If you’re worrying about the outrageous costs of getting hitched, you have good reason. According to online wedding resource, The Knot, the average wedding in 2017 set couples back $33,391. This amount includes everything from the venue, to the dress, to the cake, to the invitations. One thing it doesn’t include, however, is the cost of a honeymoon.
Imagine spending more than $30,000 for your wedding and still having to pay for the trip of a lifetime. For many people, this could mean scaling down their dreams, delaying their trip, or going without a honeymoon altogether.
But what if there was a better way — a way to turn your wedding expenses into the free or almost-free trip of your dreams? Doing so is possible if you’re willing to strategize, think ahead, and take advantage of rewards offered by credit cards, airlines, and hotel chains. Here are some steps to take as you hatch a plan.
1. Set a budget for your wedding
First things first. Before you can plan a rewards strategy for your honeymoon, you need to know how much your wedding will cost. Since creating a budget for your wedding is likely a good idea anyway, it makes sense to sit down and tally up all of your expenses.
Create a budget for each component of your ceremony and reception, including table décor, the dress and tux, rings, and food. Obviously, it may be difficult to have some of this information handy until you start meeting with wedding vendors. Either way, The Knot’s 2017 Real Weddings Survey can provide you average prices you can use to create your own estimates.
2. Turn wedding expenses into sign-up bonuses
Once you know how much you plan to spend on your wedding, you can strategize which rewards cards to sign up for. Ideally, you and your betrothed will both sign up for a few cards at once in order to maximize your biggest wedding expenses by earning sign-up bonuses.
Here’s how this works: Many travel and rewards cards offer a bonus if you sign up and meet a minimum spending requirement within a few months (e.g. spend $3,000 on your card within 90 days to earn 50,000 points). If you plan to spend $15,000 on your wedding, for example, you and your fiancé could each apply for up to five cards with big bonus offers to earn a huge stash of points all at once.
The key to making this strategy work is ensuring you have the cash to pay off your wedding expenses right after you charge them. With credit cards carrying an average APR of more than 16%, you shouldn’t charge your wedding expenses if you plan to carry a balance.
3. Look for expenses that fit within “bonus categories”
While sign-up bonuses offer an easy way to maximize your wedding expenses, also think about whether any of your wedding bills may qualify for bonus categories. The fact that some of the best travel rewards cards offer three points per dollar spent on dining could prove lucrative if you have your rehearsal dinner at a restaurant, for example, or even have your wedding catered by a restaurant.
Considering having your reception at a hotel? Hotel credit cards offer extra points if you book using their co-branded credit card. If you plan to buy supplies or food for your reception from a traditional grocery store, you could consider the best credit cards for grocery spending, which offer up to 6% cash back that can go into your honeymoon fund.
Keep these bonus categories in mind when you’re selecting cards to sign up for. While earning an early sign-up bonus is always ideal, earning extra points for some of your biggest wedding expenses can boost your point haul considerably.
4. Put all of your everyday ongoing expenses on a few cards
Once you’ve earned your bonuses, charge everything you normally buy to the cards that fit those bonus categories, or just the cards that you want to focus most of your spending on. Maybe you know how many miles you need to get your honeymoon flights covered, or you’ve got a hotel in mind and how many free nights you’d like to earn. Use those cards to pay for everything from cable bills to car repairs.
If all else fails, pick a good credit card that earns a flat rewards rate of 1.5%–2% for every dollar you spend. If the card pays cash back instead of travel rewards, you can use the cash back to feed your honeymoon fund. Remember to not charge more than you can afford to pay off in full every month.
5. Let friends know how to contribute points
Maybe you wish friends and family would give you their frequent flyer miles or hotel points but aren’t sure how to ask. You can just come out directly and ask in private conversations with people you know are frequent travelers, or family members closest to you. Or, you could include instructions on your wedding website if you have one.
Unfortunately, most airline and hotel programs don’t let you give your points to others directly — at least not without paying a fee. Fortunately, there are plenty of exceptions. The new Hilton Honors program lets you transfer points to anyone, making it easy for someone to gift these hotel points to pay for all or part of your honeymoon stay at Hilton hotels worldwide.
If your friend or relative has a card that earns flexible rewards points through a credit card program, they can also book travel for you through their card’s travel portal. Or they could book travel for you through any travel provider and be reimbursed through statement credits they’ve earned with points.
Finally, frequent flyers can use airline miles to book travel for anyone. So if a friend or family member has a huge stash of frequent flyer miles, you could ask them to redeem some of them to cover the airfare for your honeymoon and book the flights in your name.
6. Plan the perfect trip using rewards
Whether you pursue sign-up bonuses to get the most out of your wedding expenses or not, the type of cards you signed up for will play a huge role in the type of honeymoon you can book. With that in mind, make sure you explore all the available travel card options and their potential sign-up bonuses and rewards program before you sign up.
Once you do, here are some strategies you may want to pursue:
Book an all-inclusive resort with points. There are several all-inclusive resorts you can book with points through various programs like Wyndham Rewards and World of Hyatt. Since these properties include your food, drink, and entertainment in the nightly rate (even when you pay with points), they can be a good deal and help you cut down costs.
Book long-haul international flights using frequent flyer miles. You can use points and miles to cover a huge award-fueled trip if you’re strategic enough. Make sure to research frequent flyer programs so you wind up with the right card and airline currency for your ideal trip.
Plan a trip to your dream destination. No matter where you dream of traveling to, credit card rewards can likely make it happen. Consider booking a trip to a bucket list spot like Tahiti, Aruba, Italy, or Greece. (See also: Once-in-a-Lifetime Experiences I’ve Earned With Credit Card Rewards)
Whatever you decide, make sure you stay flexible. If you have your heart set on a specific destination on specific dates, it will be a lot harder to redeem your points and miles optimally. By keeping your options open, considering multiple destinations, and being willing to compromise, you can increase your chances of finding the award availability you want for a trip you’ll be happy with.
7. Ask for money instead of points or other gifts
It’s perfectly fine to ask guests for money to cover your honeymoon in lieu of gifts. Some online wedding registries are even set up to accept cash gifts for the couple. By alerting everyone of your honeymoon fund, you may even make the gift selection process easier for some people. And if they don’t like the idea of giving cash, they don’t have to.
When I visited Bora Bora last year, I met a couple who executed this strategy perfectly. They had never left the U.S. before, they told me, but they had managed a honeymoon to Bora Bora and Moorea with funds they received at their wedding.
I asked the bride, a Mary Kay saleswoman, whether guests minded the suggestion. She said that people seemed happy to contribute. She also noted that she and her new husband had been living together before they got married, so they didn’t need traditional gifts like dishes and towels.
They did register for gifts at a department store, but they included a note about their honeymoon fund in their wedding invitations. In the end, her guests gave what they wanted and they used the cash they received to book the trip of their dreams.