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

Apr 15, 2020

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If you’re just getting started with earning points and miles, you’ll find that transferable points are incredibly valuable for redeeming with a wide variety of travel partners. American Express, Chase, Citi, Marriott and Capital One all offer transferable-point programs, but today we’ll focus on Chase Ultimate Rewards which routinely rank high in TPG’s monthly valuations. In fact, Ultimate Rewards points are currently tied with Amex Membership Rewards points for the most valuable transferable currency, both valued at 2 cents a point.

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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.

In This Post

Why these two cards?

(Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)

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. When it comes to Chase cards, the Sapphire Preferred should probably be your first application, because it earns you 2 Chase Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on dining and a wide variety of travel spending — equal to a 4% return based on TPG’s valuations — for just a $95 annual fee. It also allows you to transfer points to 10 airline and three hotel partners.

As for the Chase Freedom Unlimited, it makes a good second application because of the high return you’ll get on everyday, nonbonus-category spending. The card also offers $150 cash back after you spend $500 in the first three months. In addition to the welcome bonus, you’ll earn an uncapped 1.5% cash back on all purchases. But as I’ll discuss later in this guide, that can equate to 3x and 1.5x Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent — a great earning rate for a card with no annual fee.

Chase Sapphire Preferred

(Photo by The Points Guy)

Current bonus: Earn 60,000 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 13 travel partners to choose from and you can also redeem Ultimate Rewards points directly for plane tickets, hotel stays, rental cars or experiences through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal at a rate of 1.25 cents apiece.

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Chase Freedom Unlimited

(Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)

Current bonus: $150 cash back after spending $500 in the first three months from account opening.

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

Annual fee: $0

Reasons to get it: $150 cash back or 15,000 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 per dollar spent 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), 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 $150 welcome bonus becomes 15,000 Ultimate Rewards points and the 1.5% cash back you’ll earn on all purchases becomes 1.5x points for a return of 3%.

The information for the Citi Double Cash, Chase Freedom Unlimited, Chase Freedom, and Ink Business Preferred card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

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Using the cards together

To redeem rewards earned with the Chase Freedom Unlimited (or its sibling, the original no-annual-fee Chase Freedom Card) 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, you should check out some of our other best cash-back credit cards with higher returns. Otherwise, you should really be pairing 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

Speaking of the Chase Freedom, you may be wondering how it fits into the picture — especially since it’s another no-annual-fee, cash-back option. The Freedom is particularly valuable because of its rotating quarterly bonus categories. You can earn 5% cash back (or 5x points) on up to $1,500 in combined purchases each quarter in categories you activate. It’s definitely worth applying for the card and maximizing these bonus categories if you can, but considering Chase’s restrictions on applications and the Freedom Unlimited’s higher earning rate for everyday spending, it’s not necessarily as high a priority.

Using these two cards puts you in a good position to earn and redeem travel rewards. But having a strategy will up your game even more. 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, 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.

Official application links: Chase Freedom Unlimited and Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

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Featured photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 60,000 Points

TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,200

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 60,000 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®
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 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, 60,000 points are worth $750 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
N/A
Regular APR
15.99%-22.99% Variable
Annual Fee
$95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good

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