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Earlier this year, I took my first cruise with Royal Caribbean, which was an amazing experience. I’ve spoken about my experience on that cruise and working with URComped here in the past, and on the back of that I have a second cruise booked for February.
Ahead of each cruise, you have a cruise planner portal you can access, with various deals that entice you to prepurchase excursions, drink packages, food options, Internet and more at a discount to the on-board rate. Generally these packages are better to buy upfront if you know you’re going to get it, vs. paying a higher price once you board.
There’s an exception, however, and that is a deal that they offered last year on Black Friday, and I anticipate them reviving this year. And that’s a set of casino offers that provide bonus casino play if purchased in advance. It was the only time we saw it for our cruise, and as it turned out, there’s a couple of major gotchas that make it hard to recommend.
The Wrinkle With Pre-Paying for Casino Credit
If you’re Royal Caribbean PRIME, you are able to waive cash transaction fees when charging money to your on ship account to pull money to gamble. When you book through URComped you get PRIME status for your first cruise, and then, as explained here, Royal Caribbean makes it very clear how you can earn PRIME status for at least a year: 2500 tier points, or $12,500 in slot coin-in.
As such, you might not feel a need to prepay for casino spend, but some people like to know the money’s already earmarked and “spent” before boarding a cruise ship. In that case, it may seem enticing to do so when the offer appears. They also throw in some extras. Last year, among other options, there was a $2,000 pre-pay option that gave an additional $200 in casino play as a bonus for pre-paying, as well as a $10 value scratch-off ticket.
This may sound like a no-brainer – who wouldn’t want to instantly turn $2,000 into $2,200 for the casino? The wrinkle is that the entire $2,200 is loaded onto your card as free play.
As I explained in a post earlier this week, most casinos treat free play as like a gift from the house – you have to bet it through once before it’s cash. And the first time you bet it through, you don’t accumulate tier points. So in this case, your $2,200, which should earn you 440 tier credits if played through slots, gets you nothing.
Now, factor in the house edge on slots on a casino. It’s common knowledge that casino slots on cruise ships tend to have lower payback percentage settings than land-based casinos – there’s no competition, and it’s an easy way for a casino to generate more revenue.
But even if that weren’t true, let’s presume the payback on a cruise for a penny slot is similar to a land-based casino, which is 87-88%. If you bet through $2,200 and perfectly landed at the 87% mark, you’d have $1,914 – less than the $2,000 you would’ve started with if you would’ve walked into the casino with your original $2,000.
So that offer not only cost you 440 tier credits, but it also would set you behind your original budget by the time you play through it. But if you trend worse than average, you could have less cash. You could also get lucky and have more, but regardless of your outcome, you’re out 440 tier credits (which is worth a few bucks, but is also nearly a 5th of the way to PRIME status) and also the time it took to bet through all the freeplay once. And now, if you want to actually earn PRIME status, you’ve got to make up ground.
But here’s an example of an actual cruise ship data screen showing a penny slot that was temporarily offline. Under Game Configuration, you can see the Theoretical RTP (%) as 85.06. Under that scenario, again if it worked out perfectly (which is rarely the case in a quick session), that $2,200 would now be $1871.32.
As such, even though it may seem enticing to get as much as a 10 percent bonus and a free bonus scratch ticket, which may or may not yield anything on its own, you’re actually better off sticking with cash or charging to your onboard account, presuming your fees are waived with PRIME access. You’ll begin earning points with your first bet.
You might not also spend as much as perhaps needed if you catch a lucky run on your way to PRIME status, and once you get to 2,500 points you not only get status, but guarantee yourself a voucher for a future cruise!