One of the most daunting things for someone new to Travel Hacking is the number of miles/points it takes to be eligible for an award flight, especially if you are considering booking into a premium cabin (Business or First Class).
Without a doubt, the fastest way to accumulate points is through credit card sign-ups but with companies like American Express taking steps to limit sign-up bonuses to “once in a lifetime” and TD having terms that state “if you have opened an Account in the last 6 months, you will not be eligible for these offers …”, finding bonuses you’re eligible for becomes harder and harder the longer you’re in the game.
What Is Churning?
Churning is the art of signing up for credit cards, meeting the minimum spend (if required), receiving the bonus and then canceling the card. Once the card is canceled, a churner would wait the requisite amount of time and then reapply for the card but as I stated above, this is getting harder and harder to do with credit card issuers dissuading churners from considering their cards.
The Exception to the Rule
Without a doubt, the most churnable credit card for Canadians is the MBNA Alaska Airlines World Elite Mastercard. The reason for this is that the terms and conditions for the card states “Limit one-time bonus Miles and Companion Certificate offer (no cash value) per new account.”
Each newly opened card is considered a new account and thus is able to collect the sign-up bonus.
What Do I Receive?
Each new MBNA Alaska card receives 25,000 Alaska Miles once the minimum spend of $1,000 is reached. As an added bonus, you also receive a companion pass that you can redeem on any Alaska economy flight between Canada, the US (including Hawaii and Alaska) and Mexico. For the companion pass, you need to purchase a regular economy ticket and then redeem your companion pass for $121 USD ($99 for the pass and $22 in taxes).
What’s the Annual Fee?
The Annual Fee for the MBNA Alaska card is $75 CAD but if you sign up through Great Canadian Rebates, you will receive $60 cash back, so essentially, you will pay $15 CAD for 25,000 Alaska Miles.
If you don’t know what a cash back portal is, check out my post that covers it in detail. Trust me. You need to have a cash back account if you want to reduce your overall cost of Travel Hacking.
If we look at it from a cents per mile perspective, you will begin to see the incredible value you would receive.
$15 / 25,000* 100 = 0.06¢/mile
You would be able to redeem these points on Alaska or its partner airlines for at least 2¢/mile for Economy Class and upwards of 8-10¢/mile for Business or First Class redemptions.
To get a better idea of what you can get for these miles, take a look at my series on Alaska Partner Redemptions where I not only walk you through the miles required for redemption but I also show you how to maximize your awards and show you the best value redemptions using Alaska Miles.
What Are the Minimum Income Requirements?
Unfortunately, the minimum income requirements are somewhat steep on this card. You need to have an $80,000 annual income or a household income of $150,000. If you don’t meet these requirements, there’s good news!
MBNA has actually done something very smart with this card. When you make application for this card, you are actually applying for the Alaska World Elite card AND the Alaska Platinum Plus card. If you don’t meet the requirements for the World Elite card, MBNA automatically considers you for the Platinum Plus card.
The great news about the Platinum Plus Card? It’s the same Alaska sign-up bonus (25,000 miles after $1,000 spend in the first 3 months), the same annual fee ($75 but get $60 cash back from Great Canadian Rebates for a total Annual Fee of $15), but the minimum income requirements are reduced to $15,000/year. I would imagine almost everyone would qualify for that card.
The reason that MBNA does this is that they hope you qualify for the World Elite Mastercard because they can charge higher transactional fees to retailers that accept the card. However, they don’t want to give up a new customer so they provide a fall back plan, the Platinum Plus Card. The following are the legal disclosures from the card application.
You understand that this constitutes an application for both a Platinum Plus Account (“Platinum Plus Account”) and a World Elite Account (“World Elite Account”). If you qualify for both a Platinum Plus Account and a World Elite Account, then you agree that upon approval we may establish a World Elite Account for you and that this application shall be considered as your request and consent to the opening of a World Elite Account . The Platinum Plus Account and the World Elite Account have the same material financial terms unless otherwise disclosed to you in the Information Box accompanying this application. These Accounts also have similar rewards program terms, but may have different rewards earn rates, earn limits and embedded benefits. You further understand that the World Elite Account is a type of premium credit card (“Premium Card”). A Premium Card is only issued to a well-defined class of cardholders based upon individual spending and/or income thresholds, which may vary by the type of Premium Card. We will determine your eligibility for a Premium Card based on Premium Card requirements, which may change from time to time. A Premium Card can impose higher acceptance costs on merchants.
Long story, short, even if you don’t have a large income, you can still churn this card.
How Do I Churn This Card?
I have personally churned this card 3 times in the past 1.5 years and my wife has done it twice in the past year. Between our accounts, we have been able to earn 125,000 Alaska Miles and it only cost us $75 CAD ($15 x 5).
There have also been stories on forums and discussions with Travel Hacking friends that seems to suggest that you can churn this card once every 3 months if you want to get aggressive about it. This was confirmed by a recent call I made to MBNA where a representative advised me that if I reapplied for a canceled card within 3 months, they would simply reopen my old account.
For those wanting to churn this card as much as possible, I would use the following methodology:
- Use the GCR link to apply for the MBNA Alaska Card in order to receive $60 cash back on the $75 Annual Fee.
- Apply for the card and get approved
- Meet the minimum spend requirement of the card ($1,000 in the first 3 months)
- Receive the 25,000 bonus the account statement after you meet the minimum spend
- Wait a couple of weeks and then close the account (the time you wait is up to you as once the miles are transferred over, MBNA is hands off and they’re your miles to keep)
- Set a calendar reminder to reapply for the card after 3 months … I would actually be a little more conservative and wait for 4 months, but that’s me. You can see from the image above that I waited just short of 4 months to complete my churn
- Rinse and repeat
For a very aggressive churner, you could earn 100,000 Alaska Miles each year for a grand total of $60. That’s incredible value right there. If you have a significant other or some family members willing to do the same thing, you can extrapolate that earning rate per year.
A Word of Warning
TD purchased the credit card portfolio back in 2011 and has slowly begun integrating MBNA customers over to TD’s systems. As TD has begun including language in their terms and conditions regarding how often you can receive a sign-up bonus, it’s not out of the question that they will begin to do the same with the MBNA Alaska card.
What I do and what I suggest you do, is read the terms and conditions of the credit card offer before you apply. Also, do yourself a favor and keep a copy of the terms in a PDF so you can refer back to it in the event that you have a dispute with MBNA.
If there is a significant change to the sign-up offer of this card, including limitations of how often you can receive the bonus, check back to PointsNerd as I will definitely cover these developments.