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5 Ways to Earn Rewards on Your Wedding

Eva Norlyk Smith Ph.D.

May 2, 2013

For many, credit cards and saving money don't go well together. And, often, neither do weddings and saving money.

But for the savvy credit card user, credit cards — especially rewards cards with sign-up bonuses — can be a way to save money on honeymoon expenses, and even shave 2 percent to 5 percent off some wedding costs.

“Weddings are expensive, but if you plan ahead, you can significantly reduce the cost of your honeymoon,” says blogger Daraius Dubash of the rewards cards blog MillionMileSecrets.com. “The trick is to use your wedding expenses to meet the minimum spending requirements for new travel rewards card bonuses, and then apply those rewards miles and points for your honeymoon.”

Dubash would know. By doing some smart planning, he and his wife accumulated enough miles and points via rewards cards sign-up offers to cover airfare and hotel stays for two honeymoons. For the first honeymoon, they flew to Paris first class and stayed for free at one of the finest hotels in Paris. For the second honeymoon, they flew to Bora Bora and stayed in an overwater bungalow, again courtesy their rewards cards bonuses.

“We paid $2,000 for the first honeymoon in addition to our miles and points, but it would have cost $32,000 otherwise,” says Dubash, who details the strategy of his rewards card honeymoon in this blog post.

Dubash's approach isn't for everyone. For people without much experience with credit cards and credit building, it can seriously backfire. But for soon-to-be-wed couples, credit cards can be a great way to save — or even upgrade

Use these five tips to save money on your wedding and honeymoon with credit cards.

1. Be honest. Think carefully about whether spending more on credit is a good choice for you and your-spouse-to-be. There are numerous pitfalls to mixing weddings and credit cards, and, the higher the credit limit, the greater the temptation to budget less and spend more. Unless you both have extensive experience with credit cards and know that they won't be a temptation for you, don't try this at home.

2. Consider the effect on your credit score. The trick to accumulating a big rewards balance is to apply for multiple rewards cards with sign-up bonuses and then charge enough to meet the minimum spending requirements. There are two ways this can affect your credit score:

First, applying for multiple credit cards within a short period of time could lower your score somewhat. The effect is usually small and short-lived, if you otherwise have good credit, but it needs to be considered. Secondly, and more significantly, carrying high balances on your cards in relation to your credit limit will affect your debt-to-limit ratio, which makes up 30 percent of your FICO score. So be sure you can quickly pay off the charges you make, preferably within a month or two to avoid interest charges.

3. Start early. Getting the most out of rewards card bonuses involves considerable lead time, so plan ahead. It takes two to four weeks between applying for a credit card and actually being able to use it. Meeting the minimum spending requirement to get the bonus reward will often take two to six months, depending on the amount required and the time frame set forth in the card agreement. Leave another four to eight weeks for the bonus to become available.

Once you receive the bonus, booking a flight or hotel room at the best available redemption rate also takes time and research. So to leave plenty of time for all these steps, ideally give yourself about a year.

4. Pool your resources. If you and your spouse-to-be both apply for the rewards cards you're interested in, sign-up bonuses quickly add up. Similarly, if family is helping fund some of the wedding expenses, be sure to coordinate with them to filter as many charges as possible through your rewards cards, so you can qualify for the sign-up bonuses faster and earn any extra cash-back bonuses.

5. Pick the cards best suited to your needs. There are many approaches to using credit cards to save on wedding expenses, and upgrading to a more lavish honeymoon is just one of them. You can also use credit cards to earn free flights and earn cash back to pad your wedding budget. Decide what your priorities are, and plan accordingly.

Need help navigating your many options? Here are some of the best cards for accelerated cash back, air miles and free hotel stays.

Best cards for honeymoon hotels

  • For free hotel stays, Dubash likes the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, which gives new users 40,000 rewards points if they spend $3,000 within three months. You can then transfer these points to Hyatt, and you will need to accumulate only 1,000 more points to get a two-night stay at a top-tier Hyatt like the Park Hyatt in Paris. You can get more nights by having your betrothed apply for a Chase Sapphire Preferred as well, or by picking a Hyatt hotel that requires fewer points for a free stay.
  • The Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve card awards new users a certificate for two free weekend nights after they spend $2,500 within four months. Similarly, the Chase Hyatt credit card also gets you two free weekend nights after spending $1,000 within three months.

Best rewards cards for free honeymoon travel

  • All the major airline credit cards, including those offered by Delta, United and American Airlines feature a 30,000 miles sign-up bonus, which is typically enough for one free domestic round trip flight. United and American Airlines have a spending threshold of $1,000 in the first three months, while Delta's is $500 in the first three months. You can also transfer the bonus miles to your spouse-to-be. These cards usually have an annual fee that is waived the first year.
  • The Capital One Venture card ($59 annual fee, also waived the first year) allows you to earn 2 miles for every dollar spent (the equivalent of 2 percent cash back). For an extra 10,000 mile bonus, spend $1,000 within the first three months). Capital One miles/points can be redeemed for flights, hotels, rental cars and more.

Best rewards cards to pad your wedding budget

  • The Chase Freedom card and the Discover It card offer 5 percent cash back in rotating categories, ranging from travel, restaurant, home improvement stores and more. Assuming you'd make these purchases anyway, you could earn 5 percent back on any wedding-related expenses that fall into those categories. Most cards also offer you a smaller rate (usually 1 percent) on all other purchases.
  • Cash-back cards come with sign-up bonuses, too. The Chase Freedom card offers an extra $100 bonus after you spend $500 within the first three months. The American Express Blue Cash Everyday card comes with a $100 sign-up bonus after you make $1,000 in purchases within the first three months. The card also gives you 2 percent back purchases in select department stores and 3 percent on grocery purchases.

If you decide to mix wedding planning and rewards cards, remember that the cardinal rule of good credit use still applies: Don't use plastic as an excuse to break your wedding budget. Otherwise big bills — and bad credit — will await you after the honeymoon is over.