What Is an OBC in Cruise Jargon

OBC, or on-board credit, works like a gift card for a passenger's time on board a cruise ship.
OBC, or on-board credit, works like a gift card for a passenger's time on board a cruise ship. (Image: cruise ship image by Kate Jones from Fotolia.com)

OBC, or on-board credit, is often found in discount or promotional ads for cruise line tickets, but the definition can be tricky at times. Part of the cruise line industry's marketing and sales initiatives, OBC can be a strong seller in choosing which cruise line package to purchase, but understanding how these credits work is key in making the right decision.


An OBC, or an on-board credit, is an account provided by the cruise line that allows customers to purchase on-board items or services in exchange for booking passage on a specific cruise itinerary. Charges, which are added to the stateroom's bill, are deducted at the end of the cruise in the amount of the on-board credit. For example, if the on-board credit is $500 and the stateroom bill for the cruise comes to $2,000, the cruise passenger will only be responsible for paying $1,500 in their final bill. An on-board credit also can be called a shipboard credit.

How They Work

The on-board credit works like a gift card, but instead of a separate card, the amount of the on-board credit is added to the passenger's key card, which can also be used to unlock their stateroom or as an identification method when embarking or debarking the cruise. The key card is assigned at check-in, and on-board ship credits are validated and added to the amount the passenger can spend. Using key cards with on-board credit attached prevents theft, and it also makes life on board less complicated. However, if a passenger would like to set up an account with cash instead of a credit card, this is permitted, and cash can be added to the key card's original on-board credit amount.

Charging Privileges and Spending Limits

Upon check-in, the credit card owner has authority in assigning which members of his party will be issued key cards with on-board credits applied. In the case of multiple family members using on-board credit, spending limits can be arranged at check-in. To make a change on who can use the on-board credit amount, or to add more money to the overall spending account, passengers can visit the purser's desk.

Using an OBC

On-board credits can be used anywhere on the ship where services or items can be purchased. This includes casinos, bars and lounges, gift shops, spas, restaurants or for any item or service available to guests that is not complimentary. As the name implies, on-board credit can only be used on board the ship. Credit may be used to purchase an excursion, but once off the ship, credit cards or cash must be used.

Departing the Ship

At the end of the cruise, passengers return key cards and the amount of the on-board credit is deducted from their bill. At this time, passengers can ask for an itemized list of all expenditures. If there are any disputes, or if the on-board credit was not applied, they must address this prior to departing the ship. Departing the ship constitutes a legal agreement that the cruise passenger will pay for the items or services purchased during the cruise.

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