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How Much Time Does Credit Card Churning Take?

Earn free travelI 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.

Earning Points

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?

Image: Freedigitalphotos.net

About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.

26 comments

  1. I used to spend very little time planning trips, mainly because I hardly have time to travel let alone spend hours upon hours planning it out. With that being said, I have started to do a few things here and there to prepare myself better. My wife and I both churned the barclaycard and we will use that towards whatever our next trip is. I also hope to spend some more time looking for deals so that we can maximize our vacation budget.

  2. I’ve found it to be a relatively mixed bag so far. We never really paid retail for vacations, so it feels like an inauthentic comparison point in our case, and it certainly takes a lot of time. But I’m going to echo that talking to Brad from Richmond Savers was well worth the time! An hour talking to him got me more information than 8-10 hours reading on the internet!

    • Thank you Kim and Mrs. PoP for the kind words!! It was my pleasure helping you both out; I’m glad you both found it worthwhile and that I could potentially help you save a whole lot of money on your future travel plans!

      I do completely agree that travel hacking can be a frustrating and time-consuming process, but in the end it is so often worth it as you get to travel to amazing places for next to nothing. I try to preach patience, planning and flexibility with all the people I work with. This is a bit of a re-think on travel planning in general and it is difficult for some people to understand that there are limited award seats available on all flights (except Southwest) and that you need to book as far in advance as possible preferably with some different options.

      This concept really can take you just about anywhere you want for close to zero dollars, but you must be flexible!

      • Yes, I think our new mindset is W”here do we need to leave from to get there?” rather than, “We need a ticket from XYZ on this certain date”

    • No, we’d never pay retail either, so I guess it is sort of an unfair comparison. We’d just stay somewhere cheaper or for only a few days. I’m really excited to see how the other half live.

  3. I spend a lot of time planning too, but I think that planning is half the fun! CVS just quit selling vanilla reloads around here, so I have to change my strategy to Visa gift card/Bluebird, at least until I hit the minimum spend on the card I’m currently working on, and after we earn Greg’s southwest companion pass. Signed up for any good cards lately??

    • The one I’m working on right now is the 100,000 mile AA Executive card. That will get us back to KY out of our regional airport, which saves a four hour drive to Albuquerque. It isn’t business class to Hong Kong, but it gets us where we need to go without paying $1000 a ticket! I need to start working on hotel points next, maybe Club Carlson?

  4. We’ve spent a lot of time planning as well – though it’s really me as Nicole really wants no part of it. She would just rather have me tell her what cards to use and when she can be done with it. We’re building up points right now, but don’t have a set destination in mind right now. We really want to go to Europe next year and not certain if that’ll include the kids or not, so we’ll see.

    • Five tickets would be a challenge. I’d love to see you guys pull it off, but maybe the younger ones wouldn’t quite get the value just yet anyway.

  5. I find planning trips pretty enjoyable…you have something exciting to look forward to. Sure the rewards and redemption policies can get a little complicated, but I enjoy reading blogs about it, plus you can always get a pro like Brad to help you out.

  6. I’m probably going to spend a lot of time this year figuring out how I can get to Europe next year on mostly points. If I open cards around each quarterly tax time, I can easily hit my minimum spending for the cards. The one thing I’ve been slacking on though is closing some cards so I don’t get hit with a bunch of annual fees.

    • I’m to a point where I need to start looking at cancelling cards. I just cancelled one of my Ink Bold cards and probably need to think about cancelling my Sapphire one as well.

      • Cancelling cards will hurt your credit, especially when you cancel old cards. You reduce the amount of debt used, to the amount you have available. You also reduce the length of credit.

        • That is true in some circumstances. I have some no fee cards that I’ve had forever that I will always probably keep open and we have a huge amount of open credit spread through many cards. Closing one and opening another really does nothing. When we started churning, my credit score was around 780, and now it’s at 806.

  7. I love how you equated the 30 hours of work that you put into the credit card churning to $7000 of earning. I always talk about ROE – return on energy and if something provides you with a positive ROE, then it is absolutely worth it.

  8. Great post! I just signed up with the Barclay card last month since I figured it would cover most of my FinCon costs other than the admission ticket. I’m trying to see if there’s a credit card that connects to already existing frequent flier miles for United since I have about 22,000 already just from work, but since switching jobs I don’t really fly anymore. I figured if they had a card that connects, I could probably get it up to the 25,000 for a free flight in no time.

    • Mel, many of the Chase cards like Sapphire Preferred or Ink cards transfer to United. You can also use those points for cash back, other hotels, or shopping online with sites like Amazon.

  9. I do not normally get additional credit cards, as it hurts your credit, at least temporarily. I did just sign up for a spirit airlines card, it saved $100, plus gives me 15,000 miles. It may be enough for another trip this summer.

    And when I do get a card, I always pay it off immediately. Never an interest charge. Normally I shred the card after I have fulfilled the requirements too,

    • Always, always, always pay it off. If you carry a balance, any interest accrued is never worth any reward. That’s rule #1. You can’t have outstanding balances if you want to churn. Thanks for stressing that again.

  10. Love the post!! And the Hubs and I are heavy churners – we plan our apps about 91+ days apart. We found that we are most effective when we plan our trips more than a year out. It suits us fine because my husband can allocate his vacation days better 🙂 We’re actually also going to Hawaii this summer and all of it (minus our food) is being covered through all our points! I think the return on investment on the time that you put in to get the rewards for churning are absolutely worth it! I only wish we have known about this sooner 🙂

    • I wish we’d been more disciplined with our credit cards from the beginning instead of running up lots of debt. For a while, we had to look for the best interest rate for balance transfers. Thankfully, those days are long gone!

  11. Nice work! I’ve churned cards for some simple trips, like the Southwest card for a free trip for 2 to San Francisco, then used travel rewards to rent a car. I still had points left over to fly for free to St. Louis for FinCon, and used the Barclay’s card, with a $400 travel credit, to pay for my hotel — I thought that was appropriate 🙂

  12. Thanks for this post. I have been wondering how much time a major hack would take to plan. So far we’ve only done the arrival card (baby steps), but I want to travel internationally later in the year.

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