A Year of Earning and Burning with Chase Ink Plus
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I often discuss how helpful credit card sign-up bonuses and spending can be for earning award travel, but some readers are intimidated by the idea of opening too many new accounts. So today, TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Nick Ewen demonstrates how even a single card can give you access to free flights, hotel nights and more.
Award travel can be a daunting hobby to take up, especially when it comes to credit cards. If you don't travel regularly for work, your everyday spending habits play a huge role in earning (and then redeeming) points and miles. However, with so many options, you may not know where to start. In this post I'll continue my series that shows just how easy it is to earn rewards by opening and using even a single card for one year. Previous posts highlighted the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve, and today I'll focus on another of my favorites: the Chase Ink Plus Business Card.
Ink Plus Overview
Let's start with a quick overview of the card and why it's such a solid product. The card just announced an increased sign-up bonus of 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points when you spend $5,000 in the first three months from account opening — the "normal" bonus is just 50,000 points. This bonus alone is worth $1,260 based on TPG's most recent valuations, but it's only available through May 25th, so now is a great time to apply.
In addition to the sign-up bonus, this card is quite valuable for everyday use, as you earn 5 points per dollar on the first $50,000 spent in combined purchases at office supply stores and on cellular, landline, internet and cable TV services. You'll also earn 2 points per dollar on the first $50,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and hotels, and 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
All of these points can be redeemed directly for travel, or can be transferred to a variety of airline and hotel partners, including Hyatt, British Airways and Southwest Airlines, giving you some great ways to maximize your points. Other benefits include no foreign transaction fees, free employee cards and embedded expense-management tools. There is a $95 annual fee that is not waived for the first year.
While Ink Plus is technically a business credit card, you don't need to have an actual incorporated business to open the card. There are many reasons to open a business credit card: You might have another side job and want to keep business expenses separate from personal purchases. Both my wife and I have the Chase Ink Plus for our side jobs, and when we applied, we simply applied as sole proprietors and used our social security numbers in the Employer Identification Number (EIN) box.
One Year of Earning
So if you open the card, earn the sign-up bonus and use the card exclusively for the first year, where does that leave you? Obviously, the answer depends on your spending patterns, especially if you're using the card to cover business expenses. For this analysis I started with the same data I used for my earlier posts on the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Citi Hilton Reserve: consumer expenditures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2013 and 2014.
However, I then added in some additional expenses to reflect business spending to estimate what an "average" cardholder would spend (and thus earn) on the Chase Ink Plus. There's limited data around what defines an "average" small business, but a helpful infographic from Shoeboxed.com served as a starting point to profile the average cardholder.
In my estimates, I utilized the following assumptions:
- 60% of "housing" expenditures cover mortgages or rent, and thus can't be paid with a credit card (unless you're willing to accept high fees through a service like ChargeSmart).
- Of the remaining 40%, half of those purchases are spent on telecommunications services, thus earning 5x points
- "Transportation" expenditures are split evenly between car payments (can't be paid with a credit card), gasoline and other transportation costs (parking, tolls, train/subway/bus tickets, etc.).
- All "healthcare" and "other" expenditures can be paid with a credit card.
- All "personal insurance and pensions" expenditures can't be paid with a credit card.
- Additional business expenses include $2,963 in fuel, $2,155 in telecommunications/office supplies and $21,822 in other categories.
Again, your situation may differ substantially, so feel free to adjust these assumptions in order to calculate your own earning potential.
Here's a quick table that shows how these spending patterns in the first year of cardmembership translate to Ultimate Rewards points:
Food – At home
Food – Away from home
Apparel and services
All other expenditures
Business telecommunications & office supplies
Business other expenditures
As you can see, the "average" American small business owner would earn 148,111 Ultimate Rewards points in the first year alone. Not too shabby!
What Does This Get You?
Earning points is one thing; knowing how to redeem them for maximum value is an entirely different story. Because Ultimate Rewards points are so flexible, the program has almost unlimited reward opportunities, and banking almost 150,000 points makes many of them available to you. Here's a sampling of what you can do with one year of points from the Ink Plus:
1. Round-trip Singapore Suites Class flights from New York-JFK to Frankfurt. One of the most sought-after airline products for points and miles enthusiasts is Singapore Airlines first class. TPG recently experienced it for the first time, though his flight was operated by one of the airline's 777-300ER planes. On Singapore's A380 aircraft, you'll find its signature Suites Class, where each seat is a fully enclosed suite, and if you and your spouse/partner book the middle seats, you can actually have a double bed in the sky!
A great way to experience Singapore Suites Class without breaking the (mileage) bank is on the airline's direct flight from New York-JFK to Frankfurt. As TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen discussed last month, this flight will cost you 57,375 miles each way in Suites Class, or 114,750 miles round-trip. This still leaves you more than 33,000 Ultimate Rewards points to use for future travel.
For more information, check out Eric's post on how to book Singapore Airlines first class awards.
2. Four (almost five) nights in a Category 7 Hyatt property. One of the most valuable Ultimate Rewards transfer partners is Hyatt Gold Passport, as free nights start at just 5,000 points. Top-tier Park Hyatt properties will set you back just 30,000 points for a free night, meaning that this first year's haul of points from the Ink Plus Card is enough for four nights at one of these locations. In fact, if you spend just a bit more (or take advantage of other bonuses) to surpass the 150,000-point mark, that'll translate into five award nights. TPG has stayed in and reviewed a few of these Category 7 properties, including the Park Hyatt New York, Park Hyatt Sydney and Park Hyatt Milan.
Of course, if you'd rather stay in other Hyatt hotels that require fewer points per night, your Ultimate Rewards points can stretch much further. Check out my list of 10 Hyatt Properties that Make for Awesome Award Redemptions for additional inspiration.
3. Sixteen round-trip economy flights under 650 miles. Another top Ultimate Rewards transfer partner is British Airways. Even though it just devalued the Executive Club program last week, it's still a valuable loyalty currency, especially for short-haul flights. If your trip is 650 miles or less, you'll only need 4,500 Avios one-way (or 9,000 round-trip) in economy. This means that your haul of points from the Ink Plus can get you 16 of these round-trip flights. Plus, since British Airways is a member of Oneworld, you aren't limited to flights on British Airways metal. In the U.S., your best bet is to redeem Avios on American Airlines and US Airways.
For more information, check out TPG's post on maximizing distance-based awards using British Airways Avios.
4. Round-trip business class flights from the U.S. to anywhere United flies. The value of United miles dropped significantly when the MileagePlus program was devalued back in 2013, especially when used for first or business class redemptions. However, there are still some solid options when you redeem your miles on United flights (as opposed to on partner airlines). You can transfer points from Ultimate Rewards to United at a 1:1 ratio, and 140,000 miles will get you a business class ticket to anywhere in the world, as long as you book your flights on United metal. Even business class partner flights would be within reach for travel to certain regions.
Some sample flights include:
- U.S. to Europe (on United) for 115,000 miles
- U.S. to Japan (on United) for 130,000 miles
- U.S. to Asia or Australia (on United) for 140,000 miles
- U.S. to Europe (on partner airlines) for 140,000 miles
Here's an example of a flight from San Francisco to Tokyo in August/September:
130,00 miles (plus $45 in taxes and fees) will get you a ticket that would cost $4,356.90 out of pocket, a value of over 3.3 cents per mile. Availability on many of these routes isn't great, but if you're flexible with dates, you should be able to find flights that work. United allows you one stopover and two open jaws on award tickets, giving you even more flexibility to redeem your miles.
For more information, check out Jason Steele's post on booking awards with United MileagePlus.
5. $1,481.11 cash back. Generally speaking, redeeming Ultimate Rewards for cash back isn't a great idea given the more lucrative options available. However, many small businesses prefer the immediate impact on the bottom line, so you could choose to redeem your Ultimate Rewards points for a deposit right into your linked checking account. Each point equals 1 cent when redeemed for cash, and you aren't forced to redeem in increments of 1,000 (like you are when you transfer Ultimate Rewards points to travel partners).
To make this redemption, simply log in to your Chase account, click on Ultimate Rewards at the right-hand side, choose the card account (if you have more than one), and under the Use Points drop-down menu at the top, select the Get Cash Back option. It will default to the maximum amount (based on your current point balance), but you can change it to any value you'd like.
As I said earlier, there's an almost unlimited number of ways to redeem your Ultimate Rewards points. Keep in mind, too, that this calculation may be a bit conservative:
- The calculation doesn't include any online shopping portal bonuses.
- The calculation assumes that you're the "average" consumer. If you typically spend more in some of the bonus categories each year, then your point earnings will be even higher.
- The calculation assumes that you only open one card. Other products (such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Chase Freedom) can be opened and used alongside the Ink Plus for even more earning potential. (The Chase Freedom is no longer open to new applicants)
These items notwithstanding, I hope I've illustrated that one card (especially in the first year) can open up a wealth of redemption possibilities.
How would you redeem one year of Ultimate Rewards points from the Chase Ink Plus?