Credit Card Churn
One of the most common questions I’m asked is:
“Can I get a credit card sign-up bonus again for the same card?“
Given the variation in the credit card approval process and your relationship with the bank, I can’t predict with 100% certainty what will happen to your application.
But here’s what I know (as of August 8, 2011) about the credit card churn cycle (the minimum time needed to get a credit card sign-on bonus again) either through personal experience, from reading online, or from reader’s emails.
Credit card churn information is always changing, so please comment or email me if you have information to share!
As always, you should not apply for credit cards if you are applying for a mortgage or other large loan in the next 2 years.
In general, applying for credit cards reduces your credit score by 3 to 8 points per application, but banks look at other factors such as how often you’ve applied for credit recently when they evaluate big loans.
Much better, in my opinion, to get that big loan first at a very competitive interest rate, and then apply for credit cards. This will most likely save you money over the long run.
And if you do apply for credit cards, be sure to use them responsibly, because your credit score will suffer if you carry high balances or miss payments. I use my credit cards like a charge card and pay off my balance in full each month.
1. Citibank. The Citi AA cards used to be “churnable” up to 2009 when you could apply for Citi personal and business credit cards, cancel them, and reapply for the same card within 2 to 3 months and get the bonus again.
Emily and I accumulated a lot of miles this way, which we used to have Big Travel with Small Money including visiting family in the US and our trip to India.
Currently, Citi does not let you churn the AA personal cards every 2 to 3 months. However, I had a successful credit card churn for 2 Citi personal credit cards, with a 75,000 miles bonus, using the 2-browser trick 3 weeks ago.
In general, you may have success getting another set of Citi AA personal cards if it has been at least 18 months or more since your last successful APPROVAL for Citi AA personal cards.
If you do decide to churn AA personal cards, remember that the Citi AAdvantage American Express card is actually issued by Citi and NOT American Express.
Citi AA Business cards: I used to be able to churn the business cards every 3 months, but it hasn’t worked for me recently (last 6 months).
The business cards usually require you to cancel the card and apply again after 3 months. However, there are reports on FlyerTalk of folks successfully churning Citi AAdvantage business credit cards after 3 to 4 months.
2. Chase. The credit card churn with Chase is pretty much dead because Chase is very strict about NOT giving a sign-up bonus for a particular credit card if you have had the sign-up bonus in the past.
For example, if you apply for a Chase credit card (say the British Airways credit card), but have already received the sign-up bonus in the past, you may be approved for the credit card, but you will NOT get the sign-up bonus again.
Instead you will get a letter from Chase explaining that you are ineligible to get the sign-up bonus again since you previously received a sign-up bonus.
Because of this it is VERY important to NOT apply for a Chase credit card with a low sign-up bonus, since you will not be able to apply again for the higher bonus.
In the current environment with mega credit card bonuses, I do not sign up for any Chase credit cards with less than a 50,000 point sign-up bonus.
For example, Free Frequent Flyer Miles points out that the current Chase Southwest credit card sign-up bonus is only 25,000 miles (it used to be 50,000 miles). I would never apply for such a low sign-up bonus, and would wait for a higher offer.
The only exception is if you apply for a different credit cards within the same loyalty program. For example, Chase offers many co-branded United Airlines credit cards. In general, you may get the sign-on bonus once for each of these different card types.
For example, you can get the sign-on bonus for the United Mileage Plus Explorer card with a 40,000 sign on bonus as well as the sign-on bonus for the to-be-announced top-end United Mileage Plus card which offers lounge access.
Chase is also very sensitive to the number of loyalty credit cards you apply for, so don’t go berserk with the Chase applications and prioritize your applications with Chase to about 3 to 4 a year.
3. American Express. In general, American Express will not let you have the sign-on bonus for a second time. Instead, they will give you the difference between the current sign on bonus and the sign-on bonus which you received.
For example, if you applied for the American Express Delta SkyMiles credit card with a 25,000 mile bonus, but later applied for the Delta SkyMiles credit card with a 40,000 miles bonus you will not get the full 40,000 mile bonus.
Instead, you will get a 15,000 mile additional bonus (40,000 miles from the current sign-up bonus less the 25,000 miles which you already received when you applied for the card).
However, you may be able to get the sign-0n bonus for another American Express card if it has been at least 2 years since you CANCELLED a previous American Express credit card.
Update (May 28, 2012): A reader was not able to get the bonus on the Starwood card for a 2nd time so, as always, your miles may vary (ymmv).
For example, if you cancelled your American Express SPG card in May 2009, you may be able to successfully apply for the SPG card again and get the sign up bonus again.
4. Bank of America. There are reports of successful credit card churns with the Bank of America personal Alaska Airline credit cards every 3 or 4 months.
I don’t have any personal experience with this, but I was approved for an Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines credit card 3 weeks ago, so I can share my personal experience in 3 to 4 months.
I also don’t have any data on other Bank of America credit cards such as the Hawaiian Airlines credit card, but will report back my experience in 3 to 4 months.
The glory days of credit card churning are over. However, there are still a few churning opportunities available, but the time between successful churns has increased. This makes it very important to track when you applied for a credit card and when you cancelled it. You can usually find this information on your credit report.
Don’t cancel your oldest credit card just so that you can churn again. The length of your credit history, to a large extent, depends on your oldest credit card and cancelling it may reduce your credit score.
If you do decide to churn credit cards keep in mind that Chase no longer allows churning, so be very selective about your Chase applications since you won’t be able to get a larger sign-on bonus later on.
What have been your experience with churning? What has worked and what did not?
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Disclosure: You should know that I do have a banking relationship with Chase. However, I don’t get any referral bonus or commission from Chase, Citibank, American Express, Bank of America or anyone else for this post or for the links to the credit cards in this post.