As part of my earlier post asking for topics for discussion, PointsNerd reader, Marc, suggested a topic that covers earning points beyond the initial credit card sign up bonuses.
As you may know, many credit cards offer excellent sign-up bonuses designed to attract new clients. My current favorite offerings are the 30,000 American Express Membership Rewards with the American Express Gold Personal card with the Alaska Airlines World Elite Mastercard’s offer of 25,000 Alaska Miles for $75 (hint: read my review on how to lower the annual fee to $15).
After you have signed up for these cards, the question then becomes … can I do this again and get the sign-up bonus a second, third, fourth, etc. time?
Well, the answer is … it depends.
First a Definition
Applying for a credit card, using it until you meet the minimum spend requirement, collecting the sign-up bonus, canceling the card and doing it all over again is called churning.
Churning, before it was well understood by credit card issuers was a very lucrative way to quickly amass a boat load of points. Churning cards have become more difficult in recent years but it’s still possible. Let’s examine why this is and where you can still take advantage of churning.
Many credit card companies out there provide lucrative offers to new clients in an effort to convert them into life-long customers. These offers include large sign-up bonuses with the first year’s annual fee often waived. The idea here is to make the card as attractive and risk-free as possible for the new client so they can test out your product. The hope here is that the value of your credit card product will be so blatantly obvious to the client that they will be willing to pay the annual fee when it comes due in a year.
Credit card companies can sometimes spend upwards of $1,000 to acquire a new client through things like advertisements, airport kiosks, sign-up bonuses and annual fee waivers. With this in mind, you can understand why these companies would try to make it more difficult for people to churn credit cards.
Once In A Lifetime Rules
In order to combat churning, credit card issuers are changing their terms and conditions to make it very difficult to get the sign-up bonus more than once. The most extreme measure (in Canada at least) is the Once-In-A-Lifetime Rule that American Express uses to dissuade people from churning their cards.
Here are the terms for the American Express Gold and Personal cards:
*Note – all emphasis through this post (in bold) are mine.
American Express Gold Personal
American Expres Platinum Personal
I haven’t examined every American Express card but I’m fairly certain that every card will have a similar clause.
Business Cards Too?
I’m afraid so Tonto.
PointsNerd’s Thoughts on AMEX Business Cards
Now don’t take this as the gospel truth but in the past, you could get the AMEX Business cards for different businesses and still receive the bonus. For example, if you ran two different businesses and needed separate cards in order to keep expenses separate, you could apply for the same card under a different business name and still get the bonus. However, the new clause that was implemented about 6 months ago calls that into question.
If you are in this situation, I would strongly recommend calling American Express for clarification and document the hell out of your conversations.
There are a few credit cards out there that are still churnable, including the following:
Alaska Airlines MBNA World Elite Mastercard
I have personally had 3 of these cards and have received the bonus each time I have applied. I would recommend that you read my review on the card to learn how to reduce the annual fee of $75 to $15.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that you should be able to churn this card about a month after you cancel your existing one but I would wait 3 months to be safe. MBNA does not have any hard or fast rules on the eligibility for the bonus but be sure to read the terms and conditions of the card before you apply in order to make sure they haven’t changed the rules.
Here are the current terms at the time of writing:
As an aside, you used to be able to hold multiple MBNA Alaska cards but this is no longer the case. If you apply for another card while one is active, their system will automatically reject your application.
TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite
TD has a modified term that is similar to that of American Express, except that you become eligible for the bonus again after 6 months with the caveat that TD reserves the right to limit the number of accounts opened and points awarded to one person.
It is unclear when the timer starts for the 6 month eligibility but it’s a good bet that it starts when the card is closed.
Cards You Might Be Able to Churn
The Chase Marriott card is an excellent card to have for foreign transactions because you aren’t charged a foreign currency conversion fee of 2.5% like with almost every other card in the market so it’s a good card to have in your wallet anyways but to make it even sweeter, you might actually be able to churn this card as well even though the terms states that it is one time bonus.
I have read a few reports that state that people have been able to earn the bonus a second and third time but they have waited about 6 months from the close of their previous account before attempting the churn.
This is definitely a Your Mileage May Vary (YMMV) type scenario but because this is a no annual fee card, it’s not a big deal if you try and fail to get the bonus.
As a Travel Hacker, I would encourage your to read the Terms and Conditions of every credit card you are signing up for in order to understand your responsibilities in the agreement and to understand if you are eligible for the sign-up bonus.
While I do my best to present factual, evidence-based research, do not take my writing as the gospel truth. Do your own due diligence to avoid disappointment.
If you have personal experience in churning cards and receiving a bonus even though the terms and conditions state you shouldn’t, feel free to leave that information in the comments to help others.
If you would like another topic covered, feel free to leave a comment on the Call for Topics post.