I never thought there would be a day that churning ice cream would be booted off as my favorite churning related activity. Life has proved me wrong, again! Churning credit card rewards is my favorite churning related activity.
I found out just a few days ago that churning has an ambiguous definition depending on the source. For the longest time, I took churning credit cards to mean signing up for credit card promotional bonus, spending to get that credit card bonus and then paying off the amount in full. But some sources I’ve seen recently mention the danger of transferring balances over and over to a 0% APR cards in order to earn more credit card bonuses.
This post does not apply to the second definition of churning.
I’ve always considered churning credit cards as an appropriate activity for those who pay the balance in full.
It’s absolutely dangerous otherwise.
I’ve never carried balance in my entire life, no matter how poor I was. Except for those pesky student loans at one point, I’ve never owned anyone a penny. Mentally, it just doesn’t make sense to spend money I don’t have.
In actuality, most Americans see credit card debt as something normative. Some even believe you need to carry over debt to pay off in order to improve your credit score!
I just think it’s abnormal to spend money on a piece of plastic if you can’t foresee covering it all. The concept is completely foreign to me and it makes zero sense.
This is a quick snippet of our credit card history. It’s what we’ve opened in the past 15 or so months as a couple.
Hubby’s first credit card was from a credit union. His father opened a joint credit union account with him, filled out the paperwork for the credit card and brought it home for Hubby to sign. The card itself has no perks whatsoever. But it has no annual fees and it’s now his oldest line of credit.
My story was something very similar. My mom took me to Bank of America and had me apply for a credit card with a $500 limit right before I went off to college. Unfortunately, I had to cancel that card because they sneakily started charging an annual fee. Goodbye, my oldest line of credit.
Our 3 Credit Card Staples
We have three staples: Citi Double Cash, Chase Freedom and Synchrony. All 3 of these have no annual fees and we use them fairly regularly considering we have about 10 to 12 active credit lines.
Citi Double Cash
I love this ugly, ugly card. Have you seen it? It’s mad ugly. Who designed this?
But you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. This is the only card that offers 2% back on everything. No restrictions or rotating categories to keep track. Unlike most credit cards, Citi Double Cash gives incentive to card holders to pay their balance. You get 1% back for any kind of spending and another 1% back after you pay off any balance. Talk about classy.
The Chase Freedom card is eye-catching. We were both excited to get our hands on a Chase Freedom because of the 5% rotating categories.
Chase Freedom is similar to the Discover It, which we have as well. Hubby thought it would be a good idea to have more rotating categories than just Freedom’s. Plus, Discover doubles the 5% rewards categories during the first year. We loaded up on Amazon gift cards for 10% off before the year ended.
Synchrony Store Card
Synchrony Bank offered the first Amazon credit card before Amazon struck a deal with Chase Visa. In my humble opinion, Synchrony is better for record keeping purchases than Chase Visa (which we have as well.) On the bills, Synchrony lists item names purchased where Chase Visa lists just the codes. Hubby organizes the budget so he prefers Synchrony. Both these cards had $75 bonuses of Amazon credit and a 5% cash back on Amazon orders.
Our 3 Favorite Credit Card Rewards
Chase Freedom (again) because it had a sign-up bonus of $150 after spending $500 and an additional $25 for adding an authorized user. Considering the low threshold for light spenders like us – this was essentially free money to the tune of over 30%.
Barclay Arrival Plus
We hopped on a special deal that came along. We needed furniture. This was around the time we first moved in and either of us had furniture beyond a 600 SQ apartment. We scored over 60,000 bonus miles after meeting the spend bonus of $3,000 in 3 months.
We cancelled Barclay eventually because the annual fee was a whooping $89. There’s more rewards using Barclay for travel expenses but we’re not big on traveling yet. We moved the 60,000 or so miles into Delta airline certificates.
The Amex Twins
We wanted access to Amex offers because they sometimes offered credit on Chewy.com. We just adopted Grace and we needed some doggy stuff. When a cash sign up bonus came up, we jumped on it. It was $500 for $3,000 spent or something like that.
We knew our monthly spending level.
We spent no more than $1,200/month on our non-mortgage related living expenses at the time. We made sure to apply to cards that had $3,000/3 months to make sure we weren’t just spending more money in order to earn rewards. We’re not that addicted!
Ah, this card. This was our first card with a flexible spending limit. I questioned why no spending limit credit cards were even necessary. This was around the time when we held a $100,000 credit limit from the churning.
We were targeted for Amex Gold after we came into their Amex Blue database. They sent us a very generous targeted offer in the mail. Fancy envelope and all.
We scored a bunch of Amex points (around 50,00-60,000) after meeting another $3,000/3 month spending requirement.
American Express really tried to make getting this card a pride thing. It came with a special delivery man to personally hand it to us. I mean…it’s just…why…it’s freaking plastic. I’m all for the finer things in…oh, no wait I’m not. It’s unnecessary and stupid. The guy rang the doorbell at 7AM on a Saturday, which disturbed our downstairs AirBnB guests and us as well. We were all standing in the doorway in our pajamas.
I wonder what they do for those that hold the Amex Platinum. Or…the Black card! ?
Our 3 “Oops” Rewards
We’re not big traveler hackers. I’m a big “crunch down and dig with full force” kind of person so I don’t believe in indulgent vacations until we’ve reached a strong form of Financial Independence. We’re both a bit masochistic like that.
The only vacation is mandatory: Christmas. That’s a big holiday in hubby’s family. Apparently frosting Christmas cookies in that family has become a sport. I really love Christmas. It’s the one guaranteed chance we get to spend time with our family.
Our airline of choice is usually Virgin. Hubby enjoys the mood lighting and I like that the engine isn’t a deafening roar like Alaska’s ugly old planes. When we received two similar credit card sign up offers from both airlines, we naturally chose Virgin over Alaska.
Virgin Visa Signature
The credit card reward for Virgin was $100 for a spend bonus of $800. Slinging $800 in 3 months was not a problem; you should see our utility bills!
Being a holder of this card also means a free companion ticket once a year up to a $150 in value. Except…we were noobs…and didn’t read the fine print. The companion ticket was only applicable during non-holidays. I knew this was going to ‘select dates only’ when we signed up but Hubby didn’t and he was very angry with himself for not reading.
Great lesson #1: a good churner reads all the fine prints.
Virgin has $49 annual fee which we thought was worth it because we usually bring a checked luggage with us over Christmas. Virgin’s checked luggage fee is $25 each way so having the Virgin card was going to save us money even if it came with no other offer to sweeten the deal. Since we go back on Christmas, we bring an extra suitcase with us for the Christmas presents that we will receive. Plus, Hubby’s mom has nagged us to empty out the garage for years now 🙂
Virgin also gave us 20,000 in free miles. We used most of those miles for my father’s last-minute flight back to San Francisco this July.
Citi Thank you
The Citi offer was one of the front pagers on Slickdeals. Someone leaked a great cash and points bonus. With the help of Google Incognito, we signed up after refreshing the page a few times.
But Citi didn’t hold us to it.
We didn’t take a screenshot of the offers page so we were kicked to the regular reward bonus which was like $100 reward for $2000 or something like that. The forum members, those that knew to take screenshots, were honored the offer by Citi.
Great lesson #2: screenshots are evidence in the churning world.
Wells Fargo / Bank of America
Hubby was not too happy about the way Wells Fargo handled their customer’s information. Wells Fargo employees were opening unauthorized accounts with private customer information all in the name of greed.
It was a great bonus at least. $200 cash reward for $1000 over 3 months. We still got utility bills to pay y’all. We just had to hand over personal information to a bunch of irresponsible bankers…
Bank of America is my honorable mis-mention. I know it’s impossible to go through life without accidentally supporting big and evil things but it doesn’t mean I have to like it. Hubby signed up for the Cash Rewards card because it came with a great bonus. After we cleared the bonus, the card is now a makeshift coaster. Craptastic rewards.
Ok, that’s our saga thus far. And you know I’m going to ask this…what’s in your wallet?
Yet Another PF Blog says
Chase Freedom all the way. I got a $200 bonus for a $500 spend. It’s like they asked, “Would you like 40% all your purchases for the next two weeks?” Uh, yes, please.
Lol gasp, that’s even better than our meager 30%! XD
Ms. Frugal Asian Finance says
I used to bank with Wells Fargo until they secretly charged an $8/mo fee for accounts having less than $7,500. When I found out I I was losing money because of them, I was pissed! I went to their branch to close my account immediately. Good bye, Wells Fargo! I will never see you again. Ever!
My old bank charged a fee for NOT using their debit card. Soooo dumb!
The Luxe Strategist says
The screenshot tip is great! I’ll have to remember that next time. I also love Chase Freedom. I’ve had it forever–it’s like my security blanket.
I love having am Amex because of return protection! I like to risk buying things ‘final sale’ and then get reimbursed when it doesn’t work out.
Lol the imagery of Luxe’s security blanket made out of recycled Chase Freedoms hahaha. I would use Amex a lot but so many stores I frequent don’t accept them 🙁 – we used Amex for our car rental though, they offer damage insurance.
I should start using my Amex Blue Cash for those final sale items. I never seem to have it in my wallet though…in my literal wallet is just my Freedom + Reserve. My Amex hasn’t been used for 3 years or whenever the last small business day they were reimbursing money for! I’m looking for my next card to churn…possibly the Chase Ink? Now that I’m a “business owner”….
Yes Jing!!! We put our churning on hold for the past year but I really want a business card. They’re even sweeter! I’ve been eyeing Ink and Sapphire. We were rejected for Sapphire because of their 5/24 rule.
I just applied for the Preferred and got rejected because I already have the Reserve (I was thinking of transferring the points to the Reserve for higher spendability). I didn’t realize you couldn’t have those both :'( Such a wasted hard pull on my score so that’s why I’ve been thinking what else at Chase can I apply for to utilize this hard pull!
Working Optional says
Ha – we’ve got similar cards. Although our standard is the Fido Cashback – also gives 2%. And now I realize I should try out Virgin’s fleet before Alaska changes those planes…
I never heard of Fido before. Am I out of the loop?!
Veneta @ Becoming Life Smart says
We love traveling on a budget so credit card hacking has been one of my hobbies the last few years since I discovered it. I’m not serious about it by any means but it does result in some sweet vacations for us. Usually, the only thing we have to pay for is the food, which is great.
Looking at your list, we have the Chase Freedom card (gotta love those categories and no annual fee!) and also two Barclay cards (I know you no longer have those). Another favorite for us has been the Chase Ink – my husband has his own business so he opened that one when the sign up bonus was 70K and we still use it because we get good rewards based on the categories. That is the only card for which we pay the annual fee right now.
I’ve heard great things about Ink! We’re holding off right now to get a Chase Sapphire.
I have the Amex Blue Cash and Chase Freedom cards as well although I tend to use more of the Blue Cash since I always bring it with me and leave the Freedom card at home. Love that Amex alerts me right away about possible fraud. I got a call from them alerting me that someone tried to use my CC number at Apple store. Amex called me almost immediately(like 10 minutes) when the thief tried to make the purchase…talk about quick. I received a new CC card and number a few days later.
I loveeeeeeee that Amex feature. I get an email immediately when the card is swiped. So smart! I wish other companies did that.