Credit card rewards are a great tool for travelers who want to score a free vacation, and the only thing better than one sign-up bonus is two. Navigating the world of points and miles as a couple can be twice as rewarding, but also twice as complicated. Let’s take a closer look at some of the pros and cons of playing the credit card game in two-player mode.
Double the Rewards
Couples who have good credit scores can earn twice as many reward points by signing up for the same credit cards. Instead of taking one trip, you can take two, depending on the card and the welcome offer.
For example, 30,000-mile on the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite MasterCard can take a passenger to the Caribbean and back. Signing up for two cards means a couple can travel together. Sometimes the welcome offers goes up to 60,000 miles on the same card, which means a couple can take two trips to the Caribbean islands for the cost of airlines taxes only.
Double the Fees
Obviously, holding double the cards means paying double the fees. Although many mid-range credit cards waive the annual fees for the introductory year, some don’t, so you really have to calculate all your costs before applying for multiple credit cards. One way of navigating the world of points and miles as a couple is to apply for two cards, and when the fees hit a year later, one of you can cancel said card and another can keep his or hers for the ongoing rewards. If you often travel together anyway, you don’t both need an airline card that offers free checked bags.
Meeting the Minimum-Spending Requirements
Applying for double the cards means meeting double the meeting-spending requirements. A $4,000 spending requirement in three months suddenly becomes an $8,000 spending requirement, which might or might not be difficult to reach for some couples. Still, you have to make sure you can comfortably reach the thresholds without spending money you don’t have. One way of meeting all the requirements is perhaps by staggering your credit card applications. Do not apply for the second card until the bonus on the first card has been awarded.
Pooling Points into One Account
Many rewards programs do not allow pooling points with other members, but some do, and this is when opening two of the same credit card is beneficial to a couple, especially co-branded hotel cards. Hilton Honors, World of Hyatt and Starwood Preferred Guest programs all offer some sort of pooling points with another member at no extra cost. Since couples occupy the same number of rooms as a single person, pooling points can result in longer trips.
For example, SPG allows point transfers between two members who have lived at the same address for at least 30 days, and Hilton Honors lets up to 11 guests (even non-family members) pool points into a single account. Additionally, Hilton and SPG offer a fifth night free on award bookings of four consecutive nights, so sometimes reserving a stay from the same account equals more free nights.
Some credit cards offer referral bonuses of about 5,000 to 10,000 points for each approved referral. Couples can alternate the referral bonuses by referring each other for the credit cards they already hold and share the rewards that way. Earning both a sign-up bonus and a referral bonus can really help you maximize your return in the long run. Waiting for the option to start generating referrals also gives you time to meet the minimum-spending requirements.
Authorized User Bonus
Similar to the referral bonuses, most cards also offer authorized user bonuses—anywhere between 2,500 bonus points to 7,500 bonus points. Typically, for the bonus points to post, an authorized user must be added within the first three months of account opening. However, card issuers sometimes open up promotional time periods, during which they award bonus points for issuing additional cards for the primary account.
In many cases, the cards do not cost extra, and adding someone with a less-then-stellar credit score can help the additional user increase it over time. Couples can take full advantage of adding each other as authorized users and benefit from the perks, such as transferring points to each other frequent-flyer accounts as allowed with the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve cards.
Chase’s 5/24 Rule
Speaking of Chase, let’s talk about its dreadful 5/24 rule. The rule means a card member will not be approved for a Chase credit card if he or she opened five or more accounts with any bank in the last 24 months. Not all Chase cards fall under this rule, but those that do offer lucrative bonuses.
Let’s say you and your partner apply for the same five credit cards over the course of two years and earn a bonus on each one. That’s great and all, but as far as Chase cards are concerned, both of you are done. No more Chase rewards for you for two years. Perhaps, to navigate your way out of the 5/24 trap, one of you can stay under 5/24 at all times. Sure, you might miss out on other lucrative offers, but at least one of you is always prepared to strike for a particularly hot offer from Chase should one present itself.
Southwest Companion Pass
Southwest Airlines Companion Pass is the holy grail of rewards for couples. The Pass allows travelers to book complimentary flights for a travel companion of their choice on both paid and award tickets. It is valid for the duration of the year it is earned plus the entire following year, which is why the earlier you earn it, the longer you have to maximize its value.
To earn the Companion Pass, passengers must earn 110,000 Rapid Rewards points by either flying on Southwest flights or spending with one of the co-branded credit cards. Earning the pass is as easy as applying for just two co-branded Southwest credit cards. The problem is, the cards are issued by Chase, which means one of you cannot have applied for more than three cards in the last two years to be approved. If you live in a city that Southwest services and travel together often, it might not be a bad idea to go for the Companion Pass.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a map or a Global Positioning System for navigating the world of points and miles, and things can and will get complicated, especially for a couple. To ease your card management, I recommend maintaining a spreadsheet to keep track of all the cards, primary accounts and the sign-up offers received by each person. The work will take a few minutes out of your day but will pay off immensely while you reap the rewards and take free trips with your honey.