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Credit Card Churning: My First Year

A year ago I listened to a podcast on travel hacking, and I instantly knew I needed to try it. The basics of travel hacking (also known as credit card churning) is strategically opening credit cards to take advantage of sign-up bonuses, such as cash back, points and miles. After getting my husband on board, we decided to start out with the Chase Gauntlet. Chase offers some of the heftiest bonus cards around, but you can only open 5 every 24 months, and this includes cards from other banks as well.

Getting My Feet Wet - April 2018:

I started out slow by applying to the Amazon Prime Rewards credit card, which enticed me with their 5% cash back at Amazon and Whole Foods (two places we do a lot of business with every month) and a $70 Amazon gift card signing bonus. I thought it would make a great everyday card to replace our US Bank Visa measly 1% cash back. This would become our everyday credit card that we use for most purchases and pay off every month.

Total cash back received from Amazon card in year 1: $1,097

Diving In, and Drowning - April - June 2018:

About a week after getting approved for the Amazon card, I was ready to take the plunge and get this travel hacking show on the road! To begin, I applied for the Chase Sapphire Preferred for myself. Instantly approved - hurray! $24k credit limit - are you crazy?! My husband applied for the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Ink Business Preferred. Business cards have some great rewards, but you have to own a legitimate business (which he does). Both were not instantly approved and said they were “being reviewed” and we’d hear within 30 days. This is where things began to take a turn for the annoying. At the time, my husband was on a 3 month job out of state, pulling 80 hour weeks. My hope was that I could “take care of everything” in the credit card churning game, and he wouldn’t have to worry about it. Not the case. Soon after he got a call from the Chase Fraud Dept. They needed to verify his identity. Unfortunately, they called him during a time he was at work and very busy, and asked him questions that he didn’t know the answers to. So, he failed the self-identification test. They gave him the option to fax in a picture of his driver’s license to confirm his identity and address. Problem - he has a drivers license that doesn’t match our home address. So along with the drivers license, I also faxed in a copy of a bill showing his name and our billing address. OK, we should be good now, right?

WRONG! 7-10 business days later, we get a letter from Chase saying that the forms we faxed in were insufficient to verify his identity. At this point, I’m ready to just admit that my husband just doesn’t exist because that may be easier then getting approved for this card!

While all this is going on, we were also experiencing the drawbacks of using the Amazon card. They wouldn’t allow us to have our own logins to the account (since I’m the sole account owner), and they told me just to give him my login info. Easy enough, right? No. Everytime my husband tried to login, they would text me a code to confirm the device. Of course, this always happened when I was preoccupied and couldn’t get back to him right away. One time he literally got locked out of using all of our credit cards while I was on a bike tour of Washington DC standing in front of the White House. Did I mention that we were living in separate states while all this was going on?

My husband eventually got approved for the Sapphire card, and we decided to hold off on the Ink Business card. Things also smoothed out with our Amazon card and we are now enjoying the fruits of our laziness (AKA Amazon purchases).

Total rewards for two Sapphire Preferred cards was 100,000 bonus points ($1000) and an additional $406 for using the cards sporadically in the first year = $1,406

Learning to Swim - October 2018:

As if the fiasco of the initial applications wasn’t enough, I had tasted those credit card rewards and needed to add one more to my library. I applied for the United Explorer card, and was instantly denied due to too many applications in a short period of time. I decided to give it a rest, and wait 6 months before my next venture.

6 months later, I was approved for the United Explorer card!

Total rewards for the United Explorer Card: 40,000 bonus miles, $100 statement credit, and an additional $20,000 miles for using the card sporadically in the first year = ~$600

Coming Full Circle - April 2019:

Moving into 2019, I was ready to take it to the next level and move into business cards. This is where the real meat is, with rewards sometimes doubling those of their personal counterparts. We had also opened an LLC, so we had a legitimate business need for our first card. My husband applied for the Chase Ink Business Preferred, and was instantly approved.

Total rewards for the Chase Ink Business Preferred: $800

Total Rewards in the first year: $3903

Lessons Learned, and Best Practices Moving Forward:

  • CREDIT SCORE: The number one question I get asked is how opening and closing cards affects your credit score. What I’ve learned is that credit scores are in and of themselves volatile. They vary regularly, and as long as you’re paying your bills on time and not taking on too much debt, you won’t see a huge drop. To test this, I checked my credit after having 4 hard inquiries  (3 applications and 1 reconsideration), and my credit had dropped 6 points. YAWN.
  • SLOW.YOUR.ROLE: This is not a game to rush through. One card at a time is the name of the game. Stay organized! Also, credit card offers change, and the best bonuses are often short term promotions. Hold out for those!
  • CASH IS KING: The masters of this space know how to use the Chase UR points to maximize their buying power. To do this, they book through the Chase UR portal, basically a third party booking system, to get hotels and flights for free. While that may be optimal, I found that cashing out my points to be preferable. It allows me to book directly with the hotel/flights, or use the points in another way. It’s simple and flexible. 

Have questions about travel hacking? Comment below!

Enjoying Thailand in December 2018. We paid for our flights using our Sapphire Preferred cash back!

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