On May 26, 1975, Evel Knievel donned his star-emblazoned jumpsuit and prepared for a feat of incredible daring: to jump his motorcycle over 13 buses at Wembley Stadium in front of a crowd of 90,000 people. Evel needed to clear all 13 buses and maintain control of the motorcycle to successfully land this feat of bravery. The result: Evel made it over all 13 buses, but failed to execute the landing. He broke several bones, including his pelvis. Still, he insisted on addressing the crowd before leaving the stadium declaring, “I will never, ever, ever, ever jump again. I am through.” Six months later he successfully jumped 14 Greyhound buses at King’s Island in Ohio.
Fast forward 36 and a half years.
On November 1, 2011, The Man of a Thousand Places donned his power-infused Wolverine underpants and prepared for a feat of incredible daring: to successfully apply for 13 credit cards, earning 500,000+ points, with only his dog to witness if he failed. If Evel Knievel could walk away from a failed jump and live to jump another day, surely The Man could do the same. The result: 10 confirmed approvals…and I’m still airborne.
After a few instant approvals, a few phone calls, and a few bureaucratic roadblocks, I have confirmed that my churn was largely successful. It will likely take a few more days to confirm whether or not I have been approved for all the cards, but so far I have been rejected for none (at least, none where I couldn’t convince them to change their mind). Amex gave me an instant approval for two cards, but the third might put me over the limit for number of cards in a specific category (or so I’m told). Strangely, one of my Citi applications was instantly approved and the other is lost in space. After a phone call to the application status dept, I had to reapply since they had no record of my second application. I haven’t been able to figure out how to get in touch with Barclays about the Travelocity card. The US Airways card was instantly approved. I may have to wait a week to find out about the other.
Total take: 382,000 points/miles…and counting.
Estimated minimum value: $5,240.
Beating the hell out of the banks: priceless.
Of course, I had to build a good spreadsheet to help me plan all of this. It’s called the Churn Planning Tool and it’s available on the Resources page. The table below summarizes some of the planning and analysis that went into this Super-Mega-App-O-Rama. It includes the following details:
- Cards to be attempted.
- The credit bureau where I expected the inquiry to appear.
- The amount of the bonus and its estimated minimum value.
- Annual fees that were payable in year 1 and thereafter.
- The per point cost of all bonuses under consideration.
- A table of the spending requirements with lines added to allow for tracking of the spending levels.
This last piece is perhaps the most important. It would be silly to go to all this effort only to miss out on a bonus because I forget to use a card. For some bonuses, I will likely need to “accelerate my spending.” Fortunately, I’ve learned a nice trick for that. Below is a snapshot of the portion of the Churn Planning Tool that tracks spending requirements.
You may wonder why certain cards were selected or omitted from this churn. If a good deal was omitted, I probably already have/had the card. If a card offers a value of ~$500 or 50,000 points I don’t think any explanation is needed. For those cards offering less than this, my reason for applying is below:
- Delta Gold (Amex) - I threw in the Delta card because I wanted to see if Amex would approve a third card. I only expect one inquiry from all three Amex applications, so it didn’t hurt me at all to add this.
- Alaska Airlines (Bank of America) - The Alaska Airlines card is churnable, in the “historic” context of the word, meaning you can apply for a new card every three months and get the bonus without closing the original account. Since I was already going to have an inquiry from BofA, I couldn’t see the harm in riding this merry-go-round.
- Travelocity (Barclays) - More than the points, I wanted to know if Barclays will approve multiple apps in a day. I hadn’t been able to find any previous reports on the question.
- Miles (Discover) - Most importantly, adding this card allowed me to pass the all important psychological hurdle of chasing 500,000+ points in a single churn and creating a parallel with the Evel Knievel jump (13 buses/13 cards). I don’t expect this offer will be interesting to very many people at all, but it met my very frivolous requirement.
I wanted to do a 13-card app-o-rama for several reasons that go beyond just accumulating points. First, I wanted to do a kind of “stress test” on my credit score. I don’t expect to need a mortgage in the next 6 to 12 months, so it seemed like a good time to try this. I’d like to see the impact from this many applications and new accounts. Second, I was curious to find out which lenders will approve multiple applications in a day (this will be useful in future churns and I invite you to post your experience at this FT thread). For this reason, there are multiple “pairs” of applications. That is, two or more applications with a single lender. Third, I wanted to know how different institutions report inquiries, including when applications are for both Personal and Business cards.
The day before I executed my stunt, I checked my credit scores using American Express service CreditSecure and using Credit Sesame. CreditSecure scores are:
And the score from CreditSesame (based on Experian data):
Prior to the big churn, I had had the following inquires on my credit reports:
- Experian: 8
- Equifax: 10
- Transunion: 2
I fully expect that my credit score will take a hit after this stunt. However, I also expect that after 4 to 6 months it will bounce back and be right where it was. My credit report was in pretty good shape and it seemed that my scores could tolerate several inquiries. I expect a total of 7, perhaps 8, inquiries will show up. The impact to my credit report is a bit difficult to predict because the new accounts will also change the amount of available credit I have. However, my guess is I’ll lose 30 to 40 points for the inquiries, plus a bit more for reducing the average lifespan of my accounts. I actually reduced the limits on several accounts to accomplish this churn, so my total available credit won’t be hugely different. I will check back on the 15th and 30th/31st of every month for the next six months to find out what the impact to my credit scores will be. I’ll post regular updates of my score so you can come back and see how it is recovering.
There are a still loose ends on this churn, but I can confidently say: “I will never, ever, ever, ever try a stunt like that again. I am through.”
Famous last words.
There were dozens of other details and considerations that went into the Super Mega-App-O-Rama. I can’t possibly write it all down, but I’m more than happy to answer questions. If you would like to share any compliments, insults, rants, raves, or other pertinent comments, please post them below.
Disclaimer: Don’t try this at home (or anywhere else). I am a trained professional.
Update: The Recap to this stunt can be found here.
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