Sunday Reader Question: How Does Marriage Change Your Points Strategy?

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TPG reader Shan writes:

“My wife and I have been amateur points fanatics for over a decade now.  Since finding your blog, I realized how amateur we really were. My question my be helpful for some of your readers:  How does your credit card points strategy change within a marriage (i.e. each applying for the same/different cards)?  With two people applying, can you theoretically collect points twice as fast in one household?  Do any of your readers have experience with this?”

How does that Wrigley’s slogan go – Double your pleasure, double your fun? That’s how I feel about couples who are in pursuit of the mileage game! Don’t make one person wear the “points” in the relationship – you should both be participating to fuel your joint account.

So to answer your questions:

1) Should you be applying for the same cards? Maybe. As I always say, you should diversify your point strategy so that when it comes time to redeem you have lots of options. However, you don’t want your points to be too scattered where you don’t have enough in any combination of accounts to book the same awards. The best tip I have is to focus on building up points in transferable programs, like Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest. They allow you to jointly build up points that can be transferred to a number of different airline and hotel programs, giving you maximum flexibility. (See below for a quick rundown).

2) Can you collect points twice as fast? Yes, in some instances. Most credit card bonuses are eligible once per person, not household. So for example, if you and your spouse both apply for the Sapphire Preferred card (the best deal on the market right now), you would each get the 50,000-point sign-up bonus (Update: sign-up bonus has been reduced to 40,000 points) and could then combine your total of 100,000 points into one central Ultimate Rewards account.

As for household income, many credit card applications will let you combine household income. If not, you can still get approved for cards if your income isn’t substantial just by having a good credit score. Income is just one piece of the pie that credit card companies use to evaluate your credit worthiness.

As for the programs you should focus on, there are three main points programs that will let you share and combine points free of charge.

1) Chase Ultimate Rewards will let you combine points with anyone else. Those Chase points can then be transferred to airlines (United, British Airways, Southwest, Korean) and hotels (Hyatt, Marriott and Priority Club) – as well as Amtrak. Tack on some lucrative online shopping bonuses and maximizing the category bonuses (for Sapphire Preferred you get 2 points per dollar on travel and dining and for Ink Bold the bonuses are 5 points per dollar on office supply stores, cable and wireless service and land-line communications, and 2 points on gas and hotels.

Key cards: There are currently 50,000-point sign-up bonuses for the Sapphire Preferred (expired) and Ink Bold cardsboth have the $95 annual fee waived for the first year.

2) American Express Membership Rewards allows you to pool points if you are an additional cardholder, but if you have separate Amex accounts you can’t combine. However you can both transfer to one person’s frequent flyer account so you can book awards from one centralized account. Amex airline transfer partners are: Air Canada Aeroplan, Singapore, All Nippon Airlines, British Airways, Iberia, Delta, Air France/KLM Flying Blue, Alitalia, Aeromexico, Airtran, Virgin America, Virgin Atlantic, El Al, Frontier, JetBlue, Hawaiian.

Key cards: 50,000-point bonus for the Mercedes-Benz Platinum card ($475 annual fee), 25,000 points for Platinum ($450 annual fee) and 15,000 points for Premier Rewards Gold ($175 annual fee waived the first year).

3) Starwood Preferred Guest will allow people who live in the same household (who have the same address on file for over a month) to transfer points in between accounts free of charge. Starwood points transfer to numerous partners like American Airlines, Delta and British Airways (full list with transfer ratios here).

Key cards: 25,000 bonus points for both the Personal and Business SPG Amex.

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