I take a vacation couple of times a year. Lately I have been on a quest to see as much of Asia as possible. I caught the travel bug especially when it comes to SE Asia; the food, people and secluded beaches got me hooked. I was browsing YouTube one day and came across Etihad Suite and thought to myself “Wouldn’t be awesome to start an amazing vacation being treated like royalty flying in your own suite?” Then I looked up how much it costs to fly….OH $$$$ boy! umm yea, no! I thought this is a nice dream but it will never happen unless I went out of my mind, sold the house and used the profits to treat myself. Then I found out about Churning. The dream no longer seemed like an unattainable mirage.
So how do I get on that sweet Suite?
I am going to share with you my personal experience, the good and the bad and the pitfalls I made along the way.
Before I even knew what churning was, I did have a couple of reward earning credit cards but I used them very casually as daily spending cards and didn’t really pay much attention to means to earn miles or rewards. I thought it was a thing reserved for those with businesses or enormous spending habits and can afford to charge so many thousands of dollars in order to earn points. As you will learn, this is NOT TRUE at all.
This is my Chase Freedom Ultimate Rewards balance of 2/2016. I got those 19,836 points by using my Chase Freedom card as an everyday card
Firstly, I must mention (and thank) Reddit, Flyertalk and Loophole Travel who have been a tremendous help. As a noob, I felt extremely overwhelmed as there is an enormous amount of information regarding churning. I hope this blog eases you in into the world of churning and explains things in an easy to understand format.
Let’s get familiar with a few things.
What is churning?
Churning is the practice of signing up for credit cards that offer large signup bonuses in the form of miles, points, or straight cash back for the purpose of obtaining the bonus before cancelling the card. In a broader sense, churning can refer to simply maximizing credit card and travel rewards.
Before you get all giddy and start applying to cards, this is the US of A. Nothing is free or RISK free. You must know the pros and cons of churning. THIS IS EXTREMELY important.
Reddit has a nice wiki explaining the ins and outs of churning. I would sum it up here but I thought you should take the time and read it end to end because it contains information that might sway your opinion on churning if certain situations apply to you (ie: you’re planning to use your credit for a mortgage, student loans or car purchase, you have a hard time managing your finances, you can’t meet the minimum spending…etc)
Now that you’ve familiarized yourself with churning. let’s move along.
This is what you need to do next:
- See a list of current Credit Card bonus offers. This is a good source.
- Figure out if you’re looking for miles, points, cash or gift cards. In my case, all I care about is airline miles that will get me on Etihad Suite.
- Take a look at your spending habits and make sure you can meet the minimum spending requirements (more on that later). I have been using the same card for all my expenses for about a year. I literally charge everything I can on one card; bills, groceries, parking, dining out etc. Look at your last 6 statements, see much how much you spend in a typical month, and figure out if that amount is enough to meet the MSR for the card you’re targeting.
- Apply! Hopefully you’ll end up with a message like this:
- Meet the minimum spending requirements (MSR). Whoa what is MSR?
- The Minimum Spend is the amount you must charge to your new credit card in a defined time period in order to qualify for the sign-on bonus. For example, Citi AA Platinum card currently requires you to spend $3,000 in 3 months, in order to receive the 50,000 AA Miles. Some cards have more complicated Minimum Spend goals, such as the Chase BA Avios card, with minimum spend defined for the first 3 and 12 month period. Some cards do not have a Minimum Spend, such as the BoA Alaska card.
- How do I spend to meet the MSR:
- Here are some common Fee Free ways to meet minimum spend. To take maximum advantage of these, plan your credit card apps around the spend timing, or prepay certain amounts when possible to move the spend into the minimum spend timeframe.
- Buy useful stuff that you actually need (Groceries, Gas, Christmas Presents, etc)
- Buy Store/Gas Gift Cards that you will use in the next few months anyways.
- When going out with friends, offer to pickup the tab, and have everyone pay you back using cash or paypal or QuickPay.
- Pay/Pre-Pay Bills that Accepts CCs, paying multiple months at once (Mobile, Cable, Utilities, some have Process Fees, but many do not).
- When paying legitimate medical expenses, use a CC rather than your FSA card, then file paperwork to claim the cash back.
- Pay for Day Care or any other professional service to see if they take a CC, or even allow pre-payment. You should also ask if there is a Cash Discount, which can offer a pretty good percentage off.
- Pay Insurance Bills (Auto, Home, Renters, and Health).
- Fund Checking/Savings account that accepts CC funding See DoctorOFCredit Blog.
- Student Loan payment (Dept of Education may accept CC payment without Fees)
See here for a detailed plan on currently available MS’ing options.
The Plan to Get on Etihad Sweet Suite!
How would you like to fly like this? for a few dollars!
Now you have your first AAdvantage miles earning card, let’s explore how to turn those miles into an actual flight.
AA and Etihad are partners meaning you can use AA miles to book flights on Etihad. You have to follow a few easy steps and this article spells it out pretty nicely.
Find flights on Etihad’s website then call AA to book
But 50,000 miles aren’t nearly enough to secure an Etihad suite. How do you get more AA miles?
Remember that I applied and got approved for a Citi AAdvantage Select Mastercard on 2/3/2016. I earned 50,000 miles after spending $3000 in 3 months. Now I need more of those miles.
Get Even More AA Miles
- Apply for Citi AAdvantage cards.
- SPG points can be transferred to AA.
1. CitiGold Checking Bonus:
Citi has a promotion (as of the writing of this article) giving you 50,000 for opening a Citigold checking account and meeting a few requirements. Redditors and Doctor of Credit explain how this works.
2. The Citi AA Loophole:
Citi rules states that you can’t get a bonus of the same product (card) if you’ve opened or closed a card in 18 months. You can break this rule by taking advantage of the loop hole. This is how it works:
a. Apply for Citi AAdvantage (which you should already have by now).
Citi will upgrade you to a World Elite in a month or two.
Citi no longer sees the original Citi AA.
Apply for a new Citi AA with 60 days.
This timeline from Loophole Travel is a nice visual on how to take advantage of the loophole.
The Confusing Part!!!!
I have to admit that the process of applying for cards and meeting the minimum spending requirement was the easy part. What was confusing to me is redeeming miles with airlines that don’t offer their own brand credit card. Etihad for example does not have a great credit card with generous sign up bonus like the Citi AA (there is this thing which is laughable compared to other offers). So how do I use miles from loyalty program X to book flight with airline Y.
This is awesome!