Old Mar 27, 2014, 4:06 pm
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Credit Card Churning Guide

Old Mar 27, 2014, 1:24 pm
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Credit Card Churning Guide

In response to questions from a lot of beginners on Reddit, I've written a intro, step-by-step guide to credit card churning.

I'm more of a flyertalker though. Would people like me to post it here? Is this the appropriate place? If so, I'll edit this first post to include it, or post it where appropriate.

Thanks.

EDIT: Guide below.

------------------
(Added on 3/27/14) This is parts 1 and 2 of 4 of my step-by-step guide to credit card churning. This part takes you from the general knowledge necessary to the process of planning and executing your first churn through an App-O-Rama.

Part 1 provides an overview of churning, explains its benefits, and outlines my approach.
Part 2 provides the basic knowledge and tools necessary to determine if and how you can begin churning.

I'm half way through this. So far there's lots of overview... the rest of the guide will be much more specific. I'll finish part 3 and post it Friday, and I'll finish part 4 and post it Monday.
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Overview

Credit card churning is the practice of repeatedly signing up for credit cards in order to receive their bonus offers. Most often, these bonus offers are for tens of thousands of miles, with 30k-50k being most common. Some cards have other perks, such as hotel status, travel reimbursement, or free program enrollment.

Usually, you earn these perks after paying an annual fee and reaching a minimum spend in a short timeframe, although there are exceptions. In order to reach these minimum spends, you manufacture spend. Manufactured spend is the practice of charging things to your credit card that you can then convert back into cash.

Credit card companies do not particularly care about, or try to prevent, credit card churning from occurring. That said, they can be sensitive to requests for credit and credit score as a whole. There are some habits that can help you maintain your credit score, your relationship with the banks, and maximize approvals.

The first and most important strategy is called an app-o-rama (AOR). App-o-rama’s are when you apply for a number of credit cards amongst various banks as fast as possible… usually within a few hours. In general, you can do an AOR once every 3 months.

Disclaimer

Credit card churning is definitely not for everyone.
  • Churning can be a lot of work, especially on the days/week of an App-O-Rama. Expect the process to take hours on that particular day, and a decent amount of time between AORs while you’re managing the cards and making sure you’re hitting minimum spends. This will take time.
  • Not only should you not churn, but you actually won’t be able to churn if you’re the type of person who spends when you can’t afford it or the type who doesn’t pay their bill in full every month.
  • Finally, if done correctly, churning will lower your credit card score in the short-term and raise it in the long-term. There’s various views on when to stop churning before a big loan request (i.e. a mortgage) but I’d say don’t churn within a year (at least) of making a large purchase requiring credit.

My Approach

Most people recommend that you decide what your travel goals are, aim for a specific potential trip, etc. They often recommend a cautious approach. Maybe it’s because I come from the world of flight hacking, which is much more work for much less payoff, but I see churning as a goldmine that won’t be around forever. My approach is all about getting the very most out of this, and for non-specific plans… that is to say, I earn the most valuable miles/points/perks I can, as quickly as possible, on a speculative basis.

In addition, I value flight-related miles/perks well above hotel-related points/perks. The simple reason for this is that while a flight always costs around the same price (and is quite significant) accommodation can often be obtained cheaply and easily.

Finally, it is my goal to travel as much, as often, as possible. I don’t use miles on first-class, because I don’t know how long I’ll be able to churn for, or what my future earnings will be, etc. That is also partially why I am not as impressed with hotel points as airline points.

If our goals diverge, think about how that affects my advice.

You want to churn? Here’s how to begin:

1. Sign up for and check your credit score with Credit Sesame and Credit Karma. If your score on either is below 740, you need to build your credit before becoming a churner. Sorry!

2. Download this spreadsheet.* Credit card churning gets complicated quickly, and you need to be able to track everything. Add any credit cards you have applied for in the past two years to the spreadsheet. Anything that you applied for before then, even if you use it today, is not relevant.

3. Basic AOR rules:
  • You can do one app-o-rama every 3 months (must be 3 months since last application usually).
  • Your goal should be to obtain 1 business and 1 personal card from every bank (see exceptions below).
  • Your goal should be to obtain 1 business and 1 personal card from every bank (see exceptions below).
  • You want to do your app-o-rama on a weekday, early in the morning. You want to do it as quickly as possible (rationale provided later).
  • When possible, especially after you’ve done a few already, app-o-rama’s should be structured around limited time opportunities (explained later).

4. Learn the basics of the banks.

Here’s my quick overview, in order of their value:

Chase: Chase has by far the most credit cards with the greatest bonus offers. They’re also one of the easiest banks to get approvals from, although it is easier to get personal approvals than business approvals.

AmEx: Compared to the other banks, Amex has more valuable offers that are not publicly available and may come in the mail at any time. These offers can be very significant and can be worth structuring an AOR around.

Citi: Citi is a departure from the typical AOR application rules. You cannot apply for two citi cards in the same day, and there is no distinction between business and personal cards (in terms of approval).

After applying for a citi card, you must wait 10 days (people say 8, but in practice it has been 10 for me). You can then apply for another Citi card, but you cannot apply for more than two in a 70 day period.

In addition, Citi will often let you churn an individual card, which means you could get a card and then get the exact same one ten days later.

To deal with these rules, I often apply for my first card of an AOR with Citi, and then do the rest of my AOR ten or more days later.

Bank of America: BoA has few cards of value, but some are infinitely churnable. I have 6 of one card with them.

US Bank: US Bank also has few cards of value. They also do not have a true reconsideration line (more on this later) so you often have to just wait and see what happens with those applications (usually about a week later).

Barclays: Barclays can be the hardest bank to get approvals from, and they have limited (2) cards of value. Their reconsideration line also closes early.

Others: It’s rare, but every once in a while Capital One or another bank or credit union offers a worthwhile bonus. If it matches up with your AoR timing, that’s great, since it gives you one more card than you’d otherwise have.
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(Added on 3/31/14) This is part 3 of 4 of my step-by-step guide to credit card churning. This part takes you from the general knowledge necessary to the process of planning and executing your first churn through an App-O-Rama.[/I]
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5. Learn the basics of miles and points

There are a few different types of points and miles you can earn from churning.

Flexible points (best): SPG, Ultimate Rewards, AmEx

- These points can be transferred, at favorable rates, to a variety of valuable airlines (and/or hotel programs). They're awesome to have, since they give you the most flexibility and value. You can use them to supplement various trips across various airlines or hotels.

Airline miles: United, American, US Air, Southwest, Lufthansa, Alaskan, British Air .... LAN, Delta, Virgin Atlantic

- I have these ranked in general order of value, but you're going to have to do the research yourself if you want more precision or customized ranking based on your location. There's a big gap in value at the ellipsis due to difficulty and expense in redemption, so much so that many churners will ignore the last three ones listed.

Hotel points: Club Carlson, Hilton, Hyatt, IHG, Marriott

- Once again, you have to do the research yourself. These aren't ranked, they're just the hotel programs that seem to have the most value and are able to distinguish themselves versus other hotel programs.

While familiarizing yourself with these, it's valuable to learn about redemption. For example, I was floored when I first found out miles on United (and other programs) could be used for a free stopover, and didn't have markups for obscure countries since redemption is region based (i.e. it costs the same to go to the Marshall Islands as it does to go to Sydney!). Knowing about redemption will help dictate how you prioritize what miles/points you earn.

6. Begin planning your first AOR.

Overall AOR Structure:

1 business and 1 personal card: Chase, BoA, US Bank, Amex

2 cards of any type: Citi

1 personal card: Barclay

Choosing Which Cards:

If you are following my philosophy of churning (as explained above), simply choose the top cards in my credit card rankings that you have yet to acquire within the past 2 years. (Can't post link here, see signature. Will also post them monthly on FlyerTalk.)

The exception to this is that you definitely want to take advantage of any targeted limited time offers, probably want to take advantage of any public limited time offers, and want to wait on any cards that have specific timing bonuses (i.e. end of year, or frequent limited time offers). The notes for these are included in my rankings.

A targeted limited time offer is one for which there is no public link available, and you've received an invitation code to apply within a specific timeframe in the mail. If you receive one of these and it is good (10k+ above normal offer, and one of the better offers that people receive on this card) go ahead and take advantage of it in this AOR.

A non-targeted limited time offer is a card that has recently had the bonus increased on a temporary basis.

If you'd like to learn to rank you own cards, it's pretty simple. Subscribe to the special credit cards offer thread, check out the latest blogger rankings, and watch the rest of this Flyertalk forum.

If you really want to get ahead of the game, create Google alerts for offers from each of the banks!

Schedule

Per the 10 day Citi rule explained above, you usually want to put in one Citi application and get approved 10 days before your AOR.

7. Do the AOR: Choose a weekday, and apply

You want your applications to go in as quickly as possible, so that each credit pull does not show the other credit pulls for your other applications. There's a rumor out there that applications just need to be the same day... this is NOT true. I've had reps on reconsideration lines see credit pulls for cards I've applied for no less than an hour prior.

To accomplish what's above, I recommend having a firm plan in place, including the links to each application (in incognito mode/separate browser if that's encouraged for that offer), the list of cards, and the order you are going to apply for them in.

It doesn't really matter that much, but I recommend applying in the following order:
  • Cards for any banks you have previous denials from
  • Cards you really want (usually limited-time offers)
  • Inverse order of banks listed above (AKA Barclay's first). I'd also apply for the business cards for any banks before the personal ones. The general idea is that you want to apply for the cards you'll have the most difficulty getting first, since that credit pull will be cleanest.

Most likely, you'll get some instant approvals and some applications that will say it is 'under review' or 'under consideration', etc. As soon as you are done submitting your applications...

------------
(Added on 4/15/14) This is part 4 of 4 of my step-by-step guide to credit card churning. This part covers what to do after applying for the cards in your App-O-Rama..[/I]
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8. Call the reconsideration lines for any cards you were not instantly approved for.

I’d recommend calling in the same order you applied, but once again, it doesn’t really matter, unless you need to call both the business and personal reconsideration lines for a bank, in which case I’d call business first.

Chase:

Personal: 888-245-0625 (7am-10pm Eastern)

Business: 800-453-9719 (8am-10pm Eastern)

AmEx:

Personal and Business: 877-399-3083 (8am-midnight Eastern)

Citi:

Personal: 800-695-5171

Business: 800-763-9795

Bank of America:

Personal: 866-865-7839 (8am-9pm Eastern)

Business: 800-481-8277

US Bank:^

Personal and Business: 800-947-1444

Barclays:

Personal and Business: 866-408-4064 (8am-midnight)

Reconsideration calls are most often easy, in that the analyst asks you a bunch of information, you answer honestly, and they often approve you.

Sometimes, they’ll ask you why you want the card. The best thing to do is cite benefits that are unique to that card v. your current cards with that bank (not the sign-up bonus… ongoing benefits), talk about why you’ll use that card often due to those benefits, and mention that it fulfills a unique role in your wallet for various reasons. The easiest reason to give is often that it will help you organize your expenses for whatever reason (make one up).

If they tell you they can’t approve you, the first thing to do is understand why. Once you’ve been churning for a while, there are two common reasons:

They’ve already provided you with as much credit as they’re willing to give. There’s nothing wrong with that, reiterate how much you want the card and how much you’ll use it, and ask if there’s any way they can get you approved. Ask if it would help if you lowered the credit line on some of your other cards. Usually, those are magic words, and the analyst will start asking or recommending cards that you could lower your credit line on. Work with them to make your credit lines what they need to be to open the card, and you’ll be approved.
The second reason most often given is that you have too many recent inquiries. As above, reiterate how much you want the card and how much you’ll use it, and ask if there’s any way they can get you approved. You can still offer to move credit around, but that likely won’t help. Instead, I’ve had success emphasizing how long my relationship with the bank has been (if applicable), how little I’d like to go to another bank for a similar card (if applicable), and how it has been a long time since those inquiries (3 months) and my spending habits/earning potential has really changed recently, so I need more cards (make stuff up without giving concrete numbers/examples… i.e. Some of my investments are performing better than expected, work has asked me to travel more, I have an imminent promotion, etc.).
If neither of these methods work, I’ve had a lot of success asking for a supervisor. Repeat this process with them, and there’s a decent shot they’ll approve you.

Unfortunately, if the supervisor doesn’t approve you, it’s rare you’ll get that approval. You can certainly try calling later/another day and trying new rationale, but in my experience, they only deny you if they really can’t find a way to get you approved, and different reps doesn’t change that.

If you get denied for a different reason that above, they’ll likely tell you how to address it. Feel free to comment here and I’ll help you at as well.

9. Follow-Up and Document

Sometimes you’ll have to call reconsideration another day on their instruction, or pay off a balance and wait for it to clear, or some other procedural thing. Follow-up on these as soon as you can.

Document your results on the spreadsheet. Make sure to note the offer, and any notes on why you were not approved if applicable.

10. Treat Your New Cards Well

Once you receive your new cards, activate them, set-up autopay, and add them to Mint.com (highly recommended for organization).

If applicable, call and set-up any offers (such as hotel status, or electing airlines for credit, etc.) and set-up anything procedural you’d like (such as statement date and billing cycle, or authorized users).

Add one or two to your wallet for daily spend (ones that have bonuses you’ll use, or ones with banks you’d like to improve your relationship with). Plan how you’re going to hit the minimums using manufactured spend for the others.

Proceed with manufactured spend and track on Mint.com. Use AwardWallet to ensure you’re receiving the points and miles you’re entitled to. Make sure to hit all minimums for bonuses by the applicable date.

Rinse, repeat, and enjoy the amazing world (of credit card churning) for fun and profit.

^US Bank doesn’t really do reconsideration… instead they take about a week and decide on the application themselves. Still, it’s worth calling, because sometimes they want to ask more questions to add to the application. The big difference is that they won’t decide on the phone, they’ll take their time and let you know.

Last edited by jmj8778; Apr 15, 2014 at 4:40 pm Reason: Added part 4
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Old Mar 27, 2014, 1:36 pm
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Yes please!
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Old Mar 27, 2014, 1:46 pm
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Originally Posted by jmj8778
In response to questions from a lot of beginners on Reddit, I've written a intro, step-by-step guide to credit card churning.

I'm more of a flyertalker though. Would people like me to post it here? Is this the appropriate place? If so, I'll edit this first post to include it, or post it where appropriate.

Thanks.
It's good. Post it. I like it.

Better than most of the boardingarea horde..

The pointers about each card and its issuer are especially helpful.

Last edited by philemer; Apr 2, 2014 at 8:33 pm Reason: edited out personal attack
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Old Mar 27, 2014, 2:00 pm
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Agreed. Post it. Make it a wiki. It will perhaps stop some of the easier, newbie questions as it would answer a lot of questions before they needed to be asked (fingers crossed?).
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Old Mar 27, 2014, 3:07 pm
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Looks pretty good.

The 8 day vs 10 day Citi thing might just be because people count time differently. 10 days inclusive of app days is 8 days excluding app day. Said another way, if day 1 is date if first app and day 10 date of second app, that works out the same as if day 1 is the first day following app date and you apply after 8 days (which is day 9 counting this way or day 10 counting the other way.


Followed link to your blog and caught an error on your churn cards chart, Mercedes Plat fee is $475, not $450. Better bonus makes it better than the regular Plat at $450 fee.
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Old Mar 27, 2014, 4:09 pm
  #6  
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Thanks for all the encouragement. I went ahead and added it as a wiki to this thread. I'll just update it with part 3 and part 4 as I complete them.
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Old Mar 27, 2014, 7:07 pm
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CC C Guide

Yes Please, post it here. Subscribed to this thread !
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Old Mar 27, 2014, 10:53 pm
  #8  
 
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shouldn't you also note that some cards aren't churnable?
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Old Mar 28, 2014, 8:10 am
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Pretty informative and tempting. It would be inconvenient for me to churn because i spend half my time overseas. But I am tempted for sure!
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Old Mar 28, 2014, 9:53 am
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Great post! Thank you so much!
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Old Mar 28, 2014, 10:33 am
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Nice spreadsheet. Very similar to mine, except that yours includes a few Excel tricks I wasn't aware of. Generous of you to share.
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Old Mar 28, 2014, 12:14 pm
  #12  
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I see churning as a goldmine that wont be around forever
sounds very reasonable - too bad you seem to be so determined to accelerate the process...
at least bloggers make money off traffic so i can understand their motives...
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Old Mar 28, 2014, 12:16 pm
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Great info! Very helpful, and I look forward to seeing the updates.
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Old Mar 28, 2014, 12:34 pm
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You said "Citi will often let you churn an individual card, which means you could get a card and then get the exact same one ten days later."

Can you please elaborate? For what I know on the citibank personal cards, this would be a totally false statement, as in other posts many have shown that citi only allows the same exact card once every twelve months....

Last edited by diclemeg; Mar 28, 2014 at 12:54 pm
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Old Mar 28, 2014, 3:47 pm
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I was wondering what "Mint" meant in the spreadsheet? Newbie Q I guess....
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