My final credit card churn

I recently completed a small credit card churn.  I expect this to be my last one ever.  Here’s the story…

Conventional wisdom tells us that the best way to accumulate points and miles quickly is through credit card sign-ups.  Many in the points & miles community have turned this art into a science:  every 91 days, pick 4 to 8 cards, apply for all in a single day, reap the rewards, and repeat.  People call this “credit card churning.”  And, the process of applying for lots of cards in one day is referred to as an “app-o-rama.”  For some reason I hate that term so I simply refer to it as a “churn”.

For most people, credit card churning is the best way to go.  In general, I recommend that for each churn people choose one card from each major player: Chase, American Express, and Citibank; and throw in a card or two from the lesser players: Barclays, Bank of America, etc.  That’s why I setup my “Best credit card offers” page with a separate table for each bank.  A number of the links on that page are my affiliate links for which I get paid for successful applications, but many are not. I try to list only the best offers available regardless of whether I get paid for them.

There are exceptions to the rule of applying for only one card at a time from each bank.  With each bank you could apply for both a personal and a business account at once.  And, with Citibank you can often get double the sign-up bonus in one churn by opening separate browsers and applying at roughly the same time for the same offer in both browsers.  This is usually referred to as the “two browser trick“.  Most people do the two browser trick with Citi AA cards, but it is known to work with some other cards as well.  If you want to know if the trick works with a particular offer, your best bet is to search Flyertalk for a thread dedicated to that credit card.

Gearing up for gift card churning

In the past year I’ve learned that gift card churning can be just as profitable as credit card churning.  I have earned hundreds of thousands of valuable points by strategically buying and using gift cards, prepaid cards, and reload cards.  In order to do this effectively, one must have the right credit cards.  The Chase Ink cards are great for deals that involve office supply stores (5X); American Express Hilton HHonors cards are great for deals involving drug stores, grocery stores, and gas stations (6X); Citi Forward cards are great for deals involving book stores (5X); and so on.  With credit card churning, credit cards are only as good as their sign-up bonuses.  With gift card churning, credit cards are tools to be used for ongoing earnings.

There is no reason why people can’t do both.  Churn credit cards for big payouts every 3 months.  Churn gift cards for ongoing payouts in-between.  In my case, though, I want to stay focused on gift card churning.  Not all gift card churning techniques work for everyone.  And, over time, deals come and go.  So, I feel that it is necessary to keep aggressively hunting for the next great deal.  Sure, many of us are happily enjoying 5X everywhere*, but will it last?

* See “One card to rule them all,” “Bluebird takes flight and changes the game,” and “The 5X everywhere backup plan.”

In order to hunt for the best deals, I need the best tools.  So, I recently did a mini credit card churn focused not on signup bonuses, but on acquiring the tools I need for gift card churning.  Here are the cards I signed up for (all of these can be found on my “Preparing for Miles” page):

Citi Forward

The Citi Forward card earns 5 ThankYou points per dollar for restaurants, books, movies, and music.  What interests me most here is the “books” category.  The Forward card earns 5 points per dollar at and Barnes & Noble, to name just a couple of interesting merchants.  Barnes & Noble is particularly interesting since my nearby B&N Campus Bookstore carries gift cards and reloadable American Express Campus Edition cards (see my post “American Express Campus Edition” for more information).  I’m looking forward to running some experiments there!  ThankYou points are not always easy to get good value from, but when combined with a Citi ThankYou Premier card (which I already have), the points become worth 1.33 cents each towards airfare.  So, 5 points per dollar earnings, becomes 6.65% towards airfare!

US Bank Cash+

I recently argued that the US Bank Cash+ card may be the best cash back card there is (see “The best cash back card?“).  Cardholders are allowed to select two categories with which they will earn 5% cash back without limit.  Even better, when you redeem rewards for cash in $100 increments, you are given a $25 bonus.  That means that the real earnings are 6.25% cash back!  There are many 5% categories to choose from, but for this quarter I selected department stores, and charities.  I plan to run some experiments to see what exactly qualifies and how best to leverage this outstanding card.

Discover More Card

The Discover More card is similar to Chase’s Freedom card in that it offers quarterly rotating 5X categories.  What really interested me in this card, though, was getting access to the ShopDiscover online portal.  This shopping portal consistently has higher cash back rates than just about any other portal.  I’ve spent a lot of time learning and publishing the ins and outs of Chase’s Ultimate Rewards portal, but now its time to give Discover some love as well.

American Express Hilton HHonors

The Hilton HHonors card gives 3 base points per dollar for all purchases.  That in itself is not bad, but its not as impressive as it sounds.  I value HHonors points at about half a cent each, so this is like getting 1.5 cents per dollar.  That’s better than many cards, but not as good as some.  What makes this card really interesting to me is that it gives 6 points per dollar at supermarkets, gas stations, drug stores, and Hilton properties.  It also gives 6X for phone, cable, and satellite charges but I’d rather get 5X from my Ink Bold for those charges.  One surprise I got when I received my card was to find that the drug store bonus is limited to specific drug stores: CVS, DUANEreade, Rite Aid, and Walgreen.  That’s OK, there’s still plenty opportunity in those stores.  Keep in mind, for example, that many people have reported success in buying Vanilla Reload cards at Walgreens!

What’s Next

Now that I have “tooled up” with some terrific new credit cards, I plan to continue to aggressively search for the next great deal.  Not everyone has access to the deals I’ve published previously; and you never know how long the existing deals will last.  I do know, though, that there are plenty of opportunities out there, and I believe that we’ll find them.

I no longer plan to signup for lots of credit cards for the signup bonuses.  I’m not stupid, though — when great offers come along, I’ll snatch them up just like anyone else.  And, I’m not arguing that others should follow in my footsteps.  Credit Card churning remains an incredible way to rack up points and miles quickly.  You can earn huge numbers of points and miles through credit card churning, or gift card churning, or both.  Personally, I’ve decided to focus primarily on gift card churning.  How about you?

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  1. Ironically, we applied for the US Bank card yesterday. According to the automated system, we got denied. Hubby’s credit score is over 800 so I am anxious to see why. Thanks for your work! We are switching more to a cash back system because we are going to do more domestic travel in the next couple of years.

  2. We were never one to do 10-20 CCs a yr either. For the most part we keep most of our CCs for multiple yrs. I wouldnt sign up for a bonus just to do it. Usually we concentrate on 4-6 programs and try to maximize our miles/point in those areas.

  3. Looking forward to the results in your change of focus. With the way that airline miles are being devalued and harder to redeem, I’ve become more focused on cash back cards as well.

    I had heard rumors that the Citi Forward could not be used on for non-book orders anymore. Please post when you find out the true story here.

    FYI, I tried getting Vanilla Reloads at my local Walgreens twice and got rejected both times when trying to pay with credit card. The cash registrar pops up a message saying that they can only be bought with cash or debit. In my experience when this happens at a store its very hard to consistently find cashiers that will accept credit card payments.

    • AndrewC: Evidence suggests that the Amazon rumors were false, but I’ll double check that. Regarding Walgreens — try a different one. Only one out of 3 Walgreens in my area worked.

      CaptainCool: Freedom is high on my list, but I’m not ready to do another Chase application right now.

  4. Very interested to hear about the Discover card. I have noticed the higher cash back for ShopDiscover when I check

  5. I think you are giving up the easiest way of getting points for one that takes more time, effort and potential cost. But maybe I am missing something on the gift card churning front.

    • MilesAbound: As I said in the post, for most people credit card churning is still the way to go. Gift card churning, on the other hand, has become a big part of my job. I’m going to do it anyway for the sake of research for this blog. And, I’ve found that through gift card churning I’ll earn more points than I know what to with, so why bother credit card churning?

  6. I have both the citi forward and thank you premiere card, but am slowly depleting my points balance. I only redeem for flights at 1.33 cents each, but when my TYP card annual fee comes due, I will probably cancel that card. I have used that card for all types of amazon purchases and have gotten 5 points per dollar (i dont think it works for Amazon payments though).
    I love bluebird but think it is destined to fail unless AMEX buys vanilla reload and has their cards in more places or releases a similar product that is more readily available. The Target Amex is looking like my new favorite reloadable card…

  7. Maury is short and to the point. Ha! What a thought provoking sentence! (seriously) I presume a lot of people are in the accumulation phase with little time to use them?

  8. @FM – So even in the event that the Vanilla option goes away, you’ll be satisfied with your earn through other cards and not ‘need’ to churn?

    I don’t think this golden goose is going to stay around forever.

  9. Hi Frequent Miler, I’ve been reading your blog a while and I think it’s great. You talk about taking advantage of mega bonuses like 20x points. I have a question about keeping track of shopping portal bonuses. I am well aware of sites like evreward that will give you a list of portals that give points or cash back for a specific store you search for. Is there a website at which you can compare what portals have the best multiplier at any particular store?

    To further clarify, I have to visit shopping portals individually to see that Portal X currently has 15x at Store A, while Portal Y has 10x at Store B. At sites like evreward, I have to come up with a list of stores I’m interested in to check. I want to visit one website that will list the best promotions , perhaps even at stores I haven’t thought of. Sorry if this is confusing…any ideas?

  10. I’ve done my last app-o-rama for at least a year, and then I’ll revisit it. I have too many inquiries on my credit report at the moment. On my most recent batch I applied for four cards (Ink Bold, Priority Club, Amex Hilton 65k, Citi AA Business) and had to call to get approved for the there I got. No luck with Citi, I might write a letter.

    I’m gonna give it a break and focus on gift cards with the Ink Bold now.

  11. Everyone can do whatever they want, but I can’t figure out why taking less than an hour every 3 months and applying for credit cards for you and your wife won’t happen anymore? It just seems like incredible reward for the effort, versus doing it “the hard way.”

    I think you really need to add a points gained per time spent metric.

    • Bikeguy: When it comes down to it, maybe credit card churning is just too easy. One of the things I love about this game is trying to find or figure out new ways to score points & miles. Sure, I could keep churning credit cards, but why bother? There’s no thrill in the hunt there for me.

  12. KC. I have heard that US Bank is very sensitive to the number of hard credit pulls. I was approved for Flexperks, but it was not instant approval. 789 Experian score.

    Barclays also. They called me and asked about recent new cards. That was when I applied for NFL Card Olyimpic promotion (31,500 points). I told them I was out to get away from airline specific cards. They did end up approving it.

  13. My creed:
    I will NEVER have too many miles in my accounts.
    I will NEVER travel too much.
    I will NEVER take on more comfort than I can handle.
    I will NEVER let an opportunity go by to enjoy the above.

  14. credit card churning will not work for much longer, too many doing it and opening and closing accounts will finally stop working, every abused opportunity always comes to an end.

  15. Carl: The more I read, the more I do think the inquires have something to do with it. I will probably have the hubby call. We were planning to open a checking account with them for the extra money per month. (I think it is an extra 25%) Oh…win some and lose some…

  16. Greg: I’ve gotta agree with Bikeguy. Just when we have the increasing minimum spend problem beaten, you are backing away? With the combination of these two techniques, churning and gift cards, the niche has never had it so good.

  17. With regards to the Discover Card, I use to use that card exclusively….so I had $800 cash back saved in my cash back account. We are going on a cruise leaving Singapore, so I used some Discover Cash back with their partner Royal Caribbean. I spent $200 in my cash back account and they turned it into a $400 credit towards my cruise (2 cabins). It was the best deal around.

  18. The Hilton Amex is phenomenal for my situation – with no Office Depot nearby and no Walgreens that’ll do Vanilla Reloads with credit, my husband and I earn 6 points per dollar on the things we do most – get gas, buy groceries, and stock up on household stuff at drug stores. Plus, we pay internet/cell phone bills on it. We get bonus points on Home Depot stuff with gift cards from grocery stores. We LOVE the Hilton/Waldorf/Hampton experiences we’ve had – just had a great trip to the Waldorf=Astoria where we were treated great for being “only” silver members because of the Hilton Amex. I keep Chase cards (Freedom for over a decade and a new Sapphire Preferred) for the flexibility of Ultimate Rewards, but the Hilton Amex suit fits very well.

  19. Sounds good to me. I just stopped at 3 OD today. No Vanilla Reliads to be found. 1 store sai they don’t know if they’ll be getting anymore in. Another store said they aren’t going to e carrying them anymore due to the high fraud they have been experiencing.

  20. Where is this fraud the OD people talk of? Everyone I know is using tons of these reloads properly and legally. I think its their lazy way of saying OD couldnt figure out why all of these were flying off the shelves while 100’s of our other boring GCs were left dusty on the shelf.

  21. I’m really not liking this new bb card. I was able to get plenty reload cards before bb came out. Now I can’t find them in any of the ODs around me. cvs or walgreen haven’t started carrying them either.

  22. What about using Green Dot? I found a wal greens that had a large supply of VR cards, but they wouldn’t take credit just cash.

  23. I think FM is being very smart. He is making his Blog unique, relevant and in demand. Vanilla Reload put him on the map. Another major discovery and he will be a legend. FM, Good luck and good hunting.

    @Valerie +10

  24. Speaking of CC applications, are weekdays better than weekends for multi-card applications? If so, are daytime business hours better than evenings? Thank you.

  25. Rob P: I think weekdays are better than weekends because system downtime usually happens on weekends and application is more likely to go through manual review process on weekends.

  26. FM: I saw that you signed up for the discover more card. Do you or any reader know if in order to receive cash back through shopdiscover, do you have to use a discover card to pay for the purchase. or will any credit card do, even ones from chase, citi or amex?

    • bigauto: I’ve heard conflicting things from people about whether you can use the ShopDiscover portal with different credit cards. I’ll try it myself to get a definitive answer.

  27. I have never received cashback with other cards (tried 2 diff ones) via the portal. Funny I am struggling to get some of the cashback for some of my groupon purchases with the discovercard. Sent all the details and they said sorry they will post it but haven’t yet and it’s 2 mths already. Only missing about $9 so don’t want to waste any more time following up. Just my experience.

  28. Pam: Thanks for that info. By the way, do you know of a way to see pending ShopDiscover cash back? Most portals provide a way to see transactions that are tracked and the expected amount of cash back even before it becomes payable.

  29. @Frequent Miler – Sure.

    I logged in to my account just to re-confirm and I don’t see a way to see transactions that are tracked. I also looked at: Cashback Bonus Details in Your Account Activity- section – and it does not have that level of information.

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