The power of the Chase Trifecta: Sapphire Reserve, Ink Preferred and Freedom Unlimited
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Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new card details and information.
The biggest trend I’ve seen in the points and miles game since I began writing about the topic 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 (now the Chase Freedom Flex).
Since then, Chase has improved its lineup and now the so-called trifecta has changed — all for the better. For more than 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. Now that the Chase Freedom Unlimited has added new benefits, this trifecta is even more powerful.
Let’s walk through each of these cards and how they work together to create a really great credit card strategy.
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Annual fee: $550
Sign-up bonus: 50,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first three months (TPG values at $1,000)
Rewards rate: Earn 3x points on travel and dining purchases
The Chase Sapphire Reserve is one of the best credit cards on the market, even with recent changes that many consider a devaluation. 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 rack up points pretty quickly. The hefty $550 annual fee is offset by the $300 annual travel credit, effectively making the fee $250 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. New benefits added to the card include at least one year of complimentary DashPass membership through DoorDash, a $60 annual DoorDash credit for 2020 and 2021 and a complimentary Lyft Pink membership.
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 solid 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: 100,000 bonus points after you spend $15,000 on purchases in the first three months. (TPG values at $2,000)
Rewards rate: 3x points 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 each account anniversary year)
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 benefit. 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 service 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 CEOs to freelancers and 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 after you spend $500 within the first three months.
Rewards rate: Earn 5% on travel booked through the Ultimate Rewards portal, 3% on dining and drugstores, unlimited 1.5% cash back (1.5x points) on purchase
The last card in the trifecta is the Chase Freedom Unlimited. This card has always been an excellent option for anyone who wanted a catch-all card for purchases that don’t fall into other bonus categories. And because you can transfer your points into an Ultimate Rewards account, the points earned by the Chase Freedom Unlimited are worth 2 cents each if you link the card to a normal Ultimate Rewards-earning card like the Sapphire Reserve, Ink Preferred or Sapphire Preferred.
Now that you can also earn 5% (essentially 5x points) on travel booked through the UR portal, 3x on drugstores and dining, as well as the original 1.5% on all non-bonus spending, this card is an even better addition to your wallet.
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. Even without its older sibling cards, this is still one of the best cash back credit cards on the market today.
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 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 that you’re getting the best value out of your Ultimate Rewards points.
While booking travel certainly isn’t on everyone’s priority list right now (and with good reason — TPG doesn’t encourage taking any unnecessary trips until coronavirus concerns have subsided), these cards can work together to help you earn points on expenses right now that could be used for an excellent redemption down the road.
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.
Chase Freedom Flex vs. Chase Freedom Unlimited
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 (1% when you buy, plus 1% as you pay on the Citi Double Cash Card), it might make more sense for you to have the Chase Freedom Flex instead of the Chase Freedom Unlimited. Another card with no annual fee, the Chase Freedom Flex offers 5% cash back on rotating quarterly spend categories (activation required). Your bonus spending is capped at $1,500 a quarter and categories range from gas stations to grocery stores, making it easy to maximize the card.
Chase Sapphire Preferred vs. Chase Sapphire Reserve
Beginners who are wary of the $550 annual fee on the Reserve (or who want to take advantage of the CSP’s higher bonus) can replace it with the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. In exchange for a lower $95 annual fee, the Preferred comes with 5x on Lyft through March 2022, 2x on travel and dining, a 25% redemption bonus and no travel credits or lounge access. However, the Preferred does come with a much higher sign-up bonus at 60,000 points (worth $1,200 based on our valuations) after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months. If, under normal circumstances, you don’t travel enough to take full advantage of the CSR, the Preferred is a solid replacement option.
Even if you do want the Reserve, it might be worth it to apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred now, wait a year, and then request to upgrade to the Chase Sapphire Reserve. While the Reserve does have higher earning and redeeming rates, you can still get 3x with the Freedom Unlimited on dining and 5x on travel booked through the UR portal. Plus, it may be worth it to hold off on the perks of the Reserve to nab this incredible sign-up bonus on the Preferred.
Other Ink Business options
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 Credit Card earns 5% (5x) on the first $25,000 in combined spending at office supply stores and internet, cable and phone services each account anniversary year. Plus, you’ll earn 2% (2x) back on the first $25,000 in combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants each account anniversary year. The Ink Business Unlimited Credit Card earns an unlimited 1.5% cash back (or 1.5x points) on every purchase. Both of these alternate business card options earn a $750 bonus after you spend $7,500 in the first three months of account opening and come with no annual fee.
Personal Chase cards trifecta
If you don’t qualify for small-business credit cards, you can switch out the Ink Business Preferred for the new Chase Freedom Flex to complete your trifecta. This would give you three personal credit cards: Chase Sapphire Reserve or Preferred, Chase Freedom Flex and Chase Freedom Unlimited. Altogether, you’re only paying one annual fee (since the Chase Freedom Flex and Freedom Unlimited both come with no annual fee). And you’ll be able to earn 5x on those rotating categories while still getting 1.5x on non-bonus spending with these rewards credit cards.
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 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. Right now, a card like the Chase Freedom Unlimited that earns rewards across all purchases (plus a few excellent bonus categories) might make the most sense to get first, considering travel rewards may not be utilized until 2021. But once travel is back on the table, the Sapphire Reserve’s 3x on travel and dining, better redemption rates and luxury perks will fit the needs of many. And of course, those with business-related expenses could also earn tons of rewards with the Ink Business Preferred and its bonuses for shipping and advertising.
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 John Gribben for The Points Guy.
Welcome to 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®
- $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year. From 6/1/20 through 6/30/21, gas station & grocery store purchases will also count towards earning your Travel Credit
- 3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. 3X points on dining at restaurants including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
- 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
- With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 50% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories
- 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 and up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®
- Earn 3x total points on up to $1,000 in grocery store purchases per month from November 1, 2020 to April 30, 2021. Includes eligible pick-up and delivery services