Summer Hull writes the weekly “Get to the Points” column for CreditCards.com
When I met my husband over a decade ago, he hated flying, rarely traveled and had a bankruptcy on his credit report. As a result, he had no credit cards, and certainly none that awarded meaningful rewards for his everyday spending.
In the years since, he has grown to appreciate travel, especially when done at the front of the plane, no longer has a bankruptcy on his credit report and has multiple premium rewards-earning credit cards.
This has been a slow and steady process that took many years, but we are now at the point where we can divide and conquer when it comes to rewards credit cards to really amp up the miles, points and perks for our family.
Not surprisingly, two people racking up rewards in the world of rewards cards is better than one, but it does take some additional strategy to play your collective cards right.
The pros and cons of being an authorized user
While being an authorized user on a credit card does not prevent you from getting that same credit card and sign-up bonus down the road in your own name, it can complicate matters a bit, so we generally don’t add each other as authorized users on most new card accounts.
There’s the obvious issue that the primary account holder is still responsible for the authorized user’s charges, but there’s a less obvious downside that being added as an authorized user can work against you when issuers look at how many new accounts you have opened in the past two years.
For example, with some Chase cards you can’t get approved if you have opened five or more new card accounts across all banks in the past 24 months. Based on my own experiences and others’ online reports, their system’s initial scan of your credit history seems to count authorized user accounts against you when totaling accounts. If you talk to a real person at the bank and explain it is an account on which you are just an authorized user, the bank represenative will not include it in your new account totals, but that still adds an extra layer of complexity I prefer to avoid.
However, if you only have one or two rewards credit cards, that won’t be a problem for you, and it may be simplest for both spouses to have charging privileges on the same account.
With cards such as the American Express Platinum card*, being an authorized user also can be a less expensive way to share perks, including Centurion Lounge access. A primary AmEx Platinum account costs $550 per year, but you can have up to three authorized users for a total of $175 per year, and those authorized users can access the airport lounges and more without the primary account holder being present.
When it makes sense to get two of the same card
Sometimes when a sign-up bonus or built-in credit card perk is really good, we get two of them. For example, my husband and I both hold the Hyatt credit card * ($75 annual fee) because we both wanted the sign-up bonus – an annual award night valid at any Category 1-4 Hyatt hotel. (This summer, the Hyatt card sign-up bonus was changed to 40,000 points if you spend $2,000 in first three months.) Plus, the Hyatt card keeps running deals unique to primary cardholders that make it more than worth the annual fee for each of us.
While you won’t probably want to have and hold two of every card, when a deal is really hot it can make sense to double up by having each partner go for the card. As an added perk, sometimes the first spouse with the card can use the bank’s refer-a-friend feature to refer the second spouse in order to rack up additional points. This is exactly what we did with the Chase Ink Business Preferred * card ($95 annual fee) when I applied for it and its sign-up bonus of 80,000 points. I referred my husband to the card so he could get the same sign-up bonus, and then I also earned 20,000 additional points for the successful referral.
Deciding who gets which card
While doubling up on some cards may be worth it, in many cases it doesn’t make sense in the long term since that also means you have two annual fees to pay. If you and your spouse normally travel together, you don’t necessarily need your own individual cards since the perks usually extend to others on the same reservation.
For example, the Gold Delta SkyMiles * credit card ($95 annual fee, waived the first year) provides cardholders priority boarding and a free checked bag on Delta operated flights. However, this benefit is not limited to just the cardholder, but extends to up to eight others on the same reservation, so it may not be necessary for both spouses to keep cards with overlapping benefits.
When deciding who gets and keeps each card on an ongoing basis, you may want to consider who is most likely to need a card’s specific perk when traveling solo, since most of the built-in rewards card perks require that the primary cardholder be traveling.
Keeping up with payments and fees
The biggest downside of having spouses who both obtain and use their own rewards credit cards is simply having twice as many accounts to track.
Once you go beyond two or three active credit card accounts in the family, you probably need a really solid system to track everything so you don’t miss out on a spending bonus, payment date or annual fee. You can usually contact the issuer to have the due dates set on the same date, which can help with your monthly bookkeeping.
I also highly recommend using some sort of tracking system, whether it is an online banking site or a good old-fashioned spreadsheet to track payments, due dates and more. In my house, we try to go over all our card accounts at least every week or two together to make sure we are staying on top of what we owe, and what perks we have earned.
There is some additional strategy required when coming up with a rewards credit card strategy for two, but it is worth it when you see double the perks start rolling in!
* The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date. Please see the bank’s website for the most current version of card offers.