Wealth and Wants

How my spouse one-upped me on her cards rewards strategy

On a recent getaway, my wife scored us some major cash back


Once reluctant to join in on card rewards, my wife made some savvy cards rewards moves on a recent weekend getaway.

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My wife Chelsea dominated the credit card game during a recent trip to Washington, D.C., with some college friends.

Back in June, she booked her room at the Washington Hilton for $266 per night (including parking, but not tax). When she arrived in mid-October, she looked up the room’s current cost on her phone, and it was showing up as $149 per night (plus tax). She asked the front desk clerk to honor the $149 rate, but was denied. Undeterred, she asked to speak with the manager. The clerk said she would speak with the manager and would be right back. When the clerk returned, she said the manager was unwilling to lower the rate.

Chelsea tried again, saying she really wanted to speak with the manager herself. This time, the manager appeared, and after a brief (and cordial) conversation, agreed to the $149 price. This saved us $234, since it was a two-night stay. I admired her persistence and think this is great advice for everyone: recheck your hotel rates. This is best done a few days beforehand (since many hotels have 72-hour cancellation policies). If you find a lower rate, you can cancel and rebook to save money and avoid awkward conversations with hotel staff members. This strategy could work for a car rental, too.

Chelsea was inspired by Jacob Tomsky’s memoir, Heads in Beds, which advises politeness and addressing hotel staff by their first names (provided they introduced themselves – you’re not supposed to read off their name tags). The book also talks about finding common ground, which Chelsea did when she discovered that she and the manager both used to live in California. And her money-saving weekend didn’t stop there.

Maxing out on rewards categories, then paying everyone’s dinner bill

She then switched the hotel charges from our Capital One Quicksilver Card (1.5 percent cash back on everything) to our new Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card, which gives 3x points on travel and dining. And she paid a six-person dinner bill with the Propel card and had her friends pay her back with cash. The total check was $258, or $43 per person, split equally. After pocketing the rewards, she essentially got her meal for $35 (a 19 percent discount). Of course, this strategy only works if your friends pay you back (and hers did, immediately). did a survey earlier this year which found that almost half of people who have tried this maneuver got stiffed. That could negate the value of any rewards – and then some.

Her final bit of credit card glory came when she told me she used the Propel card to pay for gas. My initial reaction was that this was a small misstep, but she quickly corrected me. I didn’t realize the Propel card counts gas among its 3x points categories. I thought gas fell under “other purchases” that earn 1x points, and our Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express (2 percent back at U.S. gas stations) would have been a better choice.

On $59 in gas, the difference was a mere 59 cents, but the value of one-upping your spouse (who makes a living as a credit card expert, no less) can be priceless. Especially since I admitted to using the wrong card on a recent fill-up of my own!

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