My suggestions for a first time churn (reader question)

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Reader JP sends in the following question:

Hi Lucky, I recently started reading your blog and am new to the credit card game. I have a good credit score (>750), do not plan on taking out a loan/mortgage anytime soon, and have not signed up for a new card in years. I am wondering which cards you would recommend for a first time churn?

Without knowing which card(s) JP currently has, I think there are a few obvious picks, both in terms of the best sign-up bonuses as well as the best benefits for actual everyday spend.

In general I advocate signing up for as many cards as you can on the same day, since the inquiries from the same day won’t yet be reflected on your credit score, maximizing your chances of being approved for each card. Furthermore, often times applying for multiple cards on the same day will result in fewer inquiries, assuming certain cards report to the same credit agency. That being said, you should limit the number of cards you sign up for at once based on the minimum spend requirements. In other words, if you sign up for five cards at once and they require $15,000 worth of spending within a few months, only you can know if that’s something you can accomplish. Of course there are ways to “generate” spend, like Amazon Payments (pay up to $1,000 per month by credit card without fees) and Paypal (there’s a fee, though when you’re trying to reach a minimum spend requirement I find the cost to be worthwhile).

With that out of the way, I’d sign up for the following cards (in order of preference):

1. Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card: 40,000 points after spending $4,000 within three months (post with card benefits)

This one’s the absolute no brainer, and anyone that voluntarily doesn’t have the card is borderline nuts, in my opinion. 😉

Not only does it have an amazing sign-up bonus with no annual fee the first year, but the earning potential on the card is amazing as well, between double points on dining and travel, and no foreign transaction fees.

2. Ink Bold® Business Charge Card: 50,000 points after spending $10,000 within three months (post with card benefits)

Chase will only typically approve you for one personal card at a time, though you can usually pick up one personal and one business card in the same cycle. So between this card and the Chase Sapphire Preferred you’re looking at 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points, enough for a business class ticket to Europe. The card also has no annual fee the first year and a very nice sign-up bonus.

3. American AAdvantage Visa/American Express: 50,000 miles after spending $2,500 within four months

Between the two personal cards and one business card it’s possible to pick up 150,000 American miles at once, more enough for a first class ticket to Asia, Australia, or Europe.

4. Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express: 25,000 points after spending $2,000 within three months and/or The Platinum Card® from American Express: 40,000 points after spending $3,000 within three months

American Express doesn’t set a formal limit to the number of cards you can get approved for at once, but since the Premier Rewards Gold card and Platinum card are both charge cards, I suggest getting just one at a time to diversify a bit. Which card is better for you comes down to what you’re looking for. The Platinum card comes with access to airline lounges (over 600 worldwide), Global Entry fee waiver ($100 value), and $200 per year airline fee credit (you can get this for two years with just one annual fee, meaning this benefit is worth up to $400). That being said, the annual fee is $450 and not waived the first year.

At the same time they’re offering a 25,000 point sign-up bonus on the Premier Rewards Gold card when spending $2,000 on the card within three months. The card’s annual fee is waived the first year, and the earning potential on this card is amazing. You earn triple points on airfare and double points on gas and groceries.

5. Starwood American Express Personal: 25,000 points after spending $5,000 within six months and/or Starwood American Express Business: 25,000 points after spending $5,000 within six months (post with card benefits)

Both the Starwood business and personal credit cards come with 10,000 points after the first purchase, and an additional 15,000 points after spending $5,000 within six months. There aren’t many cards with as much flexibility as the Starwood American Express, and it was actually my first ever “real” credit card.

6. Alaska Signature Visa: 25,000 miles upon approval and/or The US Airways® Premier World Mastercard®: 40,000 miles after first purchase

The main reason I mention these cards is because they’re not issued by American Express, Chase, or Citi, and therefore are worth considering since they won’t prevent you from acquiring another card. The Alaska credit card is one of the few cards that’s still churnable (meaning you can earn the bonus multiple times), while the US Airways credit card is always useful since you can buy the remaining US Airways miles through one of the “buy miles” promotions they’re always running.

Anyway, those are my top picks for someone just getting started. Did I leave out any important ones?

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  1. I would only recommend Sapphire, Ink, 50K AA personal (x2), and the 40K US card. For the rest I would wait for better offers. 2 notable omissions from your list are the 50K UA and AA biz (which is easily churned every 6 months unless something has changed). I would apply for the latter 2 cards in ~3 months.

  2. Great post Lucky! Question: I’ve read that the US MC from Barclay’s is churnable for repeat bonuses. I’m not sure I understand how to do this. I’ve had the Premier World card since 3/11. I’m getting ready for my 1st anniversary 10K mile bonus. Do I need to cancel the card to reapply for the second bonus? Or do I apply for a second card with the first still open? Seems like a silly question but I’m new to this credit card game as well. Thanks.

  3. @ Rebecca — There’s no need to even close your existing card. You should be able to earn the same bonus multiple times without even closing your previous card. Can’t beat it!

  4. So I would just have 2 of the same card? Seems crazy! Would I then get 2 annual bonuses of 10K? Should I at least wait until the one year mark in March or try for it now? When I signed up (on a flight) it was only a 25K bonus and a 500 mile bonus for inflight sign up. Of course, now that I am more “experienced” I know that it wasn’t worth it for the 25K bonus!

  5. @ Rebecca — In theory you should be able to get both anniversary bonuses as well. I’m sure they’ll eventually eliminate the possibility of signing up multiple times, though in the meantime…

  6. @ Kris — Even with the 50,000 point sign-up bonus you’re looking at $550 worth of travel at most. I value miles at 1.5-2.0 cents each, so at most it’s equivalent to a ~30,000 mile sign-up bonus. Not a bad deal, but just wouldn’t be my priority if I was trying to accrue points towards international premium cabin travel.

  7. Why we choose Citi AA Amex card over Citi AA Visa signature? Visa signature card seems often have promotions with hotels chains?

  8. @Palmtenor

    3. American AAdvantage Visa/American Express: 50,000 miles after spending $2,500 within four months

    Includes the Signature visa….

  9. I was turned down for the AA AMEX last March due to my failure to follow the instructions for the two browser simultaneously applying trick. Can I try for it now or do I need to wait 18 months? I just got a Citi Hilton AMEX, this might also have a bearing on my ability to successfully get the AA Amex card.

  10. I’d probably pass on the AA cards.

    Using the two-browser method (and assuming it works in the future), any increase in the bonus is increased twofold. With offers as high as 75k-100k existing within the last calendar year, I don’t see any reason to pull the trigger and miss out on an additional 50-100k of bonus.

  11. JP should be considering what cards he would apply for over the course of 12 months, which involves a much more complex plan taht just gunning for the 4-5 cards above. The plan should involve modifiers such as where he wants to travel to and how he wants to do it, and how soon. If he has a partner and is traveling mostly domestic, then you left out the biggest bang of the Chase Southwest person and biz for 100k bonus and quick companion pass.
    One must balance the card applications across banks and CC companies over time and have a plan for what to do with the cards when he is done with them. Consider staggering cards like DL AMEX gold personal and biz alternating years, or staggering the SPG personal and biz over 12 months. The DL cards and program are important for AMEX MR transfer bonuses, versus inconsequential if he has other plans for how he will use his MR points.

  12. For someone who only has a modest spend, or is squeamish about applying for a business card, I would recommend the United MP Explorer card, 50K with no minimum spend, instead of the Chase Ink Bold. Yes the UR points are more valuable, but your above plan is a lot of spend in a short amount of time for some of us.

  13. I’ve been using this site for a long time to research which cards have the best rewards, but I’ve never really understood churning or tried it.

    So I guess this is similar to Rebecca’s question. In general, how do you define “churning”? And the part I am most confused about is – do you have to cancel a card before applying for it again? If so, how long do you have to wait?

    For example, the Alaska Signature Visa that you said is still churnable… how exactly does one go about churning it? Thanks so much for unraveling this mystery for me. 🙂

  14. So if I am understanding this discussion right , at what point can I apply the 2nd of the same card in the same name to get sign up bonus again ? Can anyone please explain the 2nd browser method ? I just applied for a chase sapphire preferred card and got approved for the same but would like to maximize on my benefits.


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