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When Justin and Susana O’Shea moved to South Korea in 2010 to teach English, they got bitten by the travel bug. Eager to plan more trips but wanting to stay within their budget, together they turned to credit card rewards to help subsidize their travel.
“We were recent college grads, so we didn’t have much money to travel," says Justin, now a director of a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. “We started learning everything we could about how to maximize credit card points and miles so we could afford to go to more places for less money.” Soon they each had multiple credit cards that worked in tandem to help achieve their travel goals.
In the world of credit card rewards, working as a team has clear advantages, including the most obvious: the ability to amass more points together.
Whether you’re looking to take that once-in-a-lifetime trip, see the world with your family or just book a weekend getaway, it can be worth investing time with your partner — aka a "Player Two" — to harness the power of credit card rewards. Here's how the strategy can work for you.
Add an authorized user to maximize rewards from household spending ...
Couples who are considering ways to earn more credit card rewards together might naturally consider adding each other to their existing credit card accounts as authorized users. And there are certainly advantages to doing so.
Becoming an authorized user of someone else’s credit card can be beneficial to your credit scores, in part because it doesn't require a hard inquiry on your credit report. And it can ratchet up the total rewards earned from household spending. If Player One and Player Two both use the same card for their regular purchases, all rewards for that spending will accrue on one account.
When Greg and Mandy Polachek of Willard, Ohio, were first exploring how they could use rewards to help fund their trip to Alaska, they added Mandy as an authorized user on Greg’s premium travel credit card. Mandy got her own card, tied to Greg's account, which meant she, too, earned triple points per $1 spent on travel and dining. Plus, she was able to enjoy some of the account perks, like the ability to transfer points to travel partners, as well as airport lounge access if she were traveling without Greg.
... Or keep two separate accounts and collect two bonuses
What you typically can't get as an authorized user? A new cardholder sign-up bonus. Credit card issuers want qualified applicants to open and use their cards. So they offer a nice pile of points as an incentive to encourage you to apply for a new card and spend a certain amount of money on it. (Authorized users aren't opening up a brand-new account, hence they generally miss out on that perk.)
Opening a new credit card does initiate a hard pull on your credit report, which can ding your credit scores temporarily. But for many couples looking to rack up rewards in two-player mode, welcome bonuses are worth it and become a large part of the maximizing strategy.
“My biggest priority with two players is maximizing good welcome bonuses," says Brian Soares, a credit card-savvy attorney who loves to travel with his wife, Melissa. "If a card has an attractive offer, I try to get both of us to sign up for it.”
They don’t open cards just for the bonus; they look for cards that fit their travel goals over time. But the ability to earn two welcome incentives together instead of just one has helped the couple amass points more quickly — points that they've used to fly to Thailand, Europe, Japan and the Maldives, among other destinations.
Don't spend more than you normally would just to chase a sign-up bonus, as interest on a carried balance will eat away at the value of any rewards. To avoid interest, pay your bill in full and on time each month.
Combine 'free night' awards
Many co-branded hotel credit cards offer a free hotel night each year, a valuable benefit that can easily outweigh the annual fee typically found on such cards. And for a couple looking to travel, this can be an integral part of their strategy.
Emilia Rutigliano, a lawyer and author based in New York, and her husband, Giacomo, both hold multiple Marriott-branded credit cards and end up combining the free night certificates that come with their cards. “Because we travel with a caravan of extended family, often as many as 14 people, we use those certificates to book multiple hotel rooms.”
The O’Sheas do this, too.
“We double up on most hotel cards so that we get more free hotel stays," Justin O'Shea says. "We’re trying to travel as much for as little as possible. We each have Hyatt, Hilton and IHG cards.”
Wade in deeper by pooling your points
Some credit card rewards programs allow couples or family members to combine separate stashes of points, which is ideal if one person alone lacks the required amount for a particular redemption.
Chase Ultimate Rewards®, for example, allows cardholders to transfer points to one member of their household for free. Mandy Polachek can transfer the Chase Ultimate Rewards® earned from a no-annual-fee Chase card to Greg’s premium Chase card, which does carry an annual fee but also offers increased value for points redeemed for travel through Chase.
“It’s easy to transfer the points and we do it all the time," Mandy says.
Airline loyalty programs like JetBlue and Air Canada’s Aeroplan allow for family points pooling, too.
Approaches can differ
Some couples go all-in on a "two-player" credit card rewards strategy. Justin and Susana O’Shea learned together how to maximize their credit card rewards, and both are active in credit card and travel strategies.
“Traveling and maximizing rewards has become an integral part of our identity as a couple,” Justin O'Shea says.
Mandy and Greg Polachek treat planning trips with their credit card rewards as a mutual hobby. Greg likes to focus on how the couple can earn the most points, while Mandy excels at redeeming the points for outsized value.
But it's also common for other Player Twos to be more like silent partners in such a strategy. Emilia Rutigliano's husband, Giacomo, is a lifelong traveler full of wanderlust but isn’t interested in being an active participant in optimizing credit card rewards. As long as they get to travel and use rewards in the process, Emilia says, "we're both happy."