Many people have asked me how am I able to travel so much. The secret is that, unless I get a killer deal, for the most part I use points and miles to go around the world. In the following series, aptly named “What’s in my wallet?” I will go over the various cards in my wallet at this time with descriptions, thoughts, and my recommendations.
This post will cover Chase, the behemoth in the travel credit card world. Chase offers many of the best cards in the market, both co-branded and Ultimate Reward cards, which is the name of the currency of Chase’s points. It must be noted that Chase allows cardholders to combine Ultimate Rewards across its cards, increasing their value proposition even more. Chase is the company that I opened my first travel card with, and for the most part takes most of my spending. It must be noted that now Chase has a 5/24 rule, which means if you have 5 new credit cards, from any bank, in the last 24 months, you will not get approved for nearly all Chase cards. Thus, it is best to make wise decisions when to apply for Chase cards.
Let’s get started with my Chase portfolio. I will place the cards in chronological order of when I opened them:
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Visa Premier
This is the first travel credit card I ever opened ten years ago and second overall after a Foley’s (now known as Macy’s) department store credit card. When I opened it, the bonus was 8 credits (one way flight); at this time Rapid Rewards was still based on credits and not dollar-based like it is now. The one spending benefit is it gives 2 Southwest points per dollar spent on Southwest purchases. This was the card I used for all my spending for several years until I seriously got into the points and miles game. The Chase Sapphire Reserve giving 3 points per dollar on all travel purchases has also cut my spending on this card. At this point, I hardly use this card and keep it because Chase gives 6,000 points yearly to pay the $99 annual fee. Also, it’s my second oldest credit card so I keep it open because it helps my average age of credit. This card has no foreign transaction fee.
- United MileagePlus Explorer Visa
I opened this card about six years ago for a healthy 50,000 mile signup bonus. The one spending benefit is it gives 2 United miles per dollar spent on United purchases, but like with the Southwest card, the Chase Sapphire Reserve’s accrual has cut my spending on this card also. I really keep it for one reason: United gives more award availability to people with its credit cards. Basically, there is a separate fare code for elite awards, but United generously allows cardholders to see and book these awards also. There are also other perks that are not as important to me. One is that the cardholder and a companion on the same reservation get one free bag each (normally $25 each on domestic and some international flights) so long as the reservation is made with the United card. There is also another benefit that allows those with the card and others on the reservation to board in group 2, but this is really only a benefit if one needs overhead storage space to store a carry on. Cardholders also get 2 United Club passes yearly, though the lounges usually aren’t much to talk about. Also, in the new unfortunate basic economy fare class, cardholders can bring on carry on bags. This card has a $95 annual fee, but no foreign transaction fee.
- Chase Freedom
I opened this card 2.5 years ago when I heard about it from a friend. The signup bonus wasn’t great, about 20,000 points, but still decent for a Chase Ultimate Rewards card. This became my daily spending card for about nine months, until the Chase Freedom Unlimited card was released. Now, I use it for whatever quarterly categories give 5x points, with a $1500 spending limit per quarter. The only quarter that I maximize is groceries, which is usually the second quarter of the year. It has no annual fee, but charges a 3% foreign transaction fee.
- Chase Freedom Unlimited
This is my go-to daily spending card for almost all of my purchases. It was released in March of 2016 and I went to my local Chase branch to apply the day it was released for a 15,000 signup bonus. It gives 1.5x points on all purchases; I use it for all purchases that don’t fall in Chase Freedom’s quarterly categories or the Chase Sapphire Reserve’s 3x categories (more on this card next). The amount of purchases I make on this card are staggering, and it helps me accrue points very quickly. Having a 50% increase on what I previously had with the Freedom has helped my accrual rate immensely. I recommend this card to anyone and everyone, as its accrual rate for basic purchases is phenomenal. It has no annual fee, but charges a 3% foreign transaction fee.
- Chase Sapphire Reserve
The Reserve was probably the most hyped credit card of all time, mostly due to its 100,000 point sign on bonus. Also, it revolutionized accrual by giving 3x points for travel and dining. These two categories are big for many people so points can accrue very quickly. I applied for this card the day it was released last August, and waited at home all day until it was delivered. Though the fee is $450, it’s well worth it because there is a $300 annual travel credit, which can be used for hotels, AirBnB, flights, Uber, taxi, Lyft, tolls, parking, and public transportation. The Reserve also allows you to transfer points to various transfer partners, such as United, Southwest, and Hyatt. Alternatively, one can use the points for cash value on travel at 1.5 cents per dollar. Thus, the signup bonus of 100,000 points could be used towards a $1,500 ticket. Having a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck fee credit and Priority Pass membership with unlimited guests allowed is just icing on the cake, though the lounges aren’t usually particularly great. Still, having the ability to enter a lounge is still good, if only for a bag of chips and bottle of water. This is a must have card for everyone, particularly those who are into traveling. This card has no foreign transaction fee.
I would recommend these five cards for anyone who is just getting into the hobby. My only caveat is that the United card may not make sense if you’re not in a city with a lot of Star Alliance carriers, in which case I would advise the Southwest Plus card if possible, as this card gives a 50,000 bonus most of the time. This is basically the same as the Premier card but with a lower annual fee, $69 instead of $99, and a lower annual points bonus as well, 3,000 instead of 6,000.
All in all, the trifecta of the Chase Freedom Unlimited, Chase Sapphire Reserve, and Chase Freedom means that you can make a minimum of 1.5x points on all purchases. This has increased my accrual rate exponentially, as before I used Freedom for most of my purchases and the Chase Sapphire Preferred for 2x travel and dining. Also, Chase has a shopping portal that allows even more earning, at least 1x bonus points are given at a variety of well-known stores. The trick is that one must click the link of the store in the Chase Ultimate Rewards website and then make the purchase, as it is tracked this way. Chase is definitely the king bank of the points and miles game right now and competitors are scrambling to keep up.