Cinque Terra - Corniglia

Credit Card Churning Part One

budget, cut expenses, debt, expenses, financial independence, frugal, how we win, personal finance, savings, travel

Credit card “churning” was a concept Winning Williams had occasionally heard of and was enticed by, but never enough to commit to. There was nothing and no one to blame, but our own “excusitis”. However, this was a huge opportunity that we missed out on. This is the first article that gives a good overview of the concept, benefits, and drawbacks with a couple examples from Winning Williams’ experiences. We will follow-up later with more examples of how we were able to maximize this concept for financial gain and real-life travel & experiences. (Stay tuned!)

The Concept

The concept of credit card churning is utilize spend on multiple credit cards to obtain the significant sign-up bonuses. After reaching the required spend level to obtain a sign-up bonus, that card has served its purpose; it’s time to move to the next card, racking up significant amounts of points in the process. If done correctly, and it does take some effort, organization, and planning, then you can significantly reduce your costs to travel. Guilt-free travel for the win!

A Churn Example (or failure thereof) and how Winning Williams “overspent” by over $2,000

Winning Williams took an amazing two week trip to Italy this past April. The airfare alone set us back $2,350. We have prioritized travel, yet maintain an extremely high savings rate despite budgeting for international travel / multiple U.S. based vacations. We paid for this trip in full and took on no new debt to cover the costs. However, we will never stop trying to further improve ourselves: our goals, our finances, our health, our relationships.

After a 60 second search on the United website just to highlight an example of how easy redeeming points can be. For a trip to Italy in April next year (from Tampa), roundtrip would cost 120,000 miles and $167.80 out of pocket (for unavoidable fees, etc. that must be paid in Cash). While 120,000 is a significant amount of miles, it is far from insurmountable and we provide a summary example below of how it could be reached. If we would have followed the simple credit-card churning strategies, we could have easily saved over $2,000. (Our missed opportunity can be your gain!) This is just one example from a quick 60 second search.

A Churn Example (successful!) and how Winning Williams “returned” 80% of our regular spend on our first trial

Our first attempt at maximizing bonuses feels pretty good and provided a nice return on our normal spend. With an upcoming business trip for work to New York City,  the Winning Williams will get half of the flights paid for by work and flexible travel arrangements giving us Friday, Saturday, and part of Sunday to explore the city and visit with friends. Obviously, hotels in NYC can be expensive, so we elected to start our “churn” and maximizing bonuses with the Chase Hyatt Card, giving two free nights at any Hyatt location after meeting the $1,000 spend in 3 months. We reached this threshold with our normal spend and while our number one hotel option was unavailable, we booked our back-up hotel in the heart of Manhattan at a Hyatt property that would have cost $800 for the two nights. Getting $800 of value on $1,000 of normal spend is not a bad return! It took minimal time and gave us the encouragement to move forward slightly more aggressively with our next card, but still very much controlled (one card at a time).

The Primary Risk

This should only be done if you pay off your card in full every month. We don’t believe in carrying ANY debt, but credit card debt is perhaps the worst debt an individual can carry. If you have trouble with spending, carry a balance on your card, and don’t pay it off in full every month, DO NOT CONSIDER THIS CONCEPT.

Other Risks

  • Opening credit cards puts a hard pull on your credit report and has a negative impact on your credit score. If you already don’t have a solid credit score or will have upcoming financing needs (house, car, etc.), this is likely not the time to be doing this strategy. We have not experienced any negative impact yet; however, we are still early in the game and will be monitoring our score closely. (Note that some people have experienced an increase in credit score as their amount available to borrow increases and their utilization decreases with higher availability.)
  • You need to stay organized. There are multiple items to track: opening dates (since you will most likely want to close the cards before the first anniversary date and annual fee), time to hit the bonus and what that requirement is, cards open, etc. You also need to make sure you pay on full every month as paying interest will wipeout any benefit from the bonuses.
  • Unnecessary spending. You might be tempted to purchase things you would have otherwise purchased when trying to meet the minimum spend (more on that later).
  • Security – technically a risk since you will have more open accounts. Monitoring your credit score monthly helps to stay on top things and see if anything has gone awry.

Further case study from our churn example on international travel:

120,000 miles for the roundtrip ticket for two to Europe is no small number. But it could pretty easily be achieved by signing up for the:

  • United MileagePlus Personal (Chase) – we just received an offer for 50,000 miles (temporarily increased from 30K) if you spend $1,000 in 3-months and no annual fee for the first year
  • United MileagePlus Business (Chase) – 50,000 miles if you spend $2,000 in 3-months and no annual fee for the first year (there are various ways to get approved for the business card)
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred (Chase) – 40,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR) if you spend $4,000 in 3-months and no annual fee for the first year

The sign-up bonuses alone will result in 140K in miles and your trip to Italy plus some to spare! This is just one example and there are many various ways of getting the necessary points to travel domestically or internationally.

Most Relevant Question

You should be asking how you will spend $7,000 on your credit card to obtain these bonuses in this example (this better not be your average credit card spend). We surely don’t spend that much. Being debt-free we don’t have monthly mortgage or loan payments, even if we did those usually can’t be paid with credit cards. However, there are many ways, including manufactured spending, to help reach those goals. Manufactured spending is basically a method of finding ways to use your credit card to indirectly pay for expenses that can’t directly be paid with credit card. There are many ways to go about manufactured spending and the travel miles course will cover this in detail (as will a Google search). If we were pursuing the Europe example above, I’d estimate that over several months (we would stagger the opening of the cards to make it easier) we could fund perhaps half of the $7,000 on normal spend.

If we had to manufacture spend the remaining $3,500 at a cost of 1% (as in the case of purchasing $500 Visa Gift Cards at a cost of $4.95), the cost would approximately be $35 out of pocket. So worst case for our Italy example: $167.80 out of pocket flight cash cost + $35 manufactured spending cost = $202.8 for two round-trip tickets to Europe from the U.S. including all fees and with miles left over.

Conclusion

The opportunities are out there. We love to travel and we love to save money. If we can increase our travel by being flexible, we surely will. That is where we currently are and encourage you to consider using the rewards and systems that are sitting out there available for the taking. Many people are enjoying significant travel at next to nothing costs. We found out that it is not that difficult, but just like anything, if you are willing to sacrifice a little bit of time, you may reap significant benefits. The Chase Hyatt example brought us an $800 benefit from less than an hour of work.

We would point you in the direction of: http://www.travelmiles101.com/. Sign up for their free online course. This course breaks down the detail on various strategies and best ways to maximize cards, travel, etc. It also gives a list of the best cards that are out there currently and the best time to sign-up for them.  Mr. Winning Williams completed the course in August (simple get an e-mail each morning with links for the days education) and learned a tremendous amount of information and participated in their community where people came together to help solve and maximize point opportunities.

This will certainly help us take advantage of more opportunities, and just might help you too! Feel free to post any comments or questions and we’d surely be glad to help!

 

Check out our follow up posts on how we have been able to continue to save on travel:

New York City

The American Southwest

Iceland

9 thoughts on “Credit Card Churning Part One

    1. I’m curious what are the differences you have experienced so far? Anything you’ve seen that puts you in a better position? I’d still consider the travel miles course recommended in the post. There were several international participants who were sharing their experiences on the related forums. The more we can feed off and share with one another, the better off we all will be! Good luck with your free travel!

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      1. Have you heard of Million Miles? Their blog is what really got me started a few years back. There were a lot of lucrative bonuses that were of course only open to American citizens. I think Canadian sign up bonuses generally tend to be smaller, and we also have fewer options. Aeroplan is the big one here because it’s Air Canada, but Aeroplan is not nearly as good as the American airline points systems I’ve read about. The taxes paid on “free” tickets can still be in the hundreds, and you can’t use points to cover those off. There were a few other “tricks” only available in the US (e.g. using Bluebird I think it’s called to make payments for things like mortgages, which is not available for Canadians). It’s been awhile since I’ve been seeking out ways to maximize points so I’m sure I’m missing some, but that’s something I probably should get back into!

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