I spent years looking for the perfect credit card that offered the most cash back (or travel rewards) on my spending. I was frustrated about the lack of one-size fits all credit card solutions.
You see, some cards are good for groceries and gas, while others reward more for dining or travel. I carried multiple credit cards for a while, trying to maximize the earn rate on every purchase. I can still hear my wife asking, “which one do we use for groceries?”
I’ll admit it felt a bit ridiculous trying to squeeze an extra 1 or 2 percent out of my credit card rewards. But it wasn’t until I discovered credit card churning that I realized how much time I was wasting, not to mention how much money I was leaving on the table.
Level up your credit card rewards
Credit card churning is all about trying to level up your rewards game. I stopped focusing on which credit card was best for certain categories, or which card gave me the most overall rewards. Instead, I strategically sign up for new credit card offers and cash in on big welcome bonuses.
When I say “strategically”, what I mean is that I plan any new credit card sign-ups around the time I need to make a big purchase. Timing is everything. For example, my annual car insurance premiums cost around $1,200 and comes due in May. My house insurance is due in August and costs about $1,600.
I might sign-up for a new credit card about one month before each of these expenses are due. Let’s use an example of a valid offer today: The
- 1st year annual fee rebate
- 15,000 Aeroplan Miles with first purchase
- Additional 10,000 Aeroplan Miles when you make $2,000 in purchases within 90 days
So, if I signed up and was approved for the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Card now, I’d get the card in time to pay my house insurance bill at the end of August (and collect the welcome bonus of 15,000 Aeroplan miles). That only leaves $400 in regular spending to meet the minimum requirements and get the extra 10,000 Aeroplan miles. That’s easily accomplished within the next month or two.
25,000 Aeroplan miles can be conservatively valued at $500 (at 2 cents per mile). That’s a 25 percent return on my spending.
Using an everyday rewards credit card, like, for example, the
Big rewards on everyday spending
Let’s try another example. If you’re like me, your spending around the holidays can quickly get out of hand. Without question we might spend $1,500 or more on gifts and other items around Christmas.
I’ll sign up for another card in November, knowing I’ll have that upcoming holiday spending in my budget. I’ll look at something like the
- First year free
- 1,000 Air Miles with first purchase
- Additional 2,000 Air Miles when you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months
The minimum spend on this card is pretty high, but for me, since it’s a MasterCard, I can use it as my everyday card when we shop at Costco and No Frills. Between Christmas gifts and groceries, we can reach the minimum spend in no time.
I prefer to earn Cash Miles rather than Dream Miles. With Air Miles Cash I can get a $10 grocery voucher for 95 Air Miles. That means 3,000 Air Miles is good for $310 in free groceries – or a 10.3 percent return on my spending.
The pay off
If you’ve followed me to this point you can see how a few strategic credit card sign-ups can net you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars more each year in credit card rewards.
Let’s say you spend $36,000 per year on your credit card, and you manage to earn an average of 2 percent rewards on all your spending. That gives you $720 per year in cash back, travel rewards, or some combination of the two. Not bad!
Now, let’s mix in four new credit card sign-ups throughout the year – one new card per quarter. You sacrifice maybe $12,000 in spending to meet the minimum requirements on the new cards. But those four cards net you $1,200 in rewards.
You still earn 2 percent on your remaining $24,000 in annual spending, or $480, PLUS the additional $1,200 from your new credit card welcome bonuses. That gives you a total of $1,680 in credit card rewards for the year – a 4.67 percent return on your spending!
I’ve mentioned credit card offers that meet certain conditions – first year free, solid welcome bonus, easily attainable minimum spend. Some years these are more plentiful than others. You might even find several offers with no minimum spending required – the bonus is paid upon activation or with first purchase. Those ones are nice.
You might also look beyond first year free offers and more towards a particular points program that you value. For some, the American Express Platinum Card, even with its $699 annual fee, is worth signing up.
The point is that you should forget about which credit card gives more cash back on groceries or gas. Focus instead on finding four great new credit card offers each year to help boost your overall rewards.
Four new sign-ups spread out over a year shouldn’t negatively affect your credit score, but it will significantly increase the return on your spending and level up your rewards game.
Finally, I should mention that I’ve only covered one part of credit card churning – signing up for new cards. Ideally, you’ll want to cancel these cards before the annual fee comes due the following year. Another option, instead of cancelling, is to ask for a product switch to a no-fee card.