Do I Need a Loyalty Account Before I Get a Co-Branded Card?

Jan 3, 2016

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TPG reader Barb sent me a message on Facebook to ask about when she should open a loyalty account:

“I’m thinking of joining IHG Rewards and applying for the IHG credit card. Does it matter which one I do first?”

The first step in my Beginner’s Guide is to open accounts with the major loyalty programs, since you need to establish those before you can earn points and miles for your travel. Opening an account generally takes just a minute or two, so it’s worth taking that step anytime you’ll be flying or staying with a given airline or hotel.

Opening an account beforehand is less important when you’re applying for a co-branded card. If you don’t already have an account, you’ll be automatically enrolled when your card application is approved. Any rewards you earn on your card will go into that account, including points, elite credits and free night certificates (or companion certificates in the case of certain airline cards).

If you do already have an account, you should provide your existing membership number when you apply for a co-branded card. Otherwise, you may end up with multiple accounts in the same program, which can lead to confusion over your rewards down the line. It’s a pretty common occurrence, and most loyalty programs make it easy to merge duplicate accounts, but you might as well save yourself any potential hassle by inputting the correct information from the start.

Loyalty programs occasionally offer incentives to new members — you might get a small bonus simply for signing up, or a larger bonus for also completing travel during a promotional period. For example, earlier this year JetBlue offered 7,000 points to new TrueBlue members after taking their first flight. These bonuses are less common than they used to be, but it’s worth keeping an eye out to see what’s available if you’re planning to sign up anyway.

If you have any other questions, please tweet me @thepointsguy, message me on Facebook or send me an email at

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