There’s a new dance in town, one that’s earning a few crafty frequent fliers more bonus miles than they can handle. It’s called “churning” in reference to the process of making butter, and though it takes some time to memorize the steps, once you know the routine you can reap thousands of sweet, morally ambiguous bonus miles for absolutely free. Here’s how to do it.1) Pick a partner. Like any dance, churning always works better with a partner. You can still do it by yourself, but teaming up with your spouse or significant other will double your total earnings and allow both of you to fly together.
2) Make sure your credit ratings are high. When you start churning credit cards, you are going to be putting a LOT of little dings onto your credit score. Because you will need to be approved for a lot of credit card offers in a very short period of time, you should make sure that your credit scores of both you and your partner are at least 750 before starting a churn. This way your score can take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’. Also, it helps that this damage isn’t permanent. Many of these little dings will disappear from your score within 45 days.
3) Get a churn-able card. Churning is all about repeatedly signing up for new credit cards that have good air-mile bonuses. Since some credit companies won’t allow you to refresh your bonuses with new cards, you need to make sure to pick a churn-able card to start with. It also helps to pick a company like Chase that offers both types of airline credit cards – generic air-mile rewards cards and airliner-specific credit cards in order to switch your offers up. Some churners consistently rotate through five Chase and three Citibank cards, while others use a combination of Delta, Chase and Citi cards.
4) Start the dance. Once you and your partner squeeze all the bonuses you can from your current cards, including meeting minimum spending limits, sign up for different cards that use the same rewards system. This means, for example, moving from a Gold Delta SkyMiles personal card to a Gold Delta Skymiles Business Card. Once you get the new card, cancel your old one and milk the bonuses on the new one. When you’ve exhausted those, move to a generic air-miles card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or the Capital One Venture Rewards card.
5) Rinse and repeat. How long your churn cycle lasts depends on personal preference. While it used to be possible to rotate a fleet of cards every three months to keep the miles rolling in, many bloggers are reporting that the process now takes up to a year before companies will allow you to recycle bonuses. If you aren’t concerned about the sustainability of the churn and just want to max out your miles for one vacation, you and your partner can follow this USA Today blogger’s lead and sign up for six different cards in one day, netting you a total of 250,000 miles for a few hours of work.
If you’ve got the credit score and the patience, churning cards can be a great way to earn free flights. However, card companies are getting wise to the practice, and it has become increasingly more difficult to pull off. Since it’s pretty much a given that they’ll make churning completely impossible in the future, we recommend that our more enterprising readers get their kicks in now. After all, who doesn’t appreciate a free flight?