Friday, February 26, 2016

Churning credit card bonuses just got a lot harder

The best way to earn miles and status is flying on someone else's dime. Probably the second best is by signing up for credit cards that have a big signup bonus – a single signup can earn you up to 100,000 miles without ever setting foot in an airport. There are whole tutorials online for how to sign up for various cards, meet their minimum spending requirements (google "manufactured spend" sometime...), cancel the card, and do it all over again. As I've said before, the harder you play the mileage game the more it starts to be about having more time than money... so I've only just sorta dabbled in this pastime (called "churning"). In the past 10 years I've probably churned 15 cards between my and my husband's accounts.

When the economy was down, the airlines and the credit card issuers were generous with bonuses, fares, and awards. But now that the economy has picked up, all we've seen for the past 4 years is increasing stinginess. (Sidenote: the one nice thing I have to say here is that at least the airlines are spending their record-breaking profits on new, fuel-efficient planes...) This month we've seen both Chase and Amex change their rules to drastically curtail churning. Amex has moved to "one bonus per lifetime for each of their cards" and Chase is moving to "No new approvals for anyone who's opened more than 5 credit cards in the past 24 months from any institution"

Amex comes out with new products fairly regularly (like their new Everyday cards) so there might be some churn opportunity there. But with Chase looking at your whole credit report that's going to be tough. We've churned both our Chase United cards twice, as well as Chase Ink Business Cards twice, and a set of British Airways cards... 

So I guess for now my strategies are:

Hold on to the cards with the best bonus categories – keep my Chase Sapphire Preferred for dining, miscellaneous travel expenses, and point transfers to United and Korean Air. Also keep my Amex Gold for 4x points on airfare (3x if you don't book through Amex), 2x on groceries, and point transfers to a list of airlines much longer than Chase's.

Wait for specific, targeted offers. My husband's last Chase Ink churn was from a targeted offer with a much more generous bonus than the ones available online to the general public. I'm also going to start calling in advance to verify bonus eligibility. After the bonus SNAFU in this post I'm not going to take any chances. 

Given the whole time vs. money thing, I'm probably going to skip the more obscure bank offers. For example, US Bank offers a Korean Air Visa with a 15,000 point signup bonus, but I don't know if 15,000 is worth the hassle or using one of my "sponges" that might delay getting a future Chase card. 

UPDATE: hahaha no, for real, I just wrote this ^^ and what shows up in the mail just now? Ayyyup - a targeted offer for 40,000 Korean Air points from US Bank! Since my last Korean Air redemption priced out at 8¢ per point, this is essentially $3200 in free money, depending on how you look at it.
I also need to start keeping better track of when I get new cards so I can be sure I'm eligible when a good targeted offer comes.

Chase airline transfer partners include United, Korean, and Southwest 
Amex airline transfer partners



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