Are you looking to build rewards miles or points? Here’s a list of the best credit cards for churning, along with in-depth information about this lucrative (yet somewhat risky) practice.
Those new to the world of travel rewards will most likely encounter an unfamiliar term: credit card churning. It’s a brilliant way of snagging credit card perks, rewards, and benefits in a short period, but it can also be risky practice with unfavorable consequences.
When looking for the best credit cards for churning, know that knowledge is essential in avoiding common pitfalls.
Beginners are highly advised to learn more about the practice, its benefits, and its consequences before deciding if it’s worth it.
Here’s everything you need to know about how to churn credit cards.
Table of Contents
What is credit card churning?
Credit card churning is the act of opening credit cards to retain the upfront bonus and other benefits with the purpose of downgrading to a no annual fee credit card. With churning, you seek to build up reward points balances by opening credit cards continuously.
Put simply, credit card churning is the practice of applying for several credit cards at once to take advantage of their sign up and welcome bonuses. The credit card churner will usually cancel the card as soon as the perks and rewards have been obtained.
Here’s a simplified example:
- The credit card churner will select credit cards with a rewards currency he’s most interested in (e.g., cashback, points, airline miles). For travelers, credit cards that offer airline miles as a welcome bonus are the most attractive. The best credit cards to select are those that don’t require the user to keep the account open or use the card after getting the bonus.
- The credit card churner then applies for these cards, all at the same time or in succession (with only a short time between applications).
- The user then spends just enough on the credit cards to get the bonus miles or points.
- The user then stops using the cards and cancels them before paying the annual fee (note that most credit card issuers waive the annual fee during the first year).
- The entire process is repeated: signing up for new cards, obtaining the rewards, and canceling them before the annual fee is paid.
Thanks to the massive welcome bonuses, credit card churners can generate many rewards faster and more frequently than credit card owners who just use one or two cards and slowly developing points through ongoing spending rewards.
Some credit card churners are so good at the practice that they’re able to gain dozens of freebies every year (e.g., hotel stays, trips, hard cash) by just selecting the right credit cards to sign up for.
If churning credit cards for points sounds like a good idea, here’s the hard truth: it could be if you’re fully aware and prepared for the consequences. Before we discuss the best credit cards for churning, know that this strategy isn’t for everyone. There may be serious repercussions if you’re not careful. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of credit card churning.
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Pros and cons of credit card churning
Before discussing the best credit cards for churning, it’s good to know the advantages and repercussions of applying for multiple credit cards. Since each person’s financial situation is different, you can use these insights to decide if the good outweighs the bad.
Pros of credit card churning
You’ll receive more rewards
As mentioned, you’ll be able to rack up more rewards such as miles, cashback, and points when churning credit cards instead of using just one.
You’ll earn rewards faster
Apart from earning more rewards, you’ll also be able to acquire them faster than just using one credit card. Here’s a good example: imagine a cash-back credit card that offers 1.5% cashback on all purchases plus a $150 cash-back bonus once you spend $500 on your first three months.
You’ll typically have to make $10,000 in everyday purchases to earn $150. With the card, you could make $150 in just three months by spending $500.
You can stop using the credit card in most instances
Card issuers generally don’t require people to use their card again after receiving a sign-up bonus. Some issuers don’t even require you to keep the account open once you obtain the welcome rewards.
This means that you can apply for a credit card with a generous sign-up bonus even if its everyday spending rewards aren’t attractive. Once you obtain the welcome bonus, you can quickly switch back to using your other cards that have better everyday spending bonuses.
Cons of credit card churning
Some card issuers have rules in place to limit churning
A variety of credit card issuers have developed policies to stop people from churning. This is done by limiting the number of cards one can open or limiting the amount of bonuses you can acquire within a period. A good example is Chase, which has enacted a 5/24 rule. This rule prevents credit card users from opening more than five credit cards within two years.
On the other hand, American Express limits its number of bonuses to only one bonus per card. Once the consumer has earned the card’s reward, he won’t earn it again when applying for the same card.
Credit card churning can negatively influence your credit score
Here’s what credit card churners need to keep in mind: a credit card issuer makes a hard inquiry into your credit report each time you apply for a credit card.
If you’re familiar with how credit scores work, you already know that every hard inquiry made into your account reduces your credit score (each hard inquiry will reduce your score by around five points). You’ll see a more significant impact on your score when applying for multiple credit cards within a short time frame.
Credit card churning requires opening multiple new accounts at once and lowers your average credit age – an important factor that makes up 15% of your total credit score.
You may find it hard to apply for credit cards in the future
Consumers applying for too many credit cards within a short time frame may find it hard to apply for more credit cards, even if they have excellent credit. Consumers with too many recent credit card applications may be a credit risk as they are often viewed as being in financial distress.
Annual fees may render your bonuses useless
If you’re not careful, the credit cards you sign up for may come with exorbitant annual fees that may eat into your bonuses. In some cases, annual fees are waived during the first year. Forgetting to cancel a card that you don’t plan on using may render the sign-up bonuses useless.
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The five best credit cards for churning
The best credit cards for churning are those that offer great sign-up bonuses with the least minimum spend. If you’re wondering how to churn to build up travel points, sign up for these cards first.
Chase IHG Club Traveler Credit Card
Great for: Travelers who like staying at any of InterContinental Hotels Group’s portfolio of brands (e.g., Kimpton Hotels, InterContinental, Holiday Inn). Also great for consumers who want to earn points for future hotel stays.
Annual fee: None
Welcome bonus: All new applicants earn 100,000 bonus points after spending just $2,000 in purchase within the first three months of opening an account.
What it is:
This co-branded hotel credit card is one of the top credit cards to churn, and with good reason: it comes with no annual fee or foreign transaction fee.
The Club Traveler Credit Card offers 5 IGH points for every dollar you spend on IHG purchases and 2 points for each dollar you spend at grocery stores, restaurants, and gas stations.
One of the most attractive features of the IHG club traveler card? You get your fourth night free on award stays. This is a great feature that sets it apart from Marriott or Hilton credit cards, which offer free stays on the fifth night.
These points may be redeemed for a plethora of unique experiences, including flights with partner airlines, sporting events, concert tickets, and free hotel stays.
Chase Sapphire Preferred VISA
Great for: Travelers looking for a versatile credit card. You can move the rewards from this card to a plethora of loyalty programs, including Hyatt and United Airlines at a 1:1 ratio.
Annual fee: $95
Welcome bonus: Upon signing up, you’ll earn 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. This is equivalent to $750 towards travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
What it is:
The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is one of the best cards for credit churning, especially for travelers. The generous sign-up bonus is a massive set up against other cards that offer similar annual fees.
For frequent travelers, the Sapphire Preferred Card is a blessing. It offers 2x points on dining and travel and 1 point per each dollar you spend on other purchases, as well as options for redeeming points at an outsized value.
You’ll also get various other benefits such as travel and purchase protection and the capability to transfer your points into an airline’s loyalty program.
When redeemed for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards, each point is worth 1.25 cents apiece.
Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard
Great for: Frequent travelers and those loyal to American Airlines (you can fly just about anywhere using the card’s award miles).
Annual fee: Free for the first 12 months and $99 after
Welcome bonus: New customers can earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage bonus miles after spending $2,500 in purchases within the first three months.
What it is:
For travelers who fly with American Airlines at least a few times each year, Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard is one of the best credit cards for churning.
You’ll also get awarded with miles when you dine out or fill up at the pump often (2 miles for every $1 spent on American airlines, gas stations, and restaurants).
Miles in this card are very valuable: you’ll get an average of 2.26 cents for each point.
One of the best things about this card is that you don’t need to spend so much to get most of its value (though you need to fly with American Airlines to earn double miles). Make sure that your primary airport supports this before attempting to apply.
This card isn’t for travelers looking for flexibility in flying (general travel rewards cards are recommended).
Wells Fargo Propel American Express Card
Great for: Frequent travelers looking for a travel rewards credit card that offers the most bang for their buck.
Welcome bonus: You’ll earn 20,000 points if you spend $1,000 during the first three months. This is worth $200 at a value of 1 cent per point.
Annual fee: No annual fee. You’ll also get a 0% introductory APR on your first year of account opening and around 14.49% to 24.99% after that based on your creditworthiness.
What it is:
Often touted as one of Wells Fargo’s best credit cards, the Wells Fargo Propel American Express card offers a generous 3x bonus rate with rewards that may be redeemed in various ways. Great for travelers, this credit card has rewards that are most valuable for travel-related redemptions like hotels or flights.
If you put most of your spending on this card, you can earn a triple point bonus in dining, travel, and gas stations.
Each Wells Fargo rewards point is worth 1 cent, so you’ll earn roughly 3 cents for every dollar you spend (a great rate when compared to other credit cards that offer 1% to 2% back in value).
The deal with having too many credit cards
Most people are afraid of churning credit cards because of the risks they possess. What’s the best response for too many new cards?
While having several new credit cards can modestly hurt your credit score, it should recover quickly – especially if you use your credit cards wisely.
In fact, having several credit cards and keeping your balances manageable can even help your credit score as it improves your credit utilization ratio.
Just be careful not to let your new cards ramp up your spending!
Before churning credit cards
Don’t dive into this practice if you aren’t prepared. Those looking to take advantage of this strategy should be comfortable with their finances.
Credit card owners who set their eyes on sign-up bonuses often lose sight of their actual spending; they spend well beyond their means just to hit the minimum spending requirements.
This may often entail making expensive purchases just to hit the minimum spending requirements sooner.