By Shawn from TravelinMiles: If you are a fan of the Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR) program, you should learn about the various cards that earn these valuable points. Not only that, but your ultimate (pun intended) goal should be to hold the best UR-earnings card that work together as a combo. In this post, I will describe the characteristics of each card in the UR family and highlight synergies between the cards to maximize your point-earning potential.
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Premium vs non-Premium UR Cards
There are couple of key things to keep in mind. First, all of the cards listed below earn UR points, but premium cards charge an annual fee (AF). Second, unless you have at least one premium card, you cannot use UR for anything but gift cards & Amazon (bad idea) or cash back (decent idea). However, once you have a premium card, your UR points become 25-50% more valuable when redeemed for airfare, hotels, car rentals, or cruises through the Chase UR Travel Portal (good idea). Wise travelers choose to transfer these points to various travel partners (great idea). Last but not least the premium cards have no foreign transaction fee while non-premium ones do.
UR earning cards without AF:
- Freedom Unlimited
- Sapphire (not available for application, only via product change)
- Ink Cash Business
UR earning cards with AF:
- Sapphire Preferred
- Ink Plus (or the discontinued Ink Bold)
- Sapphire Reserve
- JPMorgan Reserve (or the discontinued Palladium)
Author’s Note: In this article I will not be discussing sign up bonuses. You’re probably sick and tired of hearing about that so I doubt you’ll hold that against me. This article is strictly about UR earning rate, AF, and which cards work well together.
The Freedom Unlimited (FU) earns 1.5x on every purchase with no limit on points earned. If your goal is to earn cash back, then this card is essentially a 1.5% card, and thus inferior to all available 2% cards. However, if you use it in conjunction with premium UR-earning Chase cards (basically the ones with AF), the point value increases.
The Freedom card earns 1 points per dollar spent with no limit on point earns. Additionally, each quarter you can earn 5x points on up to $1,500 spend in a predetermined category such as restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations, or Amazon.
- If you are a heavy spender in these categories, then you might consider having two Freedom cards. This way, each quarter you can earn 5x on up to $3000.
- In 4th quarter (Q4) of 2015, Freedom offered 10x on Amazon. It was mostly to compete with a similar offer from Discover. We are not sure if the 10x offer will be back this year.
- Both variants of the Freedom card come with a referral system – You can earn 5,000 UR successful applicant you refer through your specific link. You can earn up to 50,000 UR per card each calendar year.
Chase Sapphire (Preferred)
The Chase Sapphire Preferred (CSP) earns 2x points on dining and travel worldwide and carries a $95 AF (waived first year). You may be wondering how a this earning rate can possibly justify the AF. If you have other UR cards, the CSP will enable you to transfer these points to travel partners. Also, you can use your UR points to book travel through the UR Travel Portal at 1.25 cents per point (25% premium over cash back).
This card even comes with a great referral system. You earn 10,000 UR per referral and can earn up to 50,000 UR per calendar year. Essentially, a single successful referral covers your annual fee.
As I mentioned above, there is a no-AF version of this card called the Chase Sapphire. The Sapphire is only available as a downgrade to CSP, and you can no longer apply for it online. It has no-AF, only earns 2x on dining, and does not allow transfers to travel partners.
Chase Ink Plus/Cash Business
The two variety of Ink Business cards are the Ink Plus (Ink+) and the Ink Cash. The earning rate and categories for these two cards vary slightly.
- Earn 5x on the first $50,000 spent in combined purchases at office supply store and on cellular phone, landline, internet, and cable TV services each account anniversary year.
- Earn 2x on the first $50,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and hotel accommodations when purchased directly with the hotel each account anniversary year.
- Earn 5x on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at office supply stores and on cellular phone, landline, internet and cable TV services each account anniversary year.
- Earn 2x on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants each account anniversary year.
Two key differences to note:
- The Plus has an earnings cap at $50k while the Cash has a cap at $25k.
- The Plus earns 2x on gas while the Cash earns 2x on restaurants.
The Ink Plus charges a $95 AF, while the Ink Cash is free. Both cards feature generous earnings rates. The Plus card enables transfers to travel partners and offers a referral system (same as that of CSP). Successful referrals can be difficult for this card, because people do not always realize they can apply for a business card without an “official” business.
Chase Sapphire Reserve
Chase Sapphire Reserve (CSR) is an even more premium version of CSP, and it comes with an AF of $450 (not waived first year). This card comes with various perks but for the purpose of this post, we will focus on the UR-specific perks.
- You earn 3x on dining and travel world-wide.
- UR points can be redeemed at 1.5 cents per point through the UR Travel Portal
The “50% more valuable” deal is rather intriguing benefit, when you consider the synergy with other cards. Strictly looking at the numbers, your Freedom Unlimited at 1.5x becomes 2.25% (1.5*1.5). Let me repeat this again – You are getting 2.25% value on all your purchases. Similarly, your 3x earning becomes 4.5% and your 5x earning becomes 7.5%. **These higher percentages only apply when you use points for travel.
An important thing to keep in mind is that the Chase UR Travel Portal does not always offer the best price. In fact some airlines are flat-out omitted from the search parameter. On top of that, the portal does not run discount coupons, like you can find for other booking websites. You can often get a better value than 1.5 cents per point by transferring to travel partners, but this narrows the gap considerably.
JP Morgan Reserve
JP Morgan Reserve is essentially a CSR for Chase Private Client. See this possible loophole to apply for this card; however, it is a long shot. Generally, you need to have significant assets with Chase in order to be a Private Client, putting this card out of reach for most people. The only notable difference between the JP Morgan Reserve and the CSR is access to United Lounges (if you specifically ask). Also, JP Morgan Reserve is a separate product from the CSR, so you can actually earn both sign up bonuses if you qualify.
So what are some combos?
- No AF combo: Freedom + Ink Cash
- This combo is for those who do not wish to pay any AF and will redeem UR for cash.
- You will get a ton out of 5x categories. I wouldn’t bother using the 2x category on Ink Cash because you can generally get far better earning rate from other cards.
- For above mentioned reason people in this category should not bother with CS either. There are cards like AARP that give 3x earning on dining and obviously there is Freedom and Discover It card that occasionally give 5x on dining.
- Since cash is the goal here, 1.5x earning of FU is not note worthy. You are better off using 2% card like the Citi Double Cash for non-category purchases.
- No AF combo: Freedom + FU + Ink Cash + CS
- This combo is for those who do not wish to pay an AF at the moment, will earn UR now, and use them later when they upgrade to or get a premium UR card.
- You should account for the fact that by the time you get a premium card and make a travel redemption, devaluations can occur.
- In this scenario, FU is a good choice for non-category purchases. If you can eventually get over 1.33 cents per point, then you will do better than any 2% card.
- $95 combo: Freedom + FU + CSP + Ink Cash –or– Freedom + FU + CS + Ink Plus
- This combo is for those who wish to make pay one AF and make use of the Chase UR Portal and/or transfer partners.
- Whether one pays for CSP or Ink+ depends on individual needs. Some may prefer CSP for travel while other may prefer Ink+ for higher cap on 5x category.
- $450 combo: Freedom + FU + CSR (or JPMR) + Ink Cash
- This combo is for those who wish to pay an AF and see value in paying at least $55 more than one would with CSP. ($300 travel credit factored in)
- This increases the value of all UR’s earned by 50% when redeemed through the Chase UR Portal.
My ideal “get everything” combo: $640 AF
Freedom + CSP + Ink Plus + CSR
You’re probably thinking, “Why would someone pay for more than one annual fee card??” Well a partial answer to this question could be that they’re really maxing out 5x categories and doing so is worth it to them. A huge reason to get the premium cards (aside from the bonuses) is for REFERRALS. Three of the four cards in this combo offer referrals, which can easily cover their annual fees (CSR does not yet).
I’ve generally found that referring people for the CSP is rather easy. Several months ago I was able to refer four people within a month. The referral landscape of the CSP may have completely changed with the introduction of the CSR.
The Ink Plus, on the other hand, is on a different spectrum. I have found that getting referral bonus for Ink Plus can be rather difficult. I’ve had the card since early 2016 and I have only been able to get one referral bonus. I plan to pay attention to my referrals on Ink Plus and based on the data I collect, I will keep or downgrade the card next year. I personally am inclined to keep the card. It only takes one referral to come out on top of the AF, and you have a whole year to get at least one referral.
In my next post I will talk about another program with combo potential – Citi ThankYou Points. I will showcase a collection of five ThankYou Points earning card from Citi bank.
About the Author
I am SJ0 from r/churning. I occasionally blog on travelinmiles. I do not blog about new flashy things. You won’t find me blogging about the CSR and how awesome the 100k sign up bonus is. You will find me blogging about cards that are often ignored by main stream bloggers. You’ll find me getting great redemption at hotels most bloggers wouldn’t be bothered to talk about. And soon you’ll find me talking about how I cashed over 180,000 UR and why I did not regret it whatsoever.