Booking Cruise Excursions Early to Take Advantage of Shopping Portal Deals

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René recently wrote on the topic of Should You Always Book Shore Excursions Through Your Cruise Line?  This got me thinking about how we typically approach booking excursions for both our cruises and land-based vacations.

One strategy that we use frequently is to book independent excursions through Viator. This is particularly rewarding when there are shopping portal promotions and can get even better when, on occasion, we have had the added opportunity to further stack a credit card offer.  We often take advantage of these offers months and months before a cruise and typically more than one offer on longer cruises where we are booking numerous, non-cruise line excursions.  How does this work?

For this example I’ll show how we booked an excursion for an upcoming non-cruise trip to Bogota, Colombia through Viator to take advantage of current shopping portal deals offered by Delta’s SkyMiles Shopping and American Airlines AAdvantage eShopping among others.  It pays to check multiple shopping portals for your preferred airline programs as there is some variation in miles/$ as well as promotions.

The first thing I do is wait for a shopping portal promotion.  These limited-time offers typically come every 30-60 days and are tied to holidays, seasons, or in this case, Back-to-School.  Now a Back-to-School promotion probably doesn’t get you thinking about booking a cruise excursion, but wait, I’ll explain. Let’s walk through a Delta SkyMiles Shopping portal deal.

Right now Delta has a Back-to-School promotion where you spend $200 and earn 500 bonus SkyMiles or spend $400 and earn 1,000 bonus SkyMiles.  Now the marketing is obviously showing Back-to-School items, but the great thing is this applies to any eligible spending at any store linked through the SkyMiles Shopping site.

A quick search shows that Viator is offering a base earning rate of 3 miles/$ before the Back-to-School promotion and has an additional offer of 10% off or 12% off over $200 valid through August 6, 2023.  I click through this link and begin my search.  For this example I’m booking a Coffee Tour in Hacienda Coloma outside Bogota.

Because the cost of this private tour for two is a bit above $200 it qualifies for the 12% off promotion on the Delta SkyMiles shopping portal so I copy the code and enter it into Viator.  I then go through a pretty standard booking process and at the end I confirm the reservation.

The shopping portal widget pops up showing my purchase was tracked and should be eligible for the 3 miles/$.

In my email I then receive a confirmation from Viator as well as links to our tickets.  It’s that easy!  Now this $242.88 excursion is over the $200 threshold and so qualifies for the 500 bonus SkyMiles in addition to the 3 miles/$ so I earned 1,229 SkyMiles.  At our conservative valuation of 1 cent per point (1cpp) this works out to $12.29 which when added to the 12% discount we received by using the coupon code in the portal it takes the total savings to $45.41 or a respectable 16.5% off of the full $276 price.  It’s worth noting that excursions on Viator are typically already priced significantly lower than those offered by cruise lines.

We paid with my card_name which offers 2pts/$ on all eligible purchases. Those can then be redeemed at 1cpp against travel purchases like this one (when purchasing travel through Capital One’s travel portal).  So I earned an additional 2% back for a total of 18.5% and have the option to use Capital One’s Cover Purchases option at 1cpp to cover this purchase.  Or, in our case, wait to transfer points to a Capital One airline partner for future flights to get more value for our points.

Extra Tip

if you don’t have included airport transfers for your cruise or vacation, you can generally book them through Viator do accomplish the same thing.  I really appreciate not having to worry about getting a taxi or waiting on ride share when arriving in a foreign country and booking this way is generally much less expensive than booking through your hotel or cruise line.  We booked our airport transfer for our upcoming Bogota trip as well, though at $13.00 each before the 10% discount the numbers are all much smaller than our coffee excursion.  – Michael

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  1. A couple of observations on this issue.
    Viator is fine but it’s also a large tour company and may not offer the best price (on the same excursions) as other vendors or even dealing directly with the local providers. So in a way, you’ll have better peace of mind dealing with Viator or the cruise line but you might end up spending more money than the miles or points you earned are worth (unless it’s a new card SUB situation). You might look into this angle for a future blog post. For example, say Carnival offers a sea turtle excursion from some local XYZ provider for $100 a person but Viator or Zweeno is $90, and booking direct with XYZ local tour guide is $75. So you use Viator for $90 and earn 500 miles, etc. but you spend $15 more. A better example would be paying $75 for a beach party excursion when you could of gotten a $25 day pass directly from the resort but you get my point (pardon the pun 🙂

    If you book your cruise through the right travel agency they may also provide OBC for excursions that would cut down on the cost but you already know that of course.

    I’m going to guess that your points and miles approach might also work with some travel insurance products, maybe. I do love the idea in general.

    Also, you should be able to stack credit card merchant offers to these. Viator is very common on BofA, Chase, Amex, etc. I’ve also seen it on SimplyMiles for AA folks so it pays to double-check all that.

    • @DaninMCI – Great points across the board! A few things that I appreciate about Viator is the ease of searching for activities in port, the customer rankings (cruise lines never provide this valuable feedback on their excursions), the ease and security of making online payments, and of course the opportunity to stack CC and shopping portal deals to bring the costs way down. We do on occasion book directly with a provider, but it’s rarely a simple proposition to do so ahead of time and online.

      On Oceania Cruises we have typically selected a package that provides three excursions per cruise, but that leaves us with 5-7 additional ports where we’re “free agents” to pick our excursions or just tour on our own. Our TA provides cash back at the end of our cruise instead of OBC, but our previous TA did provide OBC that we have used for excursions.

      I like the idea for a post that compares the “same” excursions offered by the cruise lines, an online booking site like Viator, and booking direct with the vendor.


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