Should Family Members Be Authorized Users Or Cardholders Outright?

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We all have different credit card strategies, which are impacted by what kind of rewards we’re looking for, what categories we spend most in, etc. One question I often get from readers who share finances with others (family members, spouses, etc.) is whether it makes sense to add family members as authorized users to a card you already have, or to have them apply for a card outright, so they’re also a primary cardmember.

Taking the welcome bonus out of the equation (though that should be a major consideration), I wanted to give examples of some cards where it makes sense to add people as an authorized user, and also examples of cards where it makes sense to have as many primary cardmembers as possible.

Cards where you should add authorized users

There are some cards where it makes more sense to add authorized users, rather than having two or more people hold onto the cards as primary cardmembers. Here are five cards that come to mind:

  • The Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® has a $450 annual fee and offers an Admirals Club membership. What makes this card so unique is that you can add up to 10 authorized users at no extra cost, and each of them gets Admirals Club access as well. So generally it makes more sense to add authorized users rather than have multiple people hold onto the card.
  • The Platinum Card® from American Express has a $550 annual fee, though offers lots of great benefits that help offset that. While only the primary cardmember gets the $200 annual airline fee credit and $200 annual Uber credit, most of the other benefits apply to authorized users as well, including 5x points on airfare spend, Delta SkyClub access, a Priority Pass membership, access to Amex Centurion Lounges, etc. Best of all, adding three authorized users costs $175, which means you’re paying less than $60 per person for all those benefits.
  • The American Express® Gold Card has a $250 annual fee though you get a $100 annual airline fee credit, which helps offset that. This card offers well rounded bonus categories, including 4x points at US restaurants, 4x points at US supermarkets (up to $25,000 per year), and 3x points for flights booked directly with airlines. You can add up to five authorized users at no additional cost, making this a great card for maximizing your rewards.
  • The Chase Sapphire Reserve® has a $450 annual fee, and offers a $300 annual travel credit. However, the biggest perk of the card is that you get triple points on dining and travel, as well as a Priority Pass membership. You can add authorized users for $75 each, and they get Priority Pass memberships and earn triple points on eligible purchases.
  • The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card lets you add authorized users at no extra cost.  The card has a $95 annual fee (waived the first year).  The biggest benefit of this card is that if offers double points on dining and travel, which is great for a card with an annual fee of under $100 (which is even waived the first year). So by adding authorized users you can increase the number of people who can earn double points on those purchases.

The Citi Executive AAdvantage Card offers a great Admirals Club perk for authorized users

Cards where it makes sense to be the primary cardmember

On the above cards I generally think you’re better off adding authorized users rather than applying outright. However, now I wanted to share some cards where it makes sense to add as many primary cardmembers as possible, at least under certain circumstances. In no particular order:

  • The IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card has a $49 annual fee (which is waived the first year) and offers an annual free night certificate valid at virtually any IHG property in the world, among other benefits. That’s one of the best credit card perks out there, though it only applies to the primary cardmember. You can get more value out of this by having as many people in your family as possible get this card.
  • The Hyatt Credit Card has a $75 annual fee and offers an annual free night certificate valid at any Category 1-4 Hyatt property. That includes some great hotels. The more primary cardmembers you have, the more free nights you can get every year.
  • The Chase Freedom® Card offers 5x points in rotating quarterly categories, which is a great way to boost your Ultimate Rewards points balance in conjunction with cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card. The catch is that you only earn 5x points on the first $1,500 of spend in each quarter. So if you’re someone who would spend more than that in those categories, it could make sense to have multiple people pick up the card to maximize that category.
  • The Blue Business℠ Plus Credit Card from American Express is Amex’s newest no annual fee business credit card, and it offers 2x Membership Rewards points on the first $50,000 spent across all categories each calendar year. This is a bit different than the above family scenario since this is a business card, but if you’re in a position where you have more than $50,000 per year of spend, it could make sense for multiple people to pick up this card to maximize the Membership Rewards points you can earn.
  • The Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Card has a $75 annual fee, and offers a $121 companion fare every year. In other words, that means you can take a companion with you to just about anywhere that Alaska flies for about $200 “all-in.” That’s a heck of a deal, especially when you consider that you could fly them from the East Coast to Hawaii, for example. Best of all, the second passenger earns miles as usual, is eligible for upgrades, etc.

Just about everyone should get more than $49 of value out of a free night at an InterContinental

Bottom line

There’s no perfect credit card strategy, though there is an important distinction to be made between adding someone as an authorized user and having them apply for a card outright in order to be a primary cardmember. The welcome bonus can sometimes sway the decision, but long term there are plenty of cards where you’re better off applying for it on your own rather than being added as an authorized user, and vice versa.

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  1. Should add ritz Carlton reward. Adding authorized user is free, and authorized user get priority pass and $100 discount.

  2. Also, visa crystal infinite is definitely the best one. Since 3 authorized users get travel credit for $250, $100 air discount, but only 2 people will get priority passes I think. $1000 back from $450 annual fee, no card can beat this, though if only if you can get this card.

  3. My wife and I both have as primary cards, the Chase Sapphire Reserve. We did that for the 100,000 bonus per card. Were planning to cancel one. After the $ 300 travel credit, the actual cost of having two primary cards is an extra $ 75. That got us two TSP passes. That is a once per 5 year benefit. Still, that’s another $ 15 per year off the extra $ 75. That makes it a total of $ 60 extra. Also, let’s us keep the 1.5 points bonus on each card. For those that haven’t used it, the Chase Travel Portal is gold. Not to be confused with the often overpriced Luxury Hotel Collection. We are not wealthy, don’t use the lounges, and the $ 900 in fees each January hurts. Still, keeping two primary cards is a no brainer for us.

    One more point, with any card, do not immediately add an authorized user. Wait for bonus offers to add an authorized user.

  4. To clarify my math.

    The cost of an authorized user on the Sapphire Reserve is $ 75. The net cost of a primary card, after the travel credits, is $ 150. That’s why the incremental cost of the second primary is only $ 75.

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