Two are better than one: Rewards strategies for married couples

If you consider your spouse as much a travel buddy as a life partner, you’ll be happy to hear there are plenty rewards strategies married couples can utilize. Reward strategies for couples

“Couples have several stark advantages over single individuals in the travel hacking game,” says Jacob Lumby, who along with his wife, Vanessa, is a credit expert and co-founder of rewards-focused websites Cash Cow Couple and Tightwad Travelers.

Double up on sign-up bonuses

Rewards credit cards often offer sign-up bonuses worth tens of thousands of points. But some cards limit how many of these bonuses an individual is eligible for.

The solution? Both you and your spouse can apply for the same card and get double the points.

“My wife, Alison, and I routinely get the same credit card,” says Jon Hayes founder of Rewardstock, a free service that lets you plot a rewards strategy based on your intended destination. “A lot of people don’t think to do that, but the benefit of that is we’re earning the same points, so it’s much easier for us to travel together.”

You can apply the same principle to getting different cards, so that you have multiple rewards currencies to use on a vacation that includes multiple hotel chains.

“If you have an upcoming trip planned, but need additional Marriott or IHG hotel points, each individual can apply for a new credit card that offers those points,” Lumby says.

Working as a team has another advantage in the sign-up bonus game – it’s easier to reach the spending requirements (the amount of money you have to spend in the first few months to get the bonus). Have one person apply for the card and then add the other as an authorized user.

“One thing my wife and I do is stagger the timing of when we each get a new card,” Hayes says. “So we can put both our spending on that card and make sure we meet the minimum spending requirements to get that big bonus.”

Diversify your benefits

If you’re going it alone, you have to agonize over which card packs the most benefits. Do you want to go after Citi’s lounge network or American Express’s? Are you going to get a card that gives you Marriott elite status or Hilton elite status?

If you have a partner, though, you can expand your reach easily because, for most lounge networks, you’re allowed to bring immediate family in with you. That means there’s no need for both members of a couple to pay $450 for the Platinum card from American Express (a CreditCardForum advertising partner) for access to its lounge network.

“Let’s say one of you gets a credit card that gives you access to one group of lounges and the other gets a card that gives you access to another group of lounges,” Hayes says. “Then, whenever you travel together, you have access to both networks.”

Similarly, if you’re both staying in the same hotel room, you both get the benefits of elite status, Hayes notes. So, if one of you has the Marriott Rewards Credit card and the other has the American Express Platinum, you’ll both enjoy the benefits of Silver Marriott status and Gold Hilton HHonors status (which comes with the Platinum) when you travel together.

You can also diversify your reward benefits if one person gets a premium version of a card and the other gets a no-annual-fee version.

“As long as one of you has the premium card, you can often convert the points you earned on the standard version into premium rewards,” Hayes says.

For example, one person could get the Chase Sapphire Preferred ($95 annual fee, waived the first year) and the other could get the no-annual-fee Chase Freedom.

The Freedom earns 5 percent cash back in certain categories, while the Sapphire Preferred’s greatest power is the ability to transfer points into partner airline and hotel loyalty programs (arguably the best value your points will fetch). Both cards are part of Chase’s Ultimate Rewards program. Under normal circumstances, points can be transferred only between accounts owned by the same individual. But Chase makes an exception for married couples, allowing them to pool points.

So, the points one person earns with the Freedom can be transferred to the other person’s Sapphire Preferred account (where they can then be transmitted to Southwest Airlines, IHG, British Airways and more) without both people having to shell out the $95 annual fee for the Sapphire Preferred.

Spread out the credit damage

Over time, a single individual could conceivably employ all the strategies above. However, it would likely take longer, as each credit application adds a hard inquiry to your credit report, resulting in temporary score damage that can prevent you from getting a new card.

“Institutions that offer credit card bonuses have become stricter about hard credit inquiries,” Lumby says. “In the past, it was less of a concern, but rules have tightened and many banks will deny your request for new credit if they see numerous hard pulls on your recent credit report.”

In other words, working alone, you’d need a cooling-off period between applications.

However, “being a couple provides a bit of a break here because you can alternate applications for new cards between both individuals,” Lumby says.

Pool points

Programs that allow point-pooling often require that both parties to reside at the same address. So, if you have 5,000 hotel points in a particular program and your spouse has 20,000, you can consolidate your points and redeem them for a rewards night requiring 25,000 points.

Just make sure you update both your accounts with your shared address as soon as possible. Some programs require you both to live at the same address for 30 days before you can pool points.

“If you need to combine your points and one of you has their old apartment’s address in there, they won’t let you,” Hayes says.

Be strategic about companion passes

Technically, airline companion-pass benefits can be used on anyone – it doesn’t have to be your spouse. But companion passes are worth mentioning, as your spouse is probably your most likely traveling companion.

Southwest, for example, offers a companion pass benefit that lets you designate one person to fly for free with you for an entire year. To unlock it, you need to earn 110,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points in a calendar year.

Points earned via card sign-up bonuses count toward that 110,000 total, and (assuming you meet credit requirements), you could apply for two versions of the Southwest Rapid Rewards credit card (say, a business card and a personal card) to get double the sign-up bonus. If you apply when the bonus is 50,000 points, you just have to spend $10,000 on the cards to get enough points to earn the companion pass.

“For couples, the Southwest Companion Pass is an amazing deal,” Lumby says. “Vanessa and I have flown all over the country for half the usual ticket price using this method.”

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