Ever since I discovered how valuable different credit card signup bonuses can be, my fiance and I have been pretty aggressive with signing up for new credit cards. Between the two of us, we have signed up for a total of 18 credit cards in the past year, but we will probably cancel several of them when the annual fee comes around if the benefits aren’t worth the annual fee. We also got in touch with a PPI Claims Company to see if there had been any chances of us being mis-sold ppi, considering we did have a number of 18 cards between us. We are still waiting to hear back, but it could be a possibility. Contrary to what you might expect, our credit scores have each gone UP around 50 points since we started! See Churning: Tracking and Understanding Your Credit Score for why signing up for several credit cards can actually be beneficial to your credit score as well as the various risks that you should keep in mind. While typing this post up, I realized this would end up being a huge amount of text, so I decided to break it into 3 parts: airline cards, hotel and flexible point cards, and cash back cards.
Our 18 New Credit Cards in The Past Year Series
- Part 1: Airline Cards (9 cards)
- Part 2: Hotel and Flexible Point Cards (5 cards)
- Part 3: Cash Back Cards (4 cards)
This series is meant to show a personal example of how many cards a couple can sign up for and the various benefits that come with each one. I list the signup bonuses we got on each which may or may not still be available, and in some cases they aren’t even the best signup bonuses available for the respectable card. I also list out the thought process that we’ll go through before deciding whether or not to cancel each one once the annual fee becomes due, because this is an important part of any long term churning strategy. All in all, hopefully you can get something beneficial by going over the cards we liked and learn something from our mistakes of either not getting the best signup bonus or spreading our points out over too many programs.
Cashback Credit Cards
At the end of the day, cash is simple and powerful. While all the airline miles and points I earn on the other cards have a theoretical value, I only get value when they are redeemed. It the event that I am unable to use them or I let them expire, the value goes to $0 and it probably would have been better to use a cashback card instead. Keep in mind though, that “cashback” doesn’t always mean that cashing them out gives you the best value.
Becky signed up for this card when there was a $225 (20,000 UR + 2500 UR for adding an authorized user) bonus after spending $500 in the first 3 months (45% off everything!). This card has no annual fee and offers a different 5% back category each quarter of the year (Restaurants for Q2). The interesting thing about this “cashback” card is that you are actually earning Chase UR points that can be redeemed for 1 cent each. With the Freedom, you are unable to transfer to partners or redeem directly for flights, BUT if you have a UR earning card such as the Sapphire Preferred or Ink Plus, it’s possible to transfer the Freedom UR to them and then have all of the other options open to you. As UR are typically more valuable when transferred to partners such as United or Hyatt, this is a way to get more value than simply cashing them out.
This card has a great benefit of 5x bonus categories along with the power to potentially get more than the face value for each UR point earned, so I don’t see us ever cancelling this card. The only time I would consider it is if we were able to cancel and then sign up for another one to get the signup bonus again. Otherwise, keeping this card is a no brainer.
American Express Blue Cash Preferred
Becky signed up for this card with a signup offer of $150 back after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months with the annual fee of $75 not waived for the first year. This means the effective signup bonus of $75 is pretty low to justify signing up for the card, but the real reason we signed up for this one is the everyday spending categories, specifically 6% back on groceries. The 6% is only good on the first $6,000 spent on groceries per year, but the card also offers 3% back on gas and department stores like Kohls or Sears.
We got this card with the intention of keeping it for a while with the 6% back on groceries justifying the prices of the annual fee for us. After taking the $75 annual fee into account, the real return on those $6,000 worth of groceries is $285 or 4.75%. If we don’t end up spending $6,000 over the course of a year, I can easily buy gift cards at a grocery store to make up the difference and fully utilize the maximum amount of cash back allowed. There’s actually a pretty good chance I’ll pick up a copy of this card myself in the future, especially if I can find a way to get the higher $250 signup bonus.
I signed up for this card with a $150 bonus after spending $750 in the first 3 months and this card does not have an annual fee. This card is similar to the Freedom in that it offers different 5% back categories each quarter on up to $1,500 in purchases ($75 cashback) and 1% back on everything else. Also similar to the Freedom is that the cashback earned can actually be worth more than the face value. Discover offers many gift card redemption options where you can save 20% or more on many popular brands, which gives you lots of additional value if you use them on purchases you would have made anyway. Even if you can’t find any gift cards that you would use, some smart gift card arbitrage can increase your cashback by 5%+, but I’ll make you find the correct card(s) yourself.
Much like the Chase Freedom, the no annual fee and valuable 5% categories make this card a keeper for the long term. With the other cards we’ll be cancelling in the coming years, it will be good to have a few of these no annual fee cards extending the age of our credit long term.
Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard
I signed up for this card for the standard 40,000 “miles” after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months with the annual fee of $89 waived for the first year. You’ll notice the currency that this card earns are called miles even though I included this card in the cashback post, so let me explain. The Arrival+ miles earned are good towards ANY travel purchases made on the card at a value of 1 mile = 1 cent. At an earnings rate of 2 miles per dollar spent and a 10% rebate on any miles redeemed, this card has an effective cashback rate of 2.2% on ALL purchases. If you spend at least $44,500 per year on credit cards and at least 2.2% of your annual spending is on travel, then this card is actually better than a 2% back on everything card such as the Citi Doublecash.
This card is my favorite one to use when I’m not trying to reach a signup bonus and the spending doesn’t apply to any of the bonus categories on my other cards. Having said that, the question is really whether or not I’m going to have $44,500 of that kind of spending per year to justify the $89 annual fee and the answer is probably not. Even with my large increase in “spending” from the gift card arbitrage business, it would be hard to reach $44,500 of non-bonus category spend. Until the annual fee comes around though, this card will still receive a decent amount of use and I’ll cash out the points on a future trip (probably hotel nights) before cancelling.
For these 4 cards, the signup bonuses came out to $965, but the real value of most of them will come from holding them long term and maximizing the bonus categories. While we currently prefer to earn miles and points to fund travel and big vacations, there are still a lot of good cashback options if you want to get value out of churning but don’t have much interest in travel. The simplicity and flexibility of cash along with significant bonus categories means that cashback cards with always have a place in both our churning and everyday spending strategies.
Whenever I get excited about something, I tend to research it like crazy by reading everything I can about the subject and then dive in headfirst once I feel comfortable. Churning followed that exact path for me and while it took a couple months to get comfortable with the process, we ramped up really quick soon after and have signed up for a lot of cards. With 18 new cards between us in the first 10 months of our churning adventure, we’ve learned a lot and did surprisingly well in my opinion. With over 400,000 airline miles, over 100,000 hotel points, over 90,000 flexible points, multiple free hotel nights, and over $1,000 in cash earned from signup bonuses alone in less than a year between the two of us, I am still shocked at how valuable credit card churning can be.
I did my research at the start, so I knew our credit scores might suffer slightly in the short term, but I couldn’t have been more wrong (in a good way!). Our credit scores have gone from the low 700’s to over 800 (for at least 1 FICO score that is) in the past year! If someone told me signing up for a bunch of credit cards would help my credit score drastically, I would thought they were crazy, but at least in our experience, it’s worked out that way. Of course your results will vary depending on a lot of factors, so don’t take this as hard advice and be sure to do your own research.
All in all, I can’t wait to keep the credit card churning going for as long as we can get a lot of value out of it. The results have been fantastic so far and I don’t see any reason we can’t maintain these results or even improve them over the next few years. I’ll be sure to keep you up to date along the way.