Maximizing Miles & Points in Two-Player Mode

Travelling the world on points can take on different forms depending on whether it’s a solo undertaking or a group effort. Solo travellers benefit from a high degree of flexibility and the relative ease of finding a single award seat on desirable flights. Meanwhile, couples or families who travel together might have a slightly more challenging time with availability, but in return they get to share the experience and create lasting memories from their trips together.  

As we all know, couples who chase credit card signup bonuses and redeem points for amazing value together… stay together. And so in this post, I’d like to go over some optimal strategies specifically for those of you playing the game in “two-player mode” – that is to say, you and a partner are looking to cooperate in order to get as much as possible out of your points.


Getting Your Partner in the Game

Before you even think about maximizing your points as a couple, you need to make sure the other person is on-board with your plans in the first place. Speaking from experience and from interacting with many others in the community, I’ve observed that the couples in this game tend to consist of one person who’s super enthusiastic and one person who just sort of goes along with what the other person says.

I’m not sure exactly why that is, but it’s a pattern I’ve seen over and over again. One person scours the blogs and forums, meticulously tracks the credit cards, and spends hours upon hours crafting creative routes for an upcoming trip. Meanwhile, the other person was reluctant to be involved in the first place, begrudgingly signs up for credit cards when their partner instructs them to, and maintains little interest in the nitty-gritty side of things.

Indeed, when I first told Jessica to sign up for a credit card to get the bonus points a few years ago, she was having none of it. I spelled it out for her – “look, if you get this one credit card, we’ll have enough points for a free trip!” – but her natural skepticism held firm and she flat-out refused, and I was therefore left to generate the points required for our trip on my own.

 She was not down for this kind of life…

She was not down for this kind of life…

Ultimately, the battle ended in a swift and conclusive victory in my favour when I brought Jessica on our first business class trip. As we were sipping the free-flowing bubbly on Brussels Airlines business class last year, she finally relented and admitted that the rewards were well worth the inconvenience of getting a few credit cards, and we’ve been playing in two-player mode ever since.

So if your partner is initially hesitant to get involved, your best bet is to lay things out for them and demonstrate the potential benefits as clearly as possible. If that still doesn’t work, then you’ll have to put in the work on your own in the beginning stages and truly dazzle them with a memorable trip in order to change their mind – you’d better make it a good one!


Maximizing Credit Card Referrals

The most obvious benefit of earning points as a couple is the ability to maximize referral bonuses when applying for new credit cards. Now, referral points used to be a huge boon for points collectors back in the day, but this year has seen Amex tighten up a few things when it comes to how the referral system works. As things stand, the following referral scheme is in place:

  • You can refer between any of the Business Gold Card and the Business Platinum Card; the referral bonuses are 5,000 MR points and 25,000 MR points, respectively

  • You can refer from the Platinum Card to another Platinum Card only; the referral bonus is 15,000 MR points

  • You can refer between any of the Gold Rewards Card and the Cobalt Card; the referral bonuses are 5,000 MR points and 7,000 MR Select points, respectively

  • You can refer between any of the SPG Card and the Business SPG Card; the referral bonus is 10,000 Marriott points

The idea is that if one of you is an existing cardholder, there are times when it may be beneficial for the other person to sign up through your referral link. However, there are also occasions when going through separate offers might be more worthwhile. Let’s have a look at a few examples.

If neither person holds a Business Platinum Card at the moment, then the optimal way to sign up for this card would be via the Canada Post special offer. You get 75,000 MR points either way, but the Canada Post offer grants you a lower annual fee ($399 vs. $499 via referral) and a lower minimum spending requirement ($5,000 in three months vs. $7,000 via referral), so that’s the better deal.

 
 

Now, Person #1 has received their brand-new Business Platinum Card via Canada Post. What’s the best way for Person #2 to sign up?

Well, if Person #2 were to apply via Canada Post, they’d get the same offer of 75,000 MR points. But if they were to apply via Person #1’s referral, the couple overall would receive 100,000 MR points, taking into account the referral bonus of 25,000 MR points.

Of course, compared to the Canada Post offer, you’ll be paying an additional $100 in annual fee and having to spend an extra $2,000 to hit the spending threshold, but that’s well worth it for the extra 25,000 MR points that you get from referring. 

And once Person #2 has banked their 75,000 MR points, Person #1 can cancel the card and reapply after a while using Person #2’s referral, continuing the cycle. See how it all fits together nicely?

If we wanted to throw the Business Gold Card into the mix, we have another interesting dilemma. You could apply via one of your Business Platinum referrals, but then you’d have to pay the $250 annual fee, whereas the Canada Post offer has an effective first-year fee waiver.

 
 

Would you pay an extra $250 to get 25,000 MR points? That’s essentially buying miles at 1 cent per point, and since you’d (hopefully) be redeeming these points at a much higher value, the answer is yes in my books – you’d go with the referral option.

Let’s look at another example. Assume that neither of you are holding either of the SPG cards at the moment. The best way to get started is to sign up for the Personal SPG Card via Great Canadian Rebates, where you can get $30 in cash back. 

Once Person #1 has done that, Person #2 can sign up as well using their referral, which would earn an extra 10,000 Marriott points. That can be easily worth more than $30, so it’d be a better choice than going through GCR again. 

(Note that Amex has done a weird thing with the SPG cards, where the referral offers have a higher minimum spending requirement than the regular public offers. If you apply via a referral, you’d have to spend $3,000 in the first three months, whereas any other application channel would only demand a $1,500 minimum spend. Nevertheless, you shouldn’t let that stop you from pursuing the best offers out there.)

 
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Once both of you have picked up the SPG Cards, you can again refer each other to the Business SPG Card as well, and continue the cycle from there for a sweet bonus of 50,000 Marriott points each time.

As you can see, despite seeing plenty of devaluations in the past year, Amex referral offers still represent one of the best ways to pick up extra points, especially when you’re collecting points as a dynamic duo and can benefit from using each other’s referral links.


Household Accounts & Pooling Points

When you’re earning and redeeming for two people, you’ll want to be aware of which programs are best for redeeming both of your points for both of your travels – whether that’s through transferring points, household accounts, or any other mechanism – and which are more strict in that regard.

Most points programs don’t allow you to transfer miles between accounts without a fee. For example, if you’ve collected 100,000 Alaska miles in one account and 40,000 in another, there’s no way you can book two Cathay Pacific First Class tickets for 70,000 miles per person. It’s just not going to happen unless you pay the fee for transferring 30,000 miles from the first account to the second, and since the fees are calculated on a per-mile basis, they can add up quickly.

You’ll therefore want to be careful as you’re earning points, and thinking about which accounts you’re using to build up your balances. Either earn enough points for both people in a single account, or earn what’s needed for each person in two separate accounts.

The major exception to this is British Airways Avios, which allows you to create Household Accounts. As long as two members have the same address, they can join up in a Household Account, and then the cumulative balance can be used to book trips for any member in the Household Account.

I highly recommend taking advantage of the Household Accounts feature if you’re earning and redeeming Avios, since it allows you to pool all your Avios together for your joint purposes. It doesn’t matter if the Avios originally came from Person #1’s Membership Rewards account or Person #2’s RBC British Airways Visa – all the points can be used for booking either of your trips.

In addition to pooling points, some transferrable points currencies also allow you to transfer to third-party accounts that are not your own. Whether this is by mistake or design, it’s a great way to funnel the points from multiple people’s accounts into a single mileage account on the other end. 

American Express to Aeroplan is one such example. When you’re transferring MR points to Aeroplan, you can enter any Aeroplan number you want and it’ll go through successfully. So if, for example, one of you has Aeroplan Diamond status while the other doesn’t, then it could be a good idea to funnel all the points into the Diamond member’s account in order to enjoy lower change fees, reduced Market Fares, etc. for both travellers.

Data points on other inter-program transfers are out there for you to find.


Sharing and Overlapping Benefits

Most loyalty programs allow members to extend certain benefits to themselves and one guest, which is something you can look to maximize if you’re playing the game with a partner. 

One example is Priority Pass, the world’s largest airport lounge network with over 1,200 lounges around the world. You get Priority Pass membership as a perk of the American Express Platinum Card and the American Express Business Platinum Card, and you’re allowed unlimited visits together with one guest.

That means that as long as one of you is holding either one of those cards at any given time, then both of you will enjoy lounge access when travelling together. So as you’re cycling through the higher-end Amex cards in order to collect the bonuses, you can maintain uninterrupted lounge access along your travels as long as you put some thought into the timing of your applications and cancellations.

 Tyrol Lounge Innsbruck, an excellent Priority Pass lounge I recently visited

Tyrol Lounge Innsbruck, an excellent Priority Pass lounge I recently visited

This also applies to the other perks on those premium cards, such as Marriott Gold Elite status, Hilton Honors Gold Elite status, access to Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts and the Platinum Concierge, etc., which are all benefits that can be held by one person and enjoyed by both.

Speaking of hotel status, what’s the best way for a couple to maximize their loyalty to a particular hotel brand? Well, anytime you stay at a hotel together, the elite nights and benefits are only going to the person whose name is on the booking. It’s hard for both people to earn meaningful status with a hotel chain, unless you both travel extensively on your own as well.

Therefore, the strategy that makes the most sense is to make all the bookings under the person who travels relatively more frequently. Let’s say that Person #1 and Person #2 are playing the game as a couple, but when they aren’t travelling together, Person #1 tends to take a few more solo trips than Person #2. 

In that case, you’d make all the bookings under Person #1’s account, because that account would earn status faster than Person #2’s. Elite benefits such as lounge access and free breakfast are usually extended to the member and one guest, so you’d both get to take advantage when you’re travelling together.

 Executive Lounge at the JW Marriott Parq Vancouver

Executive Lounge at the JW Marriott Parq Vancouver

In fact, even if Person #2 is travelling solo, he or she can take advantage of Person #1’s benefits (and credit the elite nights to Person #1’s account) using the “second guest trick”. You basically make the booking under a certain name, and then call or email the hotel to say that the other person will be arriving and checking in at the hotel first.

It’s a creative way to essentially pool your elite nights and benefits as a couple into a single account, which can result in achieving a higher status level (and unlocking more benefits) than if you had credited all the nights to your own individual accounts instead.


Conclusion

Not only does earning and redeeming miles with a partner provide you with extremely rewarding shared experiences as a couple, but there’s also many more extra strategies you can take advantage of, such as referral points, household accounts, and overlapping benefits.

Of course, this article drew upon examples involving a two-person team, but you can really extend these principles to your wider circle of family and friends as well and stretch your earning and redeeming possibilities even further.

If you’re in two-player mode and have any tips to share, feel free to let the rest of us know in the comments below!