Ahoy There, Plenty 'O Airline Miles for Cruises!

Last week, in a blog post about bonus miles for hotel bookings made on American's website, I alluded to the trend among airlines to use their websites to "cross-sell" other travel services, including hotel stays, car rentals, and cruises.

I call it the Amazonization of the airlines, after Amazon's expansion from an online bookseller into cyberspace's preeminent general store, selling everything from consumer electronics to jewelry to clothing.

Aside from the convenience aspect—book every component of your trip on a single website—the airlines' one-stop-shopping approach adds frequent flyer miles to the mix.

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In the case of American's bonus for hotel bookings, the miles may not be enough to compensate for the traveler's inability to earn points in the hotel's own loyalty program. But in other cases, the extra miles can be a real deal-maker.

An example of the latter might be Delta's offer for cruises booked through its SkyMiles Cruises website. Through February 4, members of Delta's program can earn triple miles for cruises departing before the end of 2010, up to a maximum of 30,000 miles for a balcony stateroom or higher category room.

If airline miles are good, triple miles are even better. And there's no downside, as there can be when booking hotels on an airline site.

As always when choosing among competing sales channels, there's the all-important question of price. Miles are tempting, but could the same cruise be booked elsewhere—through an online travel agency or on the cruise line's own website, for instance—for less?

The Delta SkyMiles Cruises website features a best price guarantee: "We've got the best prices, 110% guaranteed." But such promises are commonplace and by no means guarantee that you'll be getting the best price.

So comparison-shopping is still a must. But if the prices do turn out to be comparable, and it comes down to a choice between booking a cruise with or without frequent flyer miles, more miles are mo' better.

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