What is credit card churning?

This controversial strategy involves applying for credit cards with bonus point offers, then cancelling them when you've been rewarded.

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The general goal with credit card churning is to earn as many bonus points as possible in a short amount of time, while also keeping your credit card costs down. In theory, as long as you meet the bonus point spend requirements, pay off the balance in full and cancel the card, you can avoid – or limit – the interest charges and annual fees that you’ll face.

While it might sound like a great idea, credit card churning can lead to negative listings on your credit file, impact your credit score and make it harder to get approved for new cards or loans in the future. So, before deciding if you want to collect points through credit card churning, let’s take a look at how this strategy actually works and what risks you’ll face.

How does credit card churning work?

While people who have successfully churned credit cards to earn more points usually have their own tips and tricks on what works, they typically follow a version of the steps below:

    1. Compare credit card offers. Usually, you would start by looking at the current rewards points and travel rewards offers on the market. This helps you find bonus point offers that suit your rewards goals. As well as the bonus point spending requirements, most people that churn credit cards also look for offers that include no annual fee, or, an annual fee that is waived in the first year.
    2. Apply for the card. Once you’ve chosen one or more cards, carefully read through the eligibility requirements. It can also be a good idea to look at your credit score before you apply, as the more competitive offers tend to require higher scores. After that, you can usually apply online in around 10-15 minutes and if you’re approved, you should receive your card within 1–2 weeks.
    3. Set calendar reminders. Credit card churning requires precise timing to get the bonus points and avoid extra costs. Most people using this strategy recommend that you set three different calendar reminders: one for the minimum spending deadline, one for your repayment due date/s and one for your card’s anniversary (which is when the annual fee is charged).
    4. Meet the bonus point spending requirements. While spend requirements can vary between offers, people experienced at credit card churning usually go for offers that have a straightforward requirement, such as spending $3,000 on eligible purchases in the first three months. This is because more complicated requirements can be more time consuming and increase the risk of interest charges or other costs. Check out our full guide to learn more about meeting bonus point spend requirements.

What about credit card churning for balance transfers?

Sometimes the term “credit card churning” is used in reference to 0% interest rate offers on balance transfers. In this case, you would be churning to get rid of debt without paying interest, instead of churning for rewards points. To do this, you would apply for a balance transfer card and enjoy the 0% APR introductory period before transferring the debt to a new card that also offers 0% interest on balance transfers. The main difference between this and churning cards for points is that balance transfer offers last a lot longer than bonus point offers.

That said, churning for 0% APRs on balance transfers can be difficult in Canada. This is because there are not many 0% offers on the market and most of them are offered by the same provider: American Express. You can’t apply for a balance transfer offer with the same credit card provider – you’ll need to apply with a new provider, which means you might run out of options rather quickly. You may, however, be able to find a few low rate balance transfer offers.

Potential risks of credit card churning

While the promise of thousands of bonus points can make it very tempting to churn credit cards, this strategy comes with some big risks and potential issues – both in the short term and the long term. Some of the pitfalls you may notice early on include:

  • Increased spending. Credit card bonus point offers usually require you to spend thousands of dollars within a set amount of time. If this amount is higher than what you usually spend on a credit card, it could have an impact on your budget, lead to interest charges or throw you into a cycle of debt.
  • Credit card fees. While some credit cards that offer bonus points may waive the annual fee for the first year, there is a good chance you’ll have to pay account fees for some of the cards you get. This means you’ll need to carefully calculate the value of the bonus points, compare it to the annual fee costs and decide if it’s worth it to get the full value out of churning.
  • Credit card debt. Increased spending and account fees also lead to a higher risk of credit card debt. While the goal with churning is to keep rates and fees to a minimum, it often requires careful account management to achieve that. The more cards you get, the more difficult managing your money may become.

couple on couch with blue credit card and laptop

Credit card churning and your credit score

One of the biggest potential issues with credit card churning is the way it can affect your credit score. This is because each time you apply for a new credit card, meet the bonus point spend requirements, then cancel the account, you’re adding details to your credit history that could hurt your credit score. Some of these damages include:

  • Multiple inquiries from lenders. Whenever you apply for a new credit card (or a different type of credit such as a loan), an inquiry is listed on your credit file. A lot of inquiries in a short amount of time can have a negative impact on your credit score because it suggests you’re shopping around for products. In the worst-case scenario for lenders, it could show someone is desperate for credit, which raises red flags. What’s more, each inquiry can stay on your credit file for around three years, so any potential lenders will be able to see how frequently you’re applying for new credit cards or loan products.
  • Decreasing the length of your average credit account history. When you open an account, your credit file will show it as active and record details of any activity, such as repayments, missed payments and defaults. It also shows when an account is closed. While accounts that have been open for a long time and have a good repayment history are usually seen favourably, those that are closed quickly after opening can have the opposite effect. This is because it can suggest instability and a lack of financial commitment.
  • Eliminating cards with good repayment history. Depending on the credit card provider, details of your repayments may be included on your credit file. If you regularly pay off your account on time – which is the goal with credit card churning – this is seen as positive information that could improve your credit score. But cancelling those cards once you have the bonus points means that this information is no longer relevant, so it could actually hurt your credit score in some cases.
  • Changing credit limits. Every time you open a new credit card account, your credit limit is added to your credit file. Lenders may consider the total amount of credit you have access to when they are looking at new applications. If your access to credit has been going up and down while you open and close accounts, it suggests instability that could hurt your credit score and can damage your chances of getting approved for new credit products in the future.

Is credit card churning worth it?

Credit card churning requires careful planning and management if you want to get the most value out of each bonus point offer. You’ll also need to carefully monitor your credit file and credit score to avoid declined credit applications down the road.

For some people, collecting points that can be used for flights, upgrades and other rewards may be enough to justify the effort involved in churning cards. But if it sounds like a big commitment, then it’s probably better to compare travel rewards credit cards and find one that offers a good mix of bonus points and ongoing features so you can stick with it beyond the signup bonus period.

Compare credit cards with bonus points on signup

Name Product Reward Purchase Interest Rate Cash Advance Rate Annual Fee Minimum Income Min. Credit Limit
American Express Cobalt Card
Earn 5x points on eligible eats and drinks, including groceries and food delivery, 2x points on transit, gas, travel purchases, and 1 point on all other spend.
19.99%
22.99%
$120
N/A
N/A
Earn up to 40,000 bonus points. Earn 2,500 points with minimum spend of $500 for each billing period up to 30,000 bonus points in your first year, plus earn a welcome bonus of 10,000 points when you spend a total of $3,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Card
Earn 1.5 miles for every $1 spent on eligible grocery, gas, drugstore and aircanada.com purchases and 1 mile for every $1 spent elsewhere. T&C's apply.
19.99%
22.99%
$120
$60,000
$5,000
Earn up to 30,000 Aeroplan Miles (equivalent to 2 economy short-haul roundtrip flight rewards) and first year no Annual Fee for the Primary Cardholder. Apply online by March 2, 2020.
BMO World Elite MasterCard
Earn 3 BMO Rewards points per $1 spent on dining, travel and entertainment purchases and 2 points for all other purchases.
19.99%
22.99%
$0 annual fee for the first year ($150 thereafter)
$80,000
N/A
Offers 35,000 BMO Rewards bonus points with a minimum spend of $3,000 in the first three months of card membership. Ends March 3, 2020.
Scotiabank Passport  Visa Infinite Card
Earn 2 Scotia Rewards points per $1 spent on eligible grocery stores, dining, entertainment purchases, and daily transit. Earn 1 Scotia Rewards points per $1 spent on all other eligible purchases.
19.99%
22.99%
$139
$60,000
$5,000
Earn up to 25,000 bonus Scotia Rewards points in your first year of card membership. Plus, earn an extra 10,000 points with a min. annual spend of $40,000 on your card.
TD First Class Travel Visa Infinite Card
Earn 9 TD Points per $1 in travel booked online through Expedia for TD, and 3 points/$1 spent elsewhere.
19.99%
22.99%
$120
$60,000
$5,000
Earn up to 80,000 TD Rewards Points, including a 20,000 welcome bonus when you make your first purchase with your card. Earn 5X the TD Rewards Points on all purchases up to a maximum of 20,000 TD Rewards Points per month, for each of the first three months. Plus, first year no annual fee for the primary cardholder. Apply online by March 2, 2020.
American Express AIR MILES Platinum Credit Card
Earn 1 AIR MILES® for every $5 you spend at eligible sponsors, stores, drugstores and gas stations (up to $30,000 annually) and 1 Mile for every $10 you spend anywhere else.
19.99%
22.99%
$120
N/A
N/A
Receive up to 3,500 bonus AIR MILES®. Conditions apply (Ends January 20, 2020). Offers 1.99% balance transfer rate in the first 6 months. No balance transfer fee upon application.
American Express Business Edge Card
Earn 3x the points on daily business spend including office supplies & electronics, rides & gas, and eats & drinks and 1x the points on all other purchases.
19.99%
22.99%
$99
N/A
N/A
Earn up to 42,000 Membership Rewards® points in the first year of card approval. Offers 30,000 Welcome Bonus points when you spend $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of membership.
Shell AIR MILES Mastercard from BMO
Earn 2x AIR MILES reward miles per $20 spent at eligible partners and 1 mile per $20 spent for all other purchases.
19.99%
22.99%
$0
$15,000
N/A
Get up to 800 bonus AIR MILES reward miles with minimum spend of $1,000 in the first three months. Ends March 3, 2020.
Shell CashBack Mastercard from BMO
Earn 1.5% cash back per $1 spent at Shell stations in Canada and 0.5% on everything else.
19.99%
22.99%
$0
$15,000
N/A
Get $50 limited bonus cash back upon first spend and receive 1% cash back for the first 6 months. Ends March 31, 2020.
Scotiabank SCENE Visa Card
Earn 1 SCENE point per $1 spent on all eligible purchases, plus 5 SCENE points for every $1 spent at Cineplex Entertainment theatres or cineplex.com.
19.99%
22.99%
$0
$12,000
$500
Save with no annual fee and earn 1 SCENE point for every $1 spent on eligible purchases. Get 2,500 bonus SCENE points with minimum spend of $500 in the first three months (Ends March 1, 2020).

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*The products compared on this page are chosen from a range of offers available to us and are not representative of all the products available in the market. There is no perfect order or perfect ranking system for the products we list on our Site, so we provide you with the functionality to self-select, re-order and compare products. The initial display order is influenced by a range of factors including conversion rates, product costs and commercial arrangements, so please don't interpret the listing order as an endorsement or recommendation from us. We're happy to provide you with the tools you need to make better decisions, but we'd like you to make your own decisions and compare and assess products based on your own preferences, circumstances and needs.

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