Maximizing Chase Ultimate Rewards: My Ink, Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and Freedom Gameplan

by on November 6, 2012 · 49 comments

in Chase, Credit Cards, Ultimate Rewards

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Update: The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card sign-up bonus offer is now reduced to 40,000 points when you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months. The Chase Freedom card sign-up bonus is currently 10,000 points with $500 spend within the first 3 months.

Update: As of April 2013, Chase Ultimate Rewards has added Virgin Atlantic as a new airline transfer partner.

Maximizing credit card rewards is kind of like coaching a basketball team. You put certain players into action when it makes the most sense and pull them out when they just aren’t performing as well as others (or they simply need a break). There are a lot of cards that I get for the sign-up bonus and then close out (fire) or downgrade to no-fee versions (make them towel boy) once I’ve extracted the maximum value possible. Many people ask if this hurts your credit and the quick answer is: nominally, but if you have other lines of credit and pay your bills on time and have some fee-free cards that you keep open for years, your score will be just fine. The main components of your FICO score are: 35% payment history, 30% amounts owed, 15% length of credit history, 10% new credit, 10% types of credit. So if you pay on time and keep your balances low, you should be good to keep getting the most lucrative credit card offers on the market and manage your “team” as necessary.

My team of Chase cards

The points that I’ve been focused the most on accruing this year are Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which I think are the most valuable, flexible points currency on the market today. They transfer 1:1 to United (my favorite transfer partner), Southwest, British Airways, Korean Air, Hyatt (second favorite), Ritz-Carlton, Marriott, Priority Club and Amtrak. The key cards that allow me to rack up UR points are the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card (my original workhorse card that has been getting a little bit of rest lately), Ink Bold and Ink Plus (my two new stars) and the Freedom (my quarterly player I put in strategically to hit that needed 3-point shot).

My Ink Strategy
The Ink Cards have seen a ton of play-time recently because I  can purchase Vanilla Reload cards at Office Depot and essentially turn every single dollar I spend into 5 Chase points per dollar. I’ve been writing about the whole Bluebird strategy a lot lately, so I won’t preach any more about it in this post. But that’s not the only reason I use the card. Frankly I think it’s risky to just use them to purchase Office Depot gift cards and I personally can’t buy enough Vanilla Reloads to cover every single dollar I spend, so I also use the card to get 5x points on cell phone/internet/landline/TV spend and 2 points per dollar on gas stations. They also offer 2x on hotels, but I’d rather put that spend on my Sapphire Preferred because you get 2.14 points per dollar on all travel with no limit (2x base plus a 7% year-end dividend).

The Bold and Plus are nearly identical, with the main difference being that the Bold is a charge card which means no preset spending limit, but you need to pay it off in full every month. The Plus is a credit card, which means you have a preset credit line, but have the flexibility to pay over time (albeit with interest fees).

Why get both?
The 5x categories are limited to 50,000 points a year, so if you have both cards, that amount goes to $100,000 collectively, which at 5x is some pretty serious point earning potential. I also got both because they each come with 50,000 point sign-up bonuses (25,000 after first purchase and 25,000 after $10,000 spent within 3 months), so I banked 100,000 points together just on sign-up.

 Update: The current offer for the Ink Plus and Ink Bold is 50,000 points after $5,000 spent in 3 months.

But I Don’t Have a Business!
I’ve gotten a lot of emails and comments around the whole Bluebird/Ink Bold strategy and most center upon the fact that people can’t get the Ink Bold card because they don’t have a business. Even the smallest of businesses – or potential future businesses – can get business credit cards because they are guaranteed by your personal credit line. So even if you want to create a business in the future, you can get a business card now so that when you do need to start spending, you can keep your finances separate. You simply apply as a sole proprietor and use your Social Security Number on the application. Chase looks at your total relationship with them when deciding whether to approve you and even if you are denied or given a pending status, you can close or shift personal credit lines in order to open up your Ink card, which I what I did in August to get the Ink Plus (after I already had the Ink Bold and old Ink Bold with Business Exclusives that has since been discontinued).

Sapphire Preferred
I love my Sapphire Preferred and use it for its 2x categories: dining and travel (hotels, taxis, parking) because I get 2.14 points per dollar. However, I put airfare on my American Express Premier Rewards Gold card because I get 3x points per dollar and I don’t want to put all of my eggs in the Chase basket.

I use my Chase Freedom to max out the $1,500 in 5x quarterly bonus spend categories (which are currently hotels, airlines, Best Buy and Kohl’s) as well as  for most regular, non-bonus category spend that I can’t put on Bluebird/Vanilla because I get a 10% bonus and 10 point per transaction bonus for being a Chase Checking customer.

Update: The Chase Freedom card no longer offers a bonus of 10% on all purchases plus a 10 point per transaction bonus. Instead, both of those benefits have been replaced with a 10% annual bonus at the end of the year on all purchases.

Normally Freedom points can only be used as “cash back” at 1 cent per point, but since I’m a Sapphire Preferred/Ink customer, I can instantly transfer my Freedom points into my other accounts and then transfer them out to partners like United and Hyatt. While the max bonus is 30,000 points a year from 5x categories, that’s not so shabby considering the Freedom has no annual fee and I get the 10% bonus and 10-point transaction bonus on small expenditures. I’ve heard that the Chase Exclusives program is ending, but the website still touts a 10% bonus on points for Chase Checking customers who have a Freedom card, so I bet you’d still be able to join the program since it’s being advertised. The current sign-up bonus is only 10,000 points, but they’ve routinely run 20,000-30,000 point offers (marketed at $200 or $300 cash back), so you might want to wait to see if it gets better.

Do the Math For Yourself
While my wallet is chock full of Chase cards, this may not be the best strategy for you. I’d recommend analyzing your spending patterns and then seeing which cards would help you maximize the most amount of points. To be honest, the Ink/Bluebird strategy isn’t going to work for everyone – especially if you aren’t close to an Office Depot that sells Vanilla reload cards (you can still buy other reload cards, but the game becomes less lucrative and more time-intensive if you can’t leverage Bluebird’s low fees). At a very minimum, Chase is leading the pack with sign-up bonuses and I don’t see them going up anytime soon since American Express and Citi have not been extremely competitive in the sign-up bonus space.

There’s a myth going around that you need to wait a certain amount of time between applications to get approved for Chase cards, but it’s wrong. The fact is, Chase will decide how much credit they want to give you as a customer. Once you reach that max credit, you’ll be declined for new cards unless you call the reconsideration line at 1-888-245-0625 and offer to either close out current cards or shift credit lines. I’ve never been turned down by the reconsideration line and they’ve even let me shift around personal lines to open business cards and vice versa. Bottom line is that Chase is investing a ton into their Ultimate Rewards program and if you maximize the cards you use you can rake in tons of valuable Ultimate Rewards points. As with all good deals, they don’t last forever, so evaluate whether the current cards you use on a daily basis are providing you the maximum possible return and if not, step up as the coach of your own points team and make some substitutions!

If you’re looking to up your Ultimate Rewards game, you can actually get two cards in one day (of course depending on your credit worthiness). I’d recommend getting the Ink Bold and Freedom first to get in on those respective deals (Vanilla Reloads at Office Depot and Chase Exclusives for Freedom) before they possibly go away, then the Sapphire Preferred and the Ink Plus in the future.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Josh

    So based on this do you think I’m safe to apply for the Chase Southwest personal and business cards now even though I just opened the Sapphire Preferred and Marriott cards with Chase a month ago? I’m dying to get the current Southwest bonus and would also like to get an Ink card to use with the Vanilla reloads but I haven’t tried for them since it’s only been a month since Chase issued me two new cards. Thoughts?

  • mendyzee

    when i buy refill at office depot with my ink don’t i get charge as a cash advanced from chase?

  • Josh


  • gussomer

    Applying for two Chase personal cards in a day (or applying for a personal card and a biz card)…will that likely be one hard inquiry on my credit report?

  • Nei

    Are u kidding me you just asked that??

  • josh

    Do you or anyone else have any attractive sign-up bonus links for on Sapphire Preferred (or on Amex Gold, for that matter)?

  • thepointsguy

    The best Sapphire Preferred sign-up bonus right now is 40,000 points after $3,000 spent within 3 months

    Amex Gold doesn’t have any good sign-ups, but Premier Rewards gold has a 25k offer

  • thepointsguy

    Yes, though if they are reconsidered on separate days, it could end up being two inquiries

  • thepointsguy

    Like everyone else says- no. Thats the beauty of the deal

  • Gray

    We can do the same with the Ink Classic Business Card (minus the larger sign-up bonuses), right?

  • fish

    My Chase Ink Business states 5x Points on the first $25,000 spent annually. Would that mean I can accumulate 125,ooo point per year ?

  • Dan

    Just curious why you recommend the ink bold first, and Plus in the future? Is it because it has no limit? Is approval more selective on the bold (vs. the plus)?

  • Travis

    I have 2 questions:
    1. Do you open Ink Bold and Ink Plus using two different business name?
    2. If you buy $2500 giftcard from OD with Bold and $2500 giftcard from OD with Plue will Chase think you spend $5000 on office supply and put you on the “abuse reward” watch list? or Chase treat each card separately and only think you bought $2500 of office supply?

  • Matt R

    i cancelled my chase sapphire preffered visa a few months ago to avoid the annual fee. i’d now like to reapply for the mastercard version. do you have a working referral link for the sapphire preferred mastercard? thanks.

  • ER

    Woah woah, Chase Exclusives is going away? Any idea if people taking advantage of it will be grandfathered in, or will it end for everyone?

  • Gray

    With the Freedom card, would a $100 hotel room during this quarter, for example, give 5 Ultimate Rewards points back in return? (5% back on hotels during this quarter.) Not sure if I understand the conversion to Ultimate Rewards points.

  • Barry

    I have the Chase checking, Freedom, and Sapphire preferred, and with that combinations, I really like using my Freedom card for all purchases under $10 (which I make a lot of). Because given the 10 UR points per transaction that is given for a Freedom card with linked chase checking, I get more than double points for any purchases under $10, regardless of where it is made.

  • Travis

    Only rumor… I haven’t seen any confirmation yet but… If you apply before Nov 11 you will be grandfathered into the old program. If you apply after you still get 10% bonus but it’s annually not monthly, also you don’t get the 10 bonus points per purchase anymore. I think it’s not a huge change if you are not doing very small purchases all the time.

  • myexercisecoach

    Brilliant. Nice work Mr. Brian.

  • Justin

    I’d really like to get the Freedom and Ink before the 11th, in case the Chase Exclusives program ends. I did my last app-o-rama a month ago, but didn’t get a Chase card. Should I still wait the 91 days before trying for the Freedom and Ink, or can I go ahead and pull the trigger?

  • Matt

    Is there any truth to the rumor of a reduced-spend offer coming soon for the Ink?

  • thepointsguy

    I haven’t been able to confirm.. at least with Bluebird now, meeting spend is easy

  • thepointsguy

    91 days is just a random rule of thumb and by no means a sure thing for getting approved. I say if you are going to get a lot of value out of the Exclusives program, I’d apply so you are grandfathered in

  • thepointsguy

    Me too- love those small purchases- $1 gets you 12 points or 12x!

  • thepointsguy

    Yes. You’d get 500 Freedom Ultimate Rewards points $5 in cashback) for that $100 room. If you had a Sapphire Preferred/Ink Bold/Plus card you’d be able to transfer those 500 points into airline/hotel partners and potentially get much more than $5 in value

  • thepointsguy

    If you browse Travel Rewards cards you should be able to pull the link in (on iphone now)

  • Gray

    Thanks, Brian, for the post and your quick reply. Happy to hear about the Freedom/Sapphire Preferred relationship. I’m saving Ultimate Rewards points for the new Andaz on Maui!

  • Lee

    Do you think Chase would upper the sign-up bonus for Sapphire Preferred? I am on the sidelines.

  • Sean

    In your “Why get both” paragraph, you reference a cap of 50,000 points then mention $100,000 collectively.

    Should that be a cap of $50,000 per year per card for the 5x bonus? 250,000 points? I hope so!

  • Ctrix65513

    I agree that Chase is really gaining ground in the credit card market but I’d just like to point out that they will close your credit card and take away points/rewards with no warning- PROCEED WITH CAUTION. I was a checking and had both business and personal credit cards with them for 5+ years paid on time every month and they closed all my account without warning one day. I lost out on $1800 worth of rewards I had redeemed and had even posted to my account as a statement credit. They will do what they want- they simply added a charge to my cc statement for $1,800 with the description – an adjustment to cardmember- to nullify the statement credit already rewarded. I worked with the Executive Office, Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, and even went as far as serving papers to their registered agent before deciding it just wasn’t worth my time to pursue in small claims court. The issue that it came down to was Chase can take away points at anytime but once you redeem them and they post as a statement credit, nowhere in the cardmember agreement does it say they can retroactively take something away that was given to you (and by given I mean the posted statement credit). Check out FatWallet under Chase AARP- tons of people got burned.

  • NYFish

    I agree…but The Points Guy won’t get his Chase cards shut down…they just sent his around the world. You? Me? They’ll shut us down! LOL

  • Myexercisecoach

    If you haven’t already heard, the spend requirements are 5k for Ink Bold and Ink Plus, for the classic it’s 3k I think, via chase website. Cheers

  • Myexercisecoach

    R U still able to get Vanilla’s in Miami area? I may have to schedule a b trip down there soon.

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  • Robby Stratton

    Took advantage of the Sapphire 50K bonus back in 2011, and got the Ink Bold when the spend commitment dropped to $5K in 3 months in Nov. of 2012 for the 50K bonus. I hit the $5K spend in the first statement period but haven’t seen a bonus…does it take a couple periods to post? Seem to remember my Sapphire bonus posting faster.

  • Jj8119

    If I have a Freedom card linked to a chase checking account… would I get 10 extra points even if the purchase was for $0.01. In that case, I would be making a $0.09 profit. That can’t be right……….

  • ja moore

    Helpful article…thanks!
    Question: Can I transfer points from my Chase Sapphire account to my Chase Preferred Sapphire account?? ~

  • thepointsguy


  • lostbyrhetoric

    Thank you for commenting on how to optimize point collection…how about gaining the optimum for the points accumulated…let’s keep it simple …travel deals, hotel deals, airfare…..the value of material assets is too dependent on the individual…one girls shoe find is another’s discard

  • Ronmaclan

    The only problem with your theory is that all Office Depots in the US have pulled the Vanilla reload card and as of last week they have pulled all re-load cards they carry until further notice, so you cant even buy an amercian express or visa preload at O.D and go to CVS and buy the Vanilla reload, because that is the only card that CVS will accept for the Vanilla reload card. The best you can do is to go to OD and buy gift cards at 5×1 rewards and use them for your debit or credit card purchases. You only get the 5 x 1 on the first 50k in purchases so you might not get 10,000 in cash but you can get $2500 pretty easy if you spend a lot each month. You still get the 50k points for first time users so it still is not a bad deal

  • PLN

    Can you manage the Chase Ink cards and the personal Chase Sapphire and Freedom cards from the same account login?

  • Tito

    Chse/Bold – To meet the $5000 spending limit within 3 months.

    Month 1. So If I change $2000 the first month… I have to pay it off to avoid interest charges when due!!!

    Month 2. charge $2500 and pay it off to avoid interest

    Month 3. $500 will total 5K

    would this qualify me for the sign up bonus o 50000 points?

  • au


  • 3milio

    Need your help. Seriously debating over this Chase SP card and a targeted Delta Gold 50K signup offer. Both are $95 after the first year, and both are basically 2x and 1x. CSP seems more prestigious and can be combined with a Freedom I already have. Delta also a good deal, with perks like first checked-bag free and $50 credit after a Delta purchase. Spending requirements are 3,000/3months on CSP and 1,000/3 at Delta. The one thing that is pulling me back is the flexibility of SP while Delta (apparently) makes it difficult to book reward flights. Your thoughts? Oh, I and I have excellent credit. Thanks!

  • thepointsguy

    Why not get both? But if only one, you nailed it- Sapphirr Preferred is way better for earning and redeeming

  • 3milio

    Hi. Thanks for replying! Actually, I am a newbie to this and your posts are of the upmost significance for us rookies. I am learning and I just got the AMEX PR gold, so I am thinking too many inquiries. Another tip, please? ha

  • Kenneth Mula

    Quick question, if I use my Chase sapphire to pay my cell phone bill will I earn points. Sorry if its a dumb question but I’m new to the points game.

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