Much has been written about how to play the credit card game also known as ‘churning’. Churning is a process whereby you sign up for specific credit cards in order to obtain the sign-up bonus by meeting the bonus requirements. In this post I will give you a high level overview of how we went about it and ultimately got two one way business class tickets on United Airlines to kick off our travel journey in style.

Thinking back, I would have to say this all started in early 2019. Both Debbie and I started talking more frequently about our desire to travel the world. We got really into a number of YouTube vlogs which we watched for hours on end. The vloggers would often mention travel rewards which triggered my sense of curiosity so I started doing research on how these young people could afford rather extravagant travel on what were seemingly low budgets. This is when I learned about leveraging credit card offers in order to offset much of the cost of travel.

There are tons of resources out there that can help someone determine which offers are best; I will stick to general terms and focus on flights. Similar options are available for hotel points and travel, but that’s not where our primary focus lied.

The main attributes of a great travel rewards program for us are as follows:

  • Attractive sign-up offer
  • Flexible points redemptions
  • Low cost of entry
  • Credible card issuers

Let me dig a bit deeper into each of our 4 key attributes.

Attractive sign-up offer

Most credit cards offer an incentive to the newly registered member. These are typically cash, points or miles offers. You can generally achieve more lucrative redemptions through Miles and points which is what we focused on.

Relatively quickly into my research I discovered that the power of the card is really in the sign up bonus. We intended to move on from a card shortly after meeting the bonus requirements and receiving the associated reward. This made the ongoing perks less important but don’t get me wrong, there is still a place for cards you intend to hold longer term.

An example of such an offer might be:

  • 40 000 bonus airmiles
  • Spending requirement of $3000 in the 3 months

Flexible points redemptions

The most attractive points redemptions are generally through the operator of the service (airline or hotel). Unless you are a true loyalist, most people currently hop from one airline or hotel chain to another depending on location or price. We certainly fell into this travel category; co-branded cards linked to specific operations were therefore not as attractive to us. Instead, we focused on programs that allowed transferring miles or points to a large number of airlines and hotels.

The two premier programs that offer the most transfer options are:

  • Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • American Express Membership Rewards

Based on our needs, we opted to focus on both of these programs and gathered in excess of 250 000 points in about a year’s time of which 90% or more came through sign-up offers.

Low cost of entry

Despite feeling really confident that the path of gathering miles and points was fail safe, we decided that we’d keep the cost of entry low. We were able to do so by avoiding the super premium cards that generally high annual fees that rarely get waived in year 1.

Some of the common card offers include a year 1 waiver of the annual fee, saving the member typically around $100. It’s important to keep track of the cards that you get and when the annual fees are due, this will enable you to downgrade the now unused card in year 2.

Credible card issuers

This final category was another way for us to avoid engaging with lesser known issuers. We mostly stuck to American Express and Chase at this stage. I’m certainly willing at this stage to venture out further and pursue offers from Citi or Barclays.

So what about those flights?

After completing a number of these offers, we had amassed roughly 500k airmiles, most of which with Chase. It was time to start looking at flights from Las Vegas to Belgium!

United airlines is a direct transfer partner for the Chase Ultimate Rewards program, meaning that you can instantly transfer points from Chase to your United MileagePlus account. I kept watching the award mile flights on the United Airlines website and ultimately pulled the trigger on these flights:

As you can tell, we only paid $11.60 for two First Class Tickets from Las Vegas to Brussels. The United Polaris experience was extra special as due to COVID there is very limited business travel between the US and Europe. It meant that we literally had the entire Business Class section to ourselves, 48 seats available and we were the only ones!

I certainly wish that I had discovered travel rewards earlier as year after year it becomes more difficult to really take full advantage of offers. Card issuers are using the bonuses as the carrot to lure in new customers.

Is it time for you to join the travel rewards game and score your own travel experience for peanuts?

Reach out via [email protected] and I can help you navigate the critical first few steps.