Why Chase Credit Cards Are the Absolute Best Credit Cards

I’ve written about how I travel the world and always fly for free. I went into how I’ve successfully used credit card bonuses from numerous financial institutions to fund my endless wanderlust. However, not everyone can and/or want to open a dozen credit cards a year. So what should one do if someone do if they’re open open to the idea of a just few credit cards?

From my ever growing inventory of credit cards, the credit cards from JPMorgan Chase are my absolute favorite. They have the most transparent, easiest, and lucrative reward structure in the entire credit card world. They are in my opinion the best cards for beginners.

In 2016, Chase made a huge push to win over new customers by introducing numerous new cards. American Express and Citi have taken a beating because of this but the primary beneficiary are people like you and I.  It’s not difficult to start earning free money from credit cards. Just a little research and strategic spending.

I have numerous Chase credit cards in my inventory and have accumulated reward points worth thousands of dollars because who doesn’t want to have an extra $4,500 for their next trip?

This post is part of my comprehensive guide to travel hacking where I go into detail about how I fly for free, book the cheapest flights, and how to be an overall better traveler!

Which Chase Credit Cards?

Of all the major credit card players: Chase, Citi, AMEX, etc, Chase is my favorite. If you do not already have Chase credit cards, the following cards make up my favorite combination of credit cards, or what I like to refer to as the Chase Trifecta, which includes the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Freedom, and Chase Freedom UnlimitedIn addition to these 3, the sapphire preferred and Chase Ink Preferred also offer amazing bonuses.

Chase FreedomChase freedom

Chase Freedom was one of the first credit cards Chase offered. The benefits are modest:

  • $150 (15,000 Chase UltimateRewards Points) bonus after spending $500 in 3 months
  • 1% cash back on all purchases
  • No annual fees
  • 5% cash back on rotating categories every quarter up to $1,500

The last bullet point is why the Chase Freedom is worth getting. Every quarter, Chase has a different category where you can earn 5% cash back. These can include restaurants, amazon.com, grocery stores, department stores, and other useful categories. Most credit card companies give you 1-2% back so 5% cash back is a huge plus.

Chase Freedom Unlimited

Released in 2015, I thought the Chase Freedom Unlimited was meant to replace the original Chase Freedom but it turns out this won’t be the chase for the near future. The Chase Freedom Unlimited is great as it gives you a flat 1.5% cash back on ALL purchases. The benefits are the following:

  • $150 (15,000 Chase UltimateRewards Points) bonus after spending $500 in 3 months
  • 1.5% cash back on all purchases
  • No annual fees

Compared to the Chase Freedom, the Chase Freedom Unlimited gives an extra 0.5% back on all purchases. Why would anyone get the Chase Freedom over the Chase Freedom Unlimited? Because of the 5% cash back categories the Freedom offers.

Chase Sapphire Reserve

This is the most important of the three is the Chase Sapphire Reserve. The Sapphire brand is Chase’s premium level credit cards. Within the brand, there are two levels: Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Sapphire Reserve. The latter came out in 2016 to huge demand and fanfare and with good reason. It is one of the most lucrative credit cards in recent memory and I highly recommend anyone and everyone to apply for it. It does come with a $450 annual fee which is a huge sticker shock for most newcomers. However, the benefits far outweigh the cost, and you’ll quickly realize the $450 fee is more than worth it.

  • 100,000 UltimateReward point bonus after spending $4,000 in 3 months (worth up $1,500)
  • $300 annual travel credit
  • 3x points on travel and dining related expenses, 1x on all other purchases
  • Points are worth 50% more when redeemed for travel
  • Points transferable to numerous airlines and hotel programs
  • Priority pass lounge access (worth $250 a year)
  • $100 global entry credit
  • $450 annual fee (not waived for the first year)
  • No Foreign transaction fees

Bonus Card: Chase Sapphire Preferred

Regardless of what I write or how many examples I show, some people are just terrified at the idea of paying $450 a year for a credit card. Thankfully, Chase also has a mid range card called the Sapphire Preferred. Its benefits are also very lucrative but with an annual fee of $95 that is waived for the first year:

  • 50,000 UltimateReward point bonus after spending $4,000 in 3 months, 5000 extra points when you add an authorized user for a total 55,000 sign on bonus
  • Points are worth 25% more when redeemed for travel
  • 2x points on travel and dining related expenses, 1x on all other purchases
  • $95 annual fee, waived for the first year
  • No Foreign transaction fees

Bonus Card 2: Chase Ink Preferred Business Card

The Ink preferred business card is not just for people with legitimate businesses. While it might seem out of reach by its name, anyone can just use their names as a “business”. I opened up this card and used Johnny Africa as the business name, but I could have easily just used a random name like Johnny’s Bed and Breakfast. While I earn some advertising income, it is nothing compared to what bigger blogs earn but it is still a “business” nontheless. Long story short, do not be turned off at the idea of opening a business credit card even if you have no business.

  • 80,000 UltimateReward point bonus after spending $5,000 in 3 months
  • 3x points on travel, shipping, internet, cable, telephone, and advertising expenses, 1x points on all other purchases
  • $95 annual fee, waived for the first year
  • No Foreign transaction fees

The difference between % cash back and points

This can be confusing to beginners. Why do the Chase Freedom and Freedom unlimited have % cash back as its rewards and the Chase Sapphire Reserve/preferred have Ultimate Reward “points” as its rewards?

All in all, these are essentially the same thing. They are all one form or another of credit cards rewards. Just different names for the same thing.

With the Chase Freedom, you get 1% cash back on whatever you spend. For a $200 purchase, you receive $200 * 0.01 = $2 cash back. With the Freedom Unlimited, this would become $3 cash back as it is 1.5% cash back.

With the Chase Sapphire Reserve,  a $200 purchase means 200 points (assuming it’s not a dining or travel expense, then it would be 600 points as those are 3x categories). For Chase reward purposes, 1 cent = 1 point. 

Chase points can always be redeemed for a statement credit at the rate of 100 points for $1, or 1%. Hence, points are essentially also cash back. Whatever makes it easier to understand.

Chase Ultimate Reward Points

Reward points from Chase are called “Ultimate Reward” points. They are my favorite type of points among all the credit card issuers (Citi, Bank of America, AMEX etc.). Not only is Chase’s internet interface the easiest to navigate through, but these are the most lucrative, especially if you have the sapphire reserve. With these points, you can do the following:

  • Transfer points to airline miles: Points can be directly transferred to airlines. For example, if you have 60,000 Chase points, these can be transferred to United at a 1:1 rate for 60,000 United miles. This is enough for a business class flight to Europe! Largely,transferring points to miles for a business class flight is the most lucrative use of Chase points. For economy flights, it’s mostly better to not transfer to miles. The next bullet point is why.
chase transfer partners
The numerous airlines and hotels that points can be transferred to.
  • Points are worth 50% more when redeemed for travel: Since I use my credit card rewards solely for travel, this is absolutely key for me. Using Chase UR points, if I book travel, they are worth 50% more. For example, if I have 50,000 points on my sapphire reserve, this is actually worth $750 when I book travel as opposed to $500 if I used the points as a statement credit. Therefore, it’s ALWAYS better to redeem points for travel vs a statement credits
Chase reserve dashboard
It’s clear to see how much more these points are worth when redeemed for travel by the dashboard Chase provides.

Transferring between credit cards

As I mentioned above, the Chase Freedom and Freedom Unlimited have a dollar amount as its rewards. If I only had these cards, that’s all these rewards would be good for; whatever the dollar amount is. However, if I have the Sapphire Reserve or Preferred, I can transfer the rewards on my Freedom and Freedom Unlimited at a rate of 1 cent = 1 point to the Sapphire Reserve and Preferred. Now that my rewards from the Freedom cards are on my Reserve card, they are now also worth 50% more when redeemed for travel!

Using the example below, I had 10,000 points on my Chase Freedom Unlimited. If I redeemed it for cash back, it would be worth $100. However, now that I have transferred it to my Chase Sapphire Reserve, they are worth 50% more towards travel, and hence are now worth $150!

combine points chase rewards
Combining points between my chase credit card within Chase’s Ultimate Rewards portal

Therefore, because Chase allows you to freely move rewards between cards, it is always more lucrative to keep all rewards on either your Chase Sapphire Reserve or Sapphire Preferred cards!

Maximizing Points with the Chase Trifecta

Now that you know that you can move points freely between cards, and it’s always more lucrative to have your points on the Chase Sapphire Reserve, how do you maximize the points you earn? Why do you even need the Freedom and Freedom unlimited cards when the Sapphire Reserve is clearly the strongest of the cards?

If you could only have one credit card, I would unequivocally tell you to get the Reserve. Thankfully, we have choices and endless amounts of debt potential so we don’t have to choose. Therefore, with the combination of these 3 cards, we can really maximize our rewards vs just having the sapphire reserve.

When to use the Chase Sapphire Reserve

Because the Reserve gives 3x points on every dollar spent on dining and travel, ALWAYS use the reserve card when you are paying for dining related (anywhere where the food or alcohol is prepared for you) or travel expenses (hotels, taxis, rental cars, airfare, tours, etc.)

When to use the Chase Freedom

ONLY use the Chase Freedom when your expense falls within its quarterly bonus. Because it is 5% cash back, it is more lucrative than the Freedom unlimited or the Sapphire Reserve

When to use the Chase Freedom Unlimited

Use the Chase Freedom Unlimited when your expense is NOT travel or dining related, and it is NOT a part of the Chase Freedom quarterly bonus. Because the Freedom unlimited gives 1.5% cash back, it is more lucrative than even the Chase Sapphire Reserve when it is not a travel/dining related expense. For supermarkets, department stores, online shopping, gas, etc., the Chase Freedom Unlimited is the best card.

How to get $4,500 of travel money for free

Now comes the moment of truth, how to actually get that free travel money that everyone wants.

Step 1: Apply for Chase Sapphire Reserve

  • Spend $4,000 within three months to get the 100,000 point bonus

Step 2: Apply for Chase Sapphire Preferred

  • Spend $3,000 within three months to get 55,000 points

Step 3: Apply for Chase Freedom and/or Chase Freedom Unlimited

  • Spend $500 on each card to get their bonuses (15k on the freedom and 30k on the freedom unlimited as of 12/16)

Step 4: Apply for the Ink Preferred Business card

  • Spend $5,000 in 3 months to get the 80,000 point bonus

Step 5: TRANSFER points from ALL cards to the Chase Sapphire Reserve

Step 6: Close Chase Sapphire Preferred card  to avoid the $95 annual fee and because it is essentially the same as the reserve with much fewer benefits

Card NameMinimum RequirementsTime FramePoint BonusBonus Dollar Value
Chase Sapphire Reserve$4,0003 mo100,000$1,500
Chase Sapphire Preferred$4,0003 mo55,000$825
Chase Freedom$5003 mo15,000$225
Chase Freedom Unlimited$5003 mo30,000$450
Chase Ink Preferred$5,0003 mo80,000$1,200

The $4,200 total is shy of $4,500 but that is purely the value of the bonuses. In order to get the bonus, you’ll need to spend the minimum required amount required which will also earn you points. The minimum would be 14,000 points (worth $210 after transferring all to the Chase Sapphire Reserve) assuming your spend includes NO dining or travel expenses (which seems improbable).

The $4,500 will not come all at once, unless you have the power to spend $14,000 instantaneously. It all depends on your spending ability and how much you’re able to spend in a month. The secret is to spend the minimum required to get the bonus and move on to the next card, spending the minimum required amount as you go.

What to do next?

What would you do with an extra $4,500? Perhaps take a visit to the Philippines where I just had an amazing trip diving diving with millions of sardines and only paid $500 for my plane ticket (with 34,000 chase points) by finding the best deal out there.

The $4,500 is actually the minimum value your chase points gets you. The maximized value comes when you transfer your points to airlines miles like Singapore Airlines at a 1:1 ratio and book Suite class tickets. Suite class on Singapore Airlines means you get an entire room with a king sized bed, big screen TV, caviar, Moet, and everything that is excessive in this world (or is it?).

Singapore Suites class
Singapore Suites Class. Not a bad way to live…

These tickets normally go for around 100,000 miles for a one-way ticket but sell for $15,000 cash! With 300,000 chase points, that means you could book 3 of these suite class tickets which equates to a whopping $45,000 of value. It’s up to you whether you want to blow your points on one trip by living the high life, or save it for 10 trips in economy. Decisions, decisions…


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Is there a reason you recommend getting the Sapphire Preferred before the Ink Preferred? Or is the order arbitrary? (Note: I already have the Sapphire Reserve and Freedom.)