How couples can double up on card rewards

Being part of a pair offers financial advantages, such as splitting bills and sharing groceries, but one big plus you might not have considered is the chance to rack up twice the rewards on credit cards.

Double earning power and more expenses make it easier to hit the minimum spend required to earn hefty credit card sign-up bonuses and, when a really great offer comes along, couples can double up on the offer. Partners also can snag lucrative special deals made for two, such as companion airline passes.

So, if you're part of a pair, consider marrying your rewards strategy along with other parts of your life. Travel writer Tessa Juliette of Where to Next and her husband took that route when they moved in together and combined their finances two years into their relationship.

They started applying for cards with big sign-up bonuses and putting almost all their expenses on plastic. After they tied the knot last year, they took a 52-day round-the-world honeymoon that included a flight over glaciers in Alaska, a stay at a palatial hotel in India and a chance to feed a baby elephant at a sanctuary in Thailand.

"Almost all of that was paid for with rewards," she says.

Are you ready to couple up on rewards?

Couples considering teaming up on a rewards strategy should take it slowly. First, it's important to make sure you're both ready.

"Have a really honest discussion about where each of you are financially, and where your credit is," says New York publicist Diana Kozak, who decided to work together on credit card rewards with her boyfriend, financial consultant Robert Sanders, after he moved to Atlanta for work.

The joint strategy allowed the couple to embark on a long-distance relationship, using rewards to fly to each other every other weekend. "It's really made our relationship possible," she says.

However, a couple with less-than-stellar finances shouldn't rush. If either of you is carrying debt, rewards should wait, says Kerri Moriarty, a personal finance expert with Cinch Financial , who shares a 2 percent cash back card with her husband. "You're never going to make more rewards than what you pay in interest," she says.

Even if just one of you has shaky credit, it might make sense to address that first.

However, that's not always necessary, says Lia Garcia, who writes the travel blog Practical Wanderlust . She's in the middle of a yearlong trip with her husband, Jeremy, who had bad credit when they met, but has built his score to the high 600s.

Though Lia has applied for all the cards, his spending, which otherwise would have been done with debit or cash, helped rack up rewards for their trip. "It's been a huge help," Garcia says.

"We take at least one international trip per year, first class, using miles."

If both of you are in good shape financially, it's also important to consider the state of your relationship before taking the plunge on combined rewards. Some couples wait until they move in together or marry while others go all in sooner.

Trust is crucial, says Kozak, whose move to sharing cards with her boyfriend was a big step in her relationship and even shocked some friends. But, the effort brought the couple closer and showed them they work well together, she says.

Top row: Lia and Jeremy Saunders in Machu Picchu. Rommel Paras and his husband, Paul McGuire, in Iceland.

Bottom row: Jesse Neugarten and Ellie Huizenga in Paris. Annie Scranton and her husband, Mike Sorrentino, in Capri, Italy. Tessa Juliette and her husband, Matt Slider, at an elephant sanctuary in Thailand.

Lia and Jeremy Saunders in Machu Picchu.

Rommel Paras and his husband, Paul McGuire, in Iceland.

Jesse Neugarten and Ellie Huizenga in Paris.

Annie Scranton and her husband, Mike Sorrentino, in Capri, Italy.

Tessa Juliette and her husband, Matt Slider, at an elephant sanctuary in Thailand.

Maximizing your rewards as a twosome

Once you've decided joint rewards strategy makes sense, it's smart to sit down together to talk about your rewards goals for the next year or two and to map out a general plan of action.

For day-to-day management, one member of the couple should take the lead on scouting deals and tracking cards and points, says Jason Steele, a credit card and travel journalist who has written for The Points Guy about coordinating cards for couples . However, consider using either a shared spreadsheet or an app such as TPG To Go so both partners can stay in the loop, he adds.

And make sure to incorporate these tips to help maximize your rewards earnings as a couple:

  1. Tag-team to earn sign-up bonuses.

    Stagger your credit card applications so you can take advantage of your double spending power to meet spending requirements for sign-up bonuses, says Jesse Neugarten, founder of Dollar Flight Club , a service that finds flight deals.

    He and his girlfriend, Ellie, "switch off," with one applying for a card and both working to meet minimum spend, then the other applying for a card. This gives you a distinct advantage over singles who only have one set of expenses.

    "With our combined finances, we always make the spending requirement," Juliette says, adding she and her husband put everything they can on cards, "even a $2 water at the 7-Eleven."

  2. Cash in on companion deals .

    One perk that's practically made for couples: the companion airline pass.

    For example, when you earn the Southwest Airlines Companion Pass, you get to pick one person to fly with you for free for the rest of the current year and the following one. Neugarten and his girlfriend have used the pass to travel to Atlanta, Denver, Las Vegas, Houston, New York, Tampa, Florida, and Cancun, Mexico, in the past year.

    "That's just a huge thing for couples," Steele says, adding that, for some single people it would have "very little benefit." That's because you actually have to designate someone as your companion, though you do have the opportunity to change the name up to three times a year.

  3. Lean on each other for referrals.

    Many credit card companies will send special offers to their cardholders: refer a friend or family member and earn an extra 5,000 or 10,000 points.

    While you can definitely hound your friends to sign up for a card, you probably won't even need to sweet-talk your significant other into getting one if you're already on the same page about rewards strategy.

    For example, Neugarten got the Chase Sapphire Reserve card and knew his girlfriend wanted to get it, too. "I referred her and got 5,000 bonus points really easily," he says.

  4. Make your date nights count.

    Wining and dining your sweetie at the right restaurant can earn you extra rewards.

    For example, New York public relations professional Annie Scranton and her husband love to go to Joanne Trattoria, an Italian restaurant in their neighborhood that belongs to the Delta SkyMiles dining program. By registering their credit cards, they earn Delta miles on top of the credit card points each time they dine.

    Their romantic nights out have helped them accrue enough points to cover an upcoming fall trip to Ibiza and Barcelona, where they'll soak in the sun and take a Gaudí architecture tour.

Use these strategies and, like Scranton and her husband, you can enjoy reaping the rewards together. "We take at least one international trip per year, first class, using miles," she says.

Avoid pitfalls when racking up rewards together

While chasing rewards with your significant other, it's important to make sure the effort doesn't backfire and end up putting strain on either of your credit scores or your budget by costing you too much in fees.

Of course, it's key to make payments on time and avoid carrying balances, but also look at credit utilization, Sanders says. Your credit utilization rate, the amount of overall credit you're using compared to your credit limit, is the second most important factor of your FICO score.

When you're running two people's expenses through cards, you need to look at how that affects the credit utilization for each person. That's because, even when you pay off your bill in full each month, the amount on your cards at the time the card issuer reports to the credit bureaus shows up and affects your credit utilization rate.

So, look at each person's overall limit and make sure you're always using less than 30 percent. If one partner has a credit limit of $50,000 while the other has a limit of $15,000, take that into account when deciding which cards to lean on for regular spending.

It's also key for couples to track their cards carefully to make sure they don't get hit with a double whammy in annual fees. Many cards waive the annual fee the first year and, before the fee kicks in, you can check into downgrading to a no-fee card or canceling.

"At the end of first year, you can evaluate whether ongoing benefits justify continuing to pay that annual fee or not," Steele says, noting that benefits on many cards extend to authorized users, so it probably doesn't make sense to continue paying two fees if you cancel one of the cards and add your partner to your card.

Finally, find out ahead of time which cards allow couples to transfer points between accounts and which ones charge a fee to do so, recommends Rommel Paras, who works for a tech company in San Diego and recently went on a trip to Iceland, partly on rewards, with his husband. "If they charge you $25 to transfer the points, that diminishes the value," he says.

Joining forces for a combined rewards strategy can allow you to embark on shared experiences you might not otherwise have been able to afford, as it did for Garcia and her husband.

So far, the duo has backpacked around South America, including the highlight of their trip, a tour of the Galapagos Islands, where they spotted black marine iguanas, blue-footed birds and sea turtles. They spent December hopping from one Christmas market to another in Europe, which was "magical," she says.

They did have one mishap, when they crashed their rented BMW into a castle. "Luckily, our Chase Sapphire card rental insurance paid us back," she says.

See related:Using rewards to fly first class , Rack up rewards by charging homebuying costs , Maximizing card rewards after you've earned the sign-up bonus , 5 money-saving credit card tips for savvy family travelers

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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