2 Mil+ Points Earned – Year One of Churning as a Grad Student

Let me first get this out of the way – this is not a brag post, it is rather meant to show you what is possible even on low income. Also, this is not a high ceiling for someone in my income range. I’m sure someone with similar personal scenarios as me has earned 4x miles than I did in year one.


I’m a grad student so needless to say I’ve limited budget to play with. I can’t float a whole lot of money in giftcards, kiva, kickfurther, etc neither can I let thousands of $ sit idle on some bank. The best way for me to earn miles is basically to chew through signup bonuses. Since this is year 1…and because there were plenty of credit card opportunities, I did not feel the need to duplicate credit cards.

The Goal

Churning without goal is pointless. As (hopefully) everybody the major goal is to pay as little as possible for vacations (it is almost never truly free) but because of my financial situation, there was a underlying minor goal as well – let churning itself cover cost of MS and AF. Ideally speaking, I did not want to pay a dime to earn points. That said, let’s now look annual fee I paid across several issuers.

AF Paid

Bank Net 1st Year AF Estimated 2nd Year AF*
Amex 720 0
Barclay 95** 0
Chase 95 219-614
Citi 445 445
USB 145 60
Total 1500 724-1119

* is based on cards I will keep from year one.

** has been refunded

Negating $1500 AF

Early on I made some poor decisions and signed up for cards with low cash signup bonus. Nevertheless, it did help me pay off a whooping $1.5k annual fee I paid over a course of a year. What helped even more is –

  • bank account bonus
  • 1st year AF waiver on two high AF cards namely Ritz-Carlton and Business Platinum
  • cashing out airline credit on PRG, Ritz, and Platinums
  • cashing out travel credit of Arrival+
  • cashing out 180k UR points to pay student loan

Bank Bonus

This one is a bit difficult for me since

  1. I don’t want to change my DD
  2. most bank bonuses require decent chunk of deposit and
  3. I don’t want to bank with banks I churn cc of.
Bank Profit (before tax)
Tech CU ~140
53rd 200
US Bank $150
360 $400
Total 860

34 Cards in a Year


In Nov of 2015, I applied for 60k Hilton Honors (ops should have waited for highest offer) and started the churning game. By the time I left for a vacation in mid May, I had received 17 more cards. I returned home early September and went on a credit card spree…and got 13 cards in 3 months. I left for vacation again in mid December and as of writing this article I’m still away from home.


Card Bonus AF Keep/Cancel Notes
 Amex Hilton  60k  0  Keep  Free
 Ame Gold  25k  160  Cancel  LOLAmex
 Plat P  100k  450*  Cancel  LOLAmex
 Delta Gold B  50k+$50  95  Cancel  LOLAmex
 Arrival+  50k  89  Cancel  Churn
 Barclay AA  40k  75**  Cancel  Churn
 Citi Hilton  75k  0  Cancelled  Reset 1/24
 Hilton Reserve  Bonus Denied  95  Cancelled  Reset 1/24
 BBVA NBA  $200  0  Keep  Free
 Green  25k  95  Cancel  LOLAmex
 CSP  55k  95  Keep  Forever
 QuickSilver  $100  0  Keep  Free
 Plat B  100k  450  Cancel  LOLAmex
 IHG  80k  49  Keep  Free Annual Night
 AARP  $200  0  Cancelled  Tested Preapproval
 Prestige  50k  350  Keep  Poor Man’s Premium Card
 Ink+  70k  95*  Downgraded to Cash  Dead
 Gold  25k  160  Cancel  LOLAmex
 Carlson B  85k  60*  Keep  My Top 3 Hotel Card
 Hiton Surpass  100k  95*  Wait  Analyze
 United  55k  95  Down  25% MPX bonus
 Delta Plat  70k+$100  175*  Cancel  LOLAmex
 Flexperk Gold  30k  85*  Cancel  Paid AF with 5k Points
 SPG B  35k  95  Cancelled  Made Room For Delta
 SPG P  35k  95  Cancelled  Made Room For Delta
 Hyatt  2 night + 5k  75  Keep  Free Annual Night
 BA  50k  95  Cancel  Churn
 Fairmont  2 Night  95  Cancel  Hope PC to Freedom
 Ritz  2 night + 10k  395  Wait  See Retention
 Disney  $200 GC  0  Keep  Forever
 Access More  650 phone credit  95*  Keep  Plastiq
 CB ThankYou  20k  0  Keep  Forever
 Flex Biz  34.8  55  Cancel  Get FP Personal Instead

* 1st year AF was paid

** AF was refunded

Noteworthy Points and Miles

Program Amount
 UR  220k
 TY  120k
 MR  390k
 FP  65k
 Hilton  420k
 Marriott  306k
 United  60k
 BA  50k
 IHG  81k
 Delta  155k
 Carlson  150k
 Arrival  55k
 NET  2072k


If you attempt to add my signup bonus from 34 cards, you’ll clearly see that it does not add up to 2 million points. I also said that I don’t float a lot of money on giftcards. In fact I’ve never gone the typical MS route, i.e.

CC – buy GC – buy MO – liquidate through bank

I’ve meet vast majority of my minimum spend through NW Buxx (rip 1/31/2017). Because Buxx did not accept Amex cards I ended up using Paypal cards (risky) to MS vast majority of my Amex minimum spend requirement. I also MSed a large portion of 100k leaked Plat via Venmo and I MSed almost entire minimum spend on Arrival+ with Venmo as well.


Nothing too amazing. Basically a lot of money saver trips. I spent very little $ on travel I otherwise would have to pay in. I also got to take my parents on mini vacations so that was great.

Cost Redemption Notes
 50k TY + $150  RT ORD – KTM  Saved $
 150 UR + $30  3 x RT MDW – NYC  took parents on a trip
 80k Hilton  1 Night DT Times Square NY – Suite  I liked
 Hyatt Cert  Andaz Wall Street  Meh
 Hyatt Cert  Park Hyatt DC  Okay
 15k UR + $30  3 x RT MDW – Washington  took parents on another trip
 24k UR  3 x Suite Hyatt Regency KTM  loved everything here
 15k Carlson  Radisson KTM  ehh
 20k IHG  4x Crowne Plaza KTM  free breakfast for Platinums tho <3


  1. Wow Astonishing Post, Very Organized into detail, Im just curious one thing how you got approved for so many cards (17! at once) what was your order? Etc. Tia

    • Eli232, it wasn’t 17 at once. I added a few words to make that more clear. I think it’ll be too time consuming to reveal my order of application but the general idea was – prioritize Chase first, do Citi in between, and only do Amex when highest offer yet comes around.

  2. First of all, excellent advice! Did you have a very long/excellent credit history before you started churning? I see you applied for 30 cards in ~ a year’s period. Did that affect your score in any major way? Considering that we are grad students, our credit history isn’t normally very long. I got myself just 3 cards within a month and my credit score plummeted to 700. And now I am worried that I won’t be able to apply for another card for at least 4-5 months.

    • Yes I’ve almost 10 year old credit history. Score mostly hovered 750+ but occasionally came low 700. If I did something careless like let high balance get reported in my credit then it did dip below 700 but score would recover back within a month of clearing the balance.

      P.S. sorry for the late reply. I’m travelling and don’t check my own blog as often as I should.

  3. Regarding your MS of the Amex Platinum and Arrival+ via Venmo, did you eat the fee, use the now dead AGC fee-free method, or some other method I’m unaware of?

  4. @TravelinPoints, what do you study? Surely you must have a lot of time to MS! Or maybe you’re really good at doing both (MS+studying) very well

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