A Beginner's Guide to Churning

A Beginner’s Guide to Churning

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Let’s say it’s 6:00pm and I’m hungry. What do I do? I could drive to Taco Bell and buy myself some food or I could grab a box out of the cupboard and whip myself up some mean mac & cheese. I don’t want to brag about my cooking abilities, but I also know how to make frozen pizza! 😉

The Taco Bell option is quick and easy, but it costs money. There’s also the risk that my car could break down on the way to Taco Bell, which would leave me without the money and the food. The mac & cheese option doesn’t have that risk, but it does require more work than picking up pre-made food. In the end, though, both options will fill me up.

Churning and manufactured spending basically work the same way. Churning is easier and earns you a significant amount of points quickly, but it requires you to “buy” each credit card with a hard inquiry. On the off-chance that you get denied (your car breaks down), you miss out on a new card and you still suffer a hard inquiry. Manufactured spending, on the other hand, requires more work to produce the same amount of points that churning does, but it ultimately saves your credit report from hard inquiries.

But, wait! You know what goes really good together? Tacos and mac & cheese, of course! That might be a bad analogy, but they do compliment each other. In fact, I’d say they’re like cereal and milk – perfect companions.

What is Churning?

Have I gotten ahead of myself, do you even know what churning is yet? What kind of blogger am I? Also, why do I keep asking myself questions? …

Based on Google, churning means to “agitate or turn (milk or cream) in a machine in order to produce butter.” However, in the points and miles world, churning is process of signing up for multiple credit cards to reap the sign-up bonuses. It’s by far one of the fastest ways to earn a lump sum of points and miles without ever leaving the ground, but that doesn’t mean everyone should do it.

Should You Churn Credit Cards?

If you can answer “No” to all of the following questions, then yes you should churn credit cards and maybe manufactured spending too (if you don’t already). However, if you answer Yes to any of the following questions, you should think twice before churning credit cards.

Is your credit score below 720?
You need a good credit score to apply for cards with the most generous sign-up bonuses.

Are you planning on getting an auto loan or mortgage in the next year?
Hard inquiries affect your credit for 1 year, so you’ll want to avoid them a year before you apply for a loan to make sure you get the best interest rate possible.

Are you disorganized?
Organization is very important when your churning and manufacturing spend. If you don’t keep track of the dates you signed up for a card or how much you’ve spent on the card, you run the risk of missing out on a sign-up bonus. That would defeat the point of churning.

Do you have credit card debt?
Don’t start churning if you have credit card debt. The interest you pay will defeat the benefits of the points and miles earned.

How to Start

Where do you want to travel? Hawaii, Europe, Australia? Get a destination in mind, that way you’ll have a goal to work towards. Not all points and miles are created equal and not all of them will get you where you want to go, so just figure out where and then we can figure out how.

Ideas

  • Hawaii – Avios provide the cheapest way to Hawaii from the US. It only costs 12,500 miles each way in economy from the west coast. Right now, Chase is offering a 50,000 Avios sign-up bonus on their British Airways co-branded card. That’s two round trip tickets from SEA to HNL right there!
  • Europe – Boston to Dublin is only 12,500 Avios. Chicago to London is 30,000 miles, but you can add another city in Europe onto that trip for no extra miles.
  • Australia – US to Australia on United is 40,000 miles in economy. Not bad, but it could be better if you route through Oceania (35,000 miles).

See: Beginner’s Guide: Burning Miles for more information and ideas.

Airline Cards

Once you have an idea on where you want to travel, now it’s time to determine what cards to get. Here is a general breakdown of the different options, though:

American Airlines Cards

  • Sign-up Bonus: The sign-up bonus on AA cards is usually anywhere from 50,000 – 100,000 miles with $3,000-$10,000 spent in 3 months. Occasionally, the public sign-up bonuses are around 30,000, but there’s almost always a hidden 50,000 offer.
  • Uses: AA miles are very versatile. Here are a few options:
    • US – Mexico = 12,500 miles
    • US – Europe = 20,000 miles (off-season)
    • US – Japan = 25,000 miles (off-season)

United Cards

  • Sign-up Bonus: 30,000 – 65,000 miles. 50,000 miles is pretty average.
  • Uses: Just like AA, United miles have a lot of uses. What makes them unique is that United allows 2 open jaws and 1 stopover on award tickets, so one ticket can turn into multiple destinations at a low price.
    • US – South America = 30,000 miles
    • Hawaii – Caribbean = 25,000 miles
    • US – South Asia = 40,000 miles

British Airways Card

  • Sign-up Bonus: 50,000 – 100,000 Avios.
  • Uses: British Airways is unique,becausetheyhave a distance based award chart instead of a zone based one. So, there are some great redemptions on BA, but most of them are short distances.
    • Under 650 mile flight = 4,500 Avios
    • Boston – Dublin = 12,500 Avios (cheapest option to Europe)
    • New York – Berlin  = 20,000 Avios

Southwest Cards

  • Sign-up Bonus: 25,000 – 50,000 miles. Never sign-up for a measly 25,000 miles, it’s 50,000 often enough.
  • Uses: Southwest rewards are revenue based, which means that the amount of miles needed for a flight depend on the price of the ticket.WhereSouthwestreallyshinesisit’s companion pass, which gives you the ability to fly with a companion on any flight.
    • US – US = 6,000 – 20,000 miles
    • US – Caribbean  = 15,000 – 30,000 miles

There are significantly more airline cards than I listed, but this gives you an idea. Obviously, if you’re new to churning, chances are you won’t know what cards are best for what locations, so you can always contact me if you need help.

Hotel Cards

Hotel cards and airline cards are very different. The points are worth drastically less than airline miles, but on the plus side there are barely any dates you cannot get an award.

Club Carlson Cards

  • Sign-up Bonus: 60,000 – 85,000 points.
  • Points Needed Per Night: 9,000 – 70,000 points.
  • Other Perks: The Premier card offers the last night free on stays of 2 nights+ on all awards. It also gives you Gold which means you’ll get upgraded rooms when available and you’ll receive a welcome gift  on arrival (among other things).

IHG Cards

  • Sign-up Bonus: 50,000 – 80,000 points.
  • Points Needed Per Night: 5,000 – 50,000 points.
  • Other Perks: The Rewards Club card offers Platinum status (free upgrades) and a 10% point rebate on all redemptions.

Hyatt Card

  • Sign-up Bonus: 2 Free Nights
  • Points Needed Per Night: 5,000 – 30,000 points.
  • Other Perks: This card offers 2 free nights at any property, which can be worth up to $2,000 if used at their category 7 hotels. It also offers Platinum status, which offers preferred rooms and late checkout.

Hilton Cards

  • Sign-up Bonus: 2 Free Nights or 40,000 – 80,000 points
  • Points Needed Per Night: 5,000 – 95,000 points.
  • Other Perks: Many of the cards offer Gold status which gives you free upgrades and breakfast.

There are a lot more hotel cards than I listed, but this gives you an idea.

Transferable Point Cards

These cards are the most versatile cards to get. They all can be transferred, most at a 1:1 ratio (or better), to airlines and hotels, which makes them very useful. I would suggest always having at least one of these cards.

Chase

  • Sign-up Bonus: 40,000 – 70,000 Ultimate Rewards points.
  • Cards: Sapphire Preferred, Ink Bold (discontinued), and Ink Plus.
  • Transfer Partners (1:1):
    • Amtrak
    • British Airways
    • Hyatt
    • IHG
    • Korean Air
    • Marriott
    • Ritz-Carlton
    • Singapore Airlines
    • Southwest
    • United
    • Virgin Atlantic

American Express

  • Sign-up Bonus: 30,000 – 150,000 Membership Rewards points.
  • Cards: Personal and Business Gold, Personal and Business Platinum, Personal and Business Green, Business Blue, Everyday, Everyday Preferred, Mercedes-Benz.
  • Transfer Partners (1:1 unless noted):
    • AeroMexico
    • Aeroplan
    • Air France
    • Alitalia
    • ANA
    • Asia Miles
    • Best Western
    • British Airways
    • Choice
    • Delta
    • El Al (1 to .02)
    • Emirates
    • Frontier
    • Hawaiian
    • Hilton (1 to 1.5)
    • Iberia
    • JetBlue (1 to .8)
    • Singapore
    • Starwood (1 to .33)
    • Virgin America (1 to .5)
    • Virgin Atlantic

Citi

  • Sign-up Bonus: 20,000 – 50,000 ThankYou points.
  • Cards: ThankYou Preferred, ThankYou Premier, Prestige
  • Transfer Partners (1:1 unless noted):
    • Air France
    • Asia Miles
    • Etihad
    • EVA
    • Garuda
    • Hilton (1 to 1.5)
    • Qatar
    • Singapore
    • Thai Airways
    • Virgin Atlantic

Starwood Preferred Guest

  • Sign-up Bonus: 25,000 – 30,000 SPG points.
  • Cards: Amex SPG
  • Transfer Partners (1:1 unless noted):
    • AeroMexico
    • Aeroplan
    • airberlin
    • Air China
    • Air France
    • Air New Zealand (65 to 1)
    • Alaska Airlines
    • Alitalia
    • ANA
    • American Airlines
    • Asia Miles
    • Asiana Airlines
    • British Airways
    • China Eastern Airlines
    • China Southern Airlines
    • Delta
    • Emirates
    • Etihad Airways
    • Gol Smiles
    • Hainan Airlines
    • Hawaiian Airlines
    • Japan Airlines
    • LAN Airlines (1 to 1.5)
    • Miles and More (Lufthansa)
    • Saudi Arabian Airlines
    • Singapore Airlines
    • Thai Airways
    • United (2 to 1)
    • US Airways
    • Virgin Atlantic
    • Virgin Australia

Diner’s Club

  • Sign-up Bonus: None
  • Cards: Diner’s Club Premier and Elite
  • Transfer Partners (1:1 unless noted):
    • Aeroplan
    • Alaska Airlines
    • Amtrak
    • Best Western (1250 to 3300)
    • British Airways
    • Choice (1250 to 2400)
    • Delta
    • El Al (1 to .02)
    • EVA
    • Frontier Airlines
    • Hawaiian Airlines
    • Hilton (1250 to 2000)
    • Hyatt (1250 to 750)
    • Iceland Air
    • IHG (1250 to 1500)
    • Korean Air
    • SAS
    • South African Airways
    • Southwest (15 to 12)
    • Starwood (1250 to 750)
    • Thai Airways
    • Virgin Atlantic

HT: Frequent Miler’s awesome Transfer Partner Master List

How Many Cards

That’s a great question, that has a very open-ended answer – That’s up to you. You should start out opening 1-3 cards, depending on what your comfortable with and what your credit is. I generally open 6-8 at a time between my wife and I. Sometimes I do 3 and she does 2, others it’s a split 4 and 4. I have no issues opening that many cards, but I wouldn’t really want to do more than that at one time. Just find your comfort level and go from there. This is not a “who’s is bigger contest.”

Application Rules

  • US Bank – max of 1 personal and 1 business card at a time.
  • Chase – Max of 3 cards per 30 days mixed between personal and business, but 1 personal and 1 business card at a time seems to have pretty good approval rates.
  • American Express – 1 credit card per day and unlimited charge cards.
  • Citi – 1 personal card per 8 days and 2 per 65 days. 1 business card per 95 days.
  • Discover – 1 card at a time.
  • Bank of America – Up to 3 cards per day mixed between personal and business cards.
  • Barclaycard – Unlimited amount, but they usually only approve a max of two at a time.

Credit Card Sign-up Bonus Rules

  • US Bank – Possible to get the sign-up bonus again if you haven’t had it open in the past 12 months.
  • Chase – Get the sign-up bonus every 24 months.
  • American Express – One lifetime personal bonus per card. It’s possible to get the sign-up bonus on a business card if you haven’t had it open in the past 12 months.
  • Citi – One bonus every 18 months. In the past it was possible to get the bonus every 30 days or less.
  • Discover – Possible to get the sign-up bonus again if you haven’t had it open in the past 12 months.
  • Bank of America – Possible to get the sign-up bonus as early as 30 days between applications
  • Barclaycard – Possible to get the sign-up bonus multiple times, but it’s suggested to wait at least 6 months between applications.

Conclusion & Next Steps

Before you start churning credit cards, I highly suggest doing your research. There’s a lot more to it than I could fit in this post. Also, make sure you stay organized and hit all the sign-up bonuses, otherwise churning is completely pointless.

If you have any churning related tips I missed, please leave them in the comments.

Next Steps

Manufactured spending and churning go together like bread and butter. Are you sick of the food analogies yet? So, if you are new to manufactured spending, check out the links below:

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