be refunded to the credit card I used to book the trip.

Once onboard, I did have the (huge) credit on my account. I went to the guest services desk to double check that everything was in order and that what I was told over the phone was accurate about getting this money back after the cruise. The staff seemed confused about the issue, and I had to explain the situation to them again (to two different people). After hearing different explanations from different people, I eventually decided to drop the subject and enjoy my cruise. No one seemed exactly sure what would happen.

Nevertheless, the staff was aware of the problem and made notes to my account. If things didn’t work out, then I would just take it up with Royal Caribbean when I was back on land. Sure enough, two days after the cruise ended, I was credited the full amount of my remaining onboard credit. Because of the refund was from an onboard credit, it even covered my taxes and onboard gratuities, which the certificates aren’t supposed to do.

Original Post: I started as a tool to help other cruise fans.

Galveston is my home port, but there isn’t a lot of information about sailing from the port. When I first started researching, I had to go everywhere to find the information I wanted. I hope that this site makes things easier by putting everything you need to know about Galveston cruises in one place.

And while I try to focus on the positives of cruising — and there are so many of them — it would be unforgivable if I didn’t focus on some of the negatives to watch out for.

Case in point — cruise gift certificates, specifically those from Royal Caribbean.

About a year ago, I was lucky enough to receive a substantial gift certificate to Royal Caribbean. The amount was enough to pay for an entire cruise for my wife and me.

If you’ve never used a gift certificate to buy a cruise before, you likely thought the same thing I did. I figured that just like a gift card to Amazon, I would make my purchase and then enter the gift certificate code to pay for the trip.


Royal Caribbean’s gift certificates don’t work that way. Instead, you have to place a deposit on the cruise using your credit card. Then, you call up a dedicated phone number to redeem your gift certificate.

Once redeemed, the cost of the trip is then taken from the gift certificate amount, and any remaining balance on your gift certificate is applied as onboard credit.

But that’s just for most cruises.

In my case, I booked a cruise that would leave about a month from when I booked. Because of that, I had to pay for the entire cruise with my credit card at the time of booking. Then I was told to call the dedicated gift certificate number and they would reverse the credit card charge, applying the gift certificate. I was told the entire process would take 3-5 business days.

So on January 3, I charged $1825.78 to my credit card and called to redeem the gift certificate. I was told everything was in place, the gift certificate would be applied, and the credit card charge reversed.

It’s now February 6 — 34 days later — and there has been no reversal:

cruise transaction

In the meantime, I’ve called Royal Caribbean repeatedly trying to get it cleared up. Each time the customer service team is wonderful, tells me that they will do the process again, and it should be only 3-5 business days before I see the charge reversed.

I just called Royal Caribbean one last time to try to figure this out. After waiting on hold for 12 minutes, I gave up.

I’ve talked to my credit card company, and they recommend disputing the charge with Visa. Frankly, I see no other option at this point.

Hopefully my case is just a one-off example. Why on earth Royal Caribbean can’t have their gift certificates work like thousands of other business’ do, I will never know. But needless to say, it leaves a sour taste in my mouth.

Keep this in mind if you ever think about buying one of their gift certificates.

Happy Sailing,

P.S. — I couldn’t help myself. I just called Royal Caribbean again. After a 15-minute wait, someone is looking into it. In the meantime, they just informed me the gift certificate doesn’t apply to taxes or onboard gratuities, even if you pre-pay gratuities. Considering these fees can add up to several hundred dollars, it’s just one more reason to pass on the company’s gift certificates.

P.P.S. — Now the story is that my entire gift certificate is now onboard credit. They are telling me that whatever I don’t use onboard will be refunded to me. What an absolute mess.

11 Responses so far.

  1. Nancy says:

    Thank you, I was considering purchasing GC in $100 increments thru our school program to pay for a cruise.

  2. Galveston Cruise Tips says:

    I should tell you that I did eventually get my gift certificate redeemed. It was just a major, major pain!

  3. Lori says:

    I wish I read this blog sooner. I am on board quantum of the seas now and my children had bought me a gift certificate. I had never had to redeem a gift certificate prior to using and I am unable to use for this cruise. My daughter in law called and spoke with several people all who refused to rectify the problem. Customer satisfaction is not what Royal Caribbean is striving for. So disappointed!!!!

  4. Dene Jenkins says:

    So glad I found this..was going to give my mom GC for early Christmas as she is doing RC over the holiday. That would be way to difficult for her to figure out, I’ll just get them a Visa GC to use!

  5. Galveston Cruise Tips says:

    That’s a great solution. I don’t know why it has to be such a pain to use a Royal Caribbean gift card!

  6. Naomie Moore says:

    Thanks so much for this post! I was considering a gift card purchase for my girlfriend and her hubby. Now I won’t, and will do what Ms. Jenkins suggested, a visa gc. One would think that RC could get their act together better. So sorry for your inconveenience, hope you and your wife enjoyed the cruise! Glad it was eventually resolved. Hope everyone that has the same problem complains – with the hopes that RC updates its policies and trains staff accordingly. In my humble opinion, it is the sameas cash and the recipient should be able to spend any way they wish. Thanks again for a great public service!

  7. Galveston Cruise Tips says:

    Glad it could help! To be honest, RCL might have improved their gift card process. For us, however, it was terrible.

  8. Lee Deemer says:

    Redemption is not any better. I purchased 15 ($100ea) RC gift certificates thru Verizon rewards at 10% discount. Original cruise price was over $1500. I mailed gift certificates as instructed to RC to be applied toward cruise. I kept checking cruise price & it had actually gone down to $1417.90, so that is the final price I paid. Well… only $17.90 was used on my last $100 RC gift certificate. So RC has $82.10 of my money. It is very clear on the gift certificates that any balance is forfeited. My issue is the cruise price I originally booked is over the amount I sent into RC. I e-mailed & called several times requesting them to mail back my $100 gift certificate so I could use it on a future cruise or give me $82.10 onboard credit or credit my original credit card. Customer service is excellent! They always speak with a supervisor, but no one is willing to give me $82.10 back. SOOO… lesson learned… make sure the amount of your gift certificates is for MUCH less than the price of your cruise.

  9. Robin Washington says:

    I used $250.00 in gift certificates that had been given to me over the years to book a cruise. I had to cancel the cruise but was told that it was non refundable but transferable whenever i booked my next cruise.I booked another cruise 3 years later and although the information was in their computer i was told by 2 different reps that because i canceled the cruise it was no longer valid. I even had an email from my travel agent advising me it was transferable. Long story short, it doesn’t appear that I will be getting the credit so I advise anyone NOT to purchase Royal’s gift cards. It’s a scam. They get to keep your money and give you nothing in return.

  10. Julie Quach says:

    We just got back from an 11 day cruise. My brother had 2 RC gift certificates, $100 each, successfully redeemed with confirmation. When he did not see the credits posted to his account after boarding, he went to talk to a Guest Service representative. After a dozen trips to Guest Service, he was glad to see one posted a week later. As to the 2nd one, it never showed up. The morning before disembarking, he again stood in line at Guest Service and was told: “I am sorry … you can call this #… right now your account is closed” That was it. They stole his $100. Customer satisfaction is not their goal because the issue could easily be resolved on day one.

  11. Ruth says:

    Does anyone know if you can simply use the gift cards on this ship? and if so, what types of things can you use them for? Drinks? Souvenirs? Massages? Excursions? The cruise itself is already paid for but was thinking of redeeming some points for RC gift cards for onboard things. Thanks for your insight.

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