November 5, 2012
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?
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):
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 Amazon.com 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!
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?