Even if you’re trying to keep costs down, hosting a big party for dozens (or hundreds) of your loved ones can be pricey. Here’s one consolation: By using reward cards responsibly and strategically, you can recoup some of the costs – or stockpile miles for your honeymoon.
“There’s not much you can do when you’re fighting with family about the expenses, planning and the hassle,” says Scott Mackenzie, founder of rewards maximization site Travel Codex. “Rewards are a great opportunity to say ‘I put a lot into this wedding, and I’m finally getting something out of it.’”
Here’s a rewards road map for the newly engaged.
1. Plan ahead
Long engagements are ideal for maximizing rewards.
“If you’re fortunate enough to have a year or more to plan your wedding, you can take advantage of some long-term strategies, get your credit in shape before you apply and think about which cards you’d like to apply for and in what order,” Mackenzie says.
In addition to sign-up bonuses, some cards give perks or extra points if you spend a certain amount annualy, making them a good fit for a year you’re spending more than usual. The British Airways Visa Signature, for example, gives you a “Travel Together” companion ticket if you hit $30,000 in spending in a year.
You might also consider a card with a category bonus that matches a wedding expense, such as a card that gives extra rewards on dining. Assuming your catering bill is coded as a dining purchase (and it may well be, considering how many caterers also own restaurants), that giant expense will get you a surge of points.
If you’re gunning for extra dining points, here’s a clever trick involving the Chase Sapphire Preferred from Patrick Furlong, who, alongside his wife, Laura, writes about travel rewards strategies at Two to Travel (And Tango): Normally the card rewards you 2 points per dollar on dining. However, you could get even more, thanks to a special promotion Chase has extended through 2015.
“See if you can pay your caterer on the first Friday of the month, when the Sapphire Preferred rewards you 3 points per dollar at restaurants rather than 2,” Furlong says.
Considering that the Chase Sapphire Preferred lets you transfer your Ultimate Rewards points into several airline programs, triple rewards on a catering bill could get you a plane ticket.
In addition to picking the right cards, planning in advance can help you snag a venue that accelerates your rewards. Starwood, Furlong points out, has this promo, which lets you earn extra points for your wedding if you host it at a Starwood property.
2. Account for vendor fees and payment preferences
Don’t expect paying for wedding expenses with a card to be as easy as paying for groceries. For one thing, you’ll need a high credit limit to cover the biggest expenses. For another, vendors might charge you more or refuse to accept cards altogether.
Mackenzie’s photographer, for example, preferred to be paid by check. Others may charge a percentage of the bill for paying by card to cover the interchange fee charged by the bank. That cost could cancel out the rewards you’d earn on the purchase, but it might be worth it in certain circumstances.
“If there’s the context of getting a 50,000-point bonus at the end of the year after reaching a certain spending threshold, then the processing fees might be worth it,” Mackenzie says.
You might even be able to avoid extra fees altogether if you negotiate.
“It never hurts to ask the vendor if there’s a chance to reduce the fees if you’re a big client,” Furlong says. “Yes, they’re offsetting costs forwarded on, but utilize the power of your purchase and at least ask.”
3. Be a rewards power couple
You and your future spouse are in it together, so why go it alone when it comes to rewards? If both parties have excellent credit that can withstand an inquiry, they can double the sign-up bonus by each opening the same card.
“You’re suddenly looking at booking flights in business class perhaps instead of economy,” Furlong says. “And the difference between the two classes for long international flights — we can’t even begin to explain.”
Note: Each rewards program has its own rules about pooling points with another person — and some require you to be married before you pool.
After you’ve redeemed the reward, you can avoid paying two annual fees by cancelling one of the cards.
“With me and my wife, if it’s a card worth having, one person will keep it,” Mackenzie says. “You can make the other person an authorized user, so you don’t have to keep both cards long term.”
4. Get the family involved
- Funnel their generosity through your card: If family members want to pay for certain expenses, ask if they’d be willing to write you a check for the amount so the vendor can charge your card, Mackenzie suggests.
“My in-laws were really generous in paying for parts of my wedding,” Mackenzie says. “They aren’t particularly big fans of credit card rewards, so that actually worked out really well. They could pay us by check, and we got the credit card rewards.”
- Add co-planners as authorized users: If family members are booking rooms for guests and buying supplies for the big day, consider adding them – if you trust them, of course – to your card as authorized users.
“It’s a good strategy because you’ve got multiple people making charges and racking up rewards for you,” Mackenzie says. “That’s kind of like a bonus wedding gift.”
- Reward your loved ones: If traveling for your wedding would financially burden some guests, the rewards you’re accruing via your wedding spending can help them out. To assist out-of-state guests in the pricey trek for his Seattle summer wedding, Mackenzie offered to book flights and hotel rooms with his points. Airline elite status and rewards point re-deposits eliminated the penalties if guests changed their minds.
5. Reward yourself with a free honeymoon
When wedding planning becomes a drag, start making plans for all your hard-won points.
“We’re travel nerds and so we truly had our entire honeymoon figured out before we probably had half of our wedding stuff figured out,” Furlong says. “But it also was a great stress relief.”
Advance planning is key, because you don’t want to get cards until you know your destination. Mackenzie and his wife went to Bali for their honeymoon, a trip that drew on various currencies of airline miles and hotel rewards.
“Think about where you want to go and what miles you need, so you pick a card that gets you those kinds of miles,” Mackenzie says. “I can have the most valuable points in the world, but if they don’t get me where I want to go, it doesn’t matter.”
Wherever you want to go, have some back-up destinations. Furlong and his wife wanted to go to New Zealand for their honeymoon – in December, a popular time to visit and a tough time to find rewards seat availability.
“We got lucky that New Zealand worked at such a popular time of year but we were ready for Vietnam or Peru as well,” he says.
Finally, consider whether you’d like a more luxurious experience for your honeymoon, as credit cards can put that within reach. Mackenzie took advantage of the Fine Hotels & Resorts program that comes with the Platinum card from American Express (a CreditCardForum advertising partner). Some hotel cards provide low-level elite status (and the perks that come with it) automatically, Furlong points out. Plus, strategic card applications can get you enough sign-up bonus rewards for international first or business class.
“We like having a seat that turns into a bed when we’re stuck in it for 12 hours, and we enjoy the lounges and everything else that comes with the experience,” Furlong says. “… So when we figure out what trip we want to take, we figure out the strategy to earn the points we need for what matters most to us.”