The biggest trend I’ve seen in the points and miles game — ever since I’ve been blogging — is that airlines and hotels have been devaluing their programs and increasing the amount of miles and points needed for flights or award stays to the point where it can be crazy. I was recently looking to fly JFK to LAX round-trip in Delta One and it was 255,000 SkyMiles. That’s right: 255,000 for a domestic round-trip flight! Granted it’s Delta’s flagship business-class product, but that’s pretty insane no matter how you slice it.
Luckily on the flipside, credit cards have become insanely lucrative. So while airline and hotel loyalty programs have become less rewarding, credit cards have more and more to offer. In essence, I’ve shifted my loyalty away from travel providers and more to credit cards.
I currently hold 20 different credit cards as I mentioned in my most recent inventory post — I actually trimmed down that number from 31 cards total. So there are quite a few cards that can get my spend. But the product family that I’ve been most loyal to is Chase. Now, I wrote in 2012 about the the Chase trifecta and at that time it was the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Ink Bold (with exclusives) and Chase Freedom.
Since then, Chase has improved its lineup and now the 2017 trifecta is much much better then ever before. Really what the trifecta is all about is maximizing every single dollar you spend and putting the right spend on the right credit cards. I tell people all the time: You don’t need to be a frequent flyer to be into the points game; you just need to be smart about how you spend your money.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve is one of the best credit cards on the market right now. It won our battle of the premium travel reward cards and initially came with a 100,000-point sign-up bonus, which is now 50,000 points if you spend $4,000 in the first three months. I say that’s worth $1,100 based on my monthly points and miles valuations, thanks to Chase’s fantastic transfer partners.
|Flying Blue (Air France/KLM)||Instantaneous|
|Singapore Airlines||Same Day|
You’re also getting ongoing value because the earning categories are really strong: You get 3 points per dollar on all travel and dining — which includes pretty much everything under the sun in regards to travel, like airplane tickets, hotels, commuter transportation, parking, Uber, Lyft, etc. Dining is also pretty broad, including all restaurants and even food-delivery services. So with these broad categories and the amount I eat out and travel, I really rack up points quickly.
The hefty $450 annual fee is offset by the broad $300 travel credit, effectively making the fee $150. You’ll also get a Priority Pass Select membership, a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck credit up to $100 and things like rental car insurance, trip cancellation and delay coverage, lost luggage reimbursement, concierge service, access to the Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection and accelerated access to Club 5C status with Relais & Châteaux.
When the Sapphire Reserve came out, people were worried about how long the benefits would last. Despite the fact that the sign-up bonus got changed to 50,000, it’s still a really strong bonus and a really strong product offer. Even at 50,000 points (and I don’t think it’s going to go back to 100,000), you’re still getting immediate value from the sign-up bonus.
The Sapphire Reserve has a forever place in my wallet or at least until Chase comes out with an even better Sapphire product (and I’m not holding my breath on that happening anytime soon).
Ink Business Preferred
My spend goes to many more categories than just travel and dining, so that’s where the second tier of the trifecta comes in. At The Points Guy we spend a lot of money on online advertising, and with the Ink Business Preferred we earn 3x points on that. More specifically, the Ink Preferred offers 3x bonus points on up to $150,000 in combined spending each year for purchases made on travel, shipping, internet, cable, phone services and advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines. I love that the categories are broad and I end up maxing out the $150,000 limit every year.
The $95 annual fee card also offers a massive 80,000-point sign-up bonus after spending $5,000 in the first three months, which I value at $1,760!
Along with the same primary rental car insurance as the CSR, the Ink Preferred also offers a cell phone protection insurance benefit in which the card will pay to replace a damaged cell phone up to three times per year with just a $100 deductible so long as you pay the bill with your card. You can even protect your employees’ cellphones if their lines of service are included on the same bill. And by paying the bill with the Ink Preferred, you’re earning 3x Ultimate Rewards points since phone services is one of the card’s bonus categories.
The last card in the trifecta is the Chase Freedom Unlimited. With this card you earn 1.5x points on all purchases with no annual reward caps. This card gets a lot of my non-bonus category spend. The no-annual–fee card also offers a $150 sign-up bonus for spending $500 in the first three months. And, because you can transfer your points into a Sapphire Reserve or Ink Preferred account if you have one of those cards, that bonus is equivalent to 15,000 Ultimate Rewards points (worth $330) if you link the card to a normal UR-earning card like the Sapphire Reserve, Ink Preferred or Sapphire Preferred.
The other option is to use the Chase Freedom Card, which offers 5% cash back on rotating quarterly spend categories. Since it’s capped at $1,500 a quarter, I’d rather have the Freedom Unlimited, which is uncapped and essentially gets me 1.5 Chase points, which is strong for categories that offer no spend bonuses. But if you do spend a lot in the Freedom categories, which range from gas stations to grocery stores, then that might be a better option.
Another great thing about the trifecta is that I actually downgraded my Sapphire Preferred instead of canceling it, to the Freedom Unlimited. So if you have the Sapphire Preferred and want the Sapphire Reserve, don’t upgrade. You’ll want to apply for the Sapphire Reserve so you get the sign-up bonus and then downgrade your Preferred into the Freedom Unlimited.
I was over 5/24, which Chase implemented last year allowing cardholders to only be approved for a credit card application if they haven’t opened more than 5 accounts in the last 24 months. And since I was over 5/24, it was great that I could product-change from the Sapphire Preferred to the Freedom Unlimited.
Maximizing Spend For Maximum Return + Perks
The trifecta also means your cards will come with a variety of perks:
|Chase Sapphire Reserve||Chase Ink Business Preferred||Chase Freedom Unlimited|
|Sign-Up Bonus||50,000 points||80,000 points||$150 (or 15,000 points)|
|Lounge Access||Priority Pass Lounges||None||None|
|Global Entry/TSA PreCheck Credit||$100 credit every four years||None||None|
|Purchase Protection||Yes (within 120 days, up to $10,000 per item and $50,000 per year).||Yes (within 120 days, up to $10,000 per item and $50,000 per year). Plus cell phone protection, $600 per claim.||Yes (within 120 days, up to $500 per item and $50,000 per year).|
|Other Perks||Hotel perks, car rental elite status, trip cancellation/trip interruption insurance, extended warranty protection, price protection||Car rental coverage, trip cancellation/trip interruption insurance, extended warranty protection, price protection||(Secondary) car rental coverage, price protection|
A trifecta is used in horse racing, so I’d say the three cards finish the race like this:
Win: Sapphire Reserve
Place: Ink Business Preferred
Show: Freedom Unlimited
If you can only get one card, I would recommend choosing the card that will get you the biggest return based on your most frequent purchase categories.
In general, you want to be a good customer to Chase because it’s so good to us as consumers. So spend as much as you can with Chase and not only that, when it comes time to redeem Ultimate Rewards points, you can actually transfer all your points to your Reserve account and get 1.5 cents per point versus 1.25 cents (if you book through the Chase travel portal). So you’re earning 1.5x with the Freedom Unlimited, but you’re getting 1.5 cents per point, so when you do the math you’re getting 2.25 cents per dollar spent when redeemed for travel, which is better than almost every other cash-back card.
Ultimately, the Chase ecosystem is incredibly lucrative and Chase rewards us, so we should reward them.