I have seen a lot of wedding planning checklists and tips mention putting your wedding spending on a rewards credit card, but none of them mention any options or recommendations on which ones are better than others and which to avoid.
Weddings can be a great opportunity to earn a lot of rewards – but it can be really hard to find the best options out of the thousands that are out there.
I have spent a lot of time researching (and using) all kinds of rewards cards since well before I started planning my own wedding. I want to help you get the best rewards and benefits you can, and hopefully help you get your dream honeymoon!
I have been using rewards cards to earn thousands of airline miles for the past few years. For our honeymoon next year, we are flying around the world to New Zealand, Australia, London, and Paris – and all in business or first class. Normally, there is absolutely no way I could afford the $40,000 these flights would actually cost – but with miles and points, for both of us the cost for all of the flights combined (7 in all), was $867 to cover taxes and fees.
In addition to the actual ‘rewards’ you get from a rewards card, it can be a good idea to put wedding spending on a credit card anyways. Using a credit card gets you additional purchase protection over using a check or a debit card, through the issuing service (like Visa, MasterCard or American Express). Have you ever tried to do a chargeback on a check? It doesn’t work so well.
Some Rewards Card Basics
There are 3 basic categories of rewards cards:
Cash back cards
Cash back cards are the simplest type of rewards card, where you essentially earn some percentage back from each purchase you put on your card. This usually comes in the form of statement credits, where you can apply your earned ‘cash’ toward paying off your statement. Some even allow you to use your earned rewards to purchase things from retailers like Amazon or iTunes.
Usually, you earn 1-2% back on cash back cards, with some offering certain spending categories (like gas stations or grocery stores) where you can earn bonuses up to 5%.
Bank point cards
Like cash back cards, bank point cards earn some number of ‘points’ per dollar (again, usually 1-2), that you can use to ‘buy’ things through the bank’s redemption site. This can include all kinds of things, from small electronics, clothes, and gift cards – all the way to flights and hotels.
Usually the only good values for redeeming this kind of point are the travel rewards. Depending on the card, you may get to use your points as essentially cash, ‘buying’ flights or hotels (usually at 1 point = 1 cent). Sometimes you can use your points toward statement credits of travel purchases (similar to a cash-back card).
In some cases, the bank has hotel and airline ‘transfer partners’, where you can turn your bank points into airline miles or hotel points by transferring them from one program to another (at varying rates). In general, for programs where this is available, this is your best bet and offers the biggest opportunities to get amazing experiences.
The biggest advantage of cash back and bank point cards and programs is the flexibility you have in redeeming them for a wide variety of benefits. The drawback is that the value you can get from those redemptions is usually fixed to some extent. The biggest opportunities for leveraging rewards for extravagant getaways are in airline and hotel programs themselves.
Airline and hotel cards
Almost every airline and hotel chain has a co-branded credit card – a card that gives frequent flyer miles or hotel points for every dollar you spend on the card. You can then use those miles/points to get flights or free hotel nights with that airline or hotel chain.
The airline and hotel chains can sometimes have fairly complex redemption charts – basically what tells you what you can redeem your miles or points for and how much it will cost. As a result, a lot of people use their miles and points for low value rewards (like flying domestic on an international carrier like Delta). However, if you know where the sweet spots are, Airline and hotel programs offer the absolute best opportunities for extravagant travel. I leveraged a lot of airline and hotel points for my around-the-world honeymoon, and there is no way I could have done it with just cash back.
What about those recommendations?
Even though I think the best redemption opportunities are currently in the airline and hotel programs directly – I don’t recommend your first rewards card be an airline or hotel card (with one exception – we’ll get to that in a bit). Why? The problem is that airlines and hotel chains are constantly changing their award charts, so the best program for you to use changes – sometimes without notice.
Unless you have a specific goal in mind and a detailed plan to get there, your best bet to start with is a transferrable points card or a cash back card. Then, you have more flexibility in how you use those points until you are ready to take a more advanced route. These recommendations are focused on cards and programs that have that flexibility.
I also focus on using my rewards for travel, as opposed to just regular cash back. As a result, my recommendations also focus on rewards cards that are best when used for travel rewards.
Also, keep in mind that these recommendations are chosen with the idea that you are new to the whole ‘travel hacking’/miles and points game. These cards are pretty straightforward in their awards, and are very flexible in how you can use them.
Flexible rewards points allow you to take advantage of them in many different ways depending on what you want to do.
For example, say you want to take your honeymoon in Thailand, but the cost of flights are really hurting your budget. You can use your rewards toward airfare, and take advantage of them that way. Maybe you’ll even have enough to fly there in a super comfortable premium seat – sipping champagne as you fly over the Pacific.
On the other hand, if you wanted to honeymoon somewhere closer like Hawaii, you could instead use your rewards on a luxurious hotel or resort stay – maybe upgrade to a suite for that additional level of luxury?
Either I or my fiancée (or both of us) have every one of these cards, and they are good to great for everyday spending as well – so they are the kinds of cards that are worth holding onto and using regularly.
This cash-back card from Chase is an excellent first rewards card, especially if you don’t have a lot of credit history or experience with credit cards. It is easier to get approved for than some of the more ‘premium’ cards, and has some great benefits for those just starting out:
- No annual fee
- 0% APR for the first 15 months (you should always pay off your statement in full each month, but having zero interest is great ‘just in case’)
- 1% back on everything (unlimited)
- 5% back (on the first $1,500) on quarterly bonus categories:
- Jan – Mar: Gas stations, movie theaters, Starbucks
- Apr – Jun: Restaurants, Lowe’s
- Jul – Sept: Gas stations, Kohl’s
- Oct – Dec: Amazon, Zappos, select department stores
This is a card that is great even for everyday spending, especially for the bonus categories each quarter. The card doesn’t have a super attractive sign-up bonus (only $100 at the moment) compared with some of the other cards below, but if you want a super simple, no fee card to see if you want to try out a more ‘premium’ card later, this is a great first choice.
The interesting thing with this card is that while it is technically a ‘cash back’ card, if you have certain other Chase cards, you can turn your rewards from this card into transferrable points – making them more valuable than just on their own. We’ll take a look at one of these cards next.
This card earns Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which are transferrable bank points. You can use the points directly to pay for travel (or other things) through the Ultimate Rewards site, but I think the biggest value comes from the ability to transfer the points to airline and hotel programs directly. Transferring gives you a lot of flexibility and options for finding the best benefits for you. Right now the offering for the Sapphire card is:
- 40,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months
- No annual fee the first year ($95 after that)
- 1 point on all purchases
- 2 points on all travel and dining purchases
- No foreign transaction fees (really important for travel overseas)
- 7% annual point bonus for all earned points (so you effectively earn 1.07/2.14 points per dollar)
If you have the Freedom and Sapphire cards, you can transfer your Freedom cash back points (which are really Ultimate Rewards points) to the Sapphire account and use them toward travel and transfers as well!
Remember how I said that there was one hotel or airline card I would recommend as a starter card? This is it. The great thing about the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) card is that while it is a hotel card, the points are also transferable – to practically every airline – at a 1:1 ratio. Well, that isn’t exactly true – when you transfer 20,000 points to an airline, SPG adds an extra 5,000, so you get bonus points – which is awesome! That is in addition to being able to use your points for hotel stays with SPG hotels. The current offer for the SPG card is:
- 25,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 in the first 6 months (Update: see below)
- No annual fee the first year ($65 after that)
- 1 point on all purchases
- 5 points on SPG hotel spending
Update May 31: For the month of June, the signup offer for this card has been increased to 30,000 points after $5k in 6 months – but it is only available through someone who already has the card referring you. I have referrals available (I get 5k points if you are approved), so leave a comment if you’d like me to send you a referral.
This is another card that is good to use for everyday spending, and having the transferrable points to miles option is a great extra benefit.
The Barclaycard Arrival is a cash back card that earns at a better than average rate, and offers additional incentives for redeeming for travel statement credits. The current offer for the Arrival:
- 40,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in the first 90 days
- No annual fee the first year ($89 after that)
- 2 points on all purchases
- No foreign transaction fees
- 10% points back when redeeming for travel statement credits
- 0% APR for the first year
- Free TripIt Pro subscription
- Free FICO credit score access
There are a lot of cards like the Barclaycard Arrival (the most frequently brought up is the Capital One Venture card), but I prefer the Arrival for several reasons.
First – and most importantly – the points on the Arrival card can be used to partially cover statement charges. For example, let’s say you decide go on a cruise for your honeymoon, and it costs $600. If you only have 40,000 points in your account, you can still use those to ‘pay’ $400 toward the cruise – even though you can’t cover the whole cost! With the Venture card, if you don’t have enough points to fully cover the cost of the item, you can’t use your points. Plus, with the Arrival card, you’ll get back 4,000 of the points you redeemed toward your cruise.
In addition to that, the Arrival has a bigger signup bonus, and comes with some cool benefits like free FICO scores, so you can truly monitor your credit (which is important, especially if you want to get more advanced in travel hacking).
This card also recently got some cool new features like chip and pin technology – combined with the no foreign transaction fees, this is one of the most useful cards to use overseas in places like Europe where chip and pin tech is the norm.
The four cards above represent what I think are the best options right now for a general rewards card that will be useful as an everyday card as well. Again, these are all cards that I or my fiancée have, and these cards have helped us get the points for our crazy honeymoon.
I certainly don’t recommend you go out and apply for all of these all at once. If you want to keep things simple, pick one or two of these cards to apply for (on the same day – this reduces the impact on your credit score). Get the signup bonus, pay your bills on time, and you will find you quickly have some great options for adding a bit of extravagance to your honeymoon or other trip. The key is to always stay responsible with your credit, and you can get some pretty awesome stuff out of these rewards.
I also want to take this opportunity to address some of the common objections and questions people have whenever I talk about this stuff.
First, some people just don’t like credit cards. That’s fine. If you have really bad credit, or have a hard time keeping your spending in check – then by all means, stay away! You have to do what’s right for you, but I have found that for myself and those that are able to be responsible with regard to credit cards, we can get some great experiences out of it.
Secondly, some people are totally against ever having a credit card with an annual fee. That’s also fine. I have found that for me, the benefits I get from certain cards often outweighs the annual fee, so I am glad to pay for those – but that is a decision you have to make for yourself.
None of the cards I recommended here have an annual fee until at least the second year – and all except for the SPG Amex that do eventually have fees have ‘companion’ cards that offer fewer benefits but don’t have annual fees.
Those companion cards don’t have sign-up bonuses that are as good, so what I would recommend is to try out one of the annual fee cards for a year to see how you like it (and to get those sweet bonus points), and then when it gets close to that 1 year anniversary, see if paying the fee is worth it to you. If it isn’t, you can easily call up the card company and get moved to the no annual fee card.
Finally, there’s the whole idea of paying your wedding vendors with a credit card. Some smaller vendors will charge an extra fee to cover the card processing fees if you want to pay with a credit card. In almost every case where vendors do this, it is better to just pay with cash or a check.
Unless you are meeting a minimum spend amount for a signup bonus, the points you get are worth less than the fee charged by the vendor when they pass those fees on to you (this is how the credit card companies make their money, and how they can offer benefits to their customers – us).
However, most of the larger vendors I have encountered don’t pass their fees on to their customers, and cover the credit card fees as a part of doing business (just like any big company – Crate & Barrel doesn’t charge you more to use a credit card!).
Alternately, some vendors may offer a discount if you pay by cash – either way, only you can make the decision whether or not you are getting the best value by paying with a card or not. Myself, I usually try to pay by card whenever it makes sense.
There are lots of options out there for earning yourself some rewards for your wedding spending, but I really think these are some of the best options out there right now for getting the best value for reward travel. You might be surprised how quickly you can really rack up those rewards, and make your honeymoon that much more legendary!
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