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Just over every three months, I apply for rewards credit cards.  It is no secret that credit card sign-up bonuses are the quickest and easiest way to rack up a ton of miles and points in a hurry (at least for those of us lucky enough to be based in the US where the offers are plentiful).  Sure, there is the “work” of having to keep up with more credit cards than the average bear, manage deciding when to cancel the cards, and occasionally have to call in to get approved, but really it is pretty simple given the massive rewards payout we get for doing it.  Doing it only once every 3 months (unless a mega offer comes along in-between) seems to be sufficient in keeping me safe from being turned down due to “too many recent inquiries”.  It also just helps give a method to the madness.  I am able to complete minimum spending requirements during those three months so that I am ready for a new crop of spending requirements by the time the next churn rolls around.

It should go without saying, but do keep in mind that churning cards is not for everyone.  Don’t do it if you think you will be tempted by the new found credit, if you can’t pay off your bills monthly, you can’t keep track of multiple cards, or if you plan on applying for a major loan in the next 1-2 years.

Step 1: Check Credit Reports/Scores

As always, my first step before getting ready for a churn is to check my credit scores and reports to make sure I am ready for another churn.    I see that from my August churn my SPG Business Amex pulled Experian, my Bank of America Hawaiian card also pulled from Experian, and my US Bank card pulled from Equifax.  I am glad to see that none of those cards pulled from more than one credit bureau.  The credit bureau(s) banks pull from varies from location to location, so your results may be different than mine. 

I use Credit Karma and Citi Identity Monitor to estimate my FICO score.  I don’t get caught up in the exact numbers as it is just an estimate, and I have found the online estimates to often be on the low side for me.  However, they are still helpful in giving some idea where I stand.  My numbers are currently between 745-781 depending on the source and the credit bureau.  Those numbers are in the good – excellent range and that is totally fine with me.  I’ll trade a few points off my score temporarily in order to travel around the world (almost) for free!

Step 2: Survey Available Credit Card Offers

The really fun part of churning is deciding which cards to apply for.  There is never a shortage of offers, but I like to give preference to limited time offers that may not be around when my next churn comes up.  I do pretty well with this strategy.

Some current possible limited time offers include:

  • Ink Bold Business Card or Ink Plus Business Card 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $5,000 in the first three months.  This offer does not have a particular end date, so it may be around for quite a while but given the reduction of the spending requirement from $10,000 to $5,000 in recent weeks, I am mentally counting it as a limited time offer as I don’t want to skip it now and be stuck with a $10,000 spending requirement down the road when I could just do it now and play it safe.  There is no fee the first year for this card.
  • Expired: The Business Gold Rewards Amex also awards 50,000 Membership Reward points after spending $5,000 in the first three months.  This one is a limited time offer that expires today (Tuesday).  The standard sign-up offer for this card in recent times has been zero sign-up bonus points (though one-day offers for 75K have happened with $10K spending requirement).  I already got this card early in 2012, but I wanted to include it in the limited time round-up in case it is helpful info for someone else.  There is no fee the first year for this card.
  • American Express Hilton Amex (expired) is giving a total of 65,000 HHonors points when you meet the minimum spending requirements (40,000 awarded after spending $750 in three months and an additional 25,000 when you spend $3,000 in the first six months).  This offer expires on 11/30/2012 and it is better than the standard offer of 40,000 – 50,000 points.  This card comes with no annual fee.
  • The Southwest Chase cards are currently all at 50,000 points after spending $2,000 in the first three months (partially expired).  This is a tremendous deal, especially if you leverage it to get the Companion Pass – as outlined in this post.  There isn’t a set deadline with this sign-up bonus that I know of, but it likely won’t stick around longer than a few months since it seems to come and go.  If Southwest flew into a convenient airport for me, I would be all over this one!

Step 3: Look at Your Travel Goals/Needs

  • I like to consider trips for roughly the next two years.  Airline and hotel award charts change too much to really plan much further out, and even two years can be a little risky.
  • My major trips for 2013are already accounted for on miles and points.  They aren’t all 100% booked, but what I need is already available to me.  I’m sure more trips will pop up, but they aren’t possible to plan for since they don’t yet exist in any figment of my imagination.  Also, since my husband is out of vacation days already for next year based on what is booked, I doubt any truly significant trips will pop up for next year (other than of course Star MegaDo 5 which will be booked with $$$).
  • My major trips for 2014 are likely to be to Australia/New Zealand and possible Maldives – though that may have to wait longer as our family Australia trip takes priority.  I just about have the miles I need for travel on Star Alliance to Australia/NZ (though a few more Ultimate Reward points wouldn’t hurt), but am still in need of a few more AA miles for my Maldives trip on One World airlines, and a chunk of more HHonors points for the hotel.  These are the trips I am actively acquiring miles and points for at this point.  Obviously everyone’s travel goals will vary, so adjust your target points accordingly.

Step 4: Combine All Info to Make Your Decision

  • Once you have looked at your credit score/report, reviewed all available offers (with a preference to good limited time offers), evaluated your travel goals, and determined what level of minimum spending is realistic for your family, it is time to decide which cards to apply for.  I am currently in this step.  I know for sure I am going for the Ink Plus, but I may also do the Amex Hilton since the limited time offer is pretty good.  I want to have a light churn this time around, but I know I could handle the spending for those two cards.  My only real hesitation with the Amex card is that I have already applied for several Amex cards this year, and I don’t want to raise any red flags with them and have to deal with a financial review right now.  However, this would be my first personal card application with them this year, so hopefully I would be okay.
  • I plan to apply for the card(s) in the next couple of days, because I have my annual fee due on my old Ink Bold I got a year ago, and I want to be able to trade it for the Ink Plus if/when I have to call to try and get approval.  I’ll keep you posted on how it all shakes out.

Have you done your final churn for 2012 yet?  What offers are you looking at?  Did I leave off a great limited-time offer that should be considered?

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