Since the only cruise line I have used is Carnival, my plan will focus on how to take a free Carnival cruise every year for life. The great part about my plan is its flexibility, as it can work for many budgets, and the risk involved is relatively low. Here's how it works:
- Carnival Cruise Lines (NYSE: CCL) is a publicly traded company. This means you can open a brokerage account at any company and then buy shares of stock in Carnival. I use E*Trade, but my plan is brokerage company-agnostic. You need to have a brokerage account somewhere.
- Currently, CCL pays an annual dividend of $1 per share. It is paid quarterly, $.25 per share per quarter. My plan is simple: purchase enough shares of CCL so that the dividends you receive are enough to pay for your cruise.
- Carnival offers a sweet bonus for shareholders: depending the length of your cruise, Carnival will provide you onboard credit ranging from $50-$250 for every cruise you take as a shareholder, as long as you own at least 100 shares of CCL.
Here's how I plan to take advantage of this:
- I will purchase 1,000 shares of Carnival. Right now shares are around $34 each, so I have to tie up $34,000 in order to make this work. Based on the current dividend, I will receive $1,000 per year in dividend checks that I can use for my free cruise.
- To keep things convenient, let's say I book a 5 day cruise from my home port of Tampa. Since I'm always out for a deal and can be flexible with dates, I may choose a 5 day Western Caribbean that departs Saturday, 9/21/13 and costs $249/person for an inside cabin. After taxes and fees, the cost for two people is $621.82. There is currently a sale on the site where I also receive a $50 onboard credit. Add to that a second $50 onboard credit for my shareholder benefit, and I now have $100 to spend while onboard. I will allocate that to gratuities.
- I decide to splurge a bit and bring an extra $200 to spend during our cruise. My total cost for this 5 day cruise is now $821.82. It is completely paid for by the dividend checks I have received over the last year. I will bank $179.18 ($1,000 less $821.82), which can be used to pay taxes, to apply toward my next cruise or to buy more shares of stock, thereby increasing the dividends I receive in the future.
Of course, there are risks involved and other factors I should consider:
- I have to pay taxes on the dividends I receive, so I should plan to spend somewhat less on the actual cruise if I want to have enough left over to pay Uncle Sam.
- Carnival might discontinue or reduce the dividend. There's no getting around the fact that the company has had more than its share of problems lately. These problems cost money to fix. One way I can mitigate this risk is by starting out taking cheaper cruises and banking the leftover dividends for future cruises, or even using the leftover cash to buy more shares of stock.
- The cost of taking a cruise will probably go up over time. Of course, one may also argue that the dividends paid should also increase over the long term, so I think it is reasonable to expect my increasing dividend checks to pace the increased cost of inflation.
- Carnival shares could lose value. Of course they could, or they might go up. Over time, companies usually increase in value. I will always own the same number of shares, but if I decide one day that I don't want to take free cruises anymore, I might lose money when I sell my shares. Or, I might make money.
Although there are some risks involved with this strategy, I believe these risks are minimal. Since you own the stock you buy, you can always sell later if circumstances change. The plan is flexible, too. Maybe you don't have $34,000 to tie up in the stock market, or maybe you don't want to take a cruise every single year. Adjust your investment accordingly. For example, there is a 4 night cruise out of Port Canaveral for $484.66. I might start out with plans to only cruise every other year and not spend any money during the cruise. I can purchase 250 shares of stock for about $8,500 and will have about $500 to spend every other year. I can always increase my ownership later on.