TPG beginner’s guide to planning a honeymoon of a lifetime

Dec 29, 2019

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One of the most common questions we get here at The Points Guy is, “What credit card should I use for my honeymoon?

And for good reason. We know we aren’t the first to tell you this, but honeymoons — to say nothing of the actual weddings themselves — can be expensive. Even if you don’t want to splash out, your honeymoon is likely one of the biggest (as in, most memorable and important) trips you’ll ever go on, regardless of total cost or duration.

Consider the fact that the average wedding in the U.S. costs $33,931, according to The Knot. And no, that doesn’t include the cost of a honeymoon. The reception venue alone averages around $15,439. Add in another $2,679 for the photographer and $4,247 for the band. A wedding dress costs on average $1,631 — though easily much more — and the cake can set you back $528. Expect to drop $386 for invitations, $2,411 for flowers and another $102 for the makeup artist. It’s easy to see how it all adds up.

But epic honeymoons don’t have to be wildly expensive or super stressful to plan. At least, not if you follow TPG’s guide to planning a perfect honeymoon (yes, this even applies to those of us who just got engaged in the Maldives! Congrats Brian!).

Here, we’ll outline everything the two of you need to know, from the best credit cards to have in your wallet to our favorite romantic hotels — even the best flights for couples — to make sure you have an unforgettable honeymoon.

New to TPG? See our Beginner’s Guide.

Before you get started

First things first: Your vows.

No, we’re not talking about the ones you’ll exchange with your fiance. We’re talking about the ones between you and us, the people on the other side of your screen. They go a little something like this:

I vow to use a credit card to pay for all of possible wedding expenses, to have and to hold and to swipe, from this day forward until death do us part. And I promise to pay all my bills on time and in full every single month, and only use my credit card for purchases I can afford.

Yes, dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to put an end to your relationship with your debit card. It might be a tough breakup for some of you, but just like what happened with your last relationship before the relationship, you’re better off in the long run. By using a debit card, you’re essentially throwing money down the drain. Instead of earning valuable points and miles that you could be squirreling away for your honeymoon, you’re getting … nothing. Nada. Zilch. With all the money you’re going to drop on the venue, catering and floral arrangements, you could be halfway to the Maldives. More on that later, though.

(Photo by kelly sikkema/Unsplash)
It may be tough but it is best for the both of you to break up to save the honeymoon. (Photo by kelly sikkema/Unsplash)

The key thing you really have to remember — and take seriously — is that you still need to pay all of your bills on time and in full every single month. Don’t just get a credit card, rack up a ton of debt on a four-piece live band and custom invitations and then make minimum payments. Make sure you can actually afford what you’re purchasing because interest sucks away the overall return of your rewards.

Best credit cards for your honeymoon

Let’s talk a little bit about the cards you should be using to plan the aforementioned honeymoon of a lifetime, no matter where in the world you want to go (we heard you: we know you want to go to the Maldives — we’ll get there).

There are three main types of credit cards: general travel rewards cards, co-branded airline cards and co-branded hotel cards. General travel rewards cards earn you bonus points on everything from dining to airfare, no matter where you spend, while co-branded airline cards earn you bonus miles with certain airlines and sometimes in a few extra bonus categories. The same is true for co-branded hotel cards.

Related: TPG from A-Z: Your complete travel glossary

But not all cards are created equal. Seeing as how you’re likely about to spend a lot of money on your wedding, you’re going to want to apply for a card that will earn you the most points or miles possible. The good news is, since there’s two of you, you can apply for at least two credit cards. Whether you’re both earning points or miles for the same program or focusing on different goals, you can split the wedding expenses and (probably without too much fuss) meet both minimum spends. The result? Two welcome bonuses.

The key here is to decide where you want to go first, and then apply for credit cards with points you’ll be able to use to get there. That’s a little something we like to call an award redemption. There’s some strategy here, so we’ll break it down so you can figure out the best one for your needs:

Travel rewards credit cards

Our top picks in this case for points-earning travel rewards credit cards are the The Platinum Card® from American Express (for 5x points on airfare booked directly with the airline or through American Express Travel) the American Express® Gold Card (4x points on dining worldwide and 4x points at U.S. supermarkets; on the first $25,000 in purchases per year; then 1x), the Chase Sapphire Reserve (3x points on both dining and a broad definition of travel) and Chase Sapphire Preferred Card (2x on both dining and broader travel).

What does this mean? It means, depending on which card you have, all those takeout orders, Lyfts or Ubers and flights will start to add up really quickly. Let’s say, for example, you have the Amex Gold and go to get a salad at Sweetgreen that costs $16 — you’d earn 64 points. Those 64 points won’t get you anywhere, but they do add up over time.

(Photo by Isabelle Raphael)
(Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy.)

Airline and hotel co-branded credit cards

Now let’s talk a little about airlines and hotels, which requires another layer of strategy. Having a specific trip or destination in mind can help you accumulate the points and miles you need to get there. That’s exactly why the best card (or cards) for every person depends entirely on your personal travel goals — and common spending categories.

If there’s a certain hotel you want to stay at or a flight you’ve been dreaming of experiencing (Singapore Suites! Qsuite! St. Regis Maldives!) you’ll want to get a card that will either earn you points with said airline or hotel brand, or can be transferred to the right loyalty program or alliance.

Let’s say, for example, you want to fly in Delta One Suites to Tokyo (HND) and stay at the Conrad (for what it’s worth, I’m obsessed with Tokyo. Go there). You’d likely want to get either a Delta co-branded credit card, where you’ll earn bonus miles on Delta flights, in addition to bonus SkyMiles for signing up, or an American Express Membership Rewards credit card, since you can transfer the points you earn on it to Delta.

You’d also likely want to get a Hilton credit card, such as the Hilton Honors Card from American Express, Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card or the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express, so you can redeem Hilton Honors points for a stay at the Conrad.

Welcome bonuses alone can add up quickly. For example, the Hilton Surpass Card is currently offering 125,000 bonus points after after you use your new Card to make $2,000 in eligible purchases within the first 3 months of Card Membership. Those 125,000 points — not to mention whatever you spent to earn them — would put you close to two free award nights at the Conrad in Tokyo.

(Photo by Wyatt Smith / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy.)

Using a credit card travel portal

You can also redeem credit card points directly through the bank’s travel portal.

If you’ve accumulated Chase Ultimate Rewards points through, say, your Sapphire Reserve or Sapphire Preferred cards, you could book your trip Chase’s travel portal or transfer your points to a hotel program. When you book through the portal your Preferred points are worth 1.25x, while Reserve points are worth 1.5x. Sometimes, you’ll get a better deal overall by booking directly through Chase than by transferring points — plus you’ll earn points and miles since you’re “paying” with points. It will take a little bit of research and due diligence, but is definitely worth it in the long run.

You can do the same with Amex Membership Rewards points, too. It allows you to redeem American Express Membership Rewards points at Amex Travel directly for travel reservations and activities rather than transfer your rewards to airline or hotel partners such as Delta SkyMiles or Marriott Bonvoy. Same principle applies here: Do you research first.

How to earn points and miles

There are a few ways to earn points and miles — which I go into more detail with our general Beginner’s Guide — but the major ones are: sign-up bonuses/welcome offers, shopping portals, purchasing and traveling (flying and staying).

Sign-up bonuses/welcome offers will be a key part of your strategy while planning your honeymoon. It’s essentially a card issuer’s way of saying, “If you spend a certain amount of money in a certain amount of time, you’ll earn a certain amount of points or miles.” Not all cards have equal offers, so you can check out our current list of best cards here. Like I said earlier, between the two of you and the sign-up bonuses you’ll earn, you’ll be on your way to your dream honeymoon award redemption in no time.

Think about it this way: A live wedding band costs $4,247 on average, as we talked about earlier. Let’s say you apply for The Platinum Card® from American Express card and put the cost of the band, as well as $528 for the cake and $386 for invitations on it all within the first three months. Mazel tov! You’ve hit the minimum spend requirement ($5,000 in the first three months) to earn the 60,000-point welcome offer, and can now transfer those points (plus the points earned on purchases) to partner airlines such as Singapore, Etihad and ANA.

Related: These are the best cards for everyday spending.

As another example, think about how you’ll have to pay, on average, $2,679 for the photographer and $2,411 for the florist, according to the 2018 study from The Knot. (Don’t hate us, we’re just using the averages.) If you’re looking to stock up on Chase points to use for partners such as Singapore, United, British Airways or Air France, you’ll want to sign up for the Chase Sapphire Reserve. You’ll earn the 50,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months in no time. And those points transfer at a 1:1 ratio to Chase’s airline and hotel partners.

You could also add into the mix The World of Hyatt Credit Card. It’s currently offering 25,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening, and 25,000 more bonus points after spending $6,000 total on purchases in the first six months of account opening. You’re probably going to hit that bonus in no time with all of those wedding expenses.

Now let’s say you want to go to Aruba on your honeymoon. You can use those aforementioned 50,000 bonus Hyatt points to cover two nights at the Hyatt Regency Aruba. Want to stay longer? Of course you do. Take those 50,000 points from the Sapphire Reserve, transfer them to Hyatt, and now you can book four nights. Want St. Kitts instead of Aruba? Do the same thing at the Park Hyatt St. Kitts to the tune of 30,000 Hyatt points per night.

But you’re not swimming to Aruba or St. Kitts, so you still need flights. Those Amex points you earned with your Amex Platinum card can be transferred to British Airways. Use your British Airways Avios to book flights on American Airlines to carry you and your loved one from say Miami to Aruba for just 9,000 points each way (plus taxes and fees). That means your 60k Amex bonus points are more than enough for two round-trip tickets to paradise.

Another way to look at this? JetBlue flies their incredible Mint business-class product from New York-JFK and Boston Logan International (BOS) to Aruba (AUA) — a pretty stylish way to start off your honeymoon.

JetBlue Mint (Photo by Alberto Riva / The Points Guy)
JetBlue Mint (Photo by Alberto Riva/The Points Guy.)

And we’ve seen deals on one-way flights in Mint from the East Coast to Aruba for as little as 20,400 points, plus $15.60 in taxes and fees. Plus, Aruba has a host of other points hotels, including the Ritz-Carlton, Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino and the Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino.

Both Marriott and JetBlue are Chase transfer partners, so if you both opened a credit card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you would have a combined 100,000 points from the sign-up bonuses alone, which could be used to cover two nights at The Ritz-Carlton, Aruba or three nights at the Renaissance, during off-peak dates. Or, you could wait for another serious deal on Mint flights, and use those points to take a lie-flat seat to your honeymoon in Aruba.

Of course, this is just one example: There are countless other ways you can divide and conquer.

Depending on where you’re having your wedding, you may even be able to get bonus points on the whole shebang. How, you ask? Well, if your wedding is at a hotel, you’re in luck. The entire purchase might code as travel on your statement, meaning you’ll want to put the spend on a credit card that earns you bonus points on travel, such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve (3x) or Chase Sapphire Preferred Card (2x). Depending on the brand, you might also get rewarded with bonus points from the hotel for your sizable purchase.

(Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy.)

Similarly, if you’re hosting your wedding at a catering hall, you’ll want to pay for it all with a card that earns you bonus points on dining. We’d recommend the American Express® Gold Card (4x) or the Chase Sapphire Reserve (3x).

And that live band we keep mentioning? We have some tricks up our sleeve here, too. We recommend the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card, since you earn 2x miles on all purchases, or the Citi Premier℠ Card, also for 2x points. For more on this, check out our guide for the best cards for entertainment spending. Of course, this all comes down to how your purchase codes with your credit card, so if there’s a way to do a smaller test charge (say, a down payment), before deciding which card to use for the main bill, that’s ideal.

The information for the Citi Premier card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Where to go on your honeymoon

The best destinations for your honeymoon will depend on what time of the year you’re planning on traveling. I mean, you don’t want to end up in Thailand during the rainy season, do you? No matter which destination(s) you’re eyeing, be sure to do some research first.

On that note, you might want to consider doing a mini-moon before you go on your actual honeymoon, too. This is a good option especially if the month you want your wedding isn’t the best month go to on your honeymoon. Plus, it gives you another chance to rack up more valuable points and miles.

We rounded up some of our all-time favorite honeymoon destinations, plus how to get there and stay there on points and miles, just to get you started.

The Maldives

We know: You and everyone else wants to go to the Maldives. With views like these, we can’t say we blame you.

(Photo by Marco Prosch/Getty Images)
(Photo by Marco Prosch/Getty Images.)

Because of its remote location and clutch of ultra-luxurious overwater bungalows and villas, the Maldives are often considered a once-in-a-lifetime trip. This, my virtual friends, is where points and miles come in. With resorts such as The St. Regis, Park Hyatt and Conrad Maldives, your luxury points redemption choices here are some of the best you’ll find. Just keep in mind those hotel and resort transfer fees from Male International Airport (MLE) can add up pretty quickly, so plan accordingly. It’s a journey and a half to get here, but once you’re here, we have a feeling you’ll never want to leave.

However, there is very much a monsoon season in the Maldives, so again, research the best times of the year to visit the Maldives, or be ready for lots of cozy days indoors while rain falls on your overwater villa.

Japan

Ask anyone who’s been to Japan before and they’ll tell you how much they absolutely love it there (yours truly included). From the cuisine to the culture, your experience in Japan will be pretty much unparalleled. It’s also a solid strategy to fly to a city like Tokyo first, and then make your way to more remote cities and countries in Asia: Here’s how to do it right.

French Polynesia

You don’t need to fly all the way to arguably one of the most remote places on earth to have an epic honeymoon — and you don’t have to take the easy way out by going to the Caribbean, either (although you can’t go wrong with that!).

The St. Regis Bora Bora. Photo by Zach Honig / The Points Guy.
The St. Regis Bora Bora. (Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy.)

French Polynesia is a great middle ground between the two, and the tropical archipelago comprises some of the most sought-after destinations on Earth: Tahiti, Bora Bora and Mo’orea. No matter which island you have your sights set on, you’ll have to fly into Faa’a International Airport (PPT). We rounded up the best ways to get to Tahiti on points and miles here. And if you’re deciding between the two latter islands, we call that a good problem to have (and put together a handy guide to choosing between Bora Bora and Mo’orea explaining how to do just that).

Hawaii

No matter where you end up in Hawaii, you’re in for a treat. It’s pretty much the quintessential honeymoon destination. And, just because it’s popular, doesn’t mean it isn’t great. Hawaii is always worth it. Consider some (brief) sightseeing in Honolulu before heading to the North Shore of Oahu, or flying directly to the lush beaches of Maui or rugged cliffs of Kauai. There’s something for every honeymooning couple here. If you’ve been (smartly) racking up those points, consider a stay at the Andaz Maui or Grand Wailea. And as for your flights? We’re glad you asked. These are the best ways to get to Hawaii on points and miles.

Caribbean

With so many islands in the Caribbean to choose from, you might be wondering how to narrow it all down.

(Photo by Matt Anderson Photography/Getty Images)
(Photo by Matt Anderson Photography/Getty Images.)

The good news is, you might not even have to (read: island hopping). Some of our personal favorite points-friendly properties for couples are the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman and the previously mentioned Park Hyatt St. Kitts — but with options like these, you can’t really go wrong.

Indonesia

We know so many of you have Bali on your honeymoon list, and for good reason. While it’s a hop, skip and a jump to get there, we promise it’s so worthwhile. And there are also strategies you can employ to minimize your travel time to get there (in style, of course). If Bali isn’t your cup of tea but your heart’s set on Indonesia, these 27 beautiful islands should do the trick.

Bottom line

We won’t lie to you and say planning your honeymoon will be a piece of (wedding) cake — but with these tricks up your sleeves, it’s sure to be easier than planning your guest list. And as for the rest of your impending nuptials? You’re on your own for that.

Featured photo by Yoann Boyer/Unsplash.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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