The power of the Chase Trifecta: Sapphire Reserve, Ink Preferred and Freedom Unlimited
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The biggest trend I’ve seen in the points and miles game — ever since I’ve been blogging — is that airlines and hotels have consistently been devaluing their programs and increasing the number of miles and points needed for flights or award stays. There are still sweet spots in each program where you can find value, but the dynamic pricing, fuel surcharges and other costs of booking award flights and stays have gotten ridiculous in some instances. In the wake of all of these airline and hotel loyalty program devaluations, the fixed-value and transferrable currencies you can earn with credit cards have become even more valuable.
I currently hold more than 20 different credit cards, but the product family that I’ve been the most loyal to over the years is Chase. There are two main reasons: Chase Ultimate Rewards points are incredibly flexible and valuable and Chase offers a very pair-able lineup that allows you to maximize both your earning and redemption strategy. I wrote back in 2012 about the Chase trifecta of the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, Ink Bold (with exclusives) and Chase Freedom. Since then, Chase has improved its lineup and now the so-called trifecta has changed — all for the better. For a little over a year now, the most common version of the Chase Trifecta has consisted of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Ink Business Preferred Credit Card and Chase Freedom Unlimited.
Let’s walk through each of these cards and how they work together to create a really great credit card strategy.
Annual fee: $450
Sign-up bonus: 50,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first three months (TPG values at $1,000)
Rewards rate: Earn 3x on travel and dining purchases
The Chase Sapphire Reserve is one of the best credit cards on the market. It won our battle of the premium travel reward cards thanks to its great lineup of benefits, its portal redemption bonus and Chase’s fantastic transfer partners. The Reserve comes with a simple earning structure and only two bonus categories, but both of those categories are incredibly flexible. The travel bonus category includes pretty much everything under the sun like airplane tickets, hotels, commuter transportation, parking, ridesharing and more. Dining is also pretty broad, including all restaurants and even food-delivery services. So with these broad categories and the amount I eat out and travel, I really rack up points quickly. The hefty $450 annual fee is offset by the broad $300 annual travel credit, effectively making the fee $150 per year. You’ll also get a Priority Pass Select membership, a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck credit up to $100 and other perks such as rental car insurance, trip cancellation and delay coverage, lost luggage reimbursement, concierge service, access to the Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection and more.
With the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you can redeem your points for 50% more value through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. This redemption bonus extends to any other Chase cards in your wallet. When the Sapphire Reserve came out, people were worried about how long the benefits would last. Although the sign-up bonus was lowered to 50,000 from its initial 100,000, it’s still a really strong bonus and a really strong card overall. The Sapphire Reserve has a forever place in my wallet or at least until Chase comes out with an even better Sapphire product (and I’m not holding my breath on that happening anytime soon).
Read our review of the Chase Sapphire Reserve here.
APPLY HERE: Chase Sapphire Reserve
Annual fee: $95
Sign-up bonus: 80,000 points after spending $5,000 in the first three months (TPG values at $1,600)
Rewards rate: 3x on travel, shipping, internet, cable, phone services and advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines (up to $150,000 in combined spend annually)
My spend goes to many more categories than just travel and dining, so that’s where the second card in the trifecta comes in. At The Points Guy, we spend quite a bit within the Ink Business Preferred’s spending categories, and it’s great to be able to get 3x on those purchases. I love that the categories are broad, and I end up maxing out the $150,000 limit every year. Along with the same primary rental car insurance as the CSR, the Ink Preferred also offers a cellphone protection insurance benefit in which the card will pay to replace a damaged cellphone up to three times per year with just a $100 deductible so long as you pay the bill with your card. You can even protect your employees’ cellphones if their lines of service are included on the same bill. And by paying the bill with the Ink Preferred, you’re earning 3x Ultimate Rewards points since phone services is one of the card’s bonus categories.
You don’t have to have a company the size of TPG to use this card. Anyone who has business expenses, from business owners to CEOs to freelancers to even babysitters and rideshare drivers, can apply for a business credit card.
Read our review of the Ink Business Preferred here.
APPLY HERE: Ink Business Preferred
Annual fee: $0
Sign-up bonus: $200 (or 20,000 points) after you spend $500 within the first three months (worth $400 in this trifecta)
Rewards rate: Earn unlimited 1.5x on every purchases
The last card in the trifecta is the Chase Freedom Unlimited. With this card you earn 1.5x points on all purchases with no annual reward caps. As such, this card gets a lot of my spend that occurs outside bonus categories. And because you can transfer your points into a Sapphire Reserve or Ink Preferred account if you have one of those cards, the points earned by the Chase Freedom Unlimited are worth 2 cents each if you link the card to a normal UR-earning card like the Sapphire Reserve, Ink Preferred or Sapphire Preferred.
I actually downgraded my Sapphire Preferred to the Chase Freedom Unlimited instead of canceling it. If you have the Sapphire Preferred and want the Sapphire Reserve, you’ll only be eligible for the sign-up bonus on the latter card if it’s been more than 48 months since you last received a Sapphire sign-up bonus. If it’s been less than 48 months and you want the Reserve now, you can always upgrade your Preferred card to the CSR, though you won’t get the 50,000 points for spending $4,000 in the first three months. The ability to product-change cards from an issuer can also come in handy if you’re over Chase’s 5/24 rule, which prevents most cardholders from being approved for a credit card application if they’ve opened more than five accounts in the last 24 months.
Read our review of the Chase Freedom Unlimited here.
APPLY HERE: Chase Freedom Unlimited
How these cards work together
Each of these cards covers a distinct area of spending and offers its own unique perks as part of a well-rounded credit card strategy. Use your Chase Sapphire Reserve for travel and dining purchases, the Ink Business Preferred for any business expenses and the Freedom Unlimited for all purchases that won’t earn bonus rewards with your other cards.
All of the points you earn with these three cards can be pooled so that you can redeem them for 1.5 cents each through the Chase travel portal or by transferring to one of Chase’s travel partners. When you’re booking economy award flights or award-night stays at hotels not listed as Chase transfer partners, you’ll likely get the most value by taking advantage of the travel portal redemption bonus. However, if you’re booking a premium-cabin award flight or redeeming for a Hyatt, IHG or Marriott, you might want to transfer your points. Just make sure you’re comparing both options so you’re getting the best value out of your Ultimate Rewards points.
Other trifecta card options
Chase has a flexible credit card lineup and it might make sense to replace one of the cards listed above with another Chase card based on your spending habits.
For example, if you already have the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card or the Citi® Double Cash Card that earns a higher 2x/2% back on non-bonus spending, it might make more sense for you to have the Chase Freedom instead of the Chase Freedom Unlimited. Another card with no annual fee, the Chase Freedom Card offers 5% cash back on rotating quarterly spend categories. Your bonus spending is capped at $1,500 a quarter, but categories range from gas stations to grocery stores, making it easy to maximize the card.
Beginners who are wary of the $450 annual fee on the Reserve can replace it with the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. In exchange for a lower $95 annual fee, the Preferred comes with 2x on travel and dining, a 25% redemption bonus and no travel credits or lounge access. However, the Preferred does come with a higher sign-up bonus at 60,000 points (worth $1,200 based on our valuations). If you aren’t traveling enough to take full advantage of the CSR, the Preferred is a solid replacement option. You can always upgrade to the Reserve if after a year you decide you want it. Or you can downgrade the CSP to the Unlimited or Freedom (whichever you don’t already have) and apply for the Reserve separately (48 months after you got the Preferred’s bonus) if you want the CSR’s bonus as well.
If you don’t qualify for a small-business credit card, you can switch out the Ink Business Preferred for the Chase Freedom to complete your trifecta. Or, if you are a business owner who doesn’t spend within the Ink Business Preferred’s bonus categories, you can switch it for one of Chase’s other business cards. The Ink Business Cash earns 5% (5x) on the first $25,000 in combined spending at office supply stores and on internet, cable and phone services each year, and 2% (2x) back on the first $25,000 in combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants each year. The Ink Business Unlimited earns an unlimited 1.5% cash back (or 1.5x) on every purchase. Both of these alternate business card options earn a $500 bonus after you spend $3,000 in the first three months and come with no annual fee.
The Chase Trifecta is flexible. Again, it’s all about choosing the cards that reward you for the types of purchases you make.
The ultimate goal is to maximize every single dollar you spend by putting your purchases on the right credit cards. I tell people all the time: You don’t need to be a frequent flyer to be into the points game; you just need to be smart about how you spend your money.
If you can only get one card, I’d recommend choosing the card that will get you the biggest return based on your most frequent purchase categories. The Sapphire Reserve’s 3x on travel and dining will fit the needs of many, but those with business-related expenses could also earn tons of rewards with the Ink Business Preferred and its bonuses for shipping and advertising. And for those purchases that don’t qualify for bonuses, the Freedom Unlimited is a great choice, especially since you’ll earn 1.5x points on all purchases.
Just remember that all of these cards adhere to Chase’s 5/24 rule. If you don’t currently have these cards in your wallet, you’ll want to be strategic about when you apply for them versus other cards to make sure you won’t be denied due to too many account openings within the past two years.
Photos by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy
SIGN-UP BONUS: 50,000 Points
TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,000
CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 3X points on all travel and dining, $300 annual travel credit, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners
*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.
- Earn 50,000 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®
- Named "Best Premium Travel Credit Card" for 2018 by MONEY® Magazine
- $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
- 3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. 3X points on dining at restaurants & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. $0 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✓®