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You may have heard that the best way to earn as many credit card rewards as possible is to have six or seven credit cards in your purse or wallet at any given time. But that’s a daunting task. Most people don’t want to carry around a stack of credit cards, along with having to constantly remember which card to use at any given store.
But what if we told you that all you really need to earn all the travel points and miles you’ll ever need are three credit cards? And that all together, these three credit cards can cost you as little as $95 a year in annual fees?
We’re talking about the “Chase trifecta.” All three of these credit cards earn points in the Chase Ultimate Rewards points program, which is one of the best rewards programs around. Even better, Chase allows you to pool your points together across all of your Ultimate Rewards credit cards, so even though you’re earning points on three different cards, all your points can go into one big pot.
Intrigued? Let’s dive into each of these cards, as well as the Chase Ultimate Rewards program itself, and see how you can quickly earn a ton of points that can get you off and running toward that much-needed next vacation.
The Chase Ultimate Rewards program
Chase Ultimate Rewards is Chase’s singular loyalty program, which it uses for rewards on both its cash back and travel credit cards. You can transfer Ultimate Rewards points freely among all your Chase Ultimate Rewards cards, and your points never expire as long as you have at least one Ultimate Rewards card open and keep all your points on that card.
The bank essentially offers two types of credit cards within its Ultimate Rewards program: basic and premium. The basic cards are those that don’t carry an annual fee, which include the Chase Freedom Flex℠ and Chase Freedom Unlimited® for personal use, and the Ink Business Unlimited® Credit Card and Ink Business Cash® Credit Card for small businesses.
Chase advertises these basic cards as “cash back” cards, but they technically earn Ultimate Rewards points, which most people then exchange for cash back at a rate of 1 cent per point. But…you don’t have to redeem the points for cash back. You have other options.
On the other hand, the premium Chase travel cards do carry annual fees — anywhere between $95 and $550, depending on the card — and include the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve®, as well as the Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card for businesses. These premium cards have access to additional features, such as the ability to transfer your points to any of Chase’s 14 travel partners, which is made up of 11 airlines and three hotel chains.
Points transfer to these 14 partners at a 1-to-1 ratio, which means 1,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points equals 1,000 points in your desired program.
When you redeem your rewards by transferring them to partner programs, Chase Ultimate Rewards points can be worth a lot. It does require some work and flexibility in your travel schedule to redeem your points this way, but it’s by far the best way to get first- or business-class seats, especially when traveling internationally. In fact, frequent flyer website The Points Guy values Chase points as high as 2 cents apiece, thanks to this ability.
Now, here’s one of the tricks that we can take advantage of when putting together the Chase trifecta. While the basic Ultimate Rewards credit cards don’t allow you to transfer points directly to one of these 14 travel partners, you can move any points you earn from your basic cards to any of the premium cards at any time. So as long as you have a premium Chase card, you can move your points to it, then transfer those points to an airline or hotel partner program.
Putting together the Chase trifecta
Now that we understand the rules, let’s put our Chase trifecta together. Although there are actually a number of combos you can use to make your own personal Chase trifecta, the three most common cards to have in your purse or wallet at the lowest possible annual fees are the Chase Sapphire Preferred, the Chase Freedom Flex and the Chase Freedom Unlimited.
Chase Sapphire Preferred
The Chase Sapphire Preferred is one of Chase’s oldest travel credit cards. This $95-a-year credit card earns 3 points for every dollar you spend on dining, select streaming services and online grocery purchases. It also earns 2 points per dollar on travel (or a total of 5 points per dollar if you book your travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards), 5 points per dollar on Lyft rides through March 2022 and 1 point per dollar on everything else.
By having this one premium Ultimate Rewards credit card, you’ll get access to Chase’s entire list of transfer partners. And if you don’t want to go through the hassle of transferring points, you can also use your rewards to book travel directly through the Chase travel portal. When you book this way, you can get any flight or hotel room you want, just like you would if you were paying cash — you don’t have to worry about award availability or blackout dates. And when you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred, you’ll get a 25% bonus on all the points you redeem, meaning each point is worth 1.25 cents apiece. So, if you’re looking to book a flight that costs $450, you’ll only have to redeem 36,000 points for it.
The best news is new Chase Sapphire Preferred card holders can currently earn 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in the first three months after opening the account, so you can get the card and very quickly amass a nice haul of Ultimate Rewards points.
Now, if you’re going to primarily redeem your points for travel through the Chase travel portal instead of transferring them to Chase’s partners, you might consider paying extra for the Chase Sapphire Reserve card instead of the Sapphire Preferred. It’s a lot more expensive at $550 a year, but you’ll get a 50% bonus when redeeming your points through the Chase travel portal instead of just 25%. So that $450 flight would only cost 30,000 points instead of 36,000 points.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve also comes with a number of travel perks, such as a $300 annual travel credit, a Priority Pass Select membership that can get you free access to over 1,300 airport lounges around the world, better travel insurance and other benefits. So it could be worth the extra cost if you travel often and think you’ll use all those perks on a regular basis.
Chase Freedom Flex
The Chase Freedom Flex is next on our Chase trifecta list. Its claim to fame is its rotating quarterly bonus categories that earn 5% cash back, up to $1,500 in purchases each quarter. Again, that cash back comes in the form of Ultimate Rewards points that can be moved to your Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve and used for travel instead.
Now, you’ll need to pay attention to the Chase Freedom Flex’s rotating categories if you really want to maximize it, but the extra rewards can definitely be worth it. For example, right now from October through December 2021, the Freedom Flex earns 5% cash back (or 5x Ultimate Rewards points) on purchases made at Walmart and using PayPal. Since you can earn this bonus on up to $1,500 in purchases during the quarter, that means you can potentially earn as much as 7,500 bonus points per quarter, or 30,000 points per year. That’s a lot of extra points.
With the Chase Freedom Flex, you’ll also earn 3 points per dollar on drugstore purchases, which can be useful, as well as 3 points per dollar on dining and 5 points per dollar on travel purchased through Chase. Those last two categories match the Sapphire Preferred, so they’re redundant if you also have that card.
The Chase Freedom Flex also offers a few other benefits that you won’t see on the Chase Sapphire Preferred, and one of those benefits is cell phone protection. If you use your Freedom Flex to pay your monthly cell phone bill, you’re covered if your phone is stolen or damaged, up to $800 per claim and $1,000 per year, with a $50 deductible per claim and a maximum of two claims in a 12-month period.
Right now new Chase Freedom Flex card holders can earn $200 in cash back (or 20,000 Ultimate Rewards points) after spending $500 in the first three months after opening the account. Plus, you’ll earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target or Walmart purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year on the card. And yes, that’s equivalent to 5 points per dollar if you want to use your rewards as points instead of cash back, which is a great deal.
While the rotating categories can be a little complicated, since the Chase Freedom Flex is a no-annual-fee card, there’s no reason not to have it. But if you don’t want the added effort, you can skip it and instead go to the last card of the Chase trifecta…
Chase Freedom Unlimited
The Chase Freedom Unlimited rounds out our Chase trifecta. It’s a no-annual-fee credit card that earns cash back, but again, it’s in the form of Ultimate Rewards points that can be moved to any other Ultimate Rewards credit card.
The key to the Chase Freedom Unlimited is that it earns a minimum of 1.5% cash back (or 1.5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar) on everything you buy. So instead of earning 1 point per dollar as you do with the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve, you’ll earn a 50% bonus on your everyday purchases.
So the Chase Freedom Unlimited becomes your “go-to” card for any purchases that don’t earn a bonus on your other two Chase trifecta credit cards. That makes it easy to remember when to pull it out of your purse or wallet. And the Freedom Unlimited also offers the same bonus categories as the Chase Freedom Flex, so if you decide you don’t want to deal with the rotating categories of the Freedom Flex and just want to have two credit cards instead of three, the Freedom Unlimited can be a perfect pairing with the Sapphire Preferred.
Finally, while the card doesn’t offer many other benefits (and you won’t get cell phone protection on the Freedom Unlimited), the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve card will cover the main travel perks you need, such as trip insurance coverage and waived foreign transaction fees. And of course, you’ll already have access to the Chase travel portal bonus and Chase transfer partners as long as you have either the Sapphire Preferred or Reserve in your card portfolio.
The Chase Freedom Unlimited currently has the same sign-up bonus as the Freedom Flex, so new card holders earn $200 in cash back (or 20,000 Ultimate Rewards points) after spending $500 in the first three months after opening the account, plus 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target or Walmart purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year on the card. Again, that 5% cash back is equivalent to 5 points per dollar if you want to use your rewards for travel.
And a bonus card: The Chase Ink Business Preferred
Now, if you’re a small-business owner, you might want to also include your business expenses in your credit card rewards strategy. In that case, you can also add the Ink Business Preferred to the mix as a “bonus” fourth credit card.
The Ink Business Preferred has a $95 annual fee, but it comes with a solid set of business-focused bonus categories. They include 3 points per dollar on travel, shipping, internet, cable, phone services and advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines. Just keep in mind that you’ll only earn this 3x bonus on up to $150,000 in combined purchases across these categories each account year. After that, you’ll earn 1 point per dollar in the categories, along with 1 point per dollar on everything else.
Best of all, the Ink Business Preferred currently comes with an impressively high 100,000 bonus points for new card holders after you spend $15,000 on purchases in the first three months after you open the card. That’s a significant amount of money to spend in three months, but for many businesses, it’s not uncommon to have that much in regular monthly expenses.
The Ink Business Preferred also offers cell phone protection. All you have to do is pay your entire cell phone bill with the card, and everyone listed on your monthly bill is covered against damage or theft of their phone, up to $600 in reimbursement per incident with a $100 deductible per claim, and up to three claims every 12 months.
Other Ink Business Preferred benefits include purchase protection, trip insurance, trip delay protection and primary car rental insurance. If you decide to get the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you’ll already have these benefits, but if you decide the cheaper Chase Sapphire Preferred is a better fit, the Ink Business Preferred could be a good option for those purchases where you’ll want protection.
Remember that business credit cards aren’t solely for large corporations — in fact, the Ink Business Preferred is really designed for small businesses. And you might not even realize you already have a business, when in fact you do. Selling products through eBay, being a ride-share driver or buying and selling real estate all may be activities that categorize you as a sole proprietor with a small business.
Does the Chase trifecta make sense for you?
Having three — or maybe even four — different Chase Ultimate Rewards credit cards in your purse or wallet is one of our favorite strategies to earn as many travel rewards as possible. You’ll be able to combine your points across all your cards and use them for maximum effect by booking travel through Chase with a bonus, or transferring them to Chase’s valuable airline and hotel partner programs.
You’re also earning more points than you would with just one card. By having the Chase trifecta, you’re getting all these bonus categories:
- 3 points per dollar on dining (Sapphire Preferred, Reserve, Flex, Freedom)
- 3 points per dollar on select streaming services and online grocery deliveries (Sapphire Preferred)
- 3 points per dollar (Sapphire Reserve) or 2 points per dollar (Sapphire Preferred) on travel
- 3 points per dollar at drugstores (Freedom Flex, Freedom Unlimited)
- 3 points per dollar on internet, cable, phone services, advertising and shipping purchases, up to $150,000 per year in combined purchases (Ink Business Preferred)
- 5 points per dollar on quarterly rotating categories (Freedom Flex)
- 1.5 points per dollar on everything else (Freedom Unlimited)
That’s an impressive list. And you’ll also get many top-notch benefits on your cards, such as travel protection, primary car rental insurance, cell phone protection and no foreign transaction fees.
So if you’re ready to start earning a lot more travel rewards, take a good look at the Chase trifecta, and put at least one or two of these cards in your purse or wallet to get yourself on your way to that next beautiful vacation.
Learn more about the Chase Sapphire Preferred card.
Learn more about the Chase Sapphire Reserve card.
Learn more about the Chase Freedom Flex card.
Learn more about the Chase Freedom Unlimited card.
Learn more about the Ink Business Preferred card.
Interested in other Chase credit cards? Find out which cards CNN Underscored chose as our best Chase credit cards of 2021.