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The Chase Sapphire Reserve eluded me for more than a year, thanks to the 5/24 rule that pretty much prevents you from getting approved for a Chase card if you’ve opened five or more accounts in the last 24 months. However, once I was eligible for approval, I finally had what I believe to be the perfect quartet of Chase credit 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.
Let’s start by taking a look at the best Chase cards overall:
The Best Chase Credit Cards of 2019
- Chase Sapphire Reserve: Best for dining and travel
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: Best overall mid-tier card
- Chase Freedom Unlimited: Best for non-bonus spending
- Chase Freedom: Best for rotating bonus categories
- Ink Business Cash Credit Card: Best for telecom and office supplies
From this group, you can only have either one of the Sapphire Reserve or the Sapphire Preferred. We’ll discuss how to choose one over the other shortly. It’s also worth pointing out that three of these Chase credit cards are all technically billed as cash-back cards. While they’re rewarding in their own right, they take on exceptional value when they’re paired with a full-fledged Ultimate Rewards credit card like the Sapphire Reserve or Sapphire Preferred. This is because 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 Chase credit cards may not be the right choice for everyone. TPG himself has written about his perfect Chase trifecta before, while contributor Ethan Steinberg has covered his perfect Amex trifecta and contributor Katie Genter proposed a trio of cash-back, no-annual-fee cards. It all depends on where you typically spend your money on a regular basis, how you want to redeem the points and miles you earn, and how you value the various perks provided on best travel credit cards. 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:
Best for Dining
My wife and I love to eat out, and the Sapphire Reserve offers 3x points on these purchases. Based on TPG’s valuations, that’s a fantastic return of 6%. I’ve also found that Chase tends to be quite broad in how it defines restaurant purchases. I’ve even had bars (that serve no food) and my local private yacht club post as restaurant 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 $1,000 on dining out, which translates to $12,000 per year. This means that I’ll take home 36,000 Ultimate Rewards points during a typical year, worth $720.
“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 tolls, paid parking and even Airbnb.
Best for Travel
Travel is another category where my wife and I spend a decent amount of money every month, roughly $750 by my recent estimate. This translates to 27,000 points over the course of the year, worth $540.
Best for Telecom and Office Supplies
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 10% on these purchases.
I’ll typically spend about $400 per month on telecommunications and about $250 per month at office supply stores. This boosts my Ultimate Rewards balances by another 39,000 points each year, worth $780.
Best for Non-bonus Spending
Another lucrative card from Chase is the Freedom Unlimited, which offers 3% cash back on up to $20,000 in spend your first year. After that, you’ll get uncapped 1.5% cash back on all purchases. The Freedom Unlimited is a great option for purchases that don’t fall into the typical bonus categories offered by other cards. If you can pair this card with a premium card like the Sapphire Reserve, you’re getting a 6% return on non-bonus spending for the first $20,000 in spend your first year and then a 3% return after that — for me, non-bonus spending includes my monthly utility bill, aftercare charges for my daughter’s school and my monthly Crossfit membership.
I put about $1,000 per month on this card. Since I’ve had my card for years, I can’t take advantage of the first year offer—but if I could, my monthly spending would net me 36,000 Ultimate Rewards points my first year, worth $720. Instead, my monthly spending nets me 18,000 Ultimate Rewards points every year, worth $360.
Best for Rotating Bonus Categories
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’s been announced so far for the 2019 calendar:
- Q1: Gas stations, drug stores, tolls
- Q2: Home improvement stores, grocery stores
- Q3: Gas stations and streaming services
- Q4: TBA
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 $600.
Best Overall Mid-tier Card
The one objection people sometimes have to this Chase quartet is the cost of the Chase Sapphire Reserve. At $450 annually, it’s not a cheap card, though $300 of that cost is effectively recouped each year through the card’s annual travel credit. Still, not everyone wants to lay out $450 up front for a credit card, so as a backup option, you could substitute the Chase Sapphire Preferred for the Sapphire Reserve. The CSP comes with a much more reasonable $95 annual fee (though no travel credit) and since the card earns 2x bonus points for the same travel and dining purchases as the CSR, you’re only giving up 1x more in bonus points in those categories.
So if you’re nervous about taking on an expensive credit card like the Sapphire Reserve or you don’t expect to have enough yearly travel and dining expenses to make the extra bonus points worth it, swap in the Chase Sapphire Preferred for your quartet.
It All Adds Up
Given the above spending habits, how much value do I get from these four cards (using the CSR versus the CSP)? If you add up my earnings, I’m taking home roughly 150,000 Ultimate Rewards points every year. This haul is worth $3,000, and with a yearly spending of $46,800, that equates to an incredible return of 6.4%. Even when you take out the $150 effective annual fee that I’m paying on the Sapphire Reserve, it’s still 6.1%, and even that doesn’t factor in the additional perks on the Sapphire Reserve card like 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 10% based on TPG’s valuations. But, remember that The Platinum Card doesn’t offer trip delay protection, baggage delay protection or trip interruption / cancellation insurance—three useful travel protections that are offered by the Sapphire Reserve.
- I’ll use an eligible Amex 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; then 1x. This gives me a return of 4% on these purchases.
- Finally, if I’ve recently opened another credit card and am working toward earning a 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 important to evaluate your portfolio of cards and identify the best combination to maximize your earning rates. Some folks might prefer swapping in the Chase Sapphire Preferred over the CSR, but by carrying the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Freedom, Chase Freedom Unlimited and Ink Business Cash Credit Card, I firmly believe that I have the perfect combination of Ultimate Rewards credit cards in my wallet. Hopefully this guide has shown you just how lucrative this quartet of cards can be!
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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✓®