Getting married is expensive. Not including your honeymoon, the average wedding in the United States cost $25,200, according to The Wedding Report, Inc. An average eight-day honeymoon costs $4,466 according to Real Size Bride. Given the huge costs, it really pays to work your credit cards to save some serious money. In the months leading up to your wedding, there are a few easy steps to earn back the dollars spent on those big wedding purchases you charged to the plastic in your wallet.
1. SELECT A DESTINATION
First step -- pick a location. You need to know where you're going in order to know how to get there. Not all airlines fly to all places, so knowing which airlines fly there is critical to determining the best rewards card to use for your purchases. In addition to selecting an airline, review which hotels and resorts are at your destination. Selecting a location first and comparing the hotel options can drive savings in a big way. Being flexible with the property itself may mean the difference between a free room and no room.
2. GET AN AIRLINE CARD
Now that you've picked a destination, get the credit card for that route that you want to take. For example, if you're headed to South Florida, you could apply for the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Visa Card, which may offer a bonus of 50,000 points -- enough for two free tickets anywhere in the United States. Southwest also has great award availability. If you're headed to Hawaii, get the Hawaiian Airlines World Elite MasterCard, which comes with 35,000 bonus miles (enough for one ticket), a free checked bag and a 50 percent off companion ticket for round-trip travel between Hawaii and North America.
3. GET A FLEXIBLE AWARDS CARD
Many points-earning cards allow you to transfer points to a partner airline. Matching up these transfer programs is key to getting enough miles in a short time to snag that free or even upgraded free flight. Membership Rewards from American Express transfers to 16 different airlines, including my earlier example of Hawaiian Airlines. When you sign-up for the right American Express card, you might earn 25,000 to 50,000 bonus points and can use those to consolidate miles to one place. If you're headed out on Southwest or other airlines, you can apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, which has five transfer partners. Chase Sapphire Preferred was recently recognized as the Best Rewards Card of 2014 in the Wallaby Card Madness tournament with thousands of travel experts voting.
For complete flexibility, get a travel card like Barclaycard Arrival or Capital One Venture Rewards, which let you fly on airline and uses points to reimburse the cost.
4. GET A HOTEL CARD
All the major hotel brands have great cards like Hyatt, Hilton, Starwood and Marriott. Just like airline cards, these hotel cards usually come with some bonus points you can turn into free nights. The Hyatt Credit Card from Chase gives you two free nights at any Hyatt for signing up. The Starwood Preferred Guest Card from American Express comes with 25,000 bonus points and is the most flexible card with no hotel blackout dates.
5. USE YOUR CARDS CORRECTLY!
Most credit cards require you to spend some minimum amount to earn the bonus miles or points that you can use to make your honeymoon free. If you sign up now and use them for your wedding spend, you will be able to book that honeymoon sooner than you think. Make sure you read the terms and use them right. If you miss the spend minimum by even a little, you'll miss out on those points. If you have to carry the balance, the cost of the interest could easily outweigh the benefit of the points.
GET HELP IF YOU NEED IT!
There are a ton of great sites and guides for finding the right card for each situation, like Hack My Trip, JohnnyJet or The Points Guy. These sites can give you or your fiancée the reading you need to be a travel pro. You can also use an award booking service like Award Magic who will do the hard work of finding free tickets and upgrades for you for a low fee.
Just remember, it may take a few minutes to fill out those applications, but when you're enjoying the beach at a 5-star resort with your new spouse and your hotel bill is zero, you'll be glad you did it.