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It finally happened. On October 12, 2017 at 7:01am Eastern Time, after more than 13 months of patience, I was finally approved for the Chase Sapphire Reserve. The card that had eluded me (thanks to Chase’s 5/24 rule), the one that my friends mercilessly mocked me for not having, is now planted squarely in my wallet. With this most recent addition to my credit card inventory, I now have what I believe to be the “perfect” quartet of Chase cards to help me get the most out of the Ultimate Rewards program. Today I want to go through this magical combination to demonstrate just how lucrative it can be.
In addition to the Sapphire Reserve, here are the other three cards that help me maximize my everyday purchases:
Now, it’s worth pointing out that these three cards are all technically billed as cash-back cards. While they are rewarding in their own right, they take on exceptional value when they’re paired with a full Ultimate Rewards-earning credit card like the Sapphire Reserve or the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. The program lets you combine points across your accounts, allowing you to convert your cash-back points to fully transferable Ultimate Rewards points. That’s one of the main reasons this quartet of cards is so powerful.
That being said, this collection of cards may not be the right choice for everyone. TPG himself has written about his perfect Chase trifecta before, as it all depends on where you typically spend your money on a regular basis. There may be other Chase cards that are worth holding onto as well (I have the four mentioned above plus three others). Finally, Chase certainly doesn’t hold a monopoly on lucrative travel rewards credit cards, so there are likely other options that could make sense for your own wallet. As always, be sure to evaluate your own spending habits and redemption goals to select cards that fit your individual situation.
So how do these four cards help me maximize the Ultimate Rewards program? Here’s a rundown of my major categories of expenses:
Dining – Chase Sapphire Reserve
My wife and I love to eat out, and the Sapphire Reserve offers 3x points on these purchases. Based on TPG’s most recent valuations, that’s a fantastic return of 6.6%. I’ve also found that Chase tends to be quite broad in how it defines these purchases. I’ve even had bars (that serve no food) and my local private yacht club post as dining transactions, so this is a fantastic way to boost your earnings across a variety of merchants. In a typical month, I’d guess that we spend roughly $750 on dining out, which translates to $9,000 per year. This means that I’ll take home 27,000 Ultimate Rewards points during a typical year, worth $594.
Travel – Chase Sapphire Reserve
“Merchants in the travel category include airlines, hotels, motels, timeshares, car rental agencies, cruise lines, travel agencies, discount travel sites, campgrounds and operators of passenger trains, buses, taxis, limousines, ferries, toll bridges and highways, and parking lots and garages.”
As you can see, this includes the typical purchases that fall under travel with most cards, like airlines, hotels and car rentals. However, it also includes more tangential merchants like toll operators, paid parking and even Airbnb.
Travel is another category where my wife and I spend a decent amount of money every month, roughly $600 by my recent estimate. This translates to 21,600 points over the course of the year, worth $475.20.
Telecommunications and Office Supplies – Ink Business Cash Credit Card
One of the most lucrative small business credit cards is the Ink Cash. It’s my go-to card for my monthly phone, internet and cable bills in my home office as well as purchases at office supply stores. All of these will earn 5x points on up to $25,000 in combined purchases each year. As mentioned above, the points you earn on this card are technically just redeemable for cash back, but when I transfer them to my Sapphire Reserve, they immediately become transferable to partners like Hyatt and United. As a result, I’m getting a fantastic return of 11% on these purchases.
I’ll typically spend about $400 per month on telecommunications and about $250 at office supply stores. This boosts my Ultimate Rewards balances by another 39,000 points each year, worth $858.
Non-Bonus Spending – Chase Freedom Unlimited
Another of Chase’s new cards is the Freedom Unlimited, which offers an uncapped 1.5% cash back on all purchases. This is a great option for purchases that don’t fall into the typical bonus categories offered by other cards. I recently downgraded my Chase Sapphire Preferred Card to the Freedom Unlimited in preparation to apply for the Sapphire Reserve, as Chase recently adjusted its policy regarding Sapphire products (and I wanted to make sure I’d be eligible for the 50,000-point sign-up bonus). If you can pair this card with a premium card like the Reserve, you’re getting a 3.3% return on non-bonus spending like my monthly utility bill and Crossfit membership.
While the card is relatively new to my wallet, I’m guessing I’ll put at least $1,000 per month on it, netting me another 18,000 Ultimate Rewards points every year, worth $396.
Rotating Bonus Categories – Chase Freedom
The final card in my quartet is the Chase Freedom, a no annual fee card that offers 5x earning rates at merchants that rotate each quarter. Here’s what the 2017 calendar looked/looks like:
- Q1: Gas stations and local commuter transportation
- Q2: Grocery stores and drugstores
- Q3: Restaurants and movie theaters
- Q4: Walmart and department stores
In each quarter, you earn 5x points on the first $1,500 in eligible purchases in these categories, and I generally max out every one (before shifting my spending back to other, more rewarding options). This translates to 7,500 points per quarter or 30,000 points per year, worth $660.
It All Adds Up
Given the above spending habits, how much value do I get from these four cards? If you add up my earnings, I’m taking home 135,600 Ultimate Rewards points in a single year. This haul is worth $2,983.20, and with a yearly spending of $42,000, that equates to an incredible return of 7.1%. Even when you take out the $150 effective annual fee that I’m paying on the Sapphire Reserve, it’s still 6.7%, and even that doesn’t factor in the additional perks on the card like the Priority Pass membership and primary car rental coverage. It also excludes any bonuses earned from the Ultimate Rewards shopping portal, a simple yet effective strategy for boosting your earnings even higher.
That being said, I don’t put every dollar I spend on one of these four cards. There are a couple of others that offer an even better return on purchases with certain merchants or categories:
- When I book airfare directly with an airline, I’ll use my Platinum Card from American Express, since it offers 5x points on these purchases, a return of 9.5% based on TPG’s valuations. I’m also sure to swipe my Platinum Card when an Amex Offer gives me bonus points or additional savings.
- If a merchant accepts Amex for a non-bonus category purchase, I’ll typically swipe my Blue Business Plus Credit Card from American Express, since it earns 2x points on all purchases up to $50,000 each year, a return of 3.8%.
- Finally, if I’ve recently opened another credit card and am working toward earning a sign-up bonus, I’ll typically use that card to ensure I hit the minimum spend threshold required.
Everyone has their own thoughts on what makes up the best set of travel rewards credit cards, and you may not want to deal with the hassle of tracking multiple cards to be used in different scenarios. However, to really make the most of your everyday purchases, it’s critical to evaluate your portfolio of cards and identify the best combination to maximize your earning rates. By carrying the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Freedom, Chase Freedom Unlimited and Ink Business Cash Credit Card, I firmly believe that I now have the “perfect” combination of Ultimate Rewards-earning credit cards in my wallet. Hopefully this post has shown you just how lucrative this quartet of cards can be!
This is one of the top premium cards out there since you earn 3x on all travel and dining and have access to great perks like a $300 travel credit each year, 50% more value when you redeem points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards and you get elite travel benefits like Global Entry application fee rebate, Priority Pass Select and special rental car privileges.
- Earn 50K bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
- 3X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases. Plus, no foreign transaction fees
- Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
- 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
- Access to 1,000+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select
- Up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®
- No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards