It worked! I took advantage of a couple hacks to save some serious money on our cruise. Winn-Dixie always offers Fuel Rewards for purchasing gift cards, but for Black Friday they were offering 5X the normal reward, which is the equivalent of a 10% rebate. In addition to paying for the cruise with gift cards, I applied the remaining gift cards to my Sail and Sign Account, which I then cashed out in the casino.
Total Savings: About $250 in free gas, plus 12,500 Hilton Honors points for using my credit card to buy the gift cards.
In addition to redeeming the gift cards, I charged my credit card in the casino to earn even more cash back. Since Carnival does not charge a transaction fee when you charge your Sail and Sign card at a slot machine, I charged about $1,700 to my card to earn just over 5,000 Hilton Honors points.
My luck didn't stop there. I also played some blackjack while onboard. There is a sucker bet called "Lucky Ladies", where for as little as $1 you can place a side bet that your first two cards equal "20". If your "20" is in the form of 2 Queen of Hearts, you win $125. However, if you have 2 Queen of Hearts, and the dealer has a blackjack, you win $1,000. My jaw dropped when I hit on the Lucky Ladies. My $1 side bet won me $1,000. The pit boss and my dealer said this was the first time they had ever witnessed this particular win. Of course, I gave much of that back during the week.
Total Winnings from Casino: About $700
We had a great, frugal trip. There was plenty of alcohol - we brought two bottles of wine onboard, received a voucher for one free drink each based on our loyalty, attended an art auction for free champagne, and bought two small bottles of rum in Grand Cayman that we carried back in our pockets. I was randomly selected to receive a $50 spa gift card, so I splurged a bit on a facial and neck and arm massage. We also had a $100 onboard credit for being a shareholder, which was applied towards gratuities. And, the casino gave me $50 in free chips for booking the casino rate for the cruise. We took advantage of one excursion, which we booked privately. We did cave tubing in Belize. The all-day tour, with lunch, was $35/each plus tip.
If not for my luck in the casino, I wouldn't be able to call this a free cruise. But discovering this new trick using gift cards and then cashing them out turned out to be a very lucrative way to lower our costs.