The Best Credit Card Travel Rewards System

[dropcap]F[/dropcap]or a long time I never paid much attention to all of the credit card points systems that were out there.  It wasn’t until I started researching my old JetBlue points program as well as what kind of system my two Chase Freedom cards had as I was thinking of getting rid of them.

Passport, credit cards and a map.

I found out that there are a myriad of different points systems out there, and they all work slightly differently.  However, the one that has gained a lot of popularity recently is the Chase Ultimate Rewards system.  Once I started researching this family of cards I started to get really excited about how much I could earn through their system.

I used to really like the JetBlue rewards program, but over the years the airline got more expensive (although they still remain one of my favorites to fly) and the points system didn’t seem as good after they overhauled the way they calculated points a few years ago.  However I have now since retired that card in favor of the Chase Ultimate Rewards system.

In a nutshell, Chase has a team of cards that each work slightly differently.  However each card has its own strengths in terms of points categories and earnings potential, and if they are used in conjunction with each other they can net you quite a bit of points.

The cards that I’ll talk about in this article are the Chase Sapphire Reserve/Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Freedom, and Chase Freedom Unlimited.  There are a few other cards offered by Chase, but for the purposes of this article, these are the most useful to talk about.

The Chase Ultimate Rewards Benefits

The Ultimate Rewards System gives you, the user, one account.  If you have more than one Chase credit card, the points from all of them funnel into the same account.

Now here’s where it gets good:  Having either the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Sapphire Preferred are key.  Each of these cards gives you the option to use your points at 1.5x or 1.25x their value (respectively) when booking travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards website portal.  All you have to do is funnel all of your points to one of those cards, and then access Chase Ultimate Rewards through that card.

This means that if you are a Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholder and spend $1000 in the month of May and get 10 points in your Ultimate Rewards account, you can use those points to get $15 worth of travel.  That’s 1.5x the value.  This means that booking travel (such as airline tickets, hotels, cruises, etc) through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal supercharges your points!

I spend an average of $2000 per month.  That equates to $20 in points per month.  However if I want to buy a plane ticket, at the end of a calendar year I will be able to buy $360 worth of plane tickets instead of $240 (240 x 1.5 = 360).

Very Flexible

When booking on Chase Ultimate Rewards I have found that I can get many, many flights.  However I cannot get ALL flights.  Certain airlines aren’t available, such as Southwest, however there are enough that I am quite happy with the selection and low prices.

The best part is that rather than being locked in with one airline, say JetBlue, you can use many different airlines.  Sometimes JetBlue doesn’t fly where I’m going, or their prices for that destination are too high.  I can still use my points to book a different airline, and best of all JetBlue is available through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal anyway.

Most hotels are available as well as car rentals and cruises.

The platform also allows you to quickly cash out your points to your Chase checking account, or use them to get gift cards for various merchants.  You can even use the points to pay off your credit card.

The flexibility of the system means that your points will never be locked up and you can access them at any time if you need some quick emergency money (which I used it for when I had a sudden emergency vet bill for my dog!).

However, the best way to use these points is to get a Chase Sapphire Reserve or Preferred and use those points at 1.25x or 1.5x their value for travel bookings.

[box type=”info” align=”” class=”” width=””]The best way to fully utilize the Chase Ultimate Rewards System with these points is to get a Chase Sapphire Reserve or Preferred card, and use all of your points at 1.25x or 1.5x their value for travel bookings.[/box]

Rotating The Chase Card Lineup For Maximum Benefits

But this isn’t even where it gets really good.  The Chase cards work in conjunction with each other, and if you rotate them for your purchases to maximize your points categories, you’ll get SO many more points.

For example, my Chase Sapphire Reserve gives me 3x points at restaurants and for travel expenses.  So every time I dine out, order a Jamba Juice or Starbucks, or buy a round of drinks at the local bar, I use my Chase Sapphire Reserve card.  Every time I buy a train ticket or hail an Uber, I use my Chase Sapphire Reserve.

My Chase Freedom card has rotating quarterly categories that offer 5x points.  This past quarter it was for supermarkets and drug stores.  Every time I went grocery shopping I would use my Chase Freedom card and get 5x points.

My Chase Freedom Unlimited card gets 1.5x points on ALL purchases.  I use that card for anything that doesn’t fit into any of the categories covered by the other cards.

So you can see how this can start adding up very nicely over the course of a year.  Some people might like the simplicity of a 2x cash back rewards card….it’s mindless and you don’t have to carry multiple cards.  Some people like to earn points with a single company, such as myself when I was using the JetBlue card religiously.  However, the Chase Ultimate Rewards program is SO flexible and the 5x points of the rotating categories of the Chase Freedom is very alluring, so I have been sticking with it.  And I have booked a LOT of free travel thanks to the points that I’ve been earning by being mindful about what I’m purchasing and what card would net me the most points at the end of the month.

An Example

Let’s say I spend $1400 in the month of June.

I spent $300 in restaurants and used my Chase Sapphire Reserve: 9 points

I spent $200 in groceries and used my Chase Freedom which gave me 5x points this quarter at grocery stores: 10 points

I spent $150 in gas using my Chase Freedom Unlimited: 2.25 points

I spent $200 on pet food and supplies, using my Chase Freedom Unlimited: 2.5 points

I spent $450 on my health insurance monthly premium: 6.75 points

I spent $100 on various things at Rite Aid because Drug Stores were part of the quarterly 5x category in my Chase Freedom card: 5 points

That’s a total of 35.5 points for the month of June using the Chase system, or $35.50 cash back.  Now, if I funnel all those points to my Chase Sapphire Reserve account and use them to book a plane ticket, I can buy $53.25 worth of plane tickets because using the Chase Sapphire Reserve account boosts my points to 1.5x their value.  At the end of the year if I have similar purchases every month, I will get $639 worth of travel using the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.  WOW!  Even if I only had the Chase Sapphire Preferred, I would get 1.25x the value for a total of $532 at the end of the year.

However even if I just decide to get cash back from Chase and not use the points for travel, I will get $426 back at the end of the year.

Now, if I had a boring old 2% cash back card, I would only get $28 back per month.  Say I have similar purchases every month, I would get $336 back at the end of the year.  That’s a loss of $90.  Not much, but why would you leave the money on the table?

Many people may spend more than this, especially families.  You can extrapolate out based on your monthly expenditure.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve card has a $450 annual fee.  However, that fee is almost negated by the $300 travel credit you get each calendar year (yes that’s $300 free dollars that will automatically get credited back to your account for anything from plane tickets, hotel rooms, and even Subway cards), plus a $100 credit to sign up for Global Entry / TSA PreCheck.  If you travel and use your Chase cards in unison with each other, the annual fee is not really a problem because the 1.5x points for travel more than make up for it.  If you don’t spend enough each month to make that annual fee worth it, then the Chase Sapphire Preferred might be a better option for you.

Smart Usage

Keep in mind that you’ll want to pay off these cards every month.  Don’t spend more than you can, and don’t put yourself into debt needlessly just to earn points.  The goal is to use the credit cards instead of a debit card, but pretend that you’re paying with cash.  Once you start paying interest you’re going to cancel out all the points you’re earning.

About Auther:

Leigh Gordon is an avid surfer, writer, and blogger living in San Diego. She spends time hiking and traveling, and enjoys seeing all that California and the world have to offer. She owns a yellow lab named Finn.