Credit card churning… That’s what we’re talking about today. Some call it a travel hack, others call it a questionable way of managing your finances. One thing’s for sure, though, it’s worth considering if you’re looking to get to a couple of your dream holiday destinations on a limited budget – or if this happens to be your year of living frugally.
In fact, I know of someone who heard about credit card churning and never looked back!
Years ago, I had a colleague who opened more than 15 credit cards because of credit card churning. Yikes! That’s a bit excessive if you ask me. He used to boast about traveling across the globe for free because of this sneaky little trick. But the question is, is credit card churning for everyone?
I reckon it’s not. Especially if you’re a busy professional who’s got their hands in a variety of things. If that’s the case, there are better ways for you to use your time than opening credit cards and using them just enough to activate a welcome offer. The admin of it all can end up being too time-consuming and eating up your valuable time.
What is credit card churning in more detail?
Here’s the thing, credit card churning can be a nifty way of saving. The more you do it, the better you get at it – almost like a game or hobby, something you do for fun if you don’t have anything better to do with your time.
You start by identifying credit cards that have sign up rewards that you’re interested in, otherwise it’s a pointless exercise if you don’t care much about what you’ll get in return. Airline miles or rewards points that can be used towards flights and travel costs are popular reasons behind credit card churning.
The next step is to apply for the credit card you’re interested in, and then spend just enough (not more than) to unlock that sign up bonus, then you’re good to go! Once that’s done, stop using that credit card to avoid falling into debt. Between you and me, I think it’s best for you to just “lose” that card to avoid temptation.
But is it worth it? I’ll let you decide for yourself. Being the person that I am, I took a closer look at this credit card churning phenomenon because I’m not one to just follow the pack; here’s what I found:
Using 2019/2020 figures, you could redeem approximately $840 in cash back after spending $5,000 – that’s a 17% return with a Barclays Arrival Plus credit card. Next, the Capital One Venture credit card could give you $580 in flights after spending $3,800 – that’s a 15% return.
Going for the Citi Premier credit card would give you $720 in flights after spending $5,600 – that’s a 13% return. All in all, $2,140 redeemed with 3 credit cards after spending $14,400. The equivalent of approximately 15%.
Now, when you think about the amount of time and effort that went into that, you really must ask yourself if it’s worth it. The admin. The organizing and management of the cards. For 15% within a period of a year? There are definitely better (and more lucrative) ways to use your time, if you ask me.
Who is credit card churning FOR?
I don’t know you or how financially savvy you are, so I can’t really tell you if credit card churning is for you. What I can tell you, though, is who would typically benefit from credit card churning. As you know, I’m big on number-crunching and cost-benefit analyses, so I’ve spent countless hours looking into credit card churning, and here’s my take on it.
1. People with a bit of special oomph behind their saving goals
A great example of this is people that have committed to living frugally for a year or so, to cut down on certain expenses and reach their savings goals. You don’t necessarily have to be in debt or in a bad financial position to practice frugal living – that’s a common misconception – sometimes it’s about saving with a bigger picture in mind. It’s a temporary thing.
Living frugally basically means you become a miser like Scrooge. You use those coupons that you used to look down on, start differentiating between wants and needs when you’re at the shop, and you practice credit card churning so you can still travel the world if you want to. BIG WIN!
2. People who like traveling or have family and loved ones who live abroad
If you know of students or recent graduates with big dreams of traveling the world but whose budgets or bank accounts are looking back at them like, “No, dude. There’s absolutely no way,” I present to you… credit card churning. There’s a reason why it’s also called travel hacking – because travelers on a shoestring budget often turn to it as a solution.
Think about it, if you have family or a partner that lives abroad and you’re constantly flying in and out of the country, credit card churning could very well be the answer to your travel and financial woes.
3. People who REALLY like free things
Next up, if you just happen to like free things and are willing to put up with the admin of credit card churning then, why not?
DISCLAIMER: You need to be super organized and on the ball. Financial acumen would also be quite useful in this case.
4. People who want to improve their credit score in the long run
I’ll admit, this one might be a bit of an unpopular opinion, but we can’t rule it out. Some people might explore credit card churning for the sake of building a good credit record. I know what you’re thinking, there are so many other ways of doing that which are much easier.
True, but there’s the added benefit of rewards that you unlock with credit card churning.
Credit card churning to build a good credit record is a long-term game. Come to think of it, students tend to do this to improve their chances of getting a mortgage or vehicle finance later in life.
Who is credit card churning NOT for?
So, we’ve discussed who credit card churning is for, now let’s flip things and get into who shouldn’t even consider credit card churning.
1. People with a lot going on, especially people who share credit cards with family members
Why? Because it’ll get complicated! You know that saying about how too many cooks spoil the broth? Yeah, it’s true. If you’re sharing your credit cards with your partner and kids, then the chances of you being able to track and manage spending are close to ZERO!
2. People who are planning on making a major purchase soon
Getting ready to put that down payment on your new property or launch your new business soon? If you’re going to need financing for any of these, then stay away from credit card churning.
Getting approval for mortgages or business loans typically requires you to be on good financial terms, which isn’t the idea given by numerous credit cards and hard inquiries under your name. Rather stick to credit cards until those deals come through
3. People with little to no financial literacy
As good as credit card churning might sound, trust me when I say it’s not for you if you don’t have control over your finances. It’s high risk, high reward – and you shouldn’t mess around with your finances if you’re not quite sure what you’re doing. Not only could you land up in debt, but you could also do serious damage to your credit score if you’re not careful.
4. People who lack discipline
This ties in with having control over your finances. If you still struggle with buying only what you need and end up splurging on nonsense, then I guess credit card churning just isn’t right for you.
5. Impulsive shoppers
Here’s the thing, some people view credit cards as “free money,” which couldn’t be further from the truth! Impulsive shoppers will likely end up spending more than just enough to unlock the rewards, meaning they’ll end up in a downward spiral and get a front-seat ticket to credit card debt.
6. People with no clear goals or plans to travel or redeem the rewards
There’s absolutely no point in signing up for all these different credit cards if you don’t have plans for the rewards. That’d make it a fruitless exercise that could put your finances in jeopardy.
Credit cards typically offer flight discounts, hotel stays or cash back – if you don’t need any of those then credit card churning isn’t for you. Also, before you sign up for a credit card, it makes sense to know what the rewards offered are, right?
Imagine signing up for 5 different credit cards that all offer hotel stays. Plot twist – none of those hotels are in your area or nearby, so you end up paying for those travel costs to get to the hotel but have no real purpose for any of it. Where’s the fun in that?
On the flip side, you end up with flight discounts, but all your friends and family are a drive away… doesn’t make any sense, does it? Unless you’ve got a work trip or vacation coming up. You get my point.
People that are committed to credit card churning (even if it’s just temporary) have different approaches to it. Once you do it often enough, it can become a bit of a game. And what do you need to win or do well at any game? A STRATEGY! I say this because your credit is a very serious thing, it’s not something you can take lightly. Do it right or don’t do it at all.
Does credit card churning carry any risk?
The short answer is YES, what doesn’t?
Just about everything in life comes with a certain level of risk if you’re clueless about what you’re doing. When it comes to credit card churning, the impact on your credit score is one of the top concerns for a lot of people. Then there’s also the red flag that comes with opening a lot of credit cards.
Too many hard inquiries from seeking additional credit could signal that you’re in financial distress i.e., you need help! SOS!
If you don’t quite have the time or expertise to juggle a lot of cards at once, you could find yourself forgetting to make some payments, which could raise doubts. The general rule of thumb with most credit card churners is to apply for multiple cards in a short period of time, and then pausing for a few months to rack up those rewards and points.
A lot of people often wonder what to do with those credit cards once they’ve utilized the rewards. Keep on using them responsibly or close them?
Trying to use multiple credit cards responsibly is a trap, and you’re going to get caught up in debt and late repayments. On the other hand, credit bureaus generally consider the average age of your accounts. This means that if you’re opening and closing accounts quickly, you might be penalized with a drop in your credit score – you don’t want that either.
The next best thing would be to keep them – but not use them – and then gradually close them off when you’re done with your bargain searching or year of living frugally.
Read More: Best Credit Cards Canada
Is credit card churning worth it?
Personally, I don’t think credit card churning is worth it. When you weigh out the amount of time spent applying for the cards, managing them, and admin of redeeming and utilizing the rewards, you’re better off just working for your money and paying for those things yourself. That’s just my take on it.
I prefer to use my time exploring other ways of making money, more especially sources of passive income. It’s a whole lot easier than the hassle of credit card churning. I’ll pass, thanks!