In the past six months, we have completely changed the travel credit cards we use, moving over to Chase Ultimate Rewards Points as our primary travel currency.
We have been using travel credit cards for as long as we have been together. Bonnie had the Delta SkyMiles American Express for many years and I had the Citi Hilton Honors Visa card. We have focused our efforts on acquiring those travel currencies (points/miles) for several years.
The Delta companion certificate proved difficult to redeem. Eventually, we had enough and got rid of the card. We just couldn’t justify the annual fee if we weren’t taking advantage of one of the biggest perks. Bonnie and I also didn’t enjoy feeling like we had to fly Delta all the time.
We replaced the Delta AmEX with two credit cards: the American Express Blue Cash Everyday card and the Chase Amazon Rewards card. Both of these cards have no annual fee and give 2% cash back for gas, something we can get great value out of on our many road trips.
Chase Ultimate Rewards Points
I had been looking at getting a Chase Ultimate Rewards credit card for a while, but was a little hesitant to get a rewards card with an annual fee without any apparent perks, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred. Then I read a couple of articles by The Points Guy on the value of Chase Ultimate Rewards Points. The 2.1 cent per point valuation really impressed me. The amazing thing about those points is they can be transferred to seven different airlines and four different hotel chains.
According to The Points Guy, the real value in Ultimate Rewards Points is finding that amazing trip bookable with travel partner points and redeeming that way, instead of using it as a straight travel credit. Either way, it is a very good deal.
Then I read you could use some of Chase’s other cards, like the Freedom or the Ink business cards, which advertise cash back, to earn Chase Ultimate Rewards Points. Suddenly, getting a paltry 2% cash back on gas purchases seemed like chump change.
Chase Sapphire Reserve
It has a mighty expensive $450 annual fee. I am not generally a fan of annual fees and that’s a lot of money! But, you get a lot for your money: a $300 travel credit per calendar year (we have already gotten that perk twice, in only six months!), which brings the effective annual fee down to $150. You also get Priority Pass Select Lounge access at airports (be sure to call to get that activated!) and a credit every five years for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. That alone is worth the $450 fee.
Then there was the amazing sign-up bonus (100,000 points… which has since gone away… It is now 50,000) and the change in valuation of Chase Ultimate Rewards Points for Sapphire Reserve cardholders. Typically, when used as cash on a travel purchase, rather than transferring 1:1 to a travel partner for their points, Chase Ultimate Rewards Points are worth 1 cent per point. But, for Sapphire Reserve cardholders, they are worth 1.5 cents per point. That means the sign-up bonus alone is worth at least $1,500 in travel credits, which is pretty staggering.
The Sapphire Reserve card gets 3x Ultimate Rewards Points on travel purchases and dining and one point on everything else.
My only grumble is the $75 fee for additional cardholders. It is a bit high, but I am sure that is to pay for the Priority Pass Select membership since all cardholders can get access.
We got the card in September and easily met the $4,000 spend to get the 100,000 point sign-up bonus. Once we finished the spend, we decided to focus our spend on our Citi Hilton Honors Reserve card in an attempt to get Diamond status. We hit that mark just as we got off our cruise in San Juan, so it was on to our next Chase card.
Chase Freedom Card
The Chase Freedom has a rotating quarterly category for 5% cash back… BUT, if you have a card which grants Chase Ultimate Rewards Points, like the Sapphire Reserve, that becomes 5 points per dollar, which at a minimum is worth 7.5 cents per dollar and, if spent well, can net 10.5 cents per dollar.
We got this card in December and knocked out the $500 spend for the 15,000 point bonus by purchasing tires at Sam’s Club for the truck… at 5 points on the dollar since the quarterly bonus was warehouse stores. We also got an extra 2,500 points for adding Bonnie as a card holder.
With that spend out of the way, it was time to work on the last part of the trifecta, the Chase Ink Business Cash Card.
Chase Ink Business Cash Card
We applied for this card in December. Chase turned us down initially due to having just opened the Freedom card.
So, I waited until January and called for reconsideration. Our business (Our Wander-Filled Life) is relatively new, so we were not offended by the caution. Chase grilled us a bit, but, eventually, approved the card.
The Ink Business Cash card has a 30,000 point sign-up bonus after a $3,000 spend and gets 5 points per dollar at office supply stores, cell phone, landline, internet and TV services (including Netflix and Hulu) and 2 points per dollar on gas.
We recently met that spend requirement and are now learning how to best balance our spending (and point earning) over all the different cards!
Point Break Down
The Chase Sapphire Reserve
- 3x points on Travel
- 3x points on Dining
The Chase Ink Business Cash Card
- 5x points at office supply stores, cell and landline phones, Internet, cable TV (Netflix and Hulu counts)
- 2x points on gas
- 2x points on dining (but you get 3x on the Chase Sapphire Reserve)
The Chase Freedom Card
•5x points on quarterly rotating category
Each point is worth between 1.5 and 2.1 cents.
As for purchases which don’t fit one of those categories, we use the Citi Hilton Honors Reserve Visa, which earns 3 Hilton Honors points per dollar. This card also offers an amazing two-year extended warranty and PriceRewind, making it a great card for purchasing electronics.
Other Chase Options
There are three other Chase cards which earn Chase Ultimate Rewards Points: the Chase Sapphire Preferred, the Chase Freedom Unlimited and the Chase Ink Plus.
We could have signed up for one of the other cards, but the Chase Sapphire Preferred only gets 2x points on travel and dining, but only has a $95 annual fee after the first year. The Chase Freedom Unlimited gets 1.5x points on all purchases, but lacks the quarterly bonus. The Chase Ink Business Preferred gets 3x points on travel, shipping, Internet, social media advertising, cable and phone services, but has a $95 annual fee.
We feel the two additional cards we have hit all of the categories we wanted and neither had an additional annual fee. If we did not have the Citi Hilton Honors Reserve Visa, we would have looked at the Chase Freedom Unlimited.
While we like sign-up bonuses, we are not into the “churn,” the practice some folks have of signing up for cards, getting the sign-up bonus, then cancelling only to repeat later. Chase, in particular, has cracked down on the practice. The unofficial official rule is not allowing anyone with five new credit cards in the past 24 months get a new card.
Chase Ultimate Rewards Pros and Cons
Con: First and foremost, you must get one of the three Chase cards which offers Chase Ultimate Rewards Points. All three of those cards have an annual fee. The Chase Sapphire Reserve is $450. Both the Chase Sapphire Preferred (waived for the first year) and Chase Ink Business Preferred have a $95 annual fee.
That upfront cost is a barrier to some folks and we understand. For us, the math made sense to get a $450 annual fee credit card. It won’t make sense to a lot of folks.
Pro: Chase has been very easy to work with and their app is pretty easy to manage. Adding our business card did complicate things a little online, but overall, it is not bad to deal with.
Pro: I feel a lot more free in using different airlines and hotels than I used to. Knowing I will get bonus points regardless of which airline I book or which hotel I stay at is liberating. Knowing I am not limited to a particular airline when I fly is an advantage over the Delta SkyMiles AmEX.
Con: That said, the biggest detractor is having three cards and several categories to keep track of.
The Bottom Line
In six months, our spends have accumulated 147,500 points in sign up bonuses alone by spending $7,500. That doesn’t count the points we have earned on our spend. We presently have approximately 185,00 points. We are well on our way to having the points to fly business class to Thailand next summer.
The American Express Blue Cash Everyday is still used for groceries (3% cash back). The newly upgraded Amazon card (5% cash back if you have Prime) remains in our wallet for Amazon purchases. The Hilton Honors Reserve remains our go to card for generic purchases and electronics.
We like the freedom which comes from earning generic travel points with the Chase cards. That said, we found, for hotels, it is best to stay brand loyal. Diamond status with Hilton Honors this year has certainly confirmed that decision for us.
Interested in mastering your travel finances? Check out our Travel Finance 101.