I get asked this one question by far the most frequently among those who are new to the miles and points game. Usually, they'll say something like, "So you just sign up for all these credit cards and cancel them?"
I nod, and they laugh a bit, before asking, "Well, what do you do after you've run out of credit cards to apply for?"
(The other follow-up question is "Doesn't that ruin your credit?", which I'll address in a future post.)
It's a good question, because the game of maximizing travel rewards almost feels too good to be true for many first-timers. It feels even more unbelievable that people are able to cycle through the same credit cards year after year – so-called "churning" credit cards – earning the same bonuses multiple times and funding countless luxurious international trips.
Indeed, after the first year of cycling through the main American Express Membership Rewards cards, what's the plan of attack? If you ask the "churners", you just apply for the same cards all over again!
Is this really possible? First, let's examine the actual terms and conditions on the major travel rewards credit cards in the Canadian marketplace. Then, I'll share my anecdotal experiences regarding nabbing the same signup bonus repeatedly. The results might surprise you.
The Fine Print
Ouch. The language in these terms basically implies that the bonuses on these cards are once-in-a-lifetime. We're not off to a good start.
(The above is for the Gold Rewards Card, but there's similar language for the other personal cards.)
This would appear to mean that you can only hold one business credit card at a time if you want to get the bonus on it. That doesn't bode well for bonus-chasing travellers like ourselves, and certainly isn't conducive to the plan of cycling through four MR cards a year that I illustrated in a previous post.
Interestingly, though, these terms only appear when looking at Small Business credit cards on the main Amex website – they do not appear on referral links.
If at this point you're getting discouraged by these draconian terms and conditions, remember that these are merely words on a website. In reality, whether or not these terms are actually enforced – that's a whole other matter, as you'll soon see.
For now though, let's look at some other issuers' cards that come with juicy signup bonuses.The TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite has the below wording about repeat signup bonuses:
Okay, so as long as you apply for the card again after a 6-month waiting period, you should get the bonus no problem.
The Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Visa comes with the following stipulation:
Ho hum, indeed.
Finally, none of the CIBC Aerogold Visa Infinite, the CIBC Aerogold Visa for Business, or the MBNA Alaska Airlines World Elite MasterCard have any wording in their fine print about receiving the signup bonus a second or third time. So feel free to shoot for the signup bonus over and over again on these cards.
The Real Deal
Now for the good news: speaking from experience, none of the above terms and conditions are enforced with any real regularity.
- Since the relevant terms on the American Express personal cards were introduced, I have signed up for both the Gold Rewards Card and the SPG Card twice and received the bonus each time for both
- I have held two Small Business cards with Amex concurrently, and received the bonus on both
- I have applied for the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite after the stipulated 6-month waiting period ( thus holding two of them concurrently) and received the bonus again
- I have signed up for the Chase Marriott Visa a second time and received the bonus again
Why is this the case? Well, think about it from the banks' perspective. Updating a handful of T&Cs is a few minutes' work, but actually implementing the change into their IT backend so as to filter for repeat applicants and withhold the signup bonuses? That takes a real concerted effort.
My guess is that many of these T&Cs were introduced primarily as a deterrent to stop people from attempting to get the signup bonus over and over again, rather than actually being enforced.
Having said this, if you are indeed ineligible for a bonus by the letter of the law (for example if you are indeed a previous cardholder of the American Express personal cards), do not give anyone a reason to look into your case!
There have been anecdotes of Amex call centre agents manually denying bonuses when "repeat applicants" called in to clarify. This means that if you are applying for these cards a second time and your welcome bonus doesn't post immediately after meeting the spending requirement, just wait patiently and they WILL post – don't call the banks!
And if you are eligible for a bonus by the letter of the law (for example, if you're trying to get a second TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite bonus after 6 months, or if you're applying for a concurrent Small Business card with Amex via a referral link, where there's no restrictive language), remember to take screenshots of the T&Cs so you can argue your case if the bonus doesn't arrive as expected.
Many people ask what's the best timeline for applying, closing, and then reapplying for cards. In my opinion, a good rule of thumb is to hold a card for at least six months before cancelling, and then reapply at least three months later. You can alter this schedule to be either more or less aggressive, depending on your credit profile and need for points.
In general, the game of "churning" credit cards – or repeatedly signing up for the same card in order to snag the welcome bonus multiple times – is alive and well in Canada. Unlike in the United States, where issuers have actually begun to strictly enforce similar rules, the cardholder agreements in Canada that do prohibit repeat signup bonuses haven't yet been properly implemented. Instead, issuers such as Chase, TD (if reapplying within 6 months), and Amex (if reapplying for the personal cards) merely use these T&Cs as a leg to stand on in order to manually deny your bonus if you were to bring it to their attention. So just don't do that.
Of course, this could all change at any moment, and the issuers could decide to actually enforce their rules any day. That's why if you haven't started earning points yet, it's time to get in the game!