If you are a fan of the Ultimate Rewards (UR) program then more than likely your ultimate (pun intended) goal is to end up with five variety of UR earning cards. But before we dig deep into that here is a quick remark on UR earning cards with/out annual fee (AF).
AF vs no-AF UR cards
There are couple of key things to keep in mind. First, all of the cards listed below do earn UR. Second, unless you’ve at least one premium card, you cannot use UR for anything but gift cards & amazon (bad idea) or cashback (decent idea). However, once you have a premium card, your UR points become 25-50% more valuable when redeemed for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards (good idea). But, most churners choose to transfer these points to various travel partners (great idea). Last, but not least the premium cards have no foreign transaction fee (FTF) while non-premium ones do.
UR earning cards without AF:
- Freedom Unlimited
- Chase Sapphire
- Ink Cash Business
UR earning cards with AF:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred
- Ink Plus (or the discontinued Ink Bold)
- Chase Sapphire Reserve
- JPMorgan Reserve (or the discontinued Palladium)
Opening Remark: In this article I am going to go out of my way to avoid talking about signup bonuses. You’re probably sick and tired of hearing about that so I doubt you’ll hold that against me. This article is strictly about UR earning rate, AF, and which cards you should have. I will also avoid spamming the article with referral links. Instead what I will do is link you to my referral page. If you feel the urge to support me then head over to the page and use the referral link to signup for a credit card.
Freedom Unlimited (FU) earns 1.5x on every purchase and there is no limit to it. If one is to redeem for cashback, then this card is essentially a 1.5% card and thus inferior to various 2% card out there but if one is to use it in conjunction with premier UR earning chase cards (basically the ones with AF) then it is possible to get much better value.
Each quarter earn 5x on up to $1,500 spend on a predetermined category such as restaurant, grocery, gas, and amazon.
- If you are a heavy spender in these categories then you might consider having two Freedom cards. This way, each quarter you can earn 5x on up to $3000.
- In 4th quater (Q4) of 2015, Freedom offered 10x on amazon. It was mostly to compete with similar offer from Discover and we’re not sure if 10x offer will be back this year.
- Both variety of freedom card comes with a referral system.
- You earn 5,000 UR per person you uses your link to signup for the card, gets approved, and uses it. You can earn up to 50,000 UR per calendar year.
Chase Sapphire (Preferred)
Chase Sapphire Preferred (CSP) earns 2x on dining and travel worldwide. While 2x earning rate is rather low in States, it is one of the best rate you can get when travelling aboard. Now, one must wonder that 2x earning rate cannot possibly pay $95 in AF (waived first year) however (1) when you’ve various UR earning cards you more than make up for the AF and (2) CSP comes with a solid referral system.
You can earn up to 50,000 UR per year through CSP referral system. Now, you earn 10,000 UR per referral and can earn up to 50,000 UR per calendar year. Essentially, if you get at least one referral a year, you come out ahead of AF.
As the sub-title may suggest, there is a different version of this card called Chase Sapphire (CS). CS is available as a downgrade to CSP and you can no longer apply for CS online. CS has no-AF but does have FTF and only earns 2x on dining.
Chase Ink Plus/Cash Business
The two variety of Ink Business cards you can apply for are Ink Plus (Ink+) and Ink Cash. The earning rate and categories in these two cards vary slightly.
- 5x on the first $50,000 spend in combined purchases at office supply store and on cellular phone, landline, internet, and cable TV services each account anniversary year.
- 2x on the first $50,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and hotel accommodations when purchased directly with the hotel each account anniversary year.
- Earn 5x on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at office supply stores and on cellular phone, landline, internet and cable TV services each account anniversary year.
Earn 2x on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants each account anniversary year.
The key difference is essentially two fold:
- Ink+ has 5x earning cap at 50k while Cash has the cap at 25k.
- Ink+ codes 2x on gas while Cash codes it on restaurants.
Once again the AF is $95 (waived first year if applied at a branch) but this time around there is a rather generous earning rate and of course the referral system (referral bonus earning rate and annual cap on referral bonus is same as that of CSP) still exists. The big issue with Ink+ referral is essentially that it is hard to have people to signup for the card through the referral link and even if they do Ink is relatively tough to get approved than other UR earning cards.
Chase Sapphire Reserve
Chase Sapphire Reserve (CSR) is an even more premium version of CSP and comes with an AF of $450 (not waived first year). The card comes with various perks but for the purpose of this blog we’ll zoom down to two perks that are slightly different than CSP:
- You earn 3x on dining and travel world wide.
- UR points are 50% more valuable when redeemed through UR portal.
The “50% more valuable” deal is rather intriguing benefit. Strictly looking at the numbers, your 1.5x earning FU essentially gets you 1.5*1.5 = 2.25%. Let me repeat this again – you are getting 2.25% value on all your purchases. Similarly, your 3x earning becomes 4.5% while your 5x earning becomes 7.5%. Now an important thing to keep in mind is that chase booking portal does not always offer the best price. In fact some airlines are flat out omitted from the search parameter. On top of that chase portal does not run discount coupon like you would often find in flight and hotel booking websites. Then there’s the fact that you can often get higher than 1.5 cpp through travel partners. Nevertheless, 1.5 cpp through portal is still an excellent option to have and is occasionally bound to give you better result than transferring points to travel partners.
JPMorgan Reserve (JPMR) is essentially a CSR for JPM bank clients but it seems some folks with Chase private client (CPC) status also have been able to grab JPMR. One needs to have around 250k in cash and asset to be considered for CPC and as such it is out of reach for many folks here. However, for those who are CSP, you might want to try to get JPMR over CSR since JPMR also comes with United Club access (you simply have to ask Chase for it). Also, JPMR counts as a separate product than CSR so one can get signup bonus for CSR as well as JPMR.
So what are some combos?
- No AF combo: Freedom + Ink Cash
- This combo is for those who do not wish to pay any AF and will redeem UR for cash.
- You will get a ton out of 5x categories. I wouldn’t bother using the 2x category on Ink Cash because you can generally get far better earning rate from other cards.
- For above mentioned reason people in this category should not bother with CS either. There are cards like AARP that give 3% earning on dining and obviously there is Freedom and Discover It card that occasionally gives 5% on dining.
- Since cash is the goal here, 1.5x earning of FU is not note worthy. You are better off using 2% card like Double Cash for non-category purchases.
- No AF combo: Freedom + FU + Ink Cash + CS
- This combo is for those who do not wish to pay AF at the moment, will earn UR now, and burn it later when they upgrade to or get a premium UR card.
- You should account for the fact that by the time you get a premium card and make travel redemption, devaluations might occur. In other words, by that time 2x earning on dining might be inferior to 5% earning.
- In this scenario, FU is a good choice for non-category purchases. If you can eventually get over 1.33 cent per point (cpp) then you will come on top of 2% card.
- Similarly, if you can get 2.5 ccp on UR then 2x earning on gas and dining will break even with 5% earning on those categories. And if you can get 1.5 ccp on UR then 2x earning on dining will break even with 3% earning on dining.
- $95 combo: Freedom + FU + CSP + Ink Cash OR Freedom + FU + CS + Ink Plus
- This combo is for those who wish to make pay AF and make use of Chase booking portal and/or transfer partners.
- Whether one pays for CSP or Ink+ depends on individual needs. Some may prefer CSP for travel while other may prefer Ink+ for higher cap on 5x category
- $450 combo: Freedom + FU + CSR (or JPMR) + Ink Cash
- This combo is for those who wish to pay an AF and see value in paying at least $55 more than one would with CSP.
- As stated before if you can get JPMR, then you should get it over CSR since JPMR comes with united club access as well.
My ideal “get everything” combo: $640 AF
So you’re probably thinking “why would someone pay for CSP when they have CSR?” and maybe perhaps even “Why would someone pay for Ink Cash when they have CSR?” Well a partial answer to the latter question could be that they’re really maxing out 5x category and doing so is worth it to them. Now as far as the former question goes, well, if you’ve sort of read what I’ve been saying throughout this article then you might have guessed the answer – REFERRALS.
I’ve generally found that getting people to sign up for CSP is rather easy. Several months ago I was able to refer four people within a month. It is a different story that I have not found a 5th people to refer since then.
Now, the referral landscape of CSP might have completely changed with the the introduction of CSR. It is possible that less people will signup for CSP and as such maxing out CSP referrals might be harder.
Ink Plus on the other hand is on a different spectrum. I have found that getting referral bonus for Ink Plus is rather difficult. I’ve had the card since early 2016 and I have only been able to get one referral bonus. I plan to pay attention to my referrals on Ink+ and based on the data I collect I will keep or downgrade the card next year. I personally am inclined to keep the card, why wouldn’t you? It only takes one referral for you to come out on top of AF….and you’ve a whole year to get at least one referral.
In my next blog post I will talk about ThankYou wombo combo, a collection of five ThankYou points earning card from Citi bank.