While natural observations show apes use grooming and play as social currency, no experimental manipulations have been carried out to measure the effects of these behaviours on relationship formation in apes. While previous experiments have demonstrated apes quickly learn the identity of individuals who will provide food in a variety of cooperative and non-cooperative situations, no experiment has ever examined how grooming and play might shape the preferences of apes for different individuals. We gave a group bonobos (N = 25) and chimpanzees (N = 30) a choice between an unfamiliar human who had recently groomed or played with them and one who had not. Both species showed a preference for the unfamiliar human that had interacted with them over the one who did not. The effect was largely driven by the males of both species while interacting with females showed little effect on their preferences for unfamiliar humans. Subjects showed this preference even though they only had social interactions with one of the unfamiliar humans for a few minutes before each trial and their choices were not rewarded with food differentially. Our results support the long held idea that grooming and play act as a form of social currency in great apes (and likely many other species) that can rapidly shape social relationships, particularly between unfamiliar individuals.