How long can you sustain churning cards?

Discussion in 'General Discussion | Credit Cards' started by edekba, Mar 15, 2013.  |  Print Topic

?

How long can you sustain traveling on points/miles alone?

  1. 1 to 2 years

    2 vote(s)
    14.3%
  2. 3 to 4 years

    4 vote(s)
    28.6%
  3. 5 years +

    8 vote(s)
    57.1%
Multiple votes are allowed.
  1. edekba

    edekba Gold Member

    Messages:
    3,462
    Likes Received:
    3,783
    Status Points:
    2,145
    I was thinking about this previously and I just mentioned it in another thread but thought I should create something dedicated to this question.

    I see a lot of people (myself included) who get drawn into this points/miles game and credit card churning etc. Its all fine and dandy but in all seriousness how long can you sustain this? How long before you've exhausted all the sign up bonuses? There are people who state oh they want to be able to travel intl J/F once a year and domestic once/twice a year for little to no money & think that they can sustain this for years to come.

    I reevaluated my position and I honestly do no think a single person can sustain this off credit cards alone for more than 3yrs. I've been on one Intl trip and about to book my 2nd one, (these are for me & the fiancee) and I think I'm done w/UA & UR for those. If we repeat what I did w/my Fiancee, that might yield another 2 (but honestly who am I joking, both UR point bonuses & VR are going away/down) + the Citi AA might give us another 1 trip. So between two people, we're talking 9 RT or 4.5 RT per person.

    So unless people actually fly or spend an exorbitant amount on their cards, how do you sustain this?
     
    PHLFlyer and marcwint55 like this.
  2. marcwint55

    marcwint55 Gold Member

    Messages:
    2,516
    Likes Received:
    4,573
    Status Points:
    2,570
    I have been churning cards for over 5 years now, and until Chase shut me down for depositing too much US Mint money in my bank accounts, I have never had a problem.

    Barclays recently turned me down on my third churn for the US Air card, but after calling back I was given the card again.

    I have not kept track of the points earned, but it is certainly in the millions.
     
    edekba likes this.
  3. edekba

    edekba Gold Member

    Messages:
    3,462
    Likes Received:
    3,783
    Status Points:
    2,145
    I guess the whole churn part huh ... but most cards don't allow a 2nd signup bonus (Chase/Amex) from what I've read ... and CITI AA is no longer churn able.

    Also after a while, dont you run out of options?
     
  4. Singapore Flyer

    Singapore Flyer Silver Member

    Messages:
    808
    Likes Received:
    1,379
    Status Points:
    845
    I think they are still churnable...as long as you cancel and wait the requisite timeframe and apply again. Over at DD he has gotten quite a few Amex bonuses. Chase is probably the wildcard. Not sure if they would, but if you cancelled it over a 1-1.5 years, it may just be like Citi. Just that we don't have a lot of data points as "the perceived best" cards only came out recently.
     
    edekba likes this.
  5. edekba

    edekba Gold Member

    Messages:
    3,462
    Likes Received:
    3,783
    Status Points:
    2,145
    I guess I dont really want to cancel my CSP... or SPG; they're my main one/two combo. But I am thinking about getting the CSP M/C version ...
     
    Singapore Flyer likes this.
  6. Slow_Mustang
    Original Member

    Slow_Mustang Silver Member

    Messages:
    453
    Likes Received:
    760
    Status Points:
    745
    Barclays is the only one that denied me a card because I have had too many in the past. They look at the history of cards given previously and deny a new one even without a pull on your credit report. I think that is really nice of them to not to screw up your credit history for no reason.

    Getting back to the original topic of this thread, CC bonuses are one part of the game, the others being actual flying and paid stays at hotels, big spends by business owners using CC's, manufactured earning from sources like the mint (now dead) and Vanilla cards, and passive earnings from sources like BankDirect and Fidelity. Just CC churning can't sustain this bad habit ;) of traveling overseas in F/J. For an average person it is a challenge to earn enough miles/points to be able to make a couple of overseas trips in F/J every year.
     
    edekba likes this.
  7. edekba

    edekba Gold Member

    Messages:
    3,462
    Likes Received:
    3,783
    Status Points:
    2,145
    exactly what I was going for :)

    I'm lucky enough that I do put about $10k a year on reimbursable expenses from work & last year 20 nights @ SPG & about 20 EQM for AA :)
     
    Slow_Mustang likes this.
  8. miles and smiles
    Original Member

    miles and smiles Gold Member

    Messages:
    17,531
    Likes Received:
    61,942
    Status Points:
    20,020
    When I bought my inter-island flights on Hawaiian Air for my current trip, they were the first plane tickets I have bought since August 2009 (and I bought them mostly because I had no luck finding award tickets between the islands). My stash of miles is still sufficient for my probable travel for the next few years, even if I don't do any more miles acquisition.
    Of course everyone's situation is different. I haven't flown outside of North America for twenty + years and I'm single, so my miles utilization isn't that high. On the other hand, I fly in first class when I want to and I have given free trips to others on two occasions (using my miles).
    Also, I don't churn cards, meaning I don't repeat the same cards (except once); and I don't do app-o-ramas. I just make sure I have enough miles for all my trips. Even after my current trip to Hawaii, I have about 600,000 miles left. So, unless my travel patterns change dramatically or I start giving away a lot of trips to others, I see no reason why I will need to purchase a plane ticket for many years.
     
    andrewhyde and edekba like this.
  9. daninstl

    daninstl Gold Member

    Messages:
    1,288
    Likes Received:
    1,677
    Status Points:
    1,120
    I'm fairly new to all this in the past 2 years and new to cc churning in the past 6 months. I don't see how I could do it all on just CC's but combined with some business hotel stays, paying for everything through miles or points cards plus an odd bonus (Oh how I miss the US Grandslam) give me what I need. Oddly I'm usually short on hotel points. Sure I can fly to London in F but I run out of hotel points eventually. Companion passes help also but then they also may mean buying tickets as those have gotten harder to redeem.

    Also add in the fact that some of the people who churn do so with a spouse. If I added my wife into the mix it would help. So far she has done a few promotions and a Priority club card but that's it. Did I say I miss the US air Grandslam :(

    I would also like to see a chart of some sort on how churnable certain cards are. For example I have 2 citi AA cards I just got a few months ago, a couple chase cards (BA & Priority) and a Barclay US air card. Do I need to close them at some point and then wait a year to reapply or is it one and done?
     
    edekba likes this.
  10. WhiteDesert

    WhiteDesert Silver Member

    Messages:
    364
    Likes Received:
    440
    Status Points:
    500
    This is an interesting subject, and one I've been putting thought into over the last four months. I got serious about this obsession last January, at which time I had ~100K FF miles and no hotel points. This morning, if I count two SPG C&P redemptions of 1600 points and one Hilton AXON7 award of 145K, I have accumulated 960,000 points and miles across all accounts. I consider 800K to be a good haul for a single year's worth of effort, but the amount of time and energy invested to do it wasn't trivial. I don't see 800K a year as sustainable. I don't really want to become churn crazy, and indeed some of the actions taken last year aren't easily repeatable (e.g., a 25,000 point sign-up bonus for a Freedom and a 30,000 point sign-up bonus for a SPG AMEX) or are things that I wouldn't likely do again (e.g., securing 36,000 Choice points in the hopes of a US Grand Slam happening). So, like you, I've been thinking hard about a sustainable point strategy at my spend/travel levels.

    I earn vacation hours hand over fist, but can usually only get away from my team for about a week at a time, so I've been planning for one 10-day-ish vacation and two extended weekend trips per year. The extended weekend trips aren't hard to do and don't usually involve flights, but doing the vacation every year on points/miles presents an interesting challenge.

    For example, I have 151,000 Chase points, which came from CSP and Freedom spend plus 27,500 points in sign-up bonuses (Chase gave me a little 2,500 bonus for upgrading from the no-fee Sapphire--thanks Chase!). So let's say that HI is a target. My 151K UR points get me a week in the Grand Hyatt Kauai. Brilliant! But now I'm back to 0 UR points. Last year was a low travel year, but I don't think that 125,000 Chase points (last year's Chase haul from spend minus the bonuses) is a bad annual prediction. I can probably do that. 125K gets me five nights in a top-end Hyatt, so a week in a top Hyatt becomes a very safe target that if planned for every other year.

    So what about the alternating year? Well, for price, footprint, and status benefit reasons, Hilton has been my principal hotel chain. I earned Gold via a fast-track method last May, re-qualified based on stays in 2012 for 2013, and will re-qualify again by July 2013 for 2014. In the last year, I've earned 245,000 points. That includes sign-up bonuses for the Citi and AMEX no-fee cards (40K/50K). So, with cable & phone, plus Hilton spend, plus gas & groceries, I accumulated ~155,000 points. In planning for 2013, I had figured I could do ~200K annually, without new cards. Using AXON plus a night, those points would equal five nights in a high-end Hilton (I earn my status at the HGI and Hampton down the road--it's not really where I want to redeem). So, alternating years between Hilton and Hyatt would have been a nice and safe plan: earn Hilton status the hard way, throw a lot of cc spend toward AMEX, and redeem with them every other year. Throw all travel and dining spend on the CSP and max out Freedom bonuses--redeem with Hyatt in alternate years. Done. No 70000 AORs per annum, no vanilla reload nonsense--none of it. I function as a loyal program member, giving Hilton 20-25 paid stays a year, and I redeem with them occasionally for something fun. You'll note that I'm not discussing flights here--my prediction is that I will only be able to do award flights every second year (using miles for two flights at those times).

    Now, since Hilton (or Hilton & AMEX) appears to have punched this plan in the nose, the Hilton year is now a question mark. I'm not sure how fast I will be able to amass Hilton nights in the future. There are too many open-ended questions (e.g. what is actually happening with AXON) to see what part Hilton plays for me going forward. Regardless, I am researching other programs/ideas as I wait for the Hilton dust to settle. I'm not super enthalled with anything I see. And I'm not seeing SPG as a reasonable alternating year option, given that anywhere I would probably want to stay will probably run 12,000-20,000 Starpoints a night. With my earning rates, I see SPG as a much better engine to fund weekend trips or to help with flights--that seems to be the sustainable way that I can utilize SPG.

    One option I've been considering is to use points and miles every other year only, plus for the weekend trips. For the alternating year vacations, I could return to booking vacation packages through Expedia or AMEX. The girlfriend and I went to Curacao two years ago with AMEX, earned 2X MR points and received a $200 food/beverage credit. We went to the El Con in Fajardo last spring with Expedia and got good flights and a very nice ocean view room for $1500 a person. Sure, Hilton didn't acknowledge my status, but we snagged a room that is nicer than what you get with the standard room award at that property (or the upgrade that I can predict one receives). I went in through the UR mall, and secured an extra UR point per dollar. If this ends up being the logical strategy going forward, I'm okay with it. Figuring that we could pull a fully points/miles vacation every year was probably a bridge too far anyway.

    So, at my moderate spend levels (compared to a lot of people who play this game--it's certainly not moderate compared to much of the population), I think I can devise a sustainable points strategy going forward, after having spent one year building up a pretty solid cushion. And this would be without securing tons of additional credit cards (not something that I'm totally opposed to, but I spend a lot of time on this hobby and I do need to get it more on autopilot than it was in 2012). Of course, that strategy might result in only one reward vacation every other year, and it does involve some devaluation risk as I'm sitting on points for longer than might be wise in order to accumulate enough of them to use. But if I can do it at moderate spend levels with minimal cc churning, then I think that most people who have the ability to play this game responsibly could devise a similar sustainable strategy that isn't tied to sign-up bonuses. That said, as you predicted, I am most certainly not going to be able to buzz around in J/F every six bloody months doing things this way... that should be obvious enough even though this (super long) comment was focused on hotels. So, it seems doable, but it's not the carrot that I often see get dangled in front of newbies.
     
    PHLFlyer, daninstl and edekba like this.
  11. robertw477

    robertw477 Silver Member

    Messages:
    73
    Likes Received:
    77
    Status Points:
    295
    There are so many cards in the universe you can do this for a long time. I wish BOA would get into more of the reward cards and promos. They keep inventing new products, and you also have business cards if you choose to explore them as well.
     
    edekba and daninstl like this.
  12. LAM

    LAM Silver Member

    Messages:
    240
    Likes Received:
    280
    Status Points:
    475
    If you are only talking about cc churning and not other activities such as shopping portals, manufactured spending etc. I think you may be somewhat correct. There are only so many products. I have been taking a more conservative approach so I will have several years before I run out of products and I may repeat some in the future such as the Hawaiian Air Visa (I just closed it before the 1 year anniversary did not want to pay the fee).

    I think this game is harder for singles and those without a lot of spending power or business travel spend. I cannot afford to recycle thousands of dollars through prepaid debit cards, fidelity accounts etc. I only have about 500,000 points/miles in my first year. The only true manufactured spend I do is VR if I can find them for my mortgage.
     
    edekba likes this.
  13. Fishing4Deals

    Fishing4Deals Silver Member

    Messages:
    336
    Likes Received:
    42
    Status Points:
    260
    This is a great thread. I've gotten about half a dozen domestic flights for myself or family members in the last year, and have probably enough points for another half dozen flights. I've also earned some free travel through bumps. I am just not sure how sustainable this all is. It did meet an immediate need for my family, though.
     
    edekba likes this.
  14. Scottrick
    Original Member

    Scottrick Gold Member

    Messages:
    2,586
    Likes Received:
    4,078
    Status Points:
    2,570
    Exactly why I try not to focus too much on credit cards in my blog and cringe when someone thinks "card churning" = "travel hacking." It's a nice boost. It's a good way to get started. But it is not sustaining. I'm already getting tired of opening and closing cards, and I think I'm only halfway through the major offers. I am seriously thinking of calling it quits for now since I have all the cards I think I'll want to keep and anything new would just be to open and close for the bonus.

    I earn more points from actual flights and hotel stays each year than I do from credit card bonuses (If you measured actual value. A 60K Hilton bonus does not equal 60K United miles earned from flying.)

    Part of the issue may be due to the fact that some cards have only recently become more difficult to truly churn. As programs get devalued, airlines merge, and opportunities like Vanilla Reload get shut down, it becomes more and more difficult even as oldtimers fondly recall stories of the good ol' days that rope in newbies.
     
  15. Slow_Mustang
    Original Member

    Slow_Mustang Silver Member

    Messages:
    453
    Likes Received:
    760
    Status Points:
    745
    Those are good thoughts, but different people are in different phases of life and work under diverse conditions. A retiree, or a semi-retiree, or a student does not spend much and wants to do all his/her travel/hotel stays for free. So CC churn and passive/manufactured earnings are the only options. People getting reimbursed for business related travel spends, make out with paid travel/hotel stays. People who own businesses charge everything to their CC's and earn miles that way. So, there is no one shoe that fits everyone in the community. The personal preferences are based on one's ability to pad various accounts through various options at one's disposal. With the changing demographics and the baby boomers turned retirees making a large percentage of the award travel population, I would not write off the alternate ways to earn miles/points. Of course everyone tries to take the easiest way out to sustain his/her lifestyle. If there are other means available to the working/paid-traveling population to sustain that, then definitely leave the churning option for us, who have worked their way past the rat race (or are in college and have not joined it yet). ;)

    The miles/points gets devalued with time just like our currency does. There was a time when a single scoop ice cream cone at the Thrifty's drug store cost 5 cents. Now the store name is Ride Aid and the same cone costs $1.25. Would/should I stop eating ice cream? No way. So goes with accruing miles/points. Devaluation of every form of currency over time is a fact of life and I just ignore people constantly complaining about it. Just make the most of it and live it up. With my complaints, the Federal Reserve is not going to stop pumping money into the system (thereby devaluing it); and the airlines/hotels are not going to stop devaluing their currency either. So, be content and lick your ice cream before it melts away under the warm summer sun.
     
    edekba and miles and smiles like this.
  16. Scottrick
    Original Member

    Scottrick Gold Member

    Messages:
    2,586
    Likes Received:
    4,078
    Status Points:
    2,570
    (bolding mine) I respectfully but strongly disagree. I started as a student and I still don't have a very high income. Like anything, travel is an expense and should be part of a person's budget. If you spend less in other areas and plan your trips carefully, you can afford to pay for your own travel, even flying 100K miles a year or more.

    I actually think credit card churns are probably a bad idea for the retirees and students you mention because if something goes wrong they will have less income from their day job to clean up the mess on their credit report. If they are instead paying for travel as part of their budget, it is a known expense they can plan for.

    Credit can be dangerous for the inexperienced (students) or those who may not be as sharp as they once were (the retired). I wouldn't trust my younger brother or my 65-year-old mother to churn cards responsibly.
     
    PHLFlyer and KathInJax like this.

Share This Page