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(Last Updated On: October 8, 2020)

First off, let me start by saying I am really excited to finally be putting “pen to paper” on this series! Travel hacking, and more specifically credit card churning, is one of my few true hobbies, and I love to discuss it any opportunity I get. You may remember me chatting about how many points I’ve earned in the past…and it was all from points earned on my credit cards. Spoiler alert – I will have my Q4 2017 points recap up in January, so stay tuned for that 🙂

Travel hacking has allowed me to travel for free (or practically free) multiple trips per year for multiple years! It’s an underutilized hobby that many could benefit from, if they had the right know-how to manage it appropriately…which is where this series comes in.

I wanted to begin this series by getting in to the very basics. I’m going to start off assuming you have no idea what travel hacking is, then build from there. We want to make sure we have a solid foundation to build future travel hacking strategies off of.

What is Travel Hacking?

Travel hacking is mastering the art of navigating the universe of free, or extremely low cost travel. Travel hacking includes a variety of methods, including glitch fares, maximizing loyalty rewards accounts, credit card churning (my personal fave), obtaining elite status, etc. But what all these methods have in common is that they are means to achieve the same end goal: free or extremely discounted travel.

What is Credit Card Churning?

Credit card churning is a travel hacking strategy that includes repeatedly opening (and closing, when appropriate) credit cards to earn the large sign-on bonuses offered. This is my preferred method of travel hacking because it allows you to rack up significantly more rewards points than you’d get if you stuck with earning on paid travel alone. You can also combine multiple strategies to boost your accounts even farther…but more on that in a future post!

Who is Credit Card Churning For?

Credit card churning, at its core, is really simply for people who want to travel, but don’t want to pay full price for it. An added bonus to this hobby is that it’s also a great tool for building or maintaining positive credit history while still achieving the number one goal. So is that it? I just need to possess a desire to travel on the cheap and that means credit card churning is for me? Not quite…

Who is Credit Card Churning NOT For?

While the desire to travel is definitely a pre-requisite, it is not on its own enough to make a determination if credit card churning is right for a person or not. While credit card churning can be a fantastic hobby for a variety of people, a gut check needs to be done to honestly ask yourself if it’s right for you. A person should NOT get into churning if they are currently:

  • Someone with a current credit score that is not in the “good” range or above (i.e., 699 or lower)
  • Someone with existing credit card debt they are not able to pay off
  • Someone who’s looking to finance a major purchase (i.e., a home) soon
  • Someone who is not able to manage their credit card spending appropriately
  • Someone who is currently living above their means
  • Someone who doesn’t spend enough to meet the minimum spending requirement
  • Someone who has never had a credit card

You get the point. Luckily being in any of the above categories currently doesn’t mean you can’t try credit card churning in the future by any means! I knew I wanted to get in to this hobby years before I finally did, and that’s because I recognized I needed to improve my personal finance situation before getting into the world of credit card churning. So I worked on it, improved what I needed to, then jumped in and have never looked back!

Debunking Common Credit Card Churning Myths

Don’t you love how we’ve become a society of people who provide strong opinions on topics they know very little to nothing about? This hobby is no different. You may find when talking to family and friends that they will be quick to share opinions about what they think of this hobby, despite never having done it themselves. All it takes is a little bit of research to determine that the below “concerns” are really myths as long as you manage this hobby appropriately:

  • It will hurt my credit score when I open new cards – couldn’t be farther from the truth! Again, as long as you manage this hobby appropriately (see above) the impact to your credit score is negligible. You may see a few points drop, but in my experience your score will be right back up again the next month.
  • It’s too complicated / takes too much time – I plan to get into this in detail in future posts of this series, but this hobby doesn’t have a huge time commitment. Sure, you need to put in some time to research the right card, and track your spending to ensure you hit the minimum spending requirement by the deadline…but that’s really it.
  • Credit cards are bad (mmmkay) – credit cards get a bad rep because SO MANY people, especially in the US it seems, bury themselves in credit card debt by living above their means. Again, as long as you are able to manage them appropriately, credit cards are a fantastic financial tool.
  • Travel hacking is “breaking the rules” – absolutely false. Credit card companies created the system, and credit card churners are working within the constructs of that system. The credit card companies get revenue through transaction fees on every purchase made, and we get to enjoy points in exchange. It’s a mutually beneficial system that too many people don’t take advantage of.
  • The best way to earn miles is through paid travel – as someone who regularly travels on paid flights for work, I can unequivocally tell you this is false. Sure, it helps if you can use both methods to boost your account balances, but I earn FAR MORE points (and more quickly!) through travel hacking than I do through my paid travel.

So there we have a solid foundation in to the world of credit card churning! Next in the series we will discuss topics such as the ins and outs of your credit score, how to get started in credit card churning, winning strategies for managing this hobby, how to track once you have multiple cards, etc.

In the meantime, I would love to hear from you! Is credit card churning something you are already doing, or would like to consider in the future? Let me know! You can comment below, or find me on my Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter accounts.

Happy traveling 🙂

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37 Comments

  1. Allyson Spieler December 7, 2017 at 8:53 am

    I love it!! We will definitely be looking into travel hacking when we set out for our travels!

    1. Kara December 7, 2017 at 9:07 am

      Planning in advance is definitely key! If you have a start date of your travels already picked out, you could accumulate a healthy points balance if you can start focusing on it ~6 months in advance 🙂

  2. Melissa Parcel December 7, 2017 at 9:10 am

    I have never tried this, but you have inspired me to at least think about it.

    1. Kara December 7, 2017 at 9:27 am

      Definitely worth considering if you like to travel, but don’t like to pay for it 🙂

  3. Brittany December 7, 2017 at 10:18 am

    SO interesting! Definitely want to learn more about this. Being a family of 5, every penny counts when traveling! Love your website 🙂

    1. Kara December 7, 2017 at 12:38 pm

      Oh yes, families can especially benefit from this! Thanks for checking it out 🙂

  4. Lisa December 7, 2017 at 10:25 am

    Ok, I’m hooked ready for the rest of the series!

    1. Kara December 7, 2017 at 12:39 pm

      Great! I can’t wait to get into the nitty gritty details for the series!

  5. Melissa December 7, 2017 at 10:41 am

    I have never formally done travel hacking or credit card churning, but just naturally over the years I have signed up for cards that offered the most points so I could use it for travel. Sounds interesting!

    1. Kara December 7, 2017 at 12:37 pm

      You’ve already got a great start then! Just something to consider if you wanna take it to the next level and get to that next vacation faster 🙂

  6. Laura Belle December 7, 2017 at 11:17 am

    I have never heard of this. A great idea.

  7. Amie Lara December 7, 2017 at 12:17 pm

    I have always wanted to try one of the huge bonus travel cards, but never have.

    1. Kara December 7, 2017 at 12:39 pm

      Definitely something to consider! 🙂

  8. Maggie December 7, 2017 at 3:42 pm

    This hack is definitely something to consider! Thank you for sharing it 🙂

  9. Kristen December 7, 2017 at 4:03 pm

    I used to do this! But we had too much temptation getting balances on our cards so we stopped. One day again we will try!

    1. Kara December 8, 2017 at 6:30 am

      I hear you there! It definitely requires restraint and staying on top of your balances!

  10. Verla December 7, 2017 at 4:28 pm

    Wow! This is something. I will follow. Keep writing please.

  11. Mollie December 7, 2017 at 4:45 pm

    Wow! This is so interesting and helpful! I will definitely be looking into this for future travel.

  12. Heidi December 7, 2017 at 6:21 pm

    I have never heard of this! It’s quite interesting. Thanks for sharing!

  13. Terri December 7, 2017 at 6:54 pm

    Thank you for debunking the myth about hurting your credit if you do this. I have wanted to, but have hesitated because I believed that if I opened and closed accounts it would ultimately be harmful.

    1. Kara December 8, 2017 at 6:28 am

      Not at all! I have a score well in the 800s, and I have been doing this for a few years now 🙂

  14. Kim Quint December 7, 2017 at 7:09 pm

    I can see how this would be a hobby. Good record keeping, analysis and strategy would be key. Keep sharing!

    1. Kara December 8, 2017 at 6:31 am

      Your keys are on point! All important in this hobby 🙂

  15. Anitra December 7, 2017 at 7:57 pm

    Great ideas! I had never heard of credit card churning before this. Thanks for sharing!

  16. Jennifer December 7, 2017 at 8:46 pm

    I never heard of travel hacking and specifically, the credit card churning. How interesting. I will have to consider this for upcoming travel. Thanks!

  17. Vessy December 7, 2017 at 9:28 pm

    Cool! I am also a total travel addict, and I so appreciate your post! I just might have to give this a try! 🙂 🙂 🙂

    1. Kara December 8, 2017 at 6:32 am

      That’s great! Any trips coming up soon??

  18. Monica December 8, 2017 at 8:48 am

    I would try this. How long do you need to keep the credit card open before closing without significantly affecting your credit?

    1. Kara December 8, 2017 at 11:59 am

      This depends! If there’s no annual fee, I don’t see a reason to close it personally (leaving it open will, over time, help boost the average age of your accounts, which is a factor in determining your credit score). Otherwise, if there is an annual fee, I close before the next fee charges (so approx. 1 year after opening).

  19. Elizabeth December 8, 2017 at 11:38 am

    This is great advice! We do this for cash back purposes on our credit card and get back hundreds of dollars at the end of the year. It’s a great way to make extra money or earn vacations if you’re disciplined enough to not rack up a ton of debt.

    1. Kara December 8, 2017 at 12:00 pm

      Couldn’t agree more!

  20. Regan December 8, 2017 at 2:39 pm

    What a neat concept!!! I love your entire blog. Thanks so much for sharing this valuable information!

  21. Nicolette December 8, 2017 at 5:00 pm

    Yes, the bonus points can be very helpful!

  22. Christy December 8, 2017 at 7:05 pm

    Wow! Credit card churning is a new concept for me and I would have jumped all over it when I was younger! I’ll be sharing this article with my family as I have several vagabonds and wanderers who would love the info!

  23. Kelly December 8, 2017 at 8:38 pm

    Haha. I had no idea this was the name for this but I do this too!! I always pay off my balance at the end of the month and love the bonus miles you earn when you sign up. Great ideas and great way of laying it out!!

  24. Melina December 8, 2017 at 9:06 pm

    Credit cards intimidate me! Thanks for sharing and making them appear more friendly!

  25. shanna December 11, 2017 at 12:41 am

    Wow! What great tips! I am going to have to get in on this deal!