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Taking advantage of top offers on travel rewards credit cards can be a great way to boost your account balances and unlock valuable redemptions. However, navigating the sea of available products can be overwhelming, especially for someone new to the points and miles hobby. TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Nick Ewen is here to help, with a look at the top Chase cards for a variety of different users.
Last month, I kicked off a new series where we examine each major credit card issuer to help you choose the best card for your wallet. My first subject was American Express, and today I’ll turn my attention to another popular issuer: Chase.
Before I get into the specific products, I want to share my overall approach for this analysis. I started by selecting what I believe to be the best personal Chase credit cards out there (check out this post for non-personal options). Then, I divided those cards up into three different categories:
- Those that earn transferable points
- Those that earn points or miles in a specific program
- Those that earn a fixed return
Then, within each category, I broke down the individual perks of each card using the following criteria:
- Sign-up bonus
- Earning rate(s)
- Annual fee
Finally, I tried to provide some context around each card and to whom it might appeal based on a variety of factors, including spending habits, travel patterns and desired rewards. As always, you likely have your own criteria for making these decisions, so feel free to adjust my analysis to fit your own unique situation!
Every traveler should have a card that earns transferable points to shield yourself from devaluations and give you flexibility when it comes time to redeem, and Chase’s transferable currency is Ultimate Rewards points. The program partners with six airlines and four hotels, including British Airways, Hyatt and United. You can also use your points to book flights or hotels directly through the Ultimate Rewards website, but transferring them to a partner and then redeeming them typically results in the best redemption value.
There is really only one regularly available personal credit card that allows you to earn Ultimate Rewards points (note that I am ignoring the JP Morgan Palladium card):
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
Sign-up bonus: Earn 50,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
Earning rate(s): 2 points per dollar spent on dining and travel and 1 point per dollar everywhere else.
Benefits: You’ll enjoy no foreign transaction fees when you use your card abroad, and can also take advantage of primary rental car insurance. The card is also a Visa Signature card, so you’ll have a multitude of benefits through that.
Annual fee: $95 (waived the first year)
Analysis: This card is my number one recommendation for those just getting into the points and miles hobby, as it offers incredible flexibility for a minimal investment. Ultimate Rewards points regularly appear near the top of TPG’s valuations, and he uses this card for most of his purchases. The card’s definition of travel is quite broad and includes providers like Uber. I’ve even found that many bars and even delivery services count as dining purchases! These are just some of the reasons why getting the Sapphire Preferred card is a great decision.
For more information, check out my post on redeeming one year of points from Chase Sapphire Preferred.
In addition to cards that earn Ultimate Rewards points, Chase also issues several credit cards that are specific for a particular airline or hotel chain. The big advantage with these cards is that they often carry benefits with the individual chain. However, you’re locked into earning points or miles in that specific program, leaving you at the mercy of the airline or hotel chain when it comes to devaluations that can wipe significant value from your accounts.
British Airways Visa Signature Card
Sign-up bonus: Earn 4 Avios for every $1 spent on all purchases within your first year up to $30,000. That’s up to 120,000 bonus Avios.
Earning rate(s): 3 Avios per dollar spent with British Airways and 1 point per dollar spent everywhere else.
Benefits: Pay no foreign transaction fees, and if you spend $30,000 in a calendar year, you’ll earn a Travel Together ticket, which allows you to bring along a companion when you redeem Avios on a British Airways flight leaving from the US.
Annual fee: $95
Analysis: British Airways Avios can be incredibly valuable thanks to the program’s distance-based award chart and upgrade options (among other reasons). Unfortunately, the program did undergo a significant devaluation back in April, but you can still get some terrific redemptions out of it. Remember that British Airways is part of the Oneworld alliance, so booking short-haul flights from partner airlines’ hubs can be a great strategy for making the most of your Avios, though note that the lowest redemption level of 4,500 Avios will not be available in North America beginning next year.
Hyatt Credit Card
Sign-up bonus: Receive two free nights at any Hyatt property worldwide after making $1,000 in purchases within the first three months with the Hyatt Credit Card.
Earning rate(s): 3 points per dollar spent at Hyatt properties, 2 points per dollar spent at restaurants, on airfare (booked directly with the airline) and car rentals and 1 point per dollar everywhere else.
Benefits: Enjoy complimentary Platinum status in the Hyatt Gold Passport program plus 2 stay credits and 5 night credits when you spend $20,000 in a calendar year and an additional 3 stay credits and 5 night credits when you spend $40,000 in a calendar year. You’ll also pay no foreign transaction fees and will receive a free night in a Category 1-4 property every year after your cardmember anniversary.
Annual fee: $75 (waived for the first year)
Analysis: In the past, it actually made sense to use an American Express Business Card for your Hyatt purchases due to the OPEN Savings discount of 5%. However, that benefit is now being discontinued, so the Hyatt Credit Card may be the best card for these purchases going forward. I loved using my free night certificates at the Park Hyatt Istanbul and redeemed my free anniversary night at the Andaz Savannah this past April. This card is a terrific option if you want two free nights without worrying about how many points you’ll need.
For more information, check out my post on 10 Hyatt properties that make for awesome award redemptions.
IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card
Sign-up bonus: Earn 60,000 points after spending $1,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.
Earning rate(s): 5 points per dollar spent at IHG properties; 2 points per dollar spent at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants; and 1 point per dollar everywhere else.
Benefits: The card comes with automatic Platinum Elite Status in the IHG Rewards program (or potentially the new top-tier Spire status), and you’ll also receive an automatic 10% point rebate when you redeem your points. You’ll pay no foreign transaction fees and will receive a free night certificate valid at any IHG property worldwide on your cardmember anniversary.
Annual fee: $49 (waived for the first year)
Analysis: IHG has properties all over the world, though many of them aren’t quite as luxurious as other chains. Nevertheless, the included Platinum status and free night every year make this card a valuable proposition, especially given how the program gives away points for stays like candy. Remember, too, that the program offers PointBreaks hotels that require just 5,000 points per night (though they do change every few months).
For more information, check out my post on 10 IHG properties that make for awesome award redemptions.
Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card
Sign-up bonus: Earn 80,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in your first three months.
Earning rate(s): 5 points per dollar spent at Marriott properties; 2 points per dollar spent at restaurants, car rental agencies and on airfare booking directly with the airline; and 1 point per dollar everywhere else.
Benefits: The card comes with automatic Silver Status in the Marriott Rewards program (courtesy of the 15 night credits you receive toward elite status every year), and you can earn an additional elite credit for every $3,000 you spend on the card. You’ll also receive a free night certificate (valid at Category 1-5 properties) every year on your cardmember anniversary.
Annual fee: $85
Analysis: Marriott has never held a ton of appeal to me given the high requirements to earn status. However, I’ve been treated well as a Silver member, and with the ability to just “buy” Platinum status through spending on the card, this might appeal to a big spender. The program does have some terrific award redemptions and gives you a backdoor way to earn the Southwest Companions Pass through Marriott’s Hotel + Air packages.
For more information, check out Richard Kerr’s post, “The Award Traveler’s Guide to Marriott Rewards.”
Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card
Sign-up bonus: Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open.
Earning rate(s): 2 points per dollar spent on Southwest purchases and with Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partners and 1 point per dollar spent everywhere else.
Benefits: Like the others already discussed, you won’t pay foreign transaction fees and will earn 6,000 points every year as a cardmember anniversary bonus. You can also earn 1,500 Tier Qualifying Points for every $10,000 in purchases (up to 15,000 Tier Qualifying Points each calendar year).
Annual fee: $99
Analysis: Southwest Airlines is a favorite among casual travelers for its friendly service and abhorrence of change, cancellation and baggage fees. Although the Rapid Rewards program is revenue-based, it does have one of the best benefits in the frequent flyer world: the Southwest Companion Pass. This allows you bring a designated companion with you on all Southwest flights, including award tickets; you’ll only need to pay any applicable taxes and fees. Points earned on this card (including the sign-up bonus) do count toward Companion Pass qualification, and if you time things right, you could wind up with a Companion Pass for almost two years.
Aside from the companion pass, this card can be a great option for those of you who want to earn free flights. Southwest does have a revenue-based program (and did just make it less transparent), but you can still get close to 2 cents of value per Rapid Rewards point. Remember too that you can change or cancel Southwest flights with no penalty, allowing you to rebook when the fare drops.
For more information, check out my post on one year of earning and burning with the Southwest Premier Visa.
United MileagePlus Explorer Card
Sign-up bonus: Earn 30,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open.
Earning rate(s): 2 points per dollar spent on United purchases and 1 mile per dollar spent everywhere else. In addition, you can earn bonus miles for Marriott stays through the Double Stay, Double Go promotion this month.
Benefits: The card doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees and also provides priority boarding and a free checked bag when traveling on United (though you must purchase the ticket with the card to utilize that benefit). You’ll receive two United Club passes every year and will earn 10,000 bonus miles after you spend $25,000 in net purchases on your card in a calendar year. The card also provides expanded award availability to cardholders.
Annual fee: $95
Analysis: United is not the most flyer-friendly airline (despite a marketing campaign that declared otherwise), and the MileagePlus program underwent a massive devaluation last year. However, there are still ways to get value out of the Explorer Card and your stash of United miles. The airline regularly offers discounts on award flights (like the current offer of 20% off flights to Hawaii), and you can now hold these award tickets. You also still have access to luxurious redemptions like Lufthansa first class; just be prepared to shell out a ton of miles for these premium partner awards!
For more information, check out my post with 8 reasons to get the United MileagePlus Explorer Card (though bear in mind that the current sign-up bonus is lower).
The third (and final) category is fixed-value cards. These products offer either cash back or a currency that can only be redeemed for a set amount. Even though they don’t offer opportunities to maximize your rewards, they do offer a consistent return and simple earning and redemption structure. Like the first category, Chase only has one true travel rewards credit card that fits into this category.
Sign-up bonus: Earn a $150 bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first three months from account opening.
Earning rate(s): 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases every quarter (View current categories here) and 1% cash back everywhere else.
Annual fee: $0
Analysis: This is a solid card for those of you looking to earn simple cash back. While it isn’t as straight-forward as cards like the Citi Double Cash Card or Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card, it does provide some solid earning potential on popular categories.
However, what makes this card very appealing is when it’s combined with a premium card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Ink Plus Business Card. When you link the Freedom with one of these cards, you can convert your cash back earnings into Ultimate Rewards points, allowing you to earn 5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent at the above categories during the year.
For more information, check out Jason Steele’s post on maximizing Ultimate Rewards with Chase Freedom, Sapphire and Ink Plus.
As you can see, Chase has a plethora of available credit cards that offer numerous benefits, along with varied earning and redemption options. The most important decision to make when looking at a credit card is what type of rewards you want to earn. Then, you can consider each individual product to see which one carries the perks and points that’ll work best with your individual situation.
Which Chase card is your favorite?
Know before you go.
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