How to Use Credit Card Churning to Travel for Free

Credit cards are something that people often use with caution. They can bring on unnecessary debt if you lack the discipline, and generally, people carry around one to two cards personally.

Credit card churning is a method of opening and closing many credit cards to obtain points and miles to travel for free. If you want to grab lots of points and miles, having many credit cards can help create this path. Gaining rewards and not damaging your credit can be tricky and make many people feel uneasy.

The Reddit churning thread often has good information to help guide people along their journey to secure free travel, but a word of caution you must be organized and pay off your card at the end of each month. It takes strategy, and sometimes you must turn to other platforms to figure out how to do this.

Credit card churning is often frowned upon by credit card companies. They are not in the business to lose money but are in the industry to make money. It is a delicate subject that many companies try to warn about. As a travel hacker, I try to keep things simple, but you must have some strategy.

Travel hacking can sometimes use credit card churning to help achieve their goals.

What is Travel Hacking?

Travel hacking is the mode of gaining free or cheaper travel by earning points and miles through credit card sign-ups and bonuses.

Simply put, credit card companies want people to sign-up for their cards. They give out bonuses for hitting minimum spending, and the customer now has money they can use for travel.

Travel hacking is not illegal, but specific modes such as manufactured spending can be seen as unlawful or taking advantage of credit card companies. Still, it is about earning points and miles to travel for free.

Through travel hacking, you can learn how to maximize your credit cards to earn more points and miles. Most people do it the old-fashioned way; you fly a specific airline or use a particular hotel to reach more miles and awards.

Credit cards like Chase, Capital One, Citi, and American Express, allow you to have higher category bonuses through their portals of using their cards. The Chase Sapphire Reserve and Preferred allow 5x of any money spent in their portal. The Capital One Venture X card allows the same thing.

With these category bonuses, you can rack up more points and miles to transfer to airline programs like United or Singapore Air’s KrisFlyer program to book business or even First class tickets to international destinations.

Some of the best rewards credit cards are travel cards. You can pair these up with cashback cards and business credit cards to reap even more rewards. The possibilities are endless.

What is Credit Card Churning?

Credit card churning opens up cards, hits the sign-up bonuses, and closes them. People will use credit card churning to earn air miles, travel rewards, or cashback.

You can achieve many bonuses and reap the rewards through many cards like Chase credit cards or American Express cards.

Credit card churning makes the process of earning points and miles quicker.

All You Have to do :

  • Open up a card for a particular credit card currency like Ultimate Rewards Points or Credit card airline miles.
  • Hit the credit card bonus to get the rewards quickly.
  • Once you have the bonus, close the card before the annual fee hits the account.
  • Rinse and Repeat

Many travel hackers use this method to gain business class and first-class air travel throughout the year. It is part of their long-term strategy to travel for free. Many credit card companies have put in security measures not to allow this to happen.

Certain companies allow you to obtain a second bonus only after 24 months, or companies like Chase have the 5/24 rule. You can only apply for five credit cards in 24 months, or you will not get a new card.

Some of these strategies may not be right for everyone. There are many downfalls to these strategies, and you also must be dedicated and organized to pull this off.

How Credit Card Churning Affects Credit

When opening up new credit cards, you must be wary about the factors forming your credit score and how companies look at how much you are spending and how many applications you are opening.

The credit score considers many factors such as:

  • Payment History
  • Amounts owed
  • Credit History Length
  • Credit Mix
  • New Credit.

With the influx of new applications, you may throw off some red flags, and banks may think you are in financial struggle.

Also, be wary of your available credit. Credit card companies like users to use less than 30% of their credit.

Opening cards can allow you to increase your credit score. By paying off debt and being responsible, you can move your credit score from a fair score to a much higher one.

Banks Protecting Themselves From Credit Card Churners

The Chase 5/24 Rule:

When looking at creating a strategy, you must be mindful of the Chase 5/24 Rule. Chase doesn’t want people to be signing up for cards and canceling all the time. They can see this when you apply for new cards. They are pretty clever with this kind of stuff.

What you need to do is pick out some cards that are Chase cards that you can apply for without hitting the Chase 5/24 Rule. I am a fan of the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card.

You can even partner these with Chase Freedom Unlimited and Chase Freedom Flex. These two cards help gain even more points through the Chase Ultimate Rewards program.

Next, I would apply for other cards that are non-Chase. Applying for other cards later helps you to avoid the Chase 5/24 Rule.

American Express Rules

American Express only allows one welcome bonus for one person over their lifetimes. Once you get that bonus, you will never get another bonus on that card again.

Citi Credit Card Rules:

Citi has a 48-month rule. Once you get their sign-up bonus, you cannot get their bonus again for 48 months.

Apply Some Manufucatured Spending Concepts.

Now manufactured spending may sound a little illegal, but it is not. Manufactured spending is spending money to achieve card rewards from credit cards. You have to manufacture enough spending where you are not losing money.

If you go out to eat with many friends, you could put the meal on your credit card and have the friends pay you back in cash. You can use your card to pay off rent through apps like Plastiq or even use your card to pay for bills. Anything you can spend money on can help reach those rewards.

You can use the concepts to hit the minimum spend.

Credit Card Churners Beware

Credit card churning is not for everyone. It brings on many complexities but also brings on many rewards and bonuses. If you are thinking about doing some credit card churning, it is time to make sure some of these other factors will not affect your strategy.

Buying a House:

If you think of buying a home soon, be careful of churning credit cards. Mortgage lenders do not like those people opening and closing cards in a certain period. It brings on some fear to them in seeing if you can handle new debt. It is best not to churn many cards if you are getting ready to buy a house.

Lack Of Organization

It would be best if you were to get organized. Some credit cards have considerable fees, and if you are not using them, you may be spending more on the fee than the card is worth. Some cards are worth the cost, like hotels that give you a night free, but it is best to be organized.

One other thing about being organized is when you are manufacturing spending, and you know you need to hit a bonus, make sure you have a plan to hit the bonus. It will suck to come up short of hitting that bonus and lose out on that real opportunity.

The organization goes a long way when playing the travel hacking game.

Credit Card Debt Issue

The primary thing to be careful about is credit card debt. Credit cards have enormous interest rates, and we do not need debt to be added. If you seek out big bonuses, do not get into debt for the reward. It is not worth it.

If you have had credit card debt issues in the past, be careful with any additional debt. It is always best to pay your credit card statement at the end of the month. Debt is not in the sense of credit card debt. Be careful and be aware.

Making a Strategy For Churning Credit Cards

When we are credit card churning, you must have some strategy. The strategy will help you stay organized and avoid any unwanted failures that could occur. You also must be mindful that banks want to protect themselves from credit card churning.

Pick a couple of cards you would like to apply for to help you achieve your goals. If you want to take a specific flight, think about an airline co-branded card like the Delta Gold Card or the United Explorer Card. These cards can help you get miles quickly as a bonus to fly somewhere lovely.

There are some excellent travel credit cards out there. You can also have a bank card like Citi, Chase, Capital One, or American Express that can give you points and miles that you can send to transfer partners. These points and miles can help you have free trips or cheaper ones as you book.

Hotel cards are an excellent pick-up as well. They are great because they give you status, and usually, with the yearly fee, they give you an anniversary night that can be worth more than the fee. Pick a hotel you think you will be loyal to and start collecting points through their card.

Final Thoughts:

Credit card churning is not for everyone. It takes strategy, organization, and discipline to make things happen—one of the most fantastic perks you can have from credit card churning. Through travel hacking, you can use credit card churning to help you travel for free.

Be responsible and take it slowly. Once you get the hang of the points game, you can learn more about accumulating points. The Reddit thread r/churning has many tips and tricks to help you out. The Points Guy is another valuable resource to continue to help you with your education. Learn, do, and have fun with the points and miles you can accumulate.

This post originally appeared on Savoteur.

Steve Cummings is the founder of the personal finance blog The Frugal Expat. As a traveler and expat, he has learned a lot about how to save money, live frugally, and invest for the future. His mission is to help people in saving, investing, and reaching financial independence.