When it comes to miles and points, the easiest and fastest to accumulate a lot of them is through credit card bonuses. Many people do not just stop at one card, either. They apply for several to nicely pad their mile/point totals.
Credit Card Churning
The real benefit comes with what is known as “churning” – the practice of applying for the same card again and again to take advantage of the sign-up bonus. Several years ago, it was pretty much the “wild west” in regards to credit card churning. People were hitting the same card repeatedly, even on the same day, and getting the bonuses – and this was like this with all the big banks and issuers!
Over the years, credit card companies have wised up to this practice, or at least weighed the cost of these customers against their own profits, and they have put the hammer down a bit on the practice. For the most part, those of us who apply for credit cards to get the big sign-up bonuses are not really the best customer for banks.
Strangely enough, though they do not like giving premium cards to customers that are carrying a lot of credit card debt, they do like have those customers carrying debt with them as they are making good money off of them with interest – they are the “preferred” customers over us. With the miles and points community, the carrying of debt on credit cards is very isolated. We get the cards for the bonus, meet the spend, and (unless the card has awesome bonus categories, spending thresholds, everyday use) we stick it in the drawer. Not exactly what the card issuers like to see!
Overview Of Churning Policies
(at least what we know of them)
So, here we are today. It is definitely become more difficult to “churn” credit card bonuses – more so than before. What does it look like?
American Express issued a harsh policy last year on their personal cards – you are only eligible for one bonus per lifetime on each personal card. And, it did not start from that point forward! If you had a card and got the bonus 10 years ago, you are now ineligible to receive the bonus if you sign-up today.
That is by far the worst policy amongst the card issuers. I understand it is an effort to curb people from getting their cards for only the bonuses, but it also really hurts the customer who only gets and uses one card every few years. Say a person had applied for the American Express SPG card years ago but then came off the road for a while. Now, they have a new job and they want to pick up those elite nights/stays that come with the card. Plus, why not get the bonus! Sorry – you cannot get that bonus again! One bonus per lifetime is the rule for personal cards.
But, that is one bonus per product per lifetime. So, if you have had the bonus for the Delta Amex Gold card, you can still apply and get the bonus on the Delta Amex Platinum card.
It is a different ballgame with business cards. As long as you have not had the card for 12 months (and that is an exact 12 months!), you are eligible to get the bonus again. Since just about every Amex personal card has a business counterpart, it is still possible to get some nice bonuses. All you need is to get a small business card.
Policy: One bonus per lifetime on personal cards
Bank of America
Bank of America has become the fun issuer over the last few years. They have continued approving customers for the same card without hesitancy. In fact, some people apply for 4 or 5 of the same card in one day and have been approved (note: while each person can do what they want, that is not something I recommend doing nor is it something I would do myself). Bank of America’s most valuable card, in my opinion, is the Alaska Airlines card. The sign-up bonus is not large but the fact that you can get it again and again with no spending is great!
However, it appears that Bank of America (or Alaska Airlines) may have started to close that door a bit. You can read more about it on this post at View From the Wing.
Apparent Policy: Alaska seems like they are cracking down on those who get too many cards opened in a single day.
Barclays used to be a favorite for the very churnable US Airways card. Since that card no longer exists, many have simply turned their sights more to the Barclaycard Arrival cards. But, over the last couple of years, Barclay has gotten very stingy with new approvals. If you have the same card already opened or have applied (for what they believe) for too many new cards, they will deny you.
The good news is that it seems that denials for trying to get another card that you already have is met at once and without pulling your credit report. In this way, you can save a credit hit on what ends up as a denial.
You can try closing an account and then try applying for that same card again down the road, but if you do not receive approval when you apply, just know that reconsideration calls with Barclays normally do not end with you getting the new card.
Apparent Policy: No new accounts if you already hold the same product and possibly no new account if you have been denied upon application.
This is probably one of the more disappointing changes in churning as of late. Chase has always been pretty easy to churn (though their official policy is that you can not have had the bonus for at least 24 months and not have the card when you apply). But, they have begun to make some changes which apply for both the personal and business cards. According to the way the conversations have gone on the phone with Chase reps when asking for reconsidartion, it certainly sounds like there is an official policy that has made its way throughout their system though Chase is not sharing anything directly with their customers.
The new policy started being enforced on cards within the Ultimate Reward system (or potentially) like the Sapphire Preferred, Ink Plus, Freedom, or Ink Cash. This began in May. The policy apparently is that if you have had 5 new accounts opened in your name in the last 2 years (and that even includes being an authorized user), you will be denied for a new card. Ouch!
Even more unfortunate is that this policy seems to be moving on to the co-branded cards like the United MileagePlus Explorer card and IHG card as people are reporting getting a denial on those cards as well for the same reason.
Obviously, this is Chase’s way of dealing with serial churners without making rules with how often their own cards can be churned. With this policy, if you have had more than 5 accounts opened in the last 2 years, no new card for you. That is terrible because even the most cautious travel credit card fans will likely have 3-4 cards opened in the last year. With Chase encouraging the addition of authorized users to the new cards for extra bonuses, it makes it even worse. Now, if you have been added as an authorized user on someone else’s card, that is one more card towards your total of 5 to prevent you from getting a new card.
Hopefully, we will see some official policy on it soon and get a clearer sense of how it will be going forward. In the meantime, check out the wonderful posts by Doctor of Credit on this issue.
Apparent Policy: No new accounts (Sapphire Preferred, Ink Plus, Freedom, Ink Cash, and possible co-branded cards now) opened for people that have had 5 or more accounts opened in their name in the last 2 years.
Citi had some language on certain products for a while about their “18 month rule” but it was never that big of a problem. Now, they have moved that language and rule to most of their cards and it does exactly what Citi wants – gets people to pay annual fees.
The rule specifies that you cannot get the bonus if you have opened or closed that particular product in the last 18 months. Since annual fees happen, well, annually, you will be on the hook for at least one annual fee. Since it makes no sense to keep a card and pay an annual fee on it without using it (while you wait for the 18 month clock to end so you can get the same card again), many people will likely use the card throughout the course of the 18 months – even if it is just a little. To read more about this policy and ways to work around it, check out this post at Miles to Memories.
Policy: Bonus not available if you have had a (the same product you are applying for) opened or closed in the last 18 months.
In some of these instances above, it is from the experiences of others while I have experienced similar actions as well. Until a bank issues a formal policy and shares it with the customer (which they most likely would not have a desire to do), we do not really know what the exact wording and spirit of the policies are.
In some cases, you can still get the card again, just not the bonus. So, if you wanted to get the Amex Platinum card for the perks and did not mind skipping the bonus, you could do that. However, with other issuers like Barclays and Chase, they may not even give you the card – never mind the bonus.
What have your experiences been with the churning policies of any of these banks?