Maximizing Ultimate Rewards Points With Chase Ink Category Spending Bonuses

by on March 14, 2013 · 37 comments

in Chase, Credit Cards, TPG Contributors

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Update: The offers mentioned below for the Chase Ink credit cards has expired. View the current offers here – Ink Plus, Ink Bold, Ink Cash.  

TPG contributor Jason Steele is back with another in-depth look at the Chase Ink family of credit cards and how you can maximize their category spending bonuses and gift cards.

In part one of this series, I looked at ways that cardholders could utilize the complete line of Ink cards in order to earn the maximum number of Ultimate Rewards points as well as dispelling some common myths about the cards and their limitations. Today, I want to explore individual purchases that can help you to earn the most Ultimate Rewards points using the 5x and 2x category spending bonuses.

1. Charging Internet services. Don’t forget that in addition to office supplies, Chase Ink’s terms indicate that, “You will earn an additional 4 points for each $1 of net purchases made in any of the following categories: internet, cable, and phone services (excluding equipment purchases).” So you can earn 5 points per $1 in total on these services as well.

But few people realize how expansive these terms actually are. For example, I know businessmen who are spending tens of thousands of dollars a month on Internet services that earn 5x. In fact, one person discovered that some of his Internet services were in fact being categorized as office supplies. The point is that if you have large business expenses, it is worth trying to make a charge to your Ink cards, just to see if they might qualify for 5x category spending bonuses. Not all merchants categorize their charges in the categories that you might think and in the end, it can’t hurt to try and see what you get.

Ink’s terms state: “Even though a merchant or the items that it sells may appear to fit within a listed category, the merchant may not have a merchant code that falls within that category. Therefore, purchases with that merchant will not qualify for the stated rewards offer on category purchases.” So conversely, a merchant you might not think is grouped in one of the bonus spending categories might actually be so it’s worth double-checking your statement.

Ink Cards 5x

2. 2x opportunities. While not as good as 5x, Ink cardholders should not discount the opportunity to earn 2x Ultimate Rewards points at gas stations and hotels. For example, Vanilla Reloads are for sale at a variety of gas stations such as Valero, TA Travel Centers, and a variety of regional gasoline retailers. The trick is to search the Vanilla Reload site under Reload Locations. Even if the name doesn’t sound familiar, click on it and see who the company represents. For example, the Circle M link takes you Clipper Petroleum which operates a number of BP and Shell branded gas stations throughout the North Georgia including the Atlanta metro area – so if you live around there, you could be in luck.

Category spend bonuses

Ink’s category spending bonuses.

Finally, don’t forget that charges at hotels (that must be made directly with hotels and not through third parties like Travelocity) earn 2 points per $1 with the Ink Bold, Ink Plus, and Ink Classic cards while Ink Cash cards earn 2x at restaurants, just like Sapphire and Sapphire Preferred. This bonus should be available to those paying for special events, conferences, or meals at a hotel, so long as the charge contains the hotel’s merchant code. Be cautious when making charges at a separate business that operates on a hotel’s property.

3. Gift card ideas at Office Max and Staples. Look beyond that particular large office supply retailer that you might have spent time on in the past, and consider the gift cards offered at some of its competitors. For example, both Staples and Office Max carry Amazon gift cards with no fees that can be used to purchase hundreds of thousands of items (although they cannot be used for Amazon Payments). In addition, Staples also sells Shell cards, allowing you to earn 5x on gas purchases there instead of just the 2x you normally would.

As for restaurants, both Staple and OfficeMax offer plenty of choices with which to maximize miles. For example, business travelers could earn 5x for purchasing these cards for meals while traveling, and submit restaurant receipts for reimbursement just as if they had paid with their own credit card.

Staples Restaurants: Applebee’s, Chili’s, Coldstone Creamery, Red Lobster, Ruby Tuesday, Panera, PF Chang, and Subway.

Office Max Restaurants: Baja Fresh, Cheesecake Factory, Chili’s, Ihop, Olive Garden, Outback Steakhouse, Panera, PF Chang’s, Pizza Hut, Red Lobster, Red Robin, Starbucks, Subway, and TGI Friday.

These aren’t exactly competing for Michelin stars, but some of them are decent and there’s a good chance you’ll find at least some of them pretty much anywhere you travel in the US. Plus those Starbucks cards give you a good opportunity to double dip with My Starbucks Rewards.

Max out your bonus spending categories with gift cards to merchants you know you'll use.

Max out your bonus spending categories with gift cards to merchants you know you’ll use.

Though some other credit cards specifically exclude gift cards from bonus spending categories, the Ink terms only state: “You do not earn points on cash-like charges such as travelers checks, foreign currency, and money orders, overdraft advances, unauthorized or fraudulent charges, or fees of any kind.” So gift cards are fair game.

Finally, revenue travelers can also earn 5x on Southwest Airlines gift cards purchased at Staples. Even those with plenty of Ultimate Rewards points might use these cards when Southwest offers a promo code that can’t be used for bookings with points. Or, it can make sense to use these gift cards when making business trips that are tax deductible or reimbursed by a third party.

When you think creatively and experiment a little bit with your charges to see Chase categorizes certain merchants, there are plenty of ways to maximize the Ultimate Rewards points you earn with the Ink cards’ category spending bonuses that don’t involve spending beyond your means on goods and services you would still be purchasing otherwise.

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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  • Norah Maijo

    Are you sure you earn 5x UR points if you buy Southwest Airlines gift card from Staples

  • ZJ

    Sorry if a dumb question… Is there way to see how Chase classifies each individual transaction (with respect to bonus points)? All I can find is monthly totals (1234 bonus points from 1x gas bonus, etc).

  • etm117

    Yes, you get the 5x points for any purchase at Staples. They do not know it was a gift card for Southwest (or Amazon or Lowes for that matter).

    A few months ago I was doing minor renovation on my basement and over the course of a few months I had purchased about a thousand dollars worth of Lowes gift cards from my local Office Max. I would then go around the corner to the Lowes to buy what I needed. This enabled me 5x points instead of 1x if I just used the card directly at Lowes.

  • Mark G

    Staples (at least the local one) also sells stamps, turning postage into a 5x experience as well. I know, who uses stamps anymore. But every mile counts. Thank you, Jason, for this excellent post.

  • Norah Maijo

    Sweeeeet. Going to check all the gift cards sold at staples.

  • Jtgray

    Don’t think so. I’ve just added up items on my statement that I believe fit into either the 2x or 5x category, multiply, and then compare to the amount on the statement. If different, I look at the difference between their points, and mine, divide, and match back to the statement. I don’t tend to have a ton of transactions though, and if you have a lot, this may be more painful.

  • ZJ

    Thanks for reply… I have a good number of transactions so it has been difficult. Reason I asked is I’m definitely getting 5x on at least 2 merchants that would not have been expected at all, so trying to figure out which so I can capitalize on it.

  • JakePB

    @ZJ – who are these unexpected merchants? We are all on the lookout for every 5X opportunity!

  • JakePB

    Jason, is there a 10X opportunity by leveraging the UR shopping portal in conjunction with Staples, Office Depot or Office Max?

  • Ben L

    If you buy the Southwest GCs, then use them to pay for a Southwest flight you’d also get the Southwest pts! So in essence, you get 5X UR pts + 6X SW pts/$. As a side note, Lowe’s sells variable load SW GCs. You could go to Office Depot to buy a variable load Home Improvement GC (for 5X), then take that to Lowe’s to buy a variable load SW GC. This add’l step allows you to still get 5X UR pts and not have “leftover” money on your SW GC (+ still getting the 6X SW pts).

  • Big Pizza

    Who is Jason?

  • Jason Steele

    I am Jason Steele, a contributor to TPG.

  • Jason Steele

    Look at your statement online, and you will see the merchant categorization.

  • Jason Steele

    You would have to purchase some sort of gift card at the office supply store, and then use it at the UR Mall where you also get 5x. I am not sure if that opportunity exists.

  • Anon2938
  • SpencerD

    JakePB, The UR mall has hovered around 3x, but you do have to pay a shipping fee. Still, excluding the shipping fee, you can earn 8x (or 5x plus 5% using TopCashback).

  • Squeezer

    Do points on the Ink Classic card count towards Chase Ultimate Rewards? If so, how do you xfer points from the Ink Classic to the Sapphire Preferred card? I have separate logins for my Ink Classic and Sapphire Preferred cards.

  • Jason Steele

    Great question. Call Chase and ask to have all your accounts consolidated into one login. They had to create a new, third login when I did this. Once you have that set up, there will be a summary of all your Ultimate Rewards points in the top right. Click on that, and you will see an option to combine points.

  • JakePB

    Thank you SpencerD!

  • JakePB

    Thank you Jason1

  • Mm

    We are a telecom provider, and many our vendors are 5x merchants I fly f class 10x year from that alone.

  • BML

    My husband was told that he cannot combine his Chase Ink Cash with his Sapphire Preferred UR points. He made 2 different calls to Chase and both mentioned such a restriction with the Chase Ink Cash. Is that reasonable?

  • Elenor

    I’m hoping and praying I just got a confused or ill-educated answer from Chase about URs… (oh! fingers massively crossed!!!) I wrote:
    Hi. New card owner here, with a newbie
    question. I see in the Mall where purchases at Staples currently get 7
    points. So, that’s 1 point per dollar and a bonus of 6? Bonus of 7 per
    dollar spent? I just had a bunch of data sheets photocopied at the
    Staples copy center. Did I need to DO something to get those points? I
    don’t see how I can go through the Mall because I have to stand there in
    the copy center and check each master as they begin production. I have
    nightmares of trying to do it online and having them mismatch front and
    back pages between different units! EEK! I’m hoping it just happens
    like magic? Thanks!
    and was answered:
    Thank you for contacting us about your inquiry for ultimate rewards mall points.
    Let me inform you that that in order to qualify for the additional points offered on the ultimate rewards mall, the purchase has to be made online at the ultimate rewards site.
    Since, this purchase was made directly at the merchant, it will not qualify for the additional points on the ultimate rewards mall.
    I apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you. If you have any further questions, please reply using the Secure Message Center.
    I wrote back:
    Oh my. Oh no. Do you mean that nearly ALL the purchases I’ve made so far with my Ink Bold do NOT earn any bonus points?! Oh, that’s very dismaying! So, the purchases I made today at Staples do not get any bonus points? And the 3 points I’m supposed to get for buying at Grainger I don’t actually get? And no points for buying at Kohl’s and at Office Depot?! What about the points I’m supposed to get for cable TV/internet? Oh, this is very, very bad. What’s the point of having bonus points on this card if I can’t earn them for my purchases!?
    Is the program that if I GO to Kohl’s and buy something, I don’t get any bonus points, even though Kohl’s is supposed to be giving me 10 points? I had to have known ahead of time something I wanted would AT Kohl’s so I could order it online — except I didn’t know it was there, so how could I order it?
    And if I need to be AT Staples to review the first photocopy before they run several-hundred-dollars’ worth — I get no points, even though Staples is listed as giving me 7 points?! I had to have done this online, even though doing it online means I can’t review the data sheets to make sure they’ve set them up correctly; so I’m risking a couple hundred dollars worth on what could be a mistake!? Oh, this is very upsetting. Where does it say in all the introductory material that I had to have done all my purchasing ONLINE to get points?!
    Does this mean I get no bonus points for having set up and paid my Comcast and Sprint bills with my Ink Bold card — despite Chase advertising that I GET bonus points for making telecom purchases?! This is SO not how Chase presents the Ink Bold card!
    I cannot express how unhappy I am that the promise of this card turns
    out to be a whole lot of misdirection. It seems as if it were designed
    so I am unable to use it for regular business purchases!

    Please PLEASE, someone, tell me this woman was wrong!! I’ve already nearly hit $3k of my $5k intro/minimum spend — and now I’m being told I won’t get points for MOST of IT!? Oh, I AM dismayed!!!

  • David Aitken

    UM… If you’re going to buy anything on Amazon, doesn’t it make sense to just buy a crapload of Amazon cards @ Office stores? that’s what I just did @ Office Max

  • Steve

    Hi Points Guy. If I shop at Office Depot through Ultimate Rewards using my Ink card do I get the 5x card bonus plus the 3 extra points for using UR. Thanks.

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  • Nick Aster

    I’m not sure that works. There is a category on the statement, but there are lots of things in “utilities” for example that seem to count for 5x on internet spending… also you can change the categories yourself so I think that’s just some kind of un-related guideline. Its a mystery as to what really gets categorized!

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  • k

    I was told I could not combine the Business with my Personal Chase accounts so the Ink Card has a separate login.

  • Jason Steele

    I had this same problem. Ask them to create a new login for you that is linked to all your personal and business accounts

  • Cindi

    The Chase Ink site doesn’t breakdown where your points come from, so I can’t tell which vendors qualify for 5x. Anybody know if DirecTV and cell phone providers (TMobile/Verizon) qualify?

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