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Outside of collecting big signup bonuses, earning the maximum number of points for every purchase should be the goal for points and miles enthusiasts. However, with so many credit cards available in such a wide array of programs, each with different category bonuses and benefits, it’s easy to overcomplicate the process.
If you want the highest return on spending without the complications that come with managing a portfolio of credit cards, you need to simplify your credit card strategy down to two factors:
- Earn high-value flexible rewards points
- Select a combination of cards that earn the highest number of points for each purchase
Why flexible rewards? The ability to transfer points to travel partners opens up more destinations, more airlines, and more hotels, typically at better redemption rates than you can otherwise achieve if you stick within a single airline or hotel loyalty program.
Build a Winning Ultimate Rewards Credit Card Combination
We’ve focused this post on Ultimate Rewards as Chase offers high points earning and redemption rates, fantastic travel benefits across its range of rewards cards, and top transfer partners covering the three global airline alliances. You can also apply the same strategy to Membership Rewards or ThankYou Rewards for similar results, topics we’ll explore in future posts.
Chase currently offers six Ultimate Rewards earning credit cards:
- Chase Sapphire Reserve®
- Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
- Chase Freedom Unlimited®
- Chase Freedom Flex℠
- Ink Business Unlimited® Credit Card
- Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card
- Ink Business Cash® Credit Card
Maximizing the category bonuses on each of these cards is an easy way to rack up loads of points quickly. Just keep in mind, to transfer Ultimate Rewards to travel partners you’ll need to pair up the Freedom Flex, Freedom Unlimited, Ink Unlimited, and Ink Cash with one of the three cards that have an annual fee.
Ultimate Rewards Two Card Strategy
Excluding new cardmember offers and temporary promotions, the Freedom Unlimited‘s base earning rate is 5% on travel purchased through Chase, 3% on dining at restaurants and drugstores, and 1.5% on all other purchases, making it one of the most rewarding cards available for everyday spend. Combine that with the Sapphire Reserve’s 3X points on travel and dining, plus the card’s valuable travel benefits – transfer points to partners, $300 travel credit, complimentary lounge access, Global Entry/TSA credit, 1.5¢ per point redemption rate through the Chase Travel Portal, and you have a high earning card combo, outstanding travel benefits, and only need to deal with two cards in your wallet.
Maximizing your Earnings:
Make sure to use your Sapphire Reserve for travel not purchased through Chase, plus dining (3x), and use your Freedom Unlimited for travel purchased through Chase (5x), drugstore purchases (3x), and non-bonus purchases (minimum 1.5x). Keep in mind, you'll want to use your Sapphire Reserve for any foreign transactions as the Freedom Unlimited will pass along a fee for those, while there are no foreign transaction fees with the Sapphire Reserve.
Total Annual Fees:
Note: If you’re just starting out in points and miles, or don’t think you’ll take full advantage of the travel benefits associated with the Sapphire Reserve, you can replace it with the Sapphire Preferred which comes with a lower annual fee of $95. For us, the travel benefits on the Sapphire Reserve justify the $550 annual fee, but if you don't use them to full advantage, you're likely better off with the Sapphire Preferred.
Ultimate Rewards Three Card Strategy
While 5% cashback on purchases is an excellent return, Chase allows you to transfer points earned on no annual fee cards to other cards registered in your Ultimate Rewards account. When you transfer those points to the Sapphire Reserve, you can redeem them for a minimum 1.5¢ per point through the Chase Travel Portal or transfer them to an array of travel partners, increasing the return on category bonus spending from 5% to at least 7.5% (towards travel).
Maximizing Your Earnings:
Use your Freedom Flex whenever there is a 5x category bonus, your Sapphire Reserve for travel not purchased through Chase + dining to earn 3x, and your Freedom Unlimited for drugstore purchases and everything else rounding out the 1.5x earning.
Total Annual Fees:
Ultimate Rewards Four (or Five) Card Strategy
The Ink Preferred earns 3x points per $1 on the first $150,000 spent in combined purchases on travel, shipping purchases, Internet, cable and phone services, advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines each account anniversary year, in addition to offering cell phone insurance covering up to $600 per claim.
The Ink Cash earns 5% cash back at office supply stores and on cellular phone, landline, internet and cable TV services, and 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases each account anniversary year. Points earned on Ink Cash can be transferred to the Ink Preferred, Sapphire Reserve, or Sapphire Preferred and redeemed for higher fixed-values or transferred to travel partners.
The Ink Unlimited earns a flat 1.5% (1.5x points) on all purchases, with no limit on the number of cashback/points you can earn.
Maximizing your Earnings:
Total Annual Fees:
- Sapphire Reserve: $550
- Freedom Unlimited: $0
- Freedom Flex: $0
- Ink Preferred: $95
- Ink Cash: $0
- Ink Unlimited: $0
Our pick for the best Ultimate Rewards credit card combo? We think combining the premium Sapphire Reserve with the no annual fee Freedom Unlimited, Freedom Flex, and Ink Cash is the sweet spot for earning Ultimate Rewards.
The Sapphire Reserve provides 3X points on all travel and dining alongside some of the best travel perks and insurances offered by any rewards card. A lot of the $550 annual fee is offset by the $300 travel credit and provided you take advantage of the lounge access and other benefits; we think the card is an all-around winner for any serious traveler.
The Freedom Flex, Freedom Unlimited, and Ink Cash offer up to 5% back on bonus categories, essentially supercharging your points earning potential at no additional cost as the cards have no annual fee. And for any purchase that doesn't receive bonus points, you can swipe the Freedom Unlimited and earn 1.5x points.
When points are effectively worth between 1 and 2 cents apiece, you need to spend a lot to make up for annual fees, so ensure you keep the combined cost of your cards as low as possible.
Be Aware of Chase Application Restrictions
Something to be aware of if implementing any of these strategies is the application restrictions when applying for Chase credit cards, particularly the 5/24 policy which applies to every card listed above, even the business cards. Chase business cards are subject to 5/24 but don’t count towards 5/24.
- 5/24 – If you’ve opened 5 or more new credit cards in the previous 24 months (across any card issuer) it'll be unlikely that you'll be approved for any of the Ultimate Rewards earning cards listed above – see our dedicated post for details
- Sapphire cards: Chase implemented a new rule in 2017 (and further expanded it in 2018) which prevents applicants who currently hold a Sapphire card, or have received a bonus for one in the previous 48 months, from applying for another card within the Sapphire family of cards. If you have or have had one of the Sapphire products, watch out.
- 2/30: Chase will typically not approve you for more than 2 cards in 30 days. Business and personal cards are separate. Maximum approval of 1x business and 2x personal in a 30-day period. This information is crowdsourced and based on the information we've gathered along with information provided by our readers/members.
We strongly recommend picking up all the Ultimate Rewards earning cards you can while under the 5/24 limit — they'll be the workhorses of your travel rewards strategy.
Chasing big signup bonuses across multiple programs and credit providers can help you accumulate a substantial balance of points and miles quickly, but long-term award travel success is achieved by maximizing the return on everyday spending. By building out a combination of Ultimate Rewards earning cards, you can dominate bonus and everyday spend, collecting bonus points on almost every purchase and amassing a war chest of Ultimate Rewards points to redeem for premium airline and hotel awards.
Have a favorite Ultimate Rewards earning combo? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below.
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