If you’re like most Americans, then your wedding is probably going to be expensive. But the honeymoon doesn’t have to be — as long as you book it with points and miles.
While wedding spending can feel painful, the bright side is that charging wedding expenses to the right credit card creates an opportunity to rack up travel rewards. Here’s what you need to know about booking your honeymoon with points and miles.
Step 1: Plan where you want to go and the points you’ll need
Have a particular resort in mind? Is your heart set on flying to one specific city? Decide where you want to honeymoon, as that may dictate the types of credit card rewards you’ll want to accumulate. The best credit card for re-creating a fairy tale at Disney World is not the best credit card to book a bungalow at the Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi.
If you’re unsure of your travels, that’s OK too. If you’re paying for the wedding now but the honeymoon planning hasn’t happened yet, it might make sense to go for a general travel card. These cards can be better than a specific, co-branded card anyway, as you’ll have the flexibility to use your points in more ways.
Planning your air travel
If you’re certain you want to fly on a particular airline, it might make sense to apply for a specific airline credit card, as you’ll often receive a big welcome bonus (more on that later) to fund your tickets, alongside other luxury benefits to make your honeymoon a little grander.
Especially if you’re planning to fly first class, airline-branded cards can prove to be worth their often-high annual fees. For example, with the $550-annual-fee Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card, you’ll receive a Delta Companion Certificate each year upon renewal. It’s essentially a buy-one-get-one ticket good for domestic flights — and if you’re booking an otherwise pricey first-class fare, that alone can be worth it (note that the companion certificate is not good for international flights).
You have to plan ahead with that card because you won’t receive this perk until after renewal upon completing your first year of having the card.
If you’re not committed to a certain airline or don’t need airline-specific perks like free checked bags or upgrades, but still intend to book your honeymoon using airline miles, consider a general travel credit card that allows you to transfer points to airline mileage programs.
Among the best options for earning and redeeming points for airfare is The Platinum Card® from American Express. You’ll earn 5x points on flights purchased directly from airlines or American Express Travel, you’ll receive access to more than 1,300 airport lounges worldwide with a Priority Pass membership and you’ll breeze through security faster with the card’s Global Entry and TSA Precheck credit. And all those Membership Rewards points you’ve racked up can be transferred to airline frequent flyer programs, which can be used to book flights using miles. Terms apply.
Planning your hotels
Like deciding between an airline-specific credit card versus a general travel card, the best strategy for optimizing credit card rewards for hotel stays depends on the hotel you’re staying at.
Premium hotel credit cards like the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card, Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card and World of Hyatt Credit Card generally come with benefits like free night certificates and automatic elite status, which can mean space-available room upgrades and late checkout.
It might make sense to get a co-branded credit card if you know specifically what hotel you’re honeymooning at. But don’t commit to a hotel credit card before picking your honeymoon destination; you don’t want to find yourself with tens of thousands of World of Hyatt points, only to find that your points mean nothing in Fiji because there’s no Hyatt there.
If you’re staying someplace that isn’t affiliated with a big hotel chain that has its own branded credit card (say, you prefer Airbnbs, boutique hotels, mom and pop bed-and-breakfasts or simply staying at someplace like a Walt Disney World Resort hotel), you’re probably better off with a general travel credit card.
With something like the Citi Prestige® Card, you’ll earn 3 ThankYou points per dollar on purchases at hotels. Couple that with the card’s twice-a-year, fourth-hotel-night-free benefit, and you could save a huge amount of money, especially on hotels with a high nightly rate.
Step 2: Assess your current cards to determine which ones to apply for
If you already have other travel cards, points or miles to your name, it’s time to do an inventory check on your existing stash before applying for new cards.
Especially if you’re on the fence about which new cards to apply for, it can make sense to pair complimentary cards. For example, the credit cards in Chase’s Freedom line (including the Chase Freedom Unlimited® and the Chase Freedom Flex℠) pair well with the cards in the Sapphire line (the Chase Sapphire Reserve® and the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card), because points are worth more when redeemed for travel in the Chase Ultimate Rewards® portal — which you’ll need a Sapphire card to access.
Pay attention to your ideal transfer partners too. If you already have a hotel- or airline-branded credit card and are looking for a general travel rewards card (or vice versa), find out who the transfer partners are. Two of the biggest travel credit card players, Chase and American Express, both offer the ability to transfer points to the rewards programs of various hotels and airlines. But check which brands align with each card — and make sure they align with your honeymooning preferences.
For example, if you already have a Chase Sapphire Reserve® and want to add a hotel card, it may not make sense to hold the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card, since you can’t transfer Chase points to Hilton (but you can transfer American Express Membership Rewards points to Hilton). Likewise, you can exchange Chase points for Hyatt points, but you can’t convert American Express points to your World of Hyatt account.
It’s more than just miles that matter. Other factors to consider when choosing a travel credit card should include whether you need travel protections (things like rental car coverage, lost luggage insurance, travel delay and accident insurance) and whether you’ll be honeymooning internationally, as some credit cards are not as widely accepted overseas or may charge foreign transaction fees.
Step 3: Take advantage of new credit card welcome bonuses
One of the best ways to get a big batch of points and miles is through a credit card welcome bonus.
The challenge: Many of the best welcome bonuses also require you to meet a hefty minimum spend requirement in order to earn them. For example, here’s the bonus on the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®: Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.
While you might have a tough time meeting a minimum spending requirement in your everyday life, consider this one of the few bright spots of putting a fat deposit down on your rehearsal dinner’s catering bill.
Step 4: Spend wisely and save your points
Now that you have a credit card, use it wisely.
Pay your bills in full: If you’re charging wedding expenses to a travel rewards credit card, make sure you pay your bill in full, on time, every billing cycle. If you can’t pay it in full each month, the high interest charges commonly seen on travel cards will quickly negate the value of any rewards you accrue.
Pay with a credit card as much as possible: Some wedding vendors may not accept credit cards, especially if it’s a small business or sole proprietor like your musicians or the photographer.
You may be able to pay them indirectly with a credit card through services like Plastiq. With Plastiq, you pay it the amount that you owe by credit card, and Plastiq pays your vendor through one of their preferred payment methods. In exchange, you pay Plastiq’s processing fee, which is typically about 2.85%. Paying that processing fee might make sense to meet a sign-up bonus, but do the math to ensure your fees don’t end up costing more than the value of any rewards you’ll earn.
Save up those points: Keep your eyes on the prize, the honeymoon. Don’t be tempted to spend your points on other purchases, no matter how enticing the Bose headphones or discounted gift card may seem. Spending points on items through programs like Southwest More Rewards, rather than on travel, typically turns out to be a poor use of points.
Step 5: Book your flights
Since flight prices can vary widely based on seemingly minute factors like which day of the week you’re traveling, most travel experts recommend booking flights first and then booking hotels and experiences that fit inside your flight itinerary.
Depending on the airline, there are various strategies for booking flights on points and miles. Here are our guides for booking award flights on points, broken down by major airlines:
Thinking of traveling first class for this special occasion? Consider transferring your credit card points to your frequent flyer account instead of redeeming through your credit card’s booking portal. The more expensive the flight, the better deal you’re more likely to get when you book with airline miles instead of credit card points.
Step 6: Book your hotel
Accommodations are another big-ticket honeymoon expense. You can use either credit card rewards or hotel points to book a room.
Depending on your hotel, there are tricks for booking rooms to get the most value out of your points. Here are our guides for booking hotel rooms on points, broken down by major hotel chain:
Pay attention to free night deals for staying longer: With honeymoons, there’s a good chance you’ll be staying for longer than a weekend. That’s a golden opportunity to take advantage of staying at the same hotel for a longer period of time (typically five nights or more).
Many hotels offer deals like “fifth night free.” Often there’s some sort of hurdle, like the reservation needs to have been made on points, booked over the phone or some other caveat. But for a honeymoon at a luxury hotel with a high nightly rate, this can amount to hundreds of dollars in savings.
Here are some of the best deals for longer stays:
The Citi Prestige® Card 4th-night-free benefit: You’ll receive a complimentary fourth night at a hotel of your choice after a minimum four-consecutive-night booking made through ThankYou.com and paid for on your Citi Prestige® Card, up to two times per calendar year.
Hilton Honors: When you book a five-night stay at a Hilton hotel using Hilton Honors points and have Silver status or above, you get the fifth night free.
Marriott Bonvoy: When you book a five-night stay at a Marriott property using Marriott Bonvoy points, you get the fifth night free.
Use free night certificates: Many of the top hotel credit cards offer free night certificates. Some of these awards have limitations, like they can only be redeemed on weekends, or at hotels worth up to a specified amount of points. Still, they can be worth the headache, as they’re generally worth at least a couple hundred dollars.
Typically, these free night certificates are doled out every year on your cardmember anniversary — another reason to apply for credit cards well in advance of your honeymoon.
Avoid resort fees: Another benefit to paying for hotels on points versus cash is you’ll possibly avoid paying resort fees. Some hotel loyalty programs waive resort fees on rooms booked with points, including Hyatt. Considering resort fees can easily cost between $30-$50 a night, that could be a few hundred dollars in savings over the course of your honeymoon, just for paying with points versus cash. Be sure to check your hotel's booking fine print to see if resort fees are applicable or not.
Step 7: Book experiences
Most airlines offer experience packages that you can book with points and miles, including cruises. Southwest, for example, offers tours, snorkeling, luaus and other activities in Oahu, Hawaii, all of which can be booked with Rapid Rewards points.
Chase Ultimate Rewards® allows you to book travel and activities directly through its booking portal. With something like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, points are worth 1.25 cents each. If you’re headed to Bali, Indonesia, on your honeymoon, you can book a “Best of Bali” tour that includes lunch for just 3,728 points per person.
Meanwhile, the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card let you pay for travel purchases and then erase those purchases with the points in your account. This is an easy option if you want to book an experience that’s not offered directly from a rewards program.
The bottom line
Booking your honeymoon with points and miles is a good way to save cash at a time when you might really need it to take the next big steps in your married life. Keep your paycheck in your bank account and enjoy your honeymoon without stressing about money as you use points and miles for everything from flights and hotels to once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
All information about the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card has been collected independently by NerdWallet. The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card is no longer available through NerdWallet.
How to Maximize Your Rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2021, including those best for:
Airline miles and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
Flat-rate rewards with no annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Premium travel rewards: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card