Wedding expenses are perfect for racking up credit card rewards. Here is how some couples charged ahead to make their wedding especially rewarding, and what the experts say is the best strategy.
In addition to formalizing mutual love, weddings are perfect for racking up credit card rewards.
If you’re like most engaged couples in the U.S., a lot of shopping is on the agenda. Data accumulated by WeddingWire.com found the average ceremony in 2018 totaled $38,700. Play your (credit) cards right, though, and all that spending can translate into valuable points and cash you can use for your honeymoon and beyond.
Here is how some couples charged ahead to make their wedding especially rewarding, and what the experts say is the best strategy. The last thing you want is for the charges to turn into lawfully wedded debt.
Tips to earn the most rewards from your wedding expenses
Begin with the budget
Patrick Gevas, a Miami-based vice president of the branding company GreenRoom, says his entire wedding planning process revolved around maximizing credit cards rewards. It started with knowing how much he and his fiancé were willing to spend on the entire affair.
“Thankfully, my husband is quite savvy with numbers as he’s working in an accounting department,” says Gevas. “We worked backward. Once we had budget estimates for everything, we devised a rigorous savings plan to make sure we didn’t go into debt.”
The couple reduced all nonessentials, and applied every spare dollar, including tax refunds and gifted money, to the wedding fund.
“It was a great exercise before marriage about sacrifice and commitment,” says Gevas. “We had our eye on the prize, so it quickly became routine and showed us it was possible!”
See related: 6 reasons to put all your wedding expenses on one credit card
Get the right cards
According to Lynnette Khalfani-Cox, CEO and co-founder of AsktheMoneyCoach.com, choosing the correct credit product for the job is essential. The accounts should be appropriate for both wedding and normal expenses.
“A J.D. Power study found that 1 out of 5 consumers carries and use the wrong card,” says Khalfani-Cox. “Folks are often paying hefty annual fees, from $100 to $500 a year, but may not be using the perks that offset the costs.”
Review all the rewards card options in your credit rating category, and carefully select among them:
- Points. With this type, you’ll accumulate points each time you charge. The typical rate is 1 point per dollar spent, but can go much higher during certain times of the year or for different spending categories. Points can be traded in for a variety of goodies, such as airfare, gift cards and sometimes products from the company’s shopping portal.
- Travel. If travel is in your future, a card specifically designed to make it easier and cheaper may be for you. The point-based rewards program is designed to help cardholders earn free airfare and hotel rooms and achieve elite member status. Other benefits may include complimentary bag check, TSA Precheck/Global Entry, and airport lounge access.
- Cash back. These cards offer a cash rebate on the amount you charge. The rewards may be tiered so you’ll earn more on some categories and in different quarters, or offer a flat percentage back. Which you should get depends on your management style. You can accumulate more points with a tiered card, but it requires attention, as opposed to a flat rate card that offers a lower rebate, but may be simpler to manage.
Analyze yourself, your needs and the card’s benefits, then get the best account within reach. That’s what Jodi Lin Gresham, a publicist living in Wyckoff, New Jersey, did. When she was planning her wedding, she honed in on the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express card because it suited the couple’s travel goals.
“We like to rack up points that allow us to stay free at any of their properties and we had our eye on the St. Regis Monarch Beach for our mini-moon [an intimate version of a honeymoon],” says Gresham.
By using that card for all their wedding expenses, she thought there would be enough points for a free stay, yet they fell short. The credit card issuer helped out, however. After Gresham explained that more wedding spending was coming, they gave her an advance on the points.
(Note that the Starwood Preferred Guest card is no longer available, as the SPG loyalty program has been rebranded as Marriott Bonvoy.)
Maximize the sign-up bonus
As you’re searching for the right credit card, turn your attention to the products that come with big sign-up bonuses, recommends Isadora Martin-Dye, owner of Rixey Manor, a wedding venue in Northern Virginia.
“Many get them when they’re first planning the wedding so they can collect points for the honeymoon,” says Martin-Dye, who helps engaged couples with budgeting and credit advice. “Sign-up bonuses are a big part of it.”
The value of these bonuses can be impressive. 50,000 points can score you two free round-trip coach tickets for domestic travel, and many cards, like the Citi Premier® Card, offer that much or more. The Citi Premier currently offers 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in purchases in the first 3 months of account opening.
Cash back card bonuses come in the form of straight-up money, such as the Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card, which gives $300 to new account holders after they spend $3,000 within the first three months of account opening.
“Watching for sign-up bonuses is important,” says Gevas.
After much consideration, he landed on two cards for his wedding plans, the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which has a sign-up bonus of 50,000 points after spending $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months and the American Express® Gold Card, which has a 35,000-point welcome bonus after spending $4,000 on eligible purchases in the first 3 months.
“We were able to take advantage of one of those since we knew we’d be able to meet the spending minimums.”
To reap these sign-up bonuses you’ll have to charge a certain amount by a fixed time-frame, which is usually a few thousand dollars within three months of opening the account. Based on the normal shopping for a wedding, hitting the minimum spend shouldn’t be a problem.
Keep in mind that some rewards cards have annual fees, especially those with the larger sign-up bonuses, so make sure you’ll come out ahead. And whichever card you use, delete the balances quickly. Otherwise, warns Khalfani-Cox, the interest that will be added to the revolving balance will erode the value of your cash or points.
See related: How not to go broke as a wedding guest
Use your engagement time wisely
Once you’ve determined your wedding’s total estimated cost, added savings to it and have chosen the right cards, use the time before the wedding wisely. The average engagement is 12 to 18 months, according to Brides Magazine.
“We planned for a full year, and cards were definitely part of our plan from the beginning,” says Gevas. “We knew we wanted to go overseas and take an extended amount of time off work to travel around Europe and wanted to maximize all of our points as much as possible. We also did research on how many points certain properties and first-class flights require as we wanted to make our honeymoon as special as possible.”
Gresham only had six months to arrange her “midcentury glam vibe wedding,” so she used her card for anything she could, including many bicoastal flights in search of the right venue, food tastings, rental cars, the rehearsal dinner and much more. To steer clear of debt, they paid the bills to zero each month.
As you’re planning, don’t assume everyone will take credit cards, however.
“Many vendors, such as DJs, photographers, caterers and florists won’t accept them,” says Martin-Dye. “They don’t want to be charged the processing fees that can be a couple of percentage points of the price, and that will eat into their profits.”
When you’re anticipating rewards, always ask first. Every dollar is meaningful when you’re spending a lot, so if you’re counting on $100 cash back for a $10,000 catering charge that doesn’t pan out, you’ll need to rework your budget a bit.
As you’re charging along, track your spending activity. You can preserve your credit score by knowing the limit for each credit card and keeping the charges to under 30 percent of the limit.
For example, if the limit is $5,000, your monthly charges shouldn’t exceed $1,500. That shouldn’t put too much of a crimp in your plan. Assuming you have three credit cards designated for the wedding, each with a $5,000 limit and a year to spend, it would cover over $50,000 worth of expenses ($1,500 x 3 x 12 = $54,000).
Also, pay the bill in full and on time. This way you’ll simultaneously buy what you need, accrue points, avoid debt and raise your credit scores.
But if you go a little overboard, Martin-Dye suggests turning your attention to 0 percent APR cards.
“Many have rewards attached, but you won’t be charged any interest for a year or so.”
See related: How to finance an engagement ring
Know how and when you’ll use the rewards
A major part of the “credit card rewards for wedding spending” plan is preparing to redeem what you’ve earned. If it’s cash, it might be to pay off the charges you’ve been making along the way, or it could be to buy goods and services for the wedding for less.
You might want to trade points in for discounted gift cards to present to members of the wedding party, spring for something for your home from the card issuer’s shopping portal or book flights and a hotel room for your honeymoon. Whatever it is, confer with your partner and decide together what you want to do with them.
“Just don’t cash in your points haphazardly,” says Khalfani-Cox. “Each card is different, so spend the time to research the way you can get the most out of the rewards. For example, using points for airline tickets for free flights will usually give you the best bang for your buck, but not always. Check first.”
Be transparent with account activity
As you and your betrothed are charging along, make a point of regularly checking in with each other and discussing where you are financially. This is a unique opportunity to learn how to discuss your personal finances before you’re officially merged.
“You’ve got to be committed to an honest conversation about money and credit,” says Khalfani-Cox. “70 percent of all couples cite financial issues as a reason for divorce, and it’s usually because someone is hiding things.”
Pull out the statements, talk about the charges and review point and cash accumulation. Be positive and candid.
“In the end, it will lead to fewer arguments, less stress and a firmer foundation for the relationship,” says Khalfani-Cox.
Therefore, if you’re suddenly craving a $6,000 gown, but your agreed-upon budget for it was $2,000, don’t just charge the difference to justify the rewards, and hope your partner won’t notice or care. It’s still money spent, and it needs to fit with what you’ve already determined is within your means. In short, this is not the time to slip something through.
Keep profiting from your new cards after you say ‘I do’
After you’ve said your “I dos” and your dream trip has been Instagrammed, you’ll be left with a credit card (or a few) to use advantageously. These cards are now an integral part of your portfolio. Maintain the “rewards for charging” strategy, while sticking to the on-time payment schedule and no (or very low) revolving debt.
Then, not only will you be guaranteed to profit from your credit cards, but your credit scores will soar, too.