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How to Develop a Credit Card Churning Strategy

No idea what churning is? Start here.

Now, if you’ve read my other articles, you’ll remember I mentioned the importance of doing research on credit card churning before jumping in blindly. After getting an understanding of what churning is and if it’s right for you , the next step in your research is to develop a churning strategy. Which cards should you apply for, and when?

The answer is, as always: it depends.

What are your goals?

The first step in choosing cards is to figure out what your churning goals are. Yes, they need to be a little more specific than “I want free stuff”.

What are you trying to achieve with your rewards? Most people churn for travel and vacation rewards, so that’s what we’ll focus on. Where do you want to travel? Do you want to fly first-class, or is coach sufficient? Do you need hotel points or do you plan on traveling to places where you can stay with friends and family?

Set up clear goals for yourself. If you’ve got a trip planned in the next 6-12 months that you haven’t yet booked, a perfect first churning goal is to try and get the flights and hotels for that trip free. If it’s a domestic trip with you and a partner for less than a week, this is totally doable with a moderate or even slow churning strategy. Bigger trips are feasible with a more aggressive churning strategy, but that’s not always advisable for beginners.

Fixed Value vs. Branded Cards

Fixed value cards are cards that aren’t associated with a specific airline or hotel chain and instead offer their own point system that can apply to a variety of different brands. These are great because they offer flexibility, and they maintain their value over time. If an airline changes its award redemption system to make flights more expensive (which happens often), your branded miles are suddenly devalued, while fixed value points are not.

However, fixed value cards tend to have slightly less appealing sign-on bonuses and promotional offers. Additionally, f you are loyal to a specific airline or hotel chain, you miss out on some extra perks that branded cards often offer, such as free checked luggage or a bump in your frequent flyer status.

Airline or hotel branded cards are tied to a specific airline or hotel chain and can only be used with that company. If you have to travel on specific dates, this can be pretty limiting because of the black-out dates and price jumps that you encounter when trying to redeem awards. However, if you travel is flexible, you can easily squeeze a lot of value out of your points and miles, especially if you do your research.

If you’re going for a branded card, however, be sure it’s with an airline or hotel chain to which you want to be loyal. Consider which airlines frequently serve your home airport and what routes they offer. If you want to go to Chile, which airlines offer good deals on flights to South America from your airport. Pick a handful of airlines and hotel chains to frequent. Loyalty in the churning game is like investing – you want to diversify, but you don’t want to spread your rewards so thin that each one is nearly worthless. To learn more about award redemption, spend some time browsing Flyer Talk, a forum filled with priceless tips and tricks from frequent flyers and million-milers.

In the end, you’ll probably end up with both kinds of cards, but it’s important to understand the difference.

Promotional offers

This is important: pay attention to promotional offers. Altogether now: PAY ATTENTION TO PROMOTIONAL OFFERS.

These will get you the jackpot sign-on bonuses, and you want to plan your credit card applications around them. Its’ how you’ll churn out the big rewards. I’ve seen these offers reach upwards of 100,000 points. Anything at 75,000 or above is very good. 50,000 or more is still pretty good. For most cards, 25,000-30,000 is pretty typical, and you could probably find a better offer.

Follow credit card promotions posted in the master-thread on Flyer Talk, where the latest offers are highlighted in maroon. Another way to find promotions is by frequenting the churning subreddit, r/churning, and filtering to threads with the “New CC offer” flair.

An important new rule from Chase bank

In early 2016, Chase bank instituted a new rule that changes the game for credit card churners everywhere. It’s something that you need to consider now when developing your strategy.

Deemed the 5/24 rule, Chase’s policy now states that they will not approve anyone for a Chase credit card if they have already opened 5 or more credit cards within the past 24 months regardless of what bank issued them. In other words, if you’ve opened more than 5 credit cards in the past two years, even if none of them are Chase credit cards, you will likely not be approved for a new Chase card.

This is kind of a big deal, because Chase issues some of the most coveted credit cards for rewards-hunters. What does it mean for your strategy? Get ‘em while they’re hot. You want to apply for any Chase cards you think you might want in the next two years first.

Stay tuned for my next article on the best credit cards to start churning with, including a couple Chase cards that you’ll likely want to prioritize. You’re almost ready to start applying!

About the author

Elizabeth Aldrich

Elizabeth is a freelance writer and “digital nomad” specializing in small business, entrepreneurship, career advice, real estate, travel, arts, and culture. She’s written for outlets as varied as Rawckus Music and Arts Magazine, Itcher Entertainment, Sweden Tips, Houzz, Hometalk, JobHero, Tico Times, and Eugene Weekly. Thanks to a three-year stint in a travel job, a knack for mining great deals, and credit card churning, she has not paid for a single flight since 2012, despite her constant travels. You can find her on Twitter @LizzieAldrich or her website,

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