Marrying for Miles
Saying “I do” to a miles-and-points earning strategy
It has been said that “the journey of a thousand miles starts with a cash advance.” Anyone who has been tasked with planning, budgeting or paying for a wedding can certainly find truth in that quote. For a frequent flyer who looks at life through the lens of points and miles, planning a wedding presents a unique opportunity to strategize spending and reap the rewards of free travel. Whether the goal is a first class honeymoon or even a first anniversary trip, why not say “I do” to a miles and points earning strategy?
According to the annual Real Weddings Survey released by the knot, the average cost of a wedding last year in the U.S. was $30,000, the highest since the website began the survey in 2007–and $30,000 in spend can add up to a lot of points. With nearly all of the major travel rewards cards offering generous sign-up bonuses, choosing a rewards card and meeting the minimum spend with wedding expenses can be an easy way to take your first journey as a couple in a first class seat. Deciding on a travel goal and developing a miles and points strategy to achieve it, might be just the ticket to marital bliss. And should the marriage turn out to be less than blissful, well, at least you got a free trip out of it!
InsideFlyer‘s recent AirPoll suggests that most people are not earning and redeeming miles as part of their wedding planning. Less than 17 percent of people indicated that they earned miles or points on wedding expenses and only 35 percent reported that they redeemed points or miles for a wedding or honeymoon. As we move into “engagement season” (think Thanksgiving and Christmas) we think it’s time to share a primer on planning ahead to earn and burn points and miles for your wedding and honeymoon.
To add to our story, we turned to three miles and points experts from BoardingArea, Summer Hull, Scott Mackenzie and Jeanne Hoffman, who share advice and their own personal wedding planning stories.
The first step to developing your earning strategy is deciding on your goal. Having a travel goal such as a honeymoon presents the perfect opportunity to customize your miles and points earning towards a specific trip rather than simply accumulating miles and points at random. If a free or almost free honeymoon is your goal, it’s best to decide on your dream destination and develop your earning strategy with your destination in mind. Where you’d like to honeymoon, how you’ll get there and where you’d like to stay will have an effect on which loyalty programs you should earn in.
If you would like to fly Singapore Airlines Suites Class to Tokyo for your honeymoon you may want to start accumulating KrisFlyer miles or earning Citi ThankYou points, American Express Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards or SPG Starpoints that can be transferred to KrisFlyer miles. A destination like Hawaii might be better served by booking with British Airways, where you can fly from Phoenix to Honolulu for 25,000 Avios versus the 40,000 miles it would require if you flew the same roundtrip on US Airways. Asking fellow travelers on an online forum such as Milepoint or FlyerTalk can be an easy first step in determining which program to earn in once you have chosen your destination.
Bliss Begins with Credit
If neither you nor your soon-to-be spouse are frequent travelers, or if your miles and points balances need to be topped off in order to achieve your honeymoon dreams, well-planned wedding expenditures allocated strategically to a miles or points earning credit card might be the fastest way to find yourself on your honeymoon dream trip. Summer Hull of Mommy Points explains, “An easy way to get a huge chunk of airlines miles and hotel nights to use on your honeymoon is to get a rewards earning credit card or two before you have to pay some big wedding deposits.”
You will need to plan in advance for the time that will be needed to meet the spend requirements on the credit card, as well as time for the miles or points to actually post to your account (many cards require you to spend a certain amount within the first 90 days of owning the card).
Another aspect to consider is that traveling to popular destinations on award miles will most likely require you to book your award tickets well in advance (typically 11 months out). If you have some miles or points already accumulated, make sure to look at transfer partners to see if you can transfer points or miles from other accounts to have enough miles in your desired frequent flyer program for your award flights. For example, if you have decided to accumulate British Airways Avios, it is important to know that you can transfer both American Express Membership Rewards and SPG Starpoints to your Avios account. Being aware of bonuses for points transfers is also important, such as the 5,000-point bonus when transferring 20,000 SPG Starpoints to partner airline programs.
Before you fill out that first credit card application, there are a few things to consider. It may be obvious, but a good credit score and the ability to pay the card balance off monthly are a prerequisite to an effective miles and points earning strategy, and probably also a good marriage strategy. If you are planning on making a major purchase soon after your wedding, like a home, you will want to make sure to keep an eye on your credit score. Too many credit card applications in a short period of time can make your credit score decline, which may make you look like a risky borrower to mortgage companies. If you are starting out with good credit, adding a few reward cards to your wallet will probably not damage your credit significantly, as long as you are able to pay off the balances monthly and don’t miss payments. Waiting a few months in between each credit card you obtain can give your credit score a chance to rebound after each credit card application.
Choosing a card and meeting minimum spend early in your wedding planning will get you off to a great start and will likely provide you with the miles needed to book your award flights, but there’s more to a wedding earning strategy than sign-up bonuses. With the right cards in your wallet, taking category and threshold bonuses into consideration and shifting your spending appropriately can help you earn miles and points throughout your wedding planning.
We’ll look at two cards that combine generous signing bonuses, flexible redemption options, category bonuses and the ability to leverage everyday spending with your wedding spending to illustrate a few options for strategic wedding planning. Since hotels are often part of the equation when planning a wedding, we’ll take a look at how a co-branded hotel point earning card can be useful for speeding you towards your travel goals. We’ll also look at a card with threshold bonuses, another aspect to consider any time you anticipate higher than normal annual spending.
Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Freedom
The Chase Sapphire Preferred card has been a long-time favorite of miles and points collectors and offers flexible travel options for couples planning a wedding. The card comes with a number of perks that can be especially useful for planning a wedding and honeymoon and the annual fee of $95 is waived for the first year you carry the card.
First, a generous sign-up bonus of 40,000 points can be earned when you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. Particularly useful for couples, the card offers an additional 5,000 points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first three months from account opening. Of course, both you and your loved one can apply for separate cards and double up on the bonuses, assuming you are both able to meet the minimum spend requirements. If you anticipate travel, hotel and restaurant expenses in your wedding budget, the card offers two times the points on travel and dining related charges (including charges for flights, hotels, car rentals, restaurants and catering). On the first Friday of every month you will earn triple points on dining purchases. Mommy Points notes, “If your caterer codes as a restaurant for billing purposes, be sure to pay those expenses with a rewards card that pays an associated dining bonus like two times points on the Chase Sapphire Preferred (or three times on First Fridays).” The card also carries a $10,000 trip interruption and cancellation insurance policy as well as primary rental car coverage.
If you honeymoon internationally, you won’t pay foreign transaction fees and the card is chip and signature enabled. The flexibility of a 1:1 transfer to a wide range of frequent travel programs means that your wedding purchases can be converted to miles and points with Chase Ultimate Rewards partners Southwest, United, British Airways, Korean Air, Amtrak, Hyatt, Marriott, IHG, Ritz-Carlton and Virgin Atlantic. Additionally, cardholders get a 20 percent discount for travel booked with Ultimate Rewards points through the Ultimate Rewards website. Booking travel through Ultimate Rewards has the added benefit of being counted as a paid fare, so travelers will earn points and miles (unlike with award redemption bookings).
The Chase Sapphire Preferred card can also be used strategically with a cash back card, the Chase Freedom card, to take advantage of additional category bonuses. The Chase Freedom card has no annual fee and offers five percent cash back categories every three months (for purchases such as groceries, gas and online at Amazon.com) and can be useful for leveraging your everyday purchases towards your travel goals. You can transfer points from one card to the other, so you can take all of your five percent category points from the Chase Freedom card and transfer them to the Chase Sapphire Preferred account, which offers a wider variety of award redemption opportunities.
Barclay Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard
The Barclay Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard is an option for those seeking a fixed-value travel rewards card with a lucrative sign-up bonus of 40,000 miles (worth over $400 in travel statement credits) and relatively easy-to-achieve spend requirement of $3,000 in the first 90 days.
Cardholders earn two miles per dollar spent on all purchases and have the ability to earn 10 percent of your miles back towards your next redemption when you redeem miles for travel. This card is especially beneficial for those who are not loyal to one airline, hotel or travel site. If you like to bargain hunt for travel on sites like Priceline, Travelocity, Orbitz, Expedia or Booking.com, this card might be a good fit for your travel redemptions.
If your honeymoon plans include a cruise, timeshare property, campground, bed and breakfast or travel and tours booked through a travel agent, the Barclay Arrival card will give you a lot of bang for your buck. Travel statement credit redemptions start at 2,500 miles for $25 toward travel purchases made within the last 120 days.The Barclay Arrival card defines travel as: airlines, hotels, motels, timeshares, campgrounds, car rental agencies, cruise lines, travel agencies, tourist attractions, discount travel sites, trains, buses, taxis, limousines and ferries as defined by the merchant category code. Merchants that do not process transactions under the defined travel categories or that use incorrect merchant category codes will not qualify for travel statement credit redemptions.
If your honeymoon travel goals include international travel, you will benefit from the chip plus PIN technology for international purchases and you won’t pay foreign transaction fees. The card has an $89 annual fee that is waived for the first year. There is also a non-fee version of the card, but it does not have the chip plus PIN technology. The card also allows you to redeem miles for statement credits on non-travel related purchases and gift cards; however, these redemptions are at a much lower rate of 2,500 miles for just $12.50 in value. If you want cash back rather than travel redemptions, the Barclay Arrival card is not your best option.
A wedding not only provides the opportunity to plan large purchases over the course of a year, but also offers a chance to make the most of hotel events and expenses. If you are loyal to a particular hotel group, plan to book wedding events at a hotel, or if you know that your honeymoon plans include a stay at a particular hotel group, a co-branded hotel rewards card for that hotel group can be an excellent addition to your rewards card portfolio. If you haven’t already attained elite status with your favorite hotel loyalty program, a co-branded hotel card combined with wedding events and expenses, could push to you the top tier in time for your honeymoon. And some hotel credit cards give you elite status just for owning the card.
There are a number of co-branded hotel cards that offer aspirational honeymoon destination choices and bonuses for spending within the brand, such as the SPG American Express card, Chase IHG Rewards Club Visa, Chase Hyatt Visa and Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve cards. We will use the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card as an example of how to use a co-branded hotel card for honeymoon award travel.
Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card
While Hilton offers a number of co-branded cards with significant category bonuses, for the purpose of a honeymoon, the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card offering two weekend-night certificates with $2,500 in spend in the first four months of card membership, can be a best bet for honeymoon travel.
At first glance, it might seem that the Hilton HHonors Surpass Card from American Express, with a category bonus of 12 times the points for spending at Hilton Hotels would be the natural choice for those planning a wedding or event at a Hilton property. However, because Hilton allows you to use the two weekend-night certificates at truly aspirational properties such as the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island or the Hilton Bora Bora Nui Resort, which normally start at 95,000 points per night for award redemptions, the value of two night certificates (190,000 points) outweighs the 60,000-point sign up bonus from the Surpass Card from American Express.
In addition, Hilton offers an event planner bonus program in the U.S. and Canada, which may allow you to earn up to 100,000 Hilton HHonors bonus points and 100,000 miles for eligible charges from guest rooms, meeting rooms and catering. Most events require a minimum spend of $1,000, but specific criteria for the bonus varies from hotel to hotel, so Hilton suggests that you check with your hotel for event bonus qualification terms.
In addition, the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card offers 10 bonus points per dollar spent on Hilton hotel stays, five bonus points per dollar spent on airline and car rental purchases and three bonus points per dollar spent on all other purchases, complimentary Gold status as long as you are a card member, an anniversary bonus of a one weekend night certificate when you spend a minimum of $10,000 in your membership year, and a $100 statement credit when you spend $100 or more on your first Hilton hotel stay during the first three months of card membership. The card has an annual membership fee of $95 that is not waived in the first year, has no foreign transaction fees and the card is chip enabled.
Chase British Airways Visa
Finally, a look at the Chase British Airways Visa card illustrates the power of maximizing a well planned threshold bonus. The British Airways Visa offers a sign-up bonus of 50,000 Avios when you spend $2,000 in the first three months, 2.5 Avios per dollar spent on British Airways purchases and 1.25 Avios per dollar spent on all other purchases and a Travel Together Ticket every calendar year that you make $30,000 in purchases.
There are no fees for foreign transactions, the card is chip and signature enabled and has an annual fee of $95 that is not waived in the first year. The Travel Together Ticket is valid for two years from the date of issue. The Travel Together Ticket is one of the main benefits of the Chase British Airways card, as long as you plan to use it wisely, maximizing the value of the ticket for a business or first class flight rather than a domestic award redemption. While a lot of credit cards offer free companion tickets, they often require expensive full-priced fares that dilute the value of the companion ticket. The British Airways Travel Together Ticket works differently because you apply it to an award redemption ticket rather than a paid fare. Since award tickets on British Airways are subject to taxes and fuel services fees, and you are required to pay taxes and fees on both the award redemption ticket and the Travel Together Ticket, the best use of your Travel Together Ticket is for a business or first class flight. For example, a business class flight from New York to London will require 80,000 Avios plus taxes and fees of just under $900, but with the Travel Together Ticket you will pay only taxes and fees for your travel companion’s business class ticket. While it’s not exactly a free flight, it is a significant discount when you consider that the cost for a business class ticket for the same route would typically be over $4,000.
Miles & Points for Everyday Wedding Expenses
Along with credit card bonuses and promotions, weddings provide other avenues for accumulating miles and points and there’s nothing better than earning miles and points on expenditures that you would have made anyway.
Blocks of hotel rooms and pre-wedding events will not only help you meet spending requirements on your mile- or point-earning credit card, but can often offer the opportunity to earn bonus hotel points, special benefits or even elite status.
Registering as a meeting planner prior to booking your hotel rooms or events can allow you access to bonus points promotions for events bookings. Hotel events managers will often consider weddings as an “event” or “meeting” and most hotels do not require you to be a professional event or meeting planner to register and take advantage of meeting planner bonuses. Points earnings through meeting planner promotions are typically lower than what you would earn on an individual stay, but you still earn points based on the amount of money you spend.
Meeting planner programs vary by hotel group so it’s worthwhile to research the programs of the hotels that you are considering. With that said, individual hotel event managers often have some discretion when it comes to offering bonus points and booking events or meetings. Many hotel groups offer wedding bonuses and individual properties may even offer special promotions from time to time. If you are planning to get married at the hotel or hold several wedding events (such as a brunch, rehearsal dinner, cocktail hour) in addition to booking a block of hotel rooms for your guests, you will have more leverage when asking for bonus points than if you are simply booking a block of hotel rooms.
Shopping portals frequently offer points or miles bonus offers and can be useful for wedding-related purchases. Invitations, rings, bridesmaids dresses, flowers, wedding favors and photo books can all be purchased through shopping portals. Most of the major airlines offer mile earning shopping portals and many hotel groups, such as IHG, Hilton and Marriott offer point-earning portals. For example, according to Mommy Points, “If a $4,000 engagement ring is ordered via Blue Nile by going through Ultimate Rewards when a six times points bonus is offered, you would earn 24,000 points with just that one purchase–almost enough for a roundtrip domestic flight on Ultimate Rewards transfer partner United Airlines!”Apps like Pick2Pay and Evreward are available to help you evaluate how to earn the most points or miles for your online purchases.
Registering for Miles
When it comes to planning a wedding, creating a wedding registry is one of the most exciting things a couple will do together. With more and more guests opting to shop online for wedding gifts, why not include wedding registries and online shopping portals in your points and miles earning strategy? Some airlines offer wedding registries where couples can specify their travel goals and receive gifts of purchased or transferred miles.
United offers the MileagePlus Gift Registry, where couples can create their own custom registry page and share their travel goals with friends and family. Through United’s program, MileagePlus members can receive up to 500,000 miles per registry recipient. Guests can transfer up to 100,000 miles per registry recipient and purchase up to 150,000 miles per registry recipient. Mileage transfers cost $15 per 1,000 miles plus a processing fee per transaction. Gifting miles costs $35 per transaction plus a 7.5 percent excise tax.
United also offers a Travel Bank account that allows guests to deposit funds (minimum $25) to be used for air travel. Once you have created a Travel Bank account, you can send an announcement to friends and family. Wedding guests can also purchase travel gift cards through United, that the couple can use for travel on United for up to five years.
Once honeymoon flights or hotel stays are booked, a gift of a hotel or flight upgrade can add that special touch that makes the honeymoon a once-in-a-lifetime trip. Frequent flyers with top-tier status at United and American can gift systemwide upgrades with no out-of-pocket costs (a well-placed hint on your wedding website or through friends and family might help you find willing donors). British Airways Gold tier members can transfer up to 162,000 Avios free of charge to members on their Family and Friends List.
We asked two BoardingArea miles and points experts to share their real life wedding success stories.
Jeanne Hoffman, Heels First
I’m the miles and points guru in the house. So when my husband proposed, he really wanted to surprise me. He conspired behind my back with some of my frequent flyer friends and came up with a plan–he was going to buy me a sapphire engagement ring with a Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.
At that time, the Chase Sapphire Preferred was offering 50,000 points after a $3,000 minimum spend. He hit the minimum spend in one swoop with the ring and prepared to propose to me. After I accepted his proposal, I noted that 50,000 Ultimate Reward points was two nights in the Grand Hyatt Kauai. Post-proposal, I applied to the Chase Hyatt Visa Card and Chase Sapphire Card to round out our points. I earned over 50,000 points on my Chase Sapphire after I hit minimum spend and also earned two free nights meeting the minimum spend on my Chase Hyatt Visa Card. (Note: I spaced out my applications for these two cards since they were both Chase products).
Since we were close to being spouses, I figured it was okay under the Chase rules to transfer both of our Ultimate Reward balances into my Hyatt points account. Once I combined this with my pre-existing Hyatt points, we were able to stay at the Grand Hyatt Kauai for 10 nights for free.
As our wedding approached, I made sure we kept earning points. Our room block, rehearsal dinner and brunch were all at a Radisson. I applied for the Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature Card, which awards a total of 85,000 Gold points after $2,500 minimum spend, grants Gold status and gives a bonus to your earnings when you pay using the card.
With Gold status, you get 20 points per dollar on your room charges, including food and beverage charged to the room plus a 35 percent bonus. (Note: The bonus was larger back then.) In addition to this, when you pay your room bill with the Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature Card, you earn 10 more points per dollar. I had them run the dinner and brunch through my room. Between that, my room cost and the day-of room service breakfasts and lunches we had delivered, I walked out with over 300,000 Gold Points under my belt.
Since our honeymoon was already taken care of, the Club Carlson Gold Points are going towards a future vacation in Europe. Granted, I had to spend a lot of money to get those points, but I would have spent that money on wedding expenses anyway.
Scott Mackenzie, Hack My Trip
When my wife Megan and I got married last year, I knew it would be expensive. Her parents were kind enough to reimburse us after we made purchases, and we were able to earn bonus points through several generous category bonuses and annual spend bonuses on credit cards.
For example, my Amex Premier Rewards Gold card offers three times points on airfare, so we booked many of our family members’ flights for them. We earned 50,000 bonus Avios for spending $20,000 on Megan’s British Airways Visa during a special promotion. Our final catering bill was paid using Megan’s Sapphire Preferred to take advantage of the two times points dining bonus.
We redeemed several hundred thousand of our own miles to subsidize travel for friends who lived far away, including transportation to our bachelor and bachelorette party.
Personally, I was more excited about planning the honeymoon. I redeemed a few hundred thousand United miles for roundtrip tickets to Southeast Asia and was pretty pleased at how I incorporated an open jaw and a stopover to visit three cities for the same price. What can I say? I get bored easily. In return, Megan demanded a compromise: We didn’t go out of our way to fly on lie-flat seats or visit some fancy airport lounge. Instead, we had angled lie-flat seats on Asiana going through Seoul.
We didn’t exactly maximize the miles and points–I can imagine how we could have earned many more miles and really amped up the luxury experience on our honeymoon, but that wasn’t the point. We enjoyed having many friends and family at our wedding and our honeymoon wasn’t burdened by the stress of unnecessary complications. It was still a notch above average … and far easier to accomplish.
First Comes Love, Then Comes Sticker Shock–Final Words
It’s not unusual for the excitement of the engagement to be quickly replaced by the stress of wedding planning and the sticker shock of the costs of the big day. “It can be massive sticker shock to have to pay for a wedding and then immediately afterwards a fairytale honeymoon without racking up debt;” explains Mommy Points, “however, if you are willing to be creative with some strategy, you can make all of the expenses of the wedding actually earn enough miles and points to save big on flights and hotels for your honeymoon.”
You don’t have to be a professional at credit card churning to look at your honeymoon goals and anticipated wedding expenses and turn wedding deposits, hotel charges and catering bills into miles and points. Whether you are a points and miles enthusiast or not, a dream honeymoon that comes without the burden of additional debt might be the most relaxing way of all to start a lifetime together.