Talking to Your Reluctant Spouse About Miles and Points
If you’re one-half of a couple and have discovered the magic of miles and points, chances are decent your spouse won't be as into it as you. You might hit the jackpot and find that you are both into researching, tracking and maximizing miles and points, but there's a large group of us who have a partner or spouse that just doesn’t get it. Maybe she thinks cash is king. Or maybe he took years to pay off his debt and won’t or can't get a new credit card. Or maybe (gasp!) he or she is just not into travel. Whatever it is, you will need to have …
"The talk" is the miles and points version of the birds and the bees. That time you set aside to explain to your better half why opening up some new credit cards may not be nuts. It's different from the teen version of the credit card talk in that your spouse probably already has opinions about credit; they just may not be based in reality. I’m going to give you tips to help you navigate the talk more effectively. They are hard-earned from both my experience and that of many others.
The Kite and the String
I came up with a relationship theory a long time ago: The best couples are ones with a kite and a string. The idea is that some people are kites (risk-takers not afraid of flying) and others are strings (risk-averse folks who prefer to be tethered to solid earth). The kites need the strings to keep them from flying off into the ozone and the strings need the kites to get them off the ground.
Occasionally, a two-kite or two string relationship works, but I’ve seen two-kite-ers who just get into trouble because they have fewer boundaries. Conversely, I’ve seen two string-ers who just bore each other into submission. Get one of each and you bring balance to the force. So, keep in mind that having a partner who is somewhat more reluctant may actually be a good thing, it is just trickier until you get into a rhythm.
Listen First to Understand
Once you’ve identified that you’re dealing with a string, you can start to convince them to tie themselves to your kite. However, first you’ve got to find out what their specific concerns are. (I’m borrowing from Stephen Covey’s "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" here.) Listening first does two things:
First, until you get it, you’re just not gonna get it. Asking specific questions, like, “Why do you prefer cash back?” or “Why are you afraid of going back into debt?” or “What about travel don’t you like?” opens up communication and shows you value your partner’s opinion: even when it’s clearly wrong (joking, joking). Secondly, hearing your partner's specific concerns will allow you to figure out a solution that assuages the right symptom.
Bring the Right Tools to the Task
My husband works with numbers and spreadsheets every day. When we were first married, I wanted to go to Thailand for summer vacation. He thought it was too expensive. I created an Excel spreadsheet breaking down costs for two weeks in a four-star beach resort here in the States -- no transport -- and one in Thailand, including airfare. I went on to prove it costs about the same to spend two weeks in peak season at a four-star anywhere in the world, especially if miles are part of your currency. Once he saw it in black and white, he got on board. If you want to see a similar trip comparison in action, check out this post about summer beach house rentals.
Another example is the spouse who thinks that having too many credit cards will ruin your credit. That person will benefit from learning real information about utilization and the other tools savvy users of credit understand.
However, if your spouse is genuinely afraid of credit, you could show them reams of data and it will get you nowhere. Personal success stories will be a lot more convincing. Get them to read up on what TPG readers have been able to achieve. Even better, take them to a frequent-flyer meet-up. FlyerTalk has a good schedule of local events. Talking to people who have been there might help get them over the hump.
And if your partner just hates to travel? Well, it could be one of two things. One option is to up the comfort level. Maybe they hate travel because, well, travel can stink sometimes. Add in the airport or hotel lounge, the lie-flat airline seat, Global Entry to speed through border control and whatever else you can to make it hassle-free, and they might reconsider.
Mommy Points' husband very much falls into this reluctant spouse category and was hooked to the hobby in large part because miles and elite status can change the travel process completely. Travel can be transformed from something to be tolerated only when necessary to something fun and enjoyable. (But fair warning -- reluctant spouses can quickly learn to hold out on travel until you put them in the good seats!)
Another solid strategy for managing a reluctant partner is to tailor an early award redemption to something they always wanted to do or somewhere they have always wanted to go. But what if they just hate to travel no matter what? Then don’t make them. You’ll both be happier in the end. Take off with the kids, by yourself or with a friend.
The initial glow of discovering miles and points can be dimmed by a spouse who is not on board. By listening to their concerns and addressing them with the right strategy, you can both get the best out of the rewards that miles and points have to offer and maybe even play in two-player mode down the line.
And, if you do get your spouse on board, have him or her read these other resources: