The 10 Commandments of Credit Card churning
- Pay No Late Fees/Interest: It sort of goes without saying, but if you’re stupid enough to carry balances on the cards from month to month, then you shouldn’t credit card churn. Pay the whole balance before the due date. I’ll stop there.
- Don’t Increase Your Spending: The promotional spending requirement can be as little as a single purchase (Wyndham Rewards Visa Signature), or as much as $20k (British Airways Visa Signature). It varies from card to card, but the awards/points value usually amounts to about 30% of the minimum spend. Some better, some worse. So, if you generate additional spending to hit the minimum, it totally negates the purpose.
- Organizing. Organization. Organized: Take nothing for granted. Put everything on autopay. Open Dates, Close Dates. Annual Fees. Usernames and Passwords. Account Numbers. Promotion values and spending requirements/timeframes. Pretend like you will die tomorrow and somebody will have to pick up the baton on your chaos. The spreadsheet on page one of this post is a good template.
- Verify The Promotion: When you call to activate the card, make sure that you qualify for the promotion. I got caught up once on this. I accidentally applied for the same card twice (I thought the second app was for the spouse). Luckily, I called and asked. Card never was activated. I moved onto the next one.
- Cancel Before The Annual Fee (Usually): Many cards have the annual fee waived for the first year. Before the second year hits, be sure you cancel the card. Unless, of course, the fee comes with a nice perk that makes the fee worthwhile. Like the IHG Card from Chase, where the $49 fee comes with a free night.
- Watch Your Credit Report: You can keep an eye on your credit report for free at CreditKarma. With all of these cards coming in and out of your life, you need to be more diligent on identity theft or erroneous charges. Along with this, continue to check the balances on cards you are no longer using, as you may erroneously grab the wrong card. This can be mitigated somewhat by…
- Use One At A Time: To keep yourself and your spouse sane, it’s best to use one card exclusively until you hit the promotional spend amount. Then, destroy the card and move on to the next one. For AmEx cards, which aren’t universally accepted, you might have another on standby. This reduces chaos and juggling.
- Quality Over Quantity: I’d recommend looking for high value targets to start out. On your credit report, each credit inquiry is created equal, so get the best offers first. Here is NerdWallet’s list of reward offers sorted by sign up value.
- Keep Recurring Bills On a Permanent Card: We don’t have a lot of recurring bills, but for our cell phones, Netflix, PayPal, Uber, iTunes, and internet service, those continue to be paid by a “permanent” card. I don’t want to have to keep up with changing the payment option for all of that stuff.
- Put Everything On The Card: I would have never been able to rack up so many points if it wasn’t for my tuition and mass transit expenses—which are reimbursed by my work. In this vein, make sure you get an authorized user on your card for your spouse, so that all household expenses go through the card. The only exception to this would be for things where a card has a big upcharge, like payments to the government.
So, if those are the commandments, here are the rules of thumb for getting started.
Getting Started in Credit Card churning
If I were starting out credit card churning, I would following a few rules of thumb:
- Avoid airline specific rewards, except Southwest. This is especially true if you have a family. 25k Skymiles will get you one round-trip ticket, which is very nice if you are flying last minute to a far-away land. However, most travel is relatively planned out. As such, having 25k Rapid Rewards points can get you maybe 2 round trips. Or, 25k ThankYou points can get you $260 in travel, which also might be enough for 1.5 or 2 round trips, since you can pick an off-peak time and choose among all airlines. Just a suggestion.
- Start with the best cards. After a while, you’ll start to run into roadblocks at certain banks when trying to open up new cards. These can usually be overcome with a simple call to the issuer’s Reconsideration Line. However, to avoid this, I’d recommend getting some good, high spend cards right away. Chase Sapphire Preferred, Southwest Premier, and Citi ThankYou Premier come to mind right away. However, The Points Guy’s Hot Deals page is a great place to start. Or, again, NerdWallet’s list.
- Go from bank to bank. Rather than getting like, two Hilton Cards, then two Skymiles Cards, etc. I’d recommend bunching your card applications based on the bank. Meaning, get two AmEx Cards, then two Citi cards, then two Chase cards, etc. I’ve gotten rejected on some Chase applications since I opened a card in the near past. However, when I bunch them together, it seems their “system” doesn’t catch on. This allowed me to open a couple AmEx cards on the same night. It’s not a science, though, just a recommendation.
If you’re still with me on this, you probably have some concerns. Let me try to address those in the last page…