Credit cards that are still “churnable”

In February I shared my suggestions for a first time credit card churn. Reader Kelly left the following question on that post yesterday, which I suspect a lot of people have:

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. :)

While it’s probably not the intent of her question, Kelly actually raises a great point. For the most part, what we’re doing when we sign up for credit cards nowadays isn’t really “churning.” Credit card “churning” is typically defined as signing up for the same credit card multiple times for the sign-up bonuses. Nowadays it’s commonly used to refer to signing up for credit cards exclusively for the sign-up bonuses, even though you can only get the bonus on most cards once.

Back in the “good old days” many credit cards were “churnable.” For example, Citi let you apply for the same AAdvantage credit card every 60-90 days. Back then you had people that signed up for the same exact credit card 4-6 times per year. And Citi had three types of American Airlines credit cards, so some people were getting the bonus on American co-branded credit cards over a dozen times per year. Now, those were the days of 25,000 mile sign-up bonuses, but still.

I think most of us asked ourselves how stupid they could be for not catching on, though in the meantime they’ve closed that opportunity and you can’t earn the bonus multiple times (at least per the rules). Hey, can we really blame them?

So while you can easily rack up hundreds of thousands of miles and points per year by signing up for credit cards, you’ll eventually run out of cards… right?

Well, not necessarily, as there are still some cards that are churnable. Please keep in mind that this is very much a case of “your mileage may vary.” I share these based on the experiences I’ve had and also those I’ve read about. And I’d appreciate if you guys could share your experiences in the comments section below as to whether your experiences match my observations. However, I would suggest not calling up the credit card companies directly and saying “hey, can I apply for this card five times a year and earn the bonus each time?”

With that in mind, here are the cards that I’ve heard are still churnable:

The US Airways® Premier World MasterCard® – 40,000 miles after the first purchase; no annual fee the first year

Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Credit Card – 25,000 miles after the first purchase; $75 annual fee the first year

Hawaiian Airlines Signature Visa Card – 35,000 miles after spending $1,000 within four months; $79 annual fee the first year (it’s worth noting that Hawaiian miles can be transferred at a 1:2 ratio to Hilton HHonors)

So that probably leaves a couple of questions:

a) Do you have to cancel your existing card before applying again? For all of the above cards you don’t to the best of my knowledge. Does anyone have experiences that contradict that?

b) When should you cancel the “old” credit card if you plan on applying for the same one again? Since having an existing card isn’t an issue for the above cards, it really doesn’t matter. So as usual my advice would be to keep the cards open for as close to a year as possible without paying the annual fee. One part of your credit score is how long your accounts have been open on average, so the higher the number the better your score.

b) So how do you explain to the credit card company that you need two of the same credit cards? There are plenty of good reasons to have multiple credit cards. Just explain that you need to keep expenses separate (be it because one card is for reimbursable business expenses and the other for personal expenses, or whatever your preferred excuse is).

Any other questions, or did I miss anything?

Full disclosure: I do receive a referral bonus if you choose to apply for the US Airways card through the link above, and of course I’m incredibly appreciative if you choose to use my links. I don’t receive a referral bonus for the other cards listed.

Comments

  1. AK says

    Lucky, where can I confirm that the AS Visa has no annual fee the first year? I’ll have some orphan AS miles in a while from a future EK flight, and looking to build those up. But the application only says the $75 annual fee.

  2. lucky says

    @ AK — Bad copy and paste job on my part. My apologies, the annual fee isn’t waived the first year.

  3. Michael H. says

    So, for the churnable cards what is the timetable for each? How long should we wait before applying for new cards?

  4. Rebecca says

    I was a perfect test case from Lucky’s last post. After getting some direction on my questions I ended applying for a second US MasterCard from Barclays. I was not approved immediately but after a few days I called the reconsideration line (something I learned to do from reading FT). The rep asked why I needed a second card and I said I wanted to keep my travel expenses separate. Approved on the spot. The rep could only confirm the type of card (premier world which is what I also have for my first card). When I received the card a week later and called to activate the rep confirmed the 40k bonus miles, waived 1st year fee, 10k anniversary miles, etc. This was my first “churn” and I was a nervous wreck but all turned out well thanks to Lucky and other’s advice! Thanks :)

  5. Rebecca says

    Just to add on to my experience. I received my first US MC in March 2011 and applied for my second in February 2012, although I suspect if I wasn’t so chicken I could have applied for the second months earlier. I’m curious if I will be able to get 3 hits for this years Grandslam (2 for my 2 US MC and 1 for my US Visa).

  6. lucky says

    @ Michael — As far as I know none have formal limits except the Delta American Express. That being said, I’d space them out six months just to be on the safe side. That’s not to say you’d get rejected earlier, though.

    @ AJM — Thanks, fixed.

  7. Brian says

    Citi business cards are still churn able. I’ve done 3 in the last year and half or so. I have one sitting on my desk I need to cancel soon. Hopefully some 75,000 bonuses come back.

  8. BC says

    Excuse me people…. Applying for the same credit card 4-6 times per year, and having several of the exact same card in your wallet? No wonder all the award programs are being so quickly devaluated and blacked out! You may be sitting in first class plane seats, but there is no class in weaseling out of a $75 annual fee while being offered 25,000 free points you’ve already received before.

  9. Branson says

    @BC- Why bother coming to this type of blog and making that kind comment? I’m sure you could find a more noble cause to champion.

  10. lucky says

    @ BC — So is it okay to apply for a card once just for the sign-up bonus, without the intent of keeping the card long term? Curious where you draw the line.

  11. Ike says

    @Kl – I have heard that it does not matter. My wife and I both applied in October after 91 days and both got to “send address verification info” before the 75K card we applied for was pulled and our applications cancelled. She still had hers but I had closed mine. So I am pretty sure there is no issue with having an open Biz card.

    @BC – I’ll give you a 2/10. A little obvious. The credit card issuers make the rules, not us.

  12. C-lee says

    Thanks guys. I didn’t know about the Citi AA Biz churn or the suggestion on the “like to keep expenses separate” excuse for duplicate cards for US Air dividend. Great suggestions with excellent timing!

  13. BC says

    Just trying to share a different perspective on knowingly getting points from credit card companies when you have NO intent of ever giving or making them any money. Yes the CC companies are foolish to give away points like this to people who know the score. And yes I like loyalty programs as much as the rest of you. I guess it’s like when someone puts out Halloween candy in a bucket because they’re not home and someone just takes the whole bucket?

  14. Rebecca says

    I’ve had the US Airways Visa for 10+ years. I don’t think you can get the card anymore. Maybe Lucky knows it’s history. I pay a $50 annual fee that has not changed since I got the card. Last year I thought about canceling it because I don’t really need a US Visa and (now) 2 US MC. I ended up keeping it solely for the Grand slam hit (scary, I know).

  15. KCS says

    I’ve read somewhere that you can apply for the business cards even though you actually don’t own a business. Can someone confirm this to be true?

    If so, what do you put in the required application fields for things like Annual Sales and Years in Business?

  16. lucky says

    @ KCS — Absolutely. For the tax ID put your social security number, and for the years in business and annual sales you can be honest and say zero — after all, you could be a startup. Your credit limit will likely be low, though that won’t prevent you from getting the sign-up bonus.

    Otherwise if you’ve run a side business (selling stuff on Ebay, etc.) you can always say how many years you’ve been in business and what your sales have been.

  17. granitepeaker says

    I’ve had the Platinum Delta Skymiles card for a number of years and paid the annual fee.

    Can I apply and earn the 30k bonus on their Gold card?

  18. Kelly says

    I’m honored to be the muse for this post. ;)

    Thanks so much for this info. Another question – how do you know how long you have to wait before applying to get the same card again? For example, if I signed up for the US Airways Premier World MasterCard, when can I sign up for another one?

  19. granitepeaker says

    I was asking on the Delta American express cards because I got rejected on a similar scenario with AAdvantage. I had owned the Citi Visa AAdvantage card and the Business card of that. Earned my bonuses and after 10 months cancelled the personal card. Then a couple days after I applied for both the Citi Amex AAdvantage and the Citi Mastercard AAdvantage and both got decline because I already had one or more existing AAdvantage accounts although I only had the one business card open and had it open for about 7 months already.

    Then a month later I applied for the Visa CapitalOne Venture card and got decline. So I’m getting bummed out over denials lately. I have a 786 credit score. I don’t know if the Venture card got declined because of too many inquiries in a certaint timeframe? I had applied for 3 cards on the same day that month prior with the 2 AAdvantage cards getting denied and the United Mileage Plus Explorer getting accepted. I thought accound to FTGuy if you apply on the same day it would have only counted as one pull. So now i’m waiting for the written denial reason from Venture. If anyone has a reconsideration ph number for them that would be appreciated. Maybe it will be listed on the letter when I get it.

  20. ArizonaGuy says

    Barclays flat out will not allow me to have a second US Airways card.

    They used to. I have my original account opened in 2005. While maintaining that as my primary card I routinely churned a 2nd and sometimes a 3rd card simultaneously. Also did biz cards.

    Starting in 2009 they stopped permitting any additional cards for me. They weren’t even doing credit pulls until 2011, just flat out denials by telling me I have sufficient credit from Barclays. Reconsiderations have failed. So while I have one open personal card that I keep mainly for the companion certificate, I can’t get a second nor can I get a business card – at least not at a sole proprietor. I haven’t tried with my EIN yet.

  21. Nelson says

    Wow the credit card system is so different in the USA.

    In Australia, everytime we apply for a credit card, we lose points off our credit score, so its not a good idea to apply for new cards frequently or “churning” as referred to here.
    Which is a good idea i guess, since we have an AMEX card that gives 80,000 points bonus for new signups.

  22. Matt says

    I noticed on the us air mastercard application it says “Offer available to Dividend Miles members currently with Chairman’s Preferred Status only” since I am not at that status (or any u.s. air status) would I not receive the 40,000?

  23. lucky says

    @ Matt — That definitely wasn’t there in the past, though if they let you apply then I’d bet they’d honor the bonus.

  24. jack says

    Just checked the Gold Delta Skymiles Card and the policy has changed. Now it has to be two years past cancellation of card before you can receive the bonus miles for a new credit card.

  25. granitepeaker says

    I asked earlier in this forum if you own the Platinum Delta Skymiles card if you can still get the 30k bonus from their Gold card. Lucky told me I could so I tried and was denied the bonus on the grounds that the two cards are in the same family/class of cards.

  26. lucky says

    @ granitepeaker — I’m sorry for any confusion. If you don’t mind me asking, when did you apply? It looks like you asked me last March, at which point it *was* still possible to earn the bonus on both cards. Then in June American Express changed the verbiage on the sign-up offers of the card, saying that you couldn’t get the bonuses on similar types of cards in a 12 month period.

    So if you applied back in March when you asked the question you absolutely should be eligible for the bonus. Unfortunately later they changed the rules, though. :(

    There’s more info on them changing the rules of the welcome bonus here:
    http://onemileatatime.boardingarea.com/2012/06/04/is-american-express-changing-their-sign-up-bonus-terms/

    Sorry about that…

  27. Raymond says

    Chase is adding a new benefit to the United Explorer card. No more foreign transaction fee beginning June 1, 2013. Does this mean the card is now churnable for existing cardholder?

    If churnable, does this mean I’ll have to make sure that I cancel the card before June 1st, then reapply at later date to get the bonus? Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

  28. lucky says

    @ Raymond — I don’t believe the benefit in and of itself makes the card a new product, and therefore I don’t think you can churn it, unfortunately.

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