"Churning" is the term used in the travel hacking community for applying for several credit cards on the same day, in order to maximize one's chance of being approved for each card. The reasoning behind this strategy is that since recent applications for credit temporarily reduce your credit score, you can prevent each credit card company from seeing applications made to other issuers if they're made more or less simultaneously (or at least on the same day).
In other words, if you apply for two credit cards on the same day, one issued by Citibank and one by Bank of America, when each bank looks at your credit history, neither one will know about your application to the other, increasing your chances of being approved for both cards.
So let's take a look at a sample churn for someone who's just beginning to get involved in the travel hacking game. We'll start with three credit cards, which will allow us to diversify our miles and points, without committing to too large of a minimum spending requirement. To set up our churn, we'll want to pick a total of three out of these 7 offers, with one from each bank.
US Bank issues two of the most lucrative credit cards available, and you'll want to apply for one of the two on your first churn, since US Bank is notorious for being relatively strict with their credit approvals.
- US Bank Cash+ card can only available for in-branch, so you can only apply if you live in or are visiting a region served by US Bank. As a reminder, this card offers 5% cash back on two categories of your choice, on up to $2000 in spending each quarter. This card has three advantages over other 5% cash back cards: you get to choose your 5% cash back categories; you receive 5% cash back on up to $2000 in spending, instead of $1500; and you also receive unlimited 2% cash back on drug stores, grocery stores, or gas stations.
- If you can't apply for the Cash+ in-branch, US Bank also issues the co-branded Club Carlson credit cards, which have incredible sign-up bonuses and on-going benefits right now. If you're eligible for a small business credit card, apply for the Club Carlson Business Rewards Visa with an 85,000 point signup bonus after $2500 spending within 90 days, 40,000 point annual renewal bonus, and $60 annual fee. If you don't have a small business, apply for the Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature card with the same signup bonus and renewal bonus, but with a $75 annual fee.
The Cash+ card doesn't have a minimum spending requirement, while the Club Carlson cards require $2500 in spending within 90 days to receive the full bonus.
Chase has some of the best credit cards for novice and veteran churners alike.
- The Chase Freedom card has a 10,000 point signup bonus after $500 in spending in 3 months. You'll definitely want this card eventually, so if you're just getting your toes wet in the world of travel hacking, this is as good a time as any! The Freedom has no annual fee, and while the Ultimate Rewards points it earns aren't "flexible" Ultimate Rewards points, if you later open a Sapphire Preferred or Ink Bold/Plus card, you can transfer your Freedom Ultimate Rewards points into those "flexible" accounts instantly.
- If you have recent activity in your United MileagePlus account, you might be eligible for an excellent offer of 55,000 MileagePlus miles after $1000 in spending within 3 months and after adding an authorized user, plus a $50 statement credit.
- Finally, if you're ready to get serious about travel hacking, the Sapphire Preferred is an excellent workhouse card, allowing you to redeem your flexible Ultimate Rewards points for 1.25 cents towards travel through the Ultimate Rewards portal, or transfer them at a 1:1 rate to Chase's transfer partners. The current offer is the standard 40,000 points after $3000 in spending within 3 months.
- American Express doesn't have any amazing signup bonuses at the moment, but many travel hackers love the Starwood Preferred Gold card by American Express, with a 25,000 point signup bonus after $5,000 in spending within 6 months. These points can be redeemed directly for hotel stays with Starwood, or transferred to Starwood's airline partners.
- The American AAdvantage card issued by Citibank currently has an excellent signup bonus of 50,000 AAdvantage miles after spending $3000 within 4 months, a $150 statement credit after your first purchase on American, and two lounge passes.
As you can see, you need to make a couple decisions right away:
- Are you more interested in hotel stays or flights? For hotel stays, the Club Carlson, Starwood, and Sapphire Preferred are all good offers, depending on where you're planning to travel. If you're more interested in free flights, you'll want to look closely at the 50,000 American AAdvantage mile and 55,000 United MileagePlus offers, as well as the Sapphire Preferred offer, since those points can be transferred to a number of airlines as well.
- How much of a minimum spending requirement are you willing to commit to? No rewards credit card is worth signing up for if you're unable to meet the spending requirement. On the low side, you could apply for the Freedom, Cash+, and American AAdvantage cards and need to spend only $3500 within 4 months. If you're feeling more ambitious, you could apply for the Sapphire Preferred, Club Carlson, and either American AAdvantage or Starwood Preferred Guest cards and need to spend $8,500-$10,500 within 4 months. That's definitely a lot of money, so you'll need a plan in advance for meeting that minimum spend requirement, using the tips and tricks in the book and here on the website!