I remember when I first discovered credit card churning. I can’t remember exactly where I read it first. It very well could have been from Holly at Club Thrifty. I used to think it was really bad to close and open new credit cards all the time. I’m not sure how my logic applied because I thought it was perfectly fine to run up a ton of credit card debt, but that’s all in the past now. I have seen the error of my ways and now know that if I can find the right credit cards and use them wisely, our family can travel anywhere we want for very low cost.
One question people ask me is how you find out what card works with where you want to go and how much time does it take to be successful at credit card churning. It really all depends on whether your ideal vacation is to Florida or Fiji, but here is a basic run down of thing I do to make the most of my miles and points and how much time I spend doing it.
Where Do You Want To Go?
For me, the majority of my time is with trip research and planning. We generally use our points and miles to travel as a family, so that means three tickets and a room that has more than a twin bed. Once we decide on a location, I usually do a search to find the best ways to get there with points. Air fare is generally the hardest thing to book, so that comes first.
For example, we are planning a trip to Europe in the summer of 2015. After some searching and emailing with some pro travel bloggers, like Brad at Richmond Savers, I’ve decided that our best bet to use points we already have and points to plan to get is to fly United one way and use the Canadian mileage plan, Aeroplan, for the other one way. You can use Aeroplan to book flights that don’t go through Canada as long as they share the Star Alliance. so you can actually book the same flight on Aeroplan as you can on United’s website, but for less points. How crazy is that?
I bet I’ve spent about 20 hours so far in figuring all this out. I could have done it for less or found a way to book through one program, but this maximizes what we already have. I always love learning new credit card churning tricks, so this didn’t seem like a hassle at all.
Once you have a destination and an airline in mind, it’s time to earn the points. We had a pretty good stockpile of American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards that we hoped to use.
By booking two sets of one way tickets, we are going to be able to use both programs after boosting our accounts. We only needed to apply for one Chase Ink card for for our rental property business, a personal Amex Gold card for Jim, and a United Explorer card for me. Now we have enough points for three tickets! We also recently got a Barclay Arrival card to cover any fuel surcharges or taxes that we happen with award ticket booking.
Those points were pretty easy to get with our normal spending, so 30 minutes to get the applications processed was about it.
Now, if you’ve been churning for a while and are ready to ramp it up to the next level, you can earn tons of points by using American Express Bluebird. I won’t get into great detail, but by opening up an account and loading it with prepaid debit cards with a pin number, you can pay all of the bills that don’t accept credit cards including your rent, mortgage, property taxes, really anything that takes a payment. Now that I’ve discovered this gold mine of points, I do feel like the sky is the limit. I have been using this strategy for about month and have probably spent about two hours purchasing and loading cards. It helps to live in a place that has little traffic.
Booking A Trip
You’d thing the booking part would be easy, but it can be a challenge if you are like us and can only travel during peak times like school breaks. For our tickets to Hawaii this summer, I probably checked the Hawaiian Airlines site 25 times until I found flights that would work with our schedule that were at the saver level so we didn’t have to book with full points.
It’s best to book your trip as early as possible, but not all airlines open up their flight availability at the same time. Just because you don’t find your seats on the first try doesn’t mean you won’t get them.
I probably spent another 6 hours searching award charts on various days from different cities.
How Much Time Does It Take To Get a Great Trip Using Credit Card Churning?
I would estimate from my last couple of bookings that it takes me between 20 and 30 hours of planning and action to book a trip with points and miles. I enjoy it, so I don’t mind looking at every possible way to travel. I’m sure you could be quicker if you wanted. You can also use a reward booking service, but I think it’s more fun and less expensive to do it myself.
The value I’ve gotten out of this amount of time is phenomenal. Our Hawaii trip would be about $7000 retail, so I would have had to work lots longer than 30 hours to afford that, or we would have taken a shorter or less luxurious trip.
Credit card churning isn’t for everyone. It does take a fair amount of time, but getting to see the world for the cost of a few dinners out is more than enough motivation for me.
How much time do you spend on trip planning? What is your dream vacation?