Credit Card Rewards: A Year in Review

Credit Card Churning: A Year in ReviewAnyone who reads this blog knows that I am a credit card rewards junkie.  I am always jumping from card to card in order to score the best sign up bonus or reward that I possibly can.  I hold no loyalty to any bank out there, so once I have achieved the reward that I am after, each card gets kicked to the curb.  Furthermore, I don’t really care that much if my credit score takes a few dings because we no longer use debt to finance our lifestyle…and I still have great credit to boot! I almost feel bad for the amazing rewards that I racked up in 2012.  Almost.  Recently, I added up our credit card rewards for the year and realized that we have made around $2,500 in 2012 alone.  That’s CASH MONEY BABY!!!  This is how we did it…


The Rewards Game Begins


Editor’s Note: If you are interested in getting most of these cards for yourself, simply use the widget provided in the sidebar or below. Select “Card Type” and Credit Card Rewards to see a bunch of great rewards card options! Please note that Club Thrifty does receive compensation should you use the widget and decide to sign up for one of these cards.


At the beginning of the year, we both got Chase Freedom cards.  At the time, they had a $100 sign-on bonus if we spent $500 in the first three months.  This was a no brainer.  Our grocery spending is $500 per month….so we put our groceries on the cards and kept very close track of the spending on each one until we reached $500 on both cards.  This meant a combined $200 in cash rewards from our two Chase Freedom cards alone.


Next, we each got a Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.  Each card had a $400 sign up bonus if we spent $3,000 in the first three months.  Usually, we wouldn’t be able to spend $6k in 3 months. However, since we were about to book a few vacations, we signed up.  We put our upcoming vacation to the Dominican Republic and the entire remainder of our year’s gym membership on one card to reach $3,000.  We used the other card to pay for all of our Fall break beach vacation spending (almost $1,000 in gas, food, and entertainment).  We put the deposit down on our vacation that we booked for May 2013 ($300), and we put a few months of groceries, gas, and miscellaneous expenses on it.  We easily reached the spending requirements on both cards and scored $800 in cash rewards! Now, that is some serious credit card churning!


Getting Tips from Friends

After that, we were looking for a new rewards card. I just happened to stumble upon a post at Financial Samurai.  We then both signed up for the Citi ThankYou Preferred Card.  The deal was that we would each get 15,000 in “thank you points” for spending $1,000 in the first three months. 15,000 points equals out to $150 in gift cards or other items that you can choose from Citibank.  We used the cards for one month’s groceries and put our new furniture on the cards in order to reach the $1,000 spending requirement on both.  With ease, we scored $300 in gift cards from Citibank!  We decided to use the redeem the points for $300 in Walmart gift cards which we then used to buy groceries.  Boring, I know…but it did free up an additional $300 out of our grocery budget to throw towards the mortgage.  Score!


Next, the saga continued as I signed up for the Citibank Premier card.  I earned another $250 in Walmart gift cards just for doing our regular spending.  Still, I have to admit, I despise shopping at Walmart.  Everyone that works there looks miserable and it’s just so damn depressing. Also, does that place have a single window? Seriously…


Using Credit Cards for Mileage

Next up, we signed up for the Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards card.  We did our regular spending and earned either $800 in flights or $500 in gift cards.  I haven’t redeemed this yet.  We will either a) redeem for flights to FinCon b) redeem for flights to Vegas for Greg’s birthday weekend, or c) redeem for $500 in Walmart gift cards.  We haven’t decided what we’re doing vacation-wise in 2013 so I’m keeping these rewards in my back pocket for now.


Right after the Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards credit card deal, we got a sweet direct mail offer from Bank of America.  Their offer required that we spend only $500 within three months to earn a $250 statement credit.  Obviously, this was going to happen.  We put one month’s groceries on the card and quickly earned $250 to spend on… guessed it….groceries.  Boom. Savings.


Now, we are working on the Citibank Premier card that Greg signed up for.  Again, we will earn another $250 in gift cards once we reach the required spending.  The good news is that I just figured out how to pay my biannual car insurance bill using a credit card ($584), so we are very close to reaching the spending requirement!  Unfortunately, we will (again) redeem these for Walmart gift cards.  They just don’t have that many good options to choose from, and I would much rather get free groceries than spend a gift card on something I don’t really want.


Our 2012 Credit Card Rewards Totals

So, what do you guys think?  Here is the breakdown of how much I scored from each bank:


Chase: $1,000 in sign up bonuses plus 2 free flights or $500 in gift cards

Citibank: $800 in gift cards

Bank of America: $250 statement credit


I am also trying to decide what to do next.  I am thinking that Greg should get a Southwest Rapid Rewards card so that we can earn two more flights or the $500 in gift cards.  What is your favorite rewards card?  Do you have any suggestions for me?


To find these cards for yourself, please use the widget below. Select “Card Type” and Credit Card Rewards to see a bunch of great rewards card options! Please note that Club Thrifty does receive compensation should you use the widget and decide to sign up for one of these cards.





  1. Justin@TheFrugalPath says

    That’s some serious credit card rewards. Using them in that manner is pretty smart. If you’re going to buy something anyways why not get a reward for it. However, people who are bad at paying credit cards in full at the end of the month may not want to try this method. In the end it comes down to discipline. It seems as though you and Greg have that down.

      • says

        Holly- I am on the same page as you. There are so many great rewards out there and if everyone could be in control of their spending, they could be reaping the benefits these cards offer! My question for you is, if you find a card with great rewards that is free for the first year, will you use it to that point and then cancel it? Even if the benefits outweigh the cost of the annual fee?

  2. says

    I absolutely love credit card rewards. I use my Discover card whenever I can. I haven’t looked into the travel rewards as much, but I know you can get some ridiculously rewards if you pick the right one (and get the right bonuses).

    • says

      I usually don’t do “miles” rewards…just cash rewards. I don’t like how you earn a certain amount of “reward miles” but they don’t translate into an actual mile. I like very straight forward rewards!

  3. says

    My only question on it is the gym – do you think you would have paid for future months in full if you hadn’t needed points for the card? (I only ask because I thought I remembered you posting about not using the gym all that much and not getting your money’s worth… if that wasn’t you, sorry!)

    But for other rewards, do you guys get direct mail offers from Amex? We got the Amex Everyday Blue with a $250 cash back rewards for spending $1000 in the first 3 months. Absolute no-brainer.

    • says

      We were under contract until this month so we had to pay it off regardless. It wasn’t a month to month deal unfortunately- it was a 12 month contract. It didn’t matter whether we continued to pay monthly or we paid it all in one chunk. We were stuck paying for it because we let our contract renew unknowingly. Ugh. It just expired this month and we aren’t renewing it because we mostly exercise outside and we never make it to the gym because of the kids.

      Yes, I have gotten AMEX offers in the mail before but not for a while. That sounds like a winner!

  4. says

    All I can say is WOW! You have credit card rewards down to an art!

    I say, as long as you’re using them for ordinary purchases and not increasing spending to hit limits, then you’re beating the credit card companies on this.

    • says

      Yes! That is what’s crazy about it. We just buy what we were going to buy anyway- vacations, groceries, gas. I recently put my 6 months car insurance on the new credit card I’m working on!

  5. says

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with this.. While the credit card companies are making hundreds of billions off of the masses, they can help finance those of us who put in the time and effort to get our financial house in order.

    I have been pondering a chase business card that gives a HUGE bonus if you can spend 5 grand in the first 3 months.. enough to take the whole family on a nice vacation..

  6. says

    I just started having a rewards cards around 1 year ago. Both me and W signed up for the Chase Freedom and while the signup was $100, we asked for $300 (because we saw that they were offering that on tv around a month earlier) and they gave that to EACH of us. We also have the Southwest cards as well.

  7. says

    Talk about making money. What do you do with the credit cards that have been open? Do you keep them open and use them despite the rewards or close them? And will you be doing the same thing for 2013?

  8. says

    I love reading stories like this, though quite honestly I have no interest in going down that road. We have Citi Dividends that pay us 1% and up to5% on rotating categories, as well as a Costco American Express that we use that pays 3% on gas. I know I could probably do better but I am fine with the rewards we get, so I stay complacent :)

  9. says

    Wow, that’s plain awesome! We have the Chase Freedom card and an Amex that gives pretty sweet miles but nothing like you guys. I have to admit that I am being enticed by the stories I’ve read about the possibilities of rewards.

    • says

      No. Our house will be paid off in 33 months and I am never borrowing money again. Our scores used to be in the low 800s and now they are in the mid/high 700’s. I don’t care about my score going up or down a few points in either direction.

  10. says

    Question: Does getting cards and then cancelling them shortly thereafter negatively affect your credit rating? Or does it not have a bad effect because you’re always keeping a least a coupel cards, and it’s just the number of cards that matters?

  11. says

    I am partial to travel cards. I have a United card, American card, Costco American Express card, Hilton Honors card and Target card (5% rebate). I love the cash back with Costco and Target, but I still maintain the travel cards for overseas trips.

  12. says

    I got a Chase Sapphire card late last year and we put our lab orders at work on it to get the bonus. I’m considering an INK card now since I didn’t get everything sold with the business yet and I think I’ll be able to hit the $5K limit with work stuff. We are considering another rental, which would possibly mean a mortgage and that is the only thing holding me back from getting more cards, although I’m now leaning more toward paying everything off first and going cash for the rest of life. My husband is very credit card averse after the debt hole we got into and doesn’t even carry one except a joint card we use for gas and groceries. I’m not sure I could even get him to sign up for one for rewards. Kind of like the alcoholic working in a liquor store, although I really think his overspending days are done, but he’s just being cautious and I can’t blame him.

  13. says

    You have got it working for you Holly. I just got the AMEX Preferred with a $150 bonus, but I got it for the savings on groceries. It does have the $75 annual fee, but with my spending, especially on daycare now, I will easily be able to cover that fee. I am not a big churner, in fact I need to cancel some cards that I have, but I have not used in years. Since I got this new card, I can cancel the other one. I think I have too many cards.

  14. says

    OH you are making me so jealous! I am not allowed to play this game right now, according to my mortgage guy. BUT SOON, DANGIT. I’ll earmark this for when I’m ready. Do you close the cards after you’re done with them?

  15. mi says

    Don’t you have to watch out for yearly fees? Some rewards are great, but if you keep the card, many times you need to pay 100+ yearly fees…

    • says

      The only card I have with an annual fee is the Southwest Rapid Rewards card. A few other ones have annual fees after the first year and I will be cancelling them before that happens. Aside from my Southwest card, I would never pay a fee to have a credit card. I am an expert at this!

  16. Brian says

    You guys did a great job with those cards and didn’t even have to do some of the tricks to get spending up. Just remember not to sour your relationship with Chase by canceling all their cards too quickly (they have the best offers usually and I have read stories of people burning the bridge with them) but since you have the freedom card you should be good to go. I hope you had a chase checking account and were taking advantage of the chase exclusive with the freedom card to really turbo charge your earnings!

    Personally there are couple cards I don’t mind paying the annual fee on, because the ongoing benefits more than cover the fee!

    • says

      I do not have a Chase checking account- lazy I know. I have thought about it numerous times but have never done it. What deal did you have with them?

      • Brian says

        I think they ended the exclusives program to new Freedom Card holders, but it gave you an addition 10 points per transaction and an extra 10% on the total amount of points you earned per month. This would also stack with the quarterly 5% categories. So if you made lots of small purchases the points really added up quickly

        I f you are looking to do make a little more money churning you could churn bank accounts with their open for $X promos. The real difference there is the bank will 1099 you on the earnings so it isn’t quite as worth it and there are more hoops to jump through (I haven’t done this but know people who do)

  17. says

    Nice work! I just got into the game, and am using it for mileage at the moment. We’re doing 2 CSP and 2 AMEX SPG cards this year, then looking at cash back to buy the food and entertainment :)

    Next year (2013), I’m looking at funding two vacations, including first class and 4 to 5 star hotels on one of them. We’ll see how it goes?

    Do you have a churning spreadsheet with deadlines and spending tracking? I just put one together, and am getting pretty excited.

    • says

      No, my system is pretty low rent. I just keep track by reading my statements and seeing how much I have spent once a week or so. We do only churn one card at a time though so that makes it much simpler.

  18. jim says

    K – am I the only old school guy here who shutters at the use of ANY credit cards – rewards or not? gut feeling is – this is a disaster waiting to happen. multi-national corporations sucking you in, bit by bit – only to bite you in the end.

    • says

      Yes, you are old school! But that’s ok. It’s not for everyone.

      It’s not as dangerous as it sounds. We basically just put groceries and gas on rewards cards then pay them off once the charges post. We live on about 40% of our income so there is never a chance that we would be unable to pay!

      But I do understand where you’re coming from. My mom is the same way- old school. =)

  19. says

    Crazy! We hardly play the reward cards at all. I’m not sure if the selection is as good in Canada either. But it seems like you two came out wayyyyy ahead in the credit card game.

  20. says

    Wow, Holly, you are the credit card Queen! I looove reaping those free rewards and you are an expert at maximizing opportunities. I am curious too; promotional offers and credit card churning aside, do you have an ‘every day’ use card that you might recommend?

  21. says

    I’m a huge fan of credit card usage, but I don’t play any of the games for cashback or rewards. I did, however get a Chase SW card hoping that the points would get credited n time to pay for my FinCon ticket so I wouldn’t have to spend cash, but it didn’t go as planned (I saw a great deal on the airfare so I said screw it and paid on my biz card instead).

    I guess I’m the anti-Jim you can say, and not because I don’t fall for that conspiracy-theory crap that either. It’s just so much easier to be organized with everything being collected in one place and minimizing the number of payments coming out of the bank. If I could I’d have everything put on my AMEX and have just that one debit from my checking account each month!

    • says

      That is basically what I do. Everything goes on one card until we reach the spending requirement. Then we move onto another card! I am actually OCD and extremely organized so it has never been a problem at all =)

  22. says

    My question is…does this have an effect on your credit? Also if you were to do this before you purchased a house, wouldn’t the amount of credit on your cards, used or not, be used in determining your spending potential. Example: You have 3 credit cards with a 0 balance, but together they add up to 25,000 limit. Therefore the Bank then assumes that at any given time you can accrue a 25,000 debt on top of your mortgage and etc? The higher that number the bigger risk you become? Or am I off track on this?

    • says

      No, you’re not off track really. In our particular situation, we bought our house 5 years ago so that isn’t a problem. Also, keep in mind that we have zero debt besides our mortgage…we don’t have any car loans, student loans, or consumer debt. So the amount that banks deem we can pay back is rather high.

      Before we started churning, our credit scores were in the 800’s and now they are in the high 700’s. I couldn’t care less. My credit is still seen as excellent and there is nothing to be had for having a score in the 800’s except for bragging rights.

      Just take your own situation into account. If I were about to buy a house or were worried about other debts, I would probably not churn credit cards.

  23. says

    Wow, that’s a lot of benefit for churning! I suppose if one has a sky high (800+) credit rating, it might be okay as your score won’t drop. Also, not sure how sustainable it is over the long-term, as one’s score might still drop. While my credit (last time I checked) was 800+, I’m not sure this approach is right for me.

    That being said, it’s an interesting post, and eye opening what one can earn this way. If it works for you, why not do it?

  24. Melly Schug says

    I really appreciate for sharing this to us and I am happy to know more about this, thanks a lot for sharing this!

  25. says

    I just got the brand new Discover it credit card and wrote a review about my experience on one of my sites. I am extremely impressed with their level of customer service and overall experience thus far. Maybe not a reward, per se, but we are taking advantage of the 18 months of 0% interest on balance transfers.

  26. says

    I read about this fine way of getting rewards, dont know if you ever heard of it. You can go to and buy $1 presidential coins on credit card (reward cards of course). Then, once you receive the coins, deposit them in your bank account and pay the bill immediately when you get your statement. I have recently made my first purchase, it is just going to be a week or two before I receive the coins. Once I do, and it works as planned, I will make a bigger purchase to leverage my airline miles!

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