An Update On Our Churning Portfolio

Churn (verb):

  1. agitate or turn (milk or cream) in a machine in order to produce butter.
  2. procure credit cards and bank accounts for the express purpose of acquiring points and miles.

 

In August of 2016 I started down the rabbit hole of credit card churning. As we round the corner into our second year of churning, I thought I would share an update on our churning ‘portfolio’.

 

A Snapshot of Our Churning Portfolio

Over the last 12 months we have acquired the following credit cards and points:

CardBonus Points
Chase Sapphire Preferred for Mrs. BITA55,000
Chase Sapphire Reserve for Mr. BITA100,000
Chase Sapphire Reserve for Mrs. BITA100,000
Chase Ink Business Preferred for Mrs. BITA80,000
Chase United MileagePlus Explorer for Mr. BITA70,000 (work in progress, bonus not received yet)

That gave us a grand total of 335,000 Ultimate Rewards (UR) points in bonuses, and we racked up another ~55,000 points by putting a lot of our spending on the cards, and by shopping via the Chase portal.

We applied for the United Card in July and once we finish the minimum spend on that (we need to spend $3,000 in 3 months, we’re currently at about $2500 and have another month and half to go) we will have 70,000 United Miles at our disposal.

In the same period of time we also opened two Bank accounts:

BankBonus
Chase Checking $300
Schwab High Yield Investor Checking$100

At the minimum rate of redemption (1 Ultimate Rewards Point = 1.5 cents, 1 United point = 1 cent) what is our first year of churning worth?

 

390,000 UR =  $5850
70,000 United Miles = $700
Travel credit  = $900
Bank bonuses = $400
Annual fees = $1090

So our first year of churning netted us at least $6760.

 

We Are Slow Churners

We are slow churners; compared to us a sloth is Usain Bolt. I admire the vim, vigour and vitality of the hard-core churners over on the churning subreddit but I freely admit that I will never be one of them. Why does the slow and steady method appeal to us?

  • The main reason is that we have no interest in what is called manufactured spend (MS). To qualify for a credit card bonus you typically have to spend $X in N months. If we tried to acquire 3-4 cards at a time, our organic spending would not be enough to meet the requirements, and we would have to get *ahem* creative. I’d rather not.
  • I want to limit the amount of time I spend on churning (We churn, as in both Mr. BITA and I get new cards, but I am the one that manages all the accounts and decides which card we’re going to get next). Doing it right with minimal effort is easy when we are dealing with no more than a card or two at a time.

 

A Brief Overview of Our Cards and Accounts

 

The Chase Sapphire Preferred (CSP)

We started our churning journey with the trusty CSP. The annual fee of $95 was waived for the first year, and we got 50,000 bonus points once we met the minimum spend criteria and another 5000 for adding an authorized user to the account.

 

The Chase Sapphire Reserve (CSR)

Never before or since in the history of credit cards has the launch of a card generated so much hysteria. When it launched in August 2016, the CSR had more groupies than The Beatles. The hype, at launch, was well founded. 100,000 bonus points worth $1,500 if redeemed via the Chase Travel Portal (where 1 point = 1.5 cents), worth potentially much more if transferred to various partner airlines. There is a hefty $450 fee, but it is offset by $300 in travel credit, Priority Pass membership for you and all the people you are traveling with, 3x points for all travel and dining related expenses and a host of other goodies. The 100,000 bonus is no longer available, but we got two of these babies while the getting was good.

 

Oh, and about that $300 travel credit? It is per calendar year. We applied for our first CSR at the end August 2016, and the second at the end of September 2016. So we got $600 in travel credit for 2016 and another $600 for 2017.

 

The Chase Ink Business Preferred (CIP)

My CIP has a special place in my heart because I consider it to be my blog’s first true earnings. You see, in order to get a CIP, you need to have a business – and the only thing that I have that remotely resembles a business is this little piece of internet real estate. So I consider the 80,000 points (worth a minimum $1200 because I have a CSR and can transfer the points to be redeemed via my CSR account) to be blog revenue. That certainly sounds a lot better than the change generated by my paltry Amazon affiliate links. The cost? A $95 annual fee.

 

The United MileagePlus Explorer (MPE)

Even though this is a Chase branded card, it earns United points, not Ultimate Rewards points. We are this close to earning the 70,000 point bonus, and we have already received 2 free passes to United lounges. If we book a United flight using this card we get up to two free checked bags (one for the cardholder, and one for a companion). This card has a $95 annual fee. The 70,000 bonus points are only available via a targeted offer. The public offer is 50,000 miles, and with that offer the annual fee is waived.

 

Chase Checking Account

Earning the $300 bonus on this account was easy as pie. We opened the account, and split one of our paychecks to direct deposit a small amount into the account. 4 days later, we had $300.

churning portfolio

We need to keep the account open for at least 6 months, and to avoid any fees we need to ensure that every month the account either receives two direct deposits totalling $500 OR has a minimum balance of $1,500.

This bonus is churnable. You can close the account, reopen it and get the bonus again. You are limited to one bonus a year. For a couple this is an easy $600 a year. You have to go into a branch to open this account – you can’t do it online.

 

Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking

We did not target this account for the bonus. We opened this account because the debit card that comes with it is the best for international travel. There are no foreign transaction fees and ATM fees worldwide are reimbursed! The $100 bonus was just icing on the cake.

Oh, and it gets better. The account requires no minimum balance to be maintained, and has no maintenance fees.

The downside? Opening this account results in a hard pull of your credit (much like opening a credit card). Well worth it, in my opinion.

How Have We Used Our Cards and Points?

While earning bonuses and points is easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy, redeeming those points is less so. If one is willing to redeem the points at the base rate of redemption, it is actually as easy as squeezing assorted citrus fruit, but if one wants more than 1.5 cpp (cents per point), that takes more effort and a bit of luck.

churning portfolio
The BITAs will descend upon Lisbon in less than a month

So far we have spent 180,000 UR points on flight tickets to Europe. You can read the details in this post. The short version is that in September the BITA family is flying from San Francisco to Lisbon, then from Lisbon to Amsterdam, and from Amsterdam back to San Francisco, all for a measly $248.58 plus points. Our shiny new Schwab debit card is going to come in handy on this trip.

We used the Priority Pass Lounge at the San Jose airport when we flew to New Orleans earlier this  year, and it was glorious.

 

Which Cards Will We Keep?

When my CSP turned one year old I product changed (PC’ed, in churning parlance) it into a Chase Freedom Unlimited (CFU). This is a no fee card that earns 1.5% cash back on all purchases.

Mr. BITA’s CSR will likely be PC’ed into a Chase Freedom card sometime in September.

I’ll hang on to my CSR. Why am I willing to pay $150 ($450 fee minus $300 travel credit) a year for the CSR? You have to have one of Chase’s ‘premium’ cards to take advantage of the following features:

  • The ability to transfer and combine points across accounts
  • The ability to treat the ‘cash back’ on some chase cards as UR points.
  • The ability to transfer UR 1:1 to a variety of most excellent airline partners to get redemption rates far beyond 1.5 cpp.

We could use the CSR, the CIP or the CSP for this purpose. I chose the CSR because the CSR also gives us priority pass access, and a 1.5 cpp minimum redemption rate.

 

What’s Next?

When we first started churning we decided to try it on for size for a year. We’ve tried it, we love it, we’re going to keep doing it. We also like the pace so far, so we will continue to be slow churners. Both Mr. BITA and I are still below the 5/24 limit for Chase cards, and our next few forays into credit card churning will likely be more Chase cards.  

Do you churn? What have been your big victories? And if you don’t churn, what is holding you back?

<

15 thoughts on “An Update On Our Churning Portfolio”

  1. So awesome, this US credit card system… Can I get in? I have no USA passport, no green card, no address and no income in the USA. If not, where can I complain about this?

    In Belgium, I have not yet found anything worth my time vs the results.

    Enjoy your rewards. It looks like you have the brains and temperament to manage all of that while avoiding credit card debt!

    1. No, no you can’t have this. You already have the beer and the chocolate. That is enough. Don’t be greedy.

  2. The Schwab account…wow. ATM fees reimbursed? Very good to know–will probably open an account here for our upcoming trip to Chile. Sounds like you guys have done well with churning. If you’re sloth-like, we’re even slower. We’ve dipped our toes into the waters of churn, and have earned lots of United points, but nothing like this. Thanks for the details!

    1. Laurie, There’s a few other banks that will do the same e.g. the Cash Management account offered by Fidelity.

      International ATMs – at least the ones in Europe – will charge a fee (as expected). I discovered that because of the currency exchange the fee charged by the international bank will get clubbed together with the local currency you withdraw. Your bank here (Schwab/Fidelity etc) will just see a single amount so that fee doesn’t get reimbursed – like it would if you used another US bank.

      However, at least they don’t charge fees at this end so its still a great one in general.

      1. The Fidelity card does work the same way as the Schwab one for ATM withdrawals, but not as a debit card at point of sale. If you use it as a debit card they charge a foreign transaction fee, and that is why we chose the Schwab instead of the Fidelity.

        About the ATMs in Europe – I’ll report back after my trip. All of my research online (read anecdotal evidence from other Schwab users) indicates that Schwab will reimburse ATM fees for travelers in Europe, so I am still hopeful that our experience is not the same as yours was. Fingers crossed, and I’ll tell the story either way at the end of September.

    2. You are most welcome. I’ll report back on how the Schwab card performed when we get back from our trip in September – I’ll have used it in 2-3 countries by then, so it should be a pretty robust test.

  3. Oooh, I’m such a travel hacking voyeur. Thanks for sharing your churn portfolio! We’re into very, very small-time rewards credit card usage. I do like to see how everyone else does travel hacking–maybe I can convince Mr. Picky Pincher that it’s okay to have more than one credit card. 😉

    1. Start with the picture of an exotic beach. Follow up with the picture of a business class seat, complete with cocktails. Make him salivate, and then show him the light. To get Mr. BITA on board I had to promise to keep it simple for him – he didn’t want to have to remember which card he has to spend on what – and as long as he doesn’t have to worry about it, he is perfectly happy for me to apply for whatever cards I deem fit.

  4. I’ve been slow-churning since at least 2009 since that’s how far back my spreadsheet goes. I usually do only one card per quarter but this year has been oddly distributed. We snagged the 2 CSRs in the spring at the very last possible minute, then I added an Alaska Air card this summer with at least one more Alaska Air card to go this year. My current regular card is the SPG AmEx, though, so I’m contemplating whether to keep it by asking for waived annual fees, since I can’t justify carrying more than one high annual fee card per year.

    I’m alternating between AlaskaAir miles and Chase URs since I don’t want to bother with the mental load of whether I’ve used up my 5 Chase cards per 24 month allotment and I’ve gamed out a few scenarios where the Alaska miles would be great. I’m not necessarily spending much brainpower on achieving north of 1.5 CCPs, though.

    We got the trifecta (fivefecta?) on the Chase bonuses this year: mortgage, 2 checking accounts, 2 savings accounts. Really a nice chunk of change for a bit of inconvenience.

    1. Eventually we’re going to have to step out of the warm embrace of Chase and experiment with other cards. We’ll hit 5/24 soon enough. Sigh. You got the Chase mortgage bonus! Awesome pants. That was a full 100k right? Well done you!

  5. Oooh….we ran the Chase gauntlet and toyed with the idea of one of us not churning any more cards until the 5/24 rule expired and we could start Chase cards again. But we ended up not doing that – there are still so many great deals and especially when one of us gets a targeted offer. We are both on AMEX right now, Mrs. PIE on the Platinum (gulp; $450 annual fee; we get enough rewards to cover the fee) and me on a Gold. We have 603,854 miles/points across various airline carriers, hotel chains. We are being conscious to keep a healthy stash for FIRE while still using some for fun vacations while we both are working. Next big trip is a week skiing in Whistler, BC (Feb 2018) with flights on AA and Westin hotel all on points for family of four.

    1. I will confess that I am nervous about the day that we have to leave the warm embrace of Chase and wander into the wild west of the rest of churning. Amex will probably be next (Mr. BITA is targeted regularly because he doesn’t yet have an Amex card). That is a very healthy points portfolio you have there – we clearly have some catching up to do. I am in some danger of becoming a points hoarder. I love accumulating them and tend to lose sight of the fact that they actually do need to be spent to have value.

  6. That’s impressive churning results for one year! I’m going to have to look into a couple of the options you mentioned.

    1. Do it! I was so nervous when I started, but it has been so easy and I only regret not getting started earlier.

Leave a Reply