The top 5 credit cards for maximizing Chase Ultimate Rewards earnings
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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new information.
Chase Ultimate Rewards points have long boasted one of our highest valuations, as you can redeem this transferable loyalty currency with 13 great travel partners, including Hyatt, Southwest and United. With the Chase Sapphire Preferred’s sign-up bonus currently offering a $1,200 in value according to TPG valuations, there’s been more interest in this program than ever.
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In today’s post, we’ll go over the top five cards to consider if you’d like to boost your account balance as you look toward your first trip since the pandemic.
Best for: Most travelers, thanks to a reasonable $95 annual fee and a terrific sign-up bonus.
Earning rate: 5x total points on all travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3x points on dining, including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out, 3x points on select streaming services, 3x points on online grocery purchases (excluding Target, Walmart and wholesale clubs), 2x points on all other travel, 1x point on all other purchases
Sign-up bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. In sum, this is worth $1,200 according to TPG valuations.
Annual fee: $95.
Why we like it: The Chase Sapphire Preferred nabs the top spot on this list, as it offers the best sign-up bonus of any personal Chase card out there. There are endless award travel opportunities with this card — you can use your points to book any travel through the Ultimate Rewards portal at a 25% point redemption boost (or 1.25 cents each). To squeeze more value, transfer your points to Chase’s loyalty partners to land that dream first-class flight.
You’ll also earn 2x points on travel and 3x points on dining. While dining is fairly straightforward, Chase counts a huge variety of purchases as travel spending, from airfare and hotel stays to Uber rides and parking fees.
Best for: Getting the maximum return on travel and dining purchases, along with enjoying extra perks (such as a $300 annual travel credit) that are worthy of a $550 annual fee.
Earning rate: 10x points on Lyft (through March 2025), 3x points on travel and dining, 1x points on everything else.
Sign-up bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening, worth $1,200 according to TPG valuations.
Annual fee: $550.
In terms of points-earning potential, the Reserve is the clear winner between these two cards. Your points are worth 50% more (or 1.5 cents each) when booking travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. However, if you don’t want to pay the $550 annual fee, the Preferred is still a great choice.
Best for: Quarterly bonus category spending that pairs well with another Ultimate Rewards card.
Earning rate: 5% on up to $1,500 in bonus categories each quarter you activate, 5% on travel purchased through Ultimate Rewards, 3% on dining and drugstores, 1% on everything else.
Sign-up bonus: Earn $200 cash back after you spend $500 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.
Annual fee: None.
Why we like it: While the Freedom Flex is marketed as a cash-back card, you’ll actually earn all your rewards in the form of Ultimate Rewards points. You can then transfer your points to get even more value for travel by holding the Sapphire Reserve, Sapphire Preferred or the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card. If you max out the purchases each quarter to earn 5% back (or 5x points), you’d earn 30,000 Ultimate Rewards points each year — worth $600 based on TPG’s valuations.
The $200 sign-up bonus is the equivalent of earning 20,000 points, so opening this card is an easy way to boost your balance of Ultimate Rewards points in a short period of time.
Best for: All other non-rotating category spending that pairs well with another Ultimate Rewards card.
Earning rate: 5% on travel purchased through Ultimate Rewards, 3% on dining and drugstores, 1.5% on everything else.
Sign-up bonus: Earn an additional 1.5% cash back on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year) – worth up to $300 cash back!
Annual fee: $0.
Why we like it: Not to be confused with the Freedom Flex, the Freedom Unlimited has a much simpler earning scheme. You’ll earn 5% back on travel through Ultimate Rewards and 3% on dining and drugstores, but also a flat 1.5% back on all other purchases. The Freedom Unlimited’s cash-back rewards can also be transferred to another Ultimate Rewards card. In that case, you’re essentially getting a return of 3% on all spending, which is excellent, considering that this card doesn’t carry an annual fee. For common non-category expenses from medical bills to haircuts, rest assured that you’ll earn 1.5% back on all these purchases.
Like the Freedom Flex, this sign-up bonus lets you earn 20,000 Ultimate Rewards points once you meet the $500 spending requirement.
Best for: Business spending at office supply stores, advertising, utilities and travel.
Earning rate: 3x points on the first $150,000 spent on combined travel, shipping purchases, advertising purchases with social media sites and search engines, and internet, cable and phone services each account anniversary year, 1x points on everything else.
Sign-up bonus: 100,000 bonus points after you spend $15,000 on purchases in the first three months after account opening.
Annual fee: $95.
Why we like it: Whether you’re a business owner, freelancer or other sole proprietor, consider applying for the Ink Business Preferred card. With the highest sign-up bonus of any Chase card (both personal and business), this could be a great card for earning an enormous number of Ultimate Rewards points. Like the Sapphire Preferred, the Ink Business Preferred offers a 25% point redemption boost when booking travel through the Ultimate Rewards portal.
Make sure you’re able to maximize this card’s bonus categories, as you’ll earn 3x points (for a fantastic 6% return). Before you pull the trigger and sign up for this card, keep in mind that there’s a $15,000 minimum-spending requirement in the first three months to earn this sign-up bonus. If you’re a business owner with smaller expenses, you can opt for Chase’s no-annual-fee business cards instead.
Chase credit card application restrictions
Before you go applying for all of the Chase cards listed above, be sure to take note of the infamous 5/24 rule. This basically states that you’ll be denied any Chase card if you’ve opened five or more credit cards (from any issuer) in the last 24 months. Note that opening a Chase business card shouldn’t add to your 5/24 standing, but you’ll generally need to be below 5/24 to qualify for most Chase business cards.
Additionally, there are sign-up bonus restrictions on the Sapphire cards. In short, you won’t receive a sign-up bonus if you’re a current Sapphire cardmember or have received a sign-up bonus from a Sapphire card in the past 48 months. This means you can’t own the Preferred right now and also get the bonus from the Reserve.
Therefore, it’s important to keep these restrictions in mind when building your credit card portfolio — you’ll want to be strategic about which card you open first.
If earning Ultimate Rewards points is a key part of your points and miles strategy, these are our top five options for accumulating a large stash of rewards. Not only will you earn Ultimate Rewards points with all of the cards mentioned in this post, but each of them also earns bonus points on various categories. This can be helpful if you own multiple cards, and knowing when to use which card will ensure that you’re maximizing your earnings. Finally, if you earn a card’s sign-up bonus, you’ll be starting off strong with tons of rewards for your 2021 travels.
Application link: Chase Sapphire Preferred available for 60,000 bonus points.
Application link: Chase Sapphire Reserve available for 60,000 bonus points.
Application link: Chase Freedom Flex available for $200 cash back (or 20,000 bonus points).
Application link: Chase Freedom Unlimited available for $200 cash back (or 20,000 bonus points).
Application link: Ink Business Preferred available for 100,000 bonus points.
Featured photo by The Points Guy.
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