Editorial Policy

Maximize rewards points to minimize wedding costs

Miranda Marquit

March 31, 2015

Your wedding day is supposed to be one of the happiest days of your life. However, it might also be one of the most expensive.

According to the site Cost of Wedding, the average wedding in the United States runs $25,500, with couples typically spending between $18,900 and $31,500 on the big day, depending on where they live and what's included in the celebrations.

“Paying for a wedding is expensive,” says Kyle Winkfield, president of The Winkfield Group. “If done strategically, though, you might make yourself some money on the backend.”

How is it that you can make money from your nuptials? Through the judicious use of credit cards.

Rewards cards and your wedding

“If you've never been one to pay attention to incentive and rewards programs, now is the time,” says Winkfield. He points out that rewards cards can lead to free airfare and hotel rooms, as well as discounts on rental cars. If you pay for venue deposits, flowers, catering and other costs using your card, you can quickly rack up rewards points, not to mention the protections most cards offer against damaged or undelivered goods.

One of the best ways to quickly accumulate rewards points is to open a new card account with a promotional bonus. Depending on the card, you might receive between 20,000 and 50,000 miles or points once your spending reaches a certain level. Other cards offer cash bonuses of as much as $250. Combine your new account holder bonus with the spending you do for your wedding, as well as other regular spending, and you could end up with enough rewards to cover the cost of your honeymoon.

Shop around for the best rewards cards and consider the best deals. You and your fiancé may want to compare credit scores to see who has the best credit to qualify for the best cards as most reward cards require a good to excellent credit rating. You can super-charge your ability to earn rewards points when you pair card programs with travel loyalty programs. Using a card associated with a specific airline can boost your rewards, whether you redeem the points for honeymoon travel or save the rewards for later.

Additionally, you may want to book wedding-related travel  with hotel chains that offer rewards programs.

You can also use this strategy for increased cash back. Pay attention to quarterly bonus categories on cash back cards. When possible, make your wedding purchases during times when you will receive maximum cash back.

You still need a wedding budget

A rewards card doesn't give you license to ignore the basic rules of budgeting. “Regardless of how you're planning on paying for the wedding, it's important to establish ground rules,” says Winkfield.

Mary Beth Storjohann, a certified financial planner and founder and CEO of Workable Wealth, agrees that sticking to a wedding budget is important. “Start with a number of what you are willing to spend on your wedding,” she suggests. “Have a set plan to pay off what you spend as quickly as you can.”

Storjohann points out that carrying wedding day debt into a marriage can set you back when it comes to other shared financial goals, such as buying a home or saving for retirement.

Your wedding-related card use should complement a budget that already exists, not provide an excuse to spend extra. Winkfield points out that high interest charges on credit cards can erase any benefits of rewards. Who cares if you are getting 5 percent cash back on your spending if your card carries a 19 percent APR? Your “free” $400 airfare doesn't matter if you wind up paying $600 in interest charges. For that reason, pay the card's bill in full and on time each month.

Winkfield suggests planning ahead by using online wedding budget templates to estimate costs. Then, start saving. As money builds in your bank account, you can begin charging wedding expenses — and then paying off card balances with accumulated cash.

“The very last thing you want to remember about your wedding day is card debt,” Winkfield says. “Whatever you charge, the equivalent in cash should be sitting in a bank account waiting to pay the bill.”