One of the first things I put up under the Beginner’s Guide tab was a 10-step guide to help readers begin churning miles and points. Over the next few days I’ll be doing a 10-post series, elaborating on each of the steps below.
The beginner’s guide to traveling for (almost) free on miles and points:
1. Set travel goals
2. Check your credit
3. Sign up for rewards programs
4. Manage your miles and credit cards
5. Sign up for a rewards earning credit card
6. Shift your everyday spend to credit cards
7. Meet the minimum spending requirements
8. Maximize bonuses and promotions
9. Earn points by dining and shopping
10. Redeem points and miles for free travel
Sign Up for a Rewards Earning Credit Card (or two or three)
Once you’ve checked your credit score and you’re good to go (please refer to this post if you are unsure whether or not your credit score is healthy enough before applying for any cards), then it’s time to pick which cards you will be applying for in your first churn. Credit card churns, often called app-o-ramas, involve applying for multiple rewards earning cards in the same day, and then waiting at least 91 days before applying for another round of rewards earning credit cards. The goal of churning in this way is to maximize the amount of points and miles earned while doing the least harm to your credit score.
As a reminder, I am in no way a financial advisor. The information is strictly my opinion. Only apply for as many cards as you are comfortable with, no need to go overboard on your first churn. I recommend applying for one to three cards. We never apply for more than four cards at a time.
Although there are exceptions to the rule, in general I never apply for more than one card from the same bank in a given churn. Business cards are an exception, but I’ll cover business cards in a later post. As this post is intended for beginners, I suggest starting with only personal cards for your first churn. Below I have listed the various banks, as well as a selection of cards they currently offer. The info below is only skimming the surface. More complete credit card bonus descriptions can be found on the Best Credit Card Offers tab or by comparing card offers at www.creditcards.com. With most banks, you’ll only be able to get the sign-up bonus once, so when possible plan your churns around limited time offers.
- Chase: Chase definitely has the most credit cards with the highest sign up bonus offers. It is also one of the easiest banks to get approvals from, although keep in mind it is easier to get personal approvals than business approvals. For personal cards that earn Ultimate Rewards, I’d start with the Chase Sapphire. Chase also issues the Southwest, United, Hyatt, IHG and Marriott cards.
- AmEx: Amex has a few fairly consistent offers, but often offers limited time significant offers, which sometimes are not publicly available. Always keep an eye on your mail–anything from Amex may not be junk! One of the best things about Amex cards is you can participate in Amex Sync offers and Small Business Saturday to receive statement credits. My favorite Amex card is the Starwood Preferred Guest card.
- Citi: You cannot apply for two Citi cards in the same day. You can apply for another Citi card within 10 days, but no more than two in a 70-day period. Citi issues the American Airline cards, which we’ve had great luck with. We just renewed ours and they gave us statement credits to cover the annual fee and then a bonus offer for 1,000 points each month we put $1000 spend on the card. The Viillain also recently signed up for the Citi Thank You Premier Card, and the jury’s still out on whether or not it’s going to be useful for our needs.
- US Bank: US Bank has one of my current favorite cards–the Club Carlson Visa. The mega sign up bonus (85,000 points) and bonus award night feature allows us to really maximize our Club Carlson free stays. The Flex Perks card can also be a valuable flexible points earning card, which offers some good category bonuses.
- Barclays: Barclays can be the hardest bank to get approvals from. I was instantly approved for the US Airways card, but declined for the World Arrival Card. If you’re interested in the US Airways card, I’d suggest getting it soon since the card will be issued by a different bank soon because of the merger with American.
- Bank of America: We do not have any BoA cards yet, but one of the features I like is that you get free entrance to 150 museums one weekend a month.
While it’s important to apply for cards from different banks in your churn, I think it’s also important to consider which types of points and miles you want to earn. Remember that there are three main types of points: flexible, airline and hotel. As I’ve discussed before, your travel goals are important to consider before churning for cards, but I think a good starting point is to apply for one flexible points earning card, and/or one airline or hotel card. My favorites are listed below.
- Flexible points: SPG, Ultimate Rewards, AmEx
These points can be transferred to various airlines and hotel loyalty programs. They give you the most flexibility and often value. You can use them to plan or supplement trips across various brands, and can sometimes even be used to book other travel related expenses such as rental cars. See a more complete list of cards that earn flexible points here.
- Airline miles: Southwest, United, American, US Air, Frontier
If you are looking to travel domestically, I recommend the Southwest card, and if you are hoping to travel internationally, the United card is a great way to book with partner airlines while avoiding hefty fuel surcharges. For full details on current offers, check out my Airline Offers page.
- Hotel points: Club Carlson, Hilton, Hyatt, IHG, Marriott
You’ll have to do the research yourself to see which cards make the most sense for your travel needs! My personal favorite (and only hotel card currently in my wallet) is the Club Carlson card. Both Hilton and Hyatt have offers available for two free nights at any property, so those are deals certainly worth checking out here.
- Do your churn on a weekday, and apply early in the day. This is because you want your applications to go through as quickly as possible, so that each credit pull does not show the other credit pulls for your other applications. The goal is that when you apply for your second, or third card, the rep cannot see that you just applied for a card from another bank.
- When considering the order of your applications, apply first for cards from banks that you have had previous denials from, the cards you want most, or the cards you think you’ll have the most difficulty getting.
- Don’t worry if you are not instantly approved for each card. Some will say ‘under review’ or ‘pending’. If you get a pending result or a denial, don’t hesitate to call the reconsideration line (more info coming on this soon!)
Sample first churn:
If you’re looking for a good place to start, I’d get one hotel card and one airline card. With these cards, two people should be able to fly roundtrip almost anywhere in the US and spend two nights at a 5-star hotel. A perfect weekend getaway to get your feet wet in churning miles and points!
- Earn 2 weekend night certificates good at select hotels and resorts within the Hilton HHonors portfolio after $2,500 in eligible purchases within 4 months of account opening
- Earn 10 HHonors Bonus Points per $1 spent on hotel stays within the Hilton HHonors portfolio
- Earn 5 HHonors Bonus Points per $1 spent on airline and car rental purchases
- Earn 3 HHonors Bonus Points per $1 spent on all other eligible purchases
- Enjoy the benefits of HHonors Gold status as long as you are a cardmember
- No foreign transaction fees on purchases
UPDATE: Thanks to my friend Rachel for pointing out that the 50,000 point bonus with Chase is currently expired. Therefore I would NOT recommend applying for the Chase card until the bonus is doubled again, which usually happens several times a year. Check out my credit cards page or The Points Guy’s site for a more complete list.
- Get 50,000 points after you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months of opening your account.
- Get 6,000 points after your Cardmember Anniversary.
- Earn 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest Airlines® and AirTran® Airways purchases made directly with the airlines and on Rapid Rewards Hotel and Car Rental Partner purchases.
- Earn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
- Redeem points for gift cards, car rentals, cruises, hotel stays, and international flights to over 800 Destinations on 50+ global carriers.
- No foreign transaction fees
Good luck on your first churn, and don’t hesitate to ask me if you have questions!