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A diverse wallet of travel rewards credit cards can be split into two main groups: There are the all stars, the cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve that turn heads with massive welcome bonuses, luxury perks and large bonus category multipliers. Then you have the utility players, the cards that do the heavy lifting but never get the credit they deserve. After all, while it’s nice to get 3x in travel and dining with the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the average person makes a fair share of purchases in non-bonus categories.
When it comes to cards that are good for everyday spending, few can compare to the Chase Freedom Unlimited. This is one of the most underrated credit cards, and one of the ones I use the most frequently. The Freedom Unlimited recently got a new sign-up bonus. Instead of a fixed bonus amount, new applicants will get 3% on all their purchases for the first 12 months up to $20,000 spent, after which this no-annual-fee card reverts to its normal 1.5x earning.
In honor of this new bonus offer, let’s take a look at the best cards to pair with the Chase Freedom Unlimited. Because while it complements the rest of my wallet beautifully, it isn’t necessarily a shining star all by itself.
You’ll notice that the first few cards on this list, the other Chase cards, are essential to unlock the Freedom Unlimited’s full potential. This is because the Freedom Unlimited earns cash-back points worth 1 cent each, but if you hold any Chase Ultimate Rewards points-earning cards (which generally carry an annual fee), you can combine your points from the Freedom Unlimited and turn them into transferable points that you can redeem with Chase’s 13 airline and hotel partners, doubling their value to 2 cents based on TPG’s valuations. The other two considerations I focused on in compiling this list were cards that don’t have a foreign-transaction fee (the Freedom Unlimited charges you 3% on foreign transactions) and cards that have strong bonus categories to compliment the Freedom Unlimited’s strength in everyday spending.
Welcome bonus: Earn 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
Annual fee: $450
Why they pair well: The truth is there aren’t many cards that the Sapphire Reserve doesn’t pair well with, but when you put it together with the Freedom Unlimited you get the backbone of the Chase Trifecta. The Sapphire Reserve brings top notch-travel benefits to the table, including a Priority Pass Select membership for airport lounge access, a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credit, 3x points on travel (excluding the $300 travel credit) and dining and a host of other perks.
The $450 annual fee is mostly offset by a $300 annual travel credit, and it comes with a 50% bonus when redeeming points directly through the Chase portal (so you get 1.5 cents per point). Most importantly, the CSR gives you the ability to turn your cash-back points from the Freedom Unlimited into transferable Ultimate Rewards points. When you combine the Freedom Unlimited’s 3x on everything for the first year (and 1.5x everywhere after that) with the Sapphire Reserve’s 3x on travel and dining, you have a formidable points-earning machine.
Welcome bonus: Earn 80,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months
Annual fee: $95
Why they pair well: If you’re a business owner and not entirely sold on the Sapphire Reserve’s $450 annual fee, the Chase Ink Business Preferred can be a great alternative that still lets you transfer Ultimate Rewards points from your Freedom Unlimited to airline and hotel partners. Let’s start with the sign-up bonus of 80,000 points after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months. Based on TPG’s valuations this is worth an impressive $1,600, making it the most value Chase sign-up bonus even after the Chase Sapphire Preferred recently raised its offer. The Ink Preferred has a manageable $95 annual fee, and earns 3x on your first $150,000 in combined spending at the following categories:
- Travel, including airfare, hotels, rental cars, train tickets and taxis
- Shipping purchases
- Internet, cable and phone services
- Advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines
You’ll also enjoy a 25% bonus when redeeming points directly through the Chase portal (so you get 1.25 cents per point), which can be a good option for last-minute trips when you can’t find award space.
Welcome bonus: Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months, though it’s worth checking the CardMatch tool to see if you’re targeted for a higher offer of 100k points. (Targeted offer subject to change at anytime)
Annual fee: $550 (see rates & fees)
Why they pair well: Assuming you already have a Chase points-earning card like the Sapphire or Ink Preferred, it might be worth looking at how best to diversify your points earning. Since the Freedom Unlimited is best for everyday, non-bonus spending, you’ll want a card with strong bonus categories to complement it. The easy, obvious choice here is the Amex Platinum, which offers 5x points on airfare booked directly with the airline and airfare and prepaid hotels booked through amextravel.com
The $550 annual fee is on the high end for sure, but it’s counterbalanced by up to a $200 annual airline incidental fee credit, up to $200 annual Uber credit ($15 each month and a $20 bonus in December) and up to $100 annual Saks Fifth Avenue statement credit ($50 semi-annually). The Platinum card also comes with the most comprehensive airport lounge benefits, including a Priority Pass Select membership, access to Amex Centurion lounges and access to Delta Sky Clubs when you’re flying Delta. You’ll also enjoy complimentary Marriott and Hilton Gold elite status, as well as a number of other travel perks.
Welcome bonus: Earn 35,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $2,000 in the first 3 months, though it’s worth checking the CardMatch tool to see if you’re targeted for a higher offer of 50k points. (Targeted offer subject to change at anytime)
Annual fee: $250 (see rates & fees)
Why they pair well: Following the theme of diversifying your earnings, the Amex Gold is a great choice to add to your wallet as long as you already have a Chase Sapphire or Ink Preferred (to transfer your Freedom Unlimited points to). The Amex Gold got a complete update in late 2018, which added some of the best-value bonus categories in the industry. The card now earns 4x Membership Rewards points (worth 8% back based on TPG’s valuations) on dining and US supermarkets (up to $25,000 a year; then 1x). It also earns 3x points on airfare booked directly with the airline or at amextravel.com, making this a great complement to the Chase Freedom Unlimited.
The card’s $250 annual fee is nearly entirely erased by up to a $100 annual airline incidental fee credit and up to $120 annual dining credit, which breaks down to $10 a month at the following merchants: Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris Steak House and participating Shake Shack locations. At the end of the day, having both Chase and Amex points in your wallet gives you crucial flexibility on the redemption side, as you’ll have access to more transfer partners spanning all three major airline alliances, as well as a number of non-alliance airlines (and hotel programs, of course).
Welcome bonus: Earn 150,000 Hilton Points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
Annual fee: $450 (see rates & fees)
Why they pair well: Transferable points get their immense value mostly from airline transfer partners. With the exception of Chase’s 1:1 transfer ratio to Hyatt, it’s hard to think of a consistent way to redeem transferable points for hotel rooms at a good value. This means that unless you’re loyal to Hyatt, you should consider adding a cobranded hotel card to your wallet to cover your stays once you get wherever you’re going.
Despite the Bonvoy chaos, I’m still a Marriott guy myself. But if you’re just starting out and looking for a hotel company to be loyal to, look no further than Hilton and its Aspire card from Amex. This has to be the single most compelling premium hotel credit card on the market, and a good enough reason for many people to switch to Hilton. In exchange for a $450 annual fee, you get up to $250 annual airline fee credit, up to $250 annual Hilton resort statement credit at participating hotels and up to a $100 property credit on eligible stays of two or more nights at Waldorf Astoria and Conrad hotels. That’s right, we’re talking $600 in credits for $450 annual fee.
You’ll also enjoy automatic top-tier Hilton Diamond status, even if you never set foot in a Hilton hotel, and you’ll get a weekend free night certificate valid at almost every Hilton hotel when you open your card, and another each year on account renewal. If that isn’t enough to convince you, the card is currently offering an all-time-high welcome bonus of 150,000 Hilton Points after you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months, and it includes a few bonus categories that pair well with the Freedom Unlimited. You’ll earn 14x points on Hilton purchases, 7x on purchases at US restaurants, select car rentals and flights booked directly with the airline or at 3x on all other purchases.
Even before it got a sweet new bonus offer allowing you to earn 3x points on all purchases in the first year, the Chase Freedom Unlimited was a card worth having. Because it’s technically billed as a cash-back card, this shouldn’t be the only card in your wallet. Instead, if you pair it with the right Chase Ultimate Rewards-earning cards and find other cards with complementary bonus categories, you can use the Freedom Unlimited to build a powerful points-earning structure.
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TPG'S BONUS VALUATION: $600
CARD HIGHLIGHTS: No annual fee + earn 1.5% cash back on all purchases after you meet the $20,000 cap
- New Offer! Double Cash Back: Earn 3% cash back on all purchases in your first year up to $20,000 spent. After that earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases.
- 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 17.24-25.99%. Balance transfer fee is 3% of the amount transferred, $5 minimum
- No minimum to redeem for cash back
- Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open
- Free credit score, updated weekly with Credit Journey℠
- No annual fee