Why Chase Sapphire Preferred and Freedom Unlimited are the perfect beginner combo

Aug 29, 2020

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Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information and card details.

Getting started with credit card rewards can be incredibly overwhelming for beginners. Should you start with cash back or points and miles? Which card family should you choose first? Will the annual fee on this card be worth it? It’s easy to fall down a rabbit hole of research and questioning which is truly the right card for you.

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When beginners ask me for help building the start of a card portfolio, I always recommend looking at card programs that are buildable — meaning cards that can be paired with others later to build a comphrensive card strategy without sacrificing the old card to the sock drawer.

You’ll find that transferable points are incredibly valuable for any avid or aspiring traveler because rewards can be redeemed across a wide variety of travel partners. But those travel credit cards generally have stricter approval requirements, which doesn’t always make them an option as a first rewards credit card. The good news is that some issuers offer certain families of credit cards that allow you to start with a no-annual-fee credit card that can pair with a higher-tier card later on for maximum value.

The straightforwardness of Chase Ultimate Rewards — and Chase’s 5/24 rule — make this program a good place to start for points and miles newbies. When it comes to choosing credit cards to earn Ultimate Rewards, the Chase Freedom Unlimited and the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card make a powerful duo. Read on to learn how these two cards can jump-start your award travel.

The information for the Chase Freedom Unlimited has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

In This Post

Why these two cards?

I’ll break down the full benefits of each card below, but here’s a quick explanation of why you’ll want to start with these two in particular. The number one reason is that Chase limits the number of credit cards you can successfully apply for with its 5/24 rule. Basically, if you’ve opened five or more personal cards across all banks in the past 24 months, it’s unlikely you’ll be approved for most cards in Chase’s portfolio, including the Freedom Unlimited and Sapphire Preferred.

If you’re starting out, it’s best to cover the most important bases first. If you have a solid credit score already, I’d recommend applying for the Chase Sapphire Preferred first because it earns those valuable transferable points. But if you are newer to the rewards card game, the Chase Freedom Unlimited is also a great place to start to earn cash back (in the form of points that can be later transferred to the Chase Sapphire Preferred when you apply for it down the line).

Overview: Chase Sapphire Preferred

(Photo by The Points Guy)

Current bonus: Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. These points are worth $750 in travel when you redeem directly through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.

Benefits: 2 points per dollar spent on travel and dining; no foreign transaction fees; perks such as primary auto rental insurance, baggage delay reimbursement, trip delay reimbursement, lost luggage insurance, trip cancellation and trip interruption insurance, extended warranty protection, purchase protection, and the ability to transfer to 13 travel partners, including British Airways, Hyatt, Iberia, JetBlue and various Star Alliance airlines.

Annual fee: $95

Reasons to get it: Earn 2x points on travel and dining — equal to a return of 4%. The great thing is that a wide variety of items fall within the travel category — from airline purchases, taxis and tolls to parking lots and travel agencies. So even if your day-to-day travel is limited to transportation, you can rack up Ultimate Rewards points quickly.

As for using those points, you have multiple travel partners to choose from and you can also redeem Ultimate Rewards points directly for a number of eligible purchases through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal at a rate of 1.25 cents apiece. The Chase Sapphire Preferred as also been on the receiving end of a number of temporary benefits to help cardholders better use their cards while spending habits and travel plans have changed, including new bonus categories and a new Pay Yourself Back redemption option.

Overview: Chase Freedom Unlimited

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)
(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

Current bonus: $200 cash back after spending $500 in the first three months from account opening, plus earn 5x on groceries (excluding Target and Walmart) in the first year ($12,000 spending cap).

Benefits: 1.5% cash back on purchases; 0% intro APR on purchases for the first 15 months (after that 14.99%-23.74% variable APR applies).

Annual fee: $0

Reasons to get it: $200 cash back or 20,000 Ultimate Rewards points when paired with a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred. If cash back is what you’re after, consider some other of the best cash back credit cards like the Citi® Double Cash Card that gives you a better return. With the Citi Double Cash Card, you’ll get 2% cash back (1% cash back and then another 1% cash back as you pay down your balance). As of September 2019, you can convert the cash back earned on the Citi card to ThankYou® Rewards points via a linked ThankYou® account.

What really makes the Freedom Unlimited worthy of a slot in your wallet is that, if you have a full-fledged Chase Ultimate Rewards-earning card (such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire Reserve or Ink Business Preferred Credit Card) — or plan to get one in the future — you can redeem your cash back as Ultimate Rewards points. TPG’s latest valuations peg the value of Chase Ultimate Rewards points at 2 cents each. So, the $200 sign-up bonus becomes 20,000 Ultimate Rewards points and the 1.5% cash back you’ll earn on purchases becomes 1.5x points for a return of 3%.

The information for the Chase Freedom has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Using the cards together

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)
(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

To redeem rewards earned with the Chase Freedom Unlimited (or its sibling, the original no-annual-fee Chase Freedom Card, No longer open to new applicants) as points that can be transferred to partners, you need to hold a higher-tier card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred that earns Ultimate Rewards points outright. Another option is the the premium Chase Sapphire Reserve for those who think the $550 annual fee is worth the card’s better earning, additional benefits and $300 annual travel credit. There’s also the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card, which can be a great alternative — or addition — for small-business owners.

The points earned by the Freedom and/or Freedom Unlimited become more valuable if you also hold a full-fledged Chase Ultimate Rewards-earning card.

Essentially, you can’t translate your cash back into Ultimate Rewards points unless you have one of these full-fledged Ultimate Rewards-earning cards. If you simply want cash back and never plan on pairing your cards, you should check out some of our other best cash-back credit cards with higher returns. But those looking to build a card strategy long term can utilize the pairing capabilities of the Chase Freedom Unlimited with a card that unlocks Ultimate Rewards redemptions.

Related reading: Maximize your wallet with the perfect quartet of Chase credit cards

Using these two cards strategically puts you in a good position to earn and redeem travel rewards. For starters, all travel and dining purchases should go on the Chase Sapphire Preferred — or another card that offers bonus points for travel or dining. Although the Freedom Unlimited doesn’t offer any bonus categories (outside of groceries in the first year), it’s a good choice for everyday spending that wouldn’t otherwise earn you more rewards with another card.

When it’s time to redeem your hard-earned points, see this guide to getting the maximum value out of your awards and this guide for finding sweet spots in the Ultimate Rewards program.

Bottom line

The Chase Freedom Unlimited and the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card make a great Ultimate Rewards points-earning team. The former offers a great return on everyday spending and the latter gets you 2x rewards on dining and travel and opens up some great transfer-partner options. If you’re just starting to earn travel rewards with credit cards, these two cards should be your top priority when it comes to applications — but make sure you pay attention to the issuer’s 5/24 rule to optimize your chances for approval.

Additonal reporting by Madison Blancaflor.

Featured photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy.


Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 80,000 Points


CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, 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.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide, eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on orders over $12 for a minimum of one year on qualifying food purchases with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
  • Earn 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022. That’s 3X points in addition to the 2X points you already earn on travel.
Intro APR on Purchases
Regular APR
15.99%-22.99% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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