The Ultimate Rewards Ecosystem, My Card Strategy & Going for the Sapphire Reserve

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chase ultimate rewards card strategy
Chase Tower in Chicago. Photo by JohnPickenPhoto

Chase Ultimate Rewards – What’s In My Wallet

I cover a lot of credit card topics on Miles to Memories including which cards I feel are unique, which cards offer great value and which ones are duds. Sometimes I know readers wonder which cards I personally carry and which ones I cover, but don’t have for various reasons. As part of this new series, I will go in depth to describe which products I have with each bank and why. Last week I began with Bank of America and today I’ll cover Chase Ultimate Rewards earning cards. I’ll cover Chase co-branded cards in a separate post.

Chase Ultimate Rewards Card Strategy

Chase is a bank I have long strategized about, but nowadays things are different. With their tightening of approvals over the past year, it is now more important than ever to have a strategy to maximize your Chase cards. To start, if you are new to the travel rewards space and haven’t applied for many credit cards, then Chase is probably the place to look first. That is because of the 5/24 Guideline.

The 5/24 guideline says that Chase will deny most people if they have opened up 5 or more new credit card accounts across all banks within the past two years. There are some ways around this like receiving a targeted offer and being a Chase Private Client, but once you are passed 5/24, your chances of an approval go down tremendously.

The Ultimate Rewards Ecosystem

I personally buy into and love the Ultimate Rewards ecosystem. What do I mean by that? I can earn points on a variety of different cards in a variety of different categories and use those points in a variety of different ways. Instead of earning points one way on one card, I can earn them many ways across many cards. This is incredibly powerful as you will see. Now, let’s look at which cards I carry and which card I am looking to get.

Chase Freedom

The Chase Freedom card (my review) is an anchor of my Ultimate Rewards strategy. My wife has two Freedom cards and I have two. That gives us the ability to earn 5X points on up to $6K of spend ($1,500 per card) in rotating categories. This year those categories have ranged from groceries to restaurants and warehouse stores like Costco are included through the end of the year as well.

We both obtained our first Freedom cards through applying for the public bonus. We also both converted a Chase Sapphire Preferred card to a Freedom when our first year was up, because I feel that the Freedom has more overall value given its earning potential and lack of an annual fee. While the points earned with Freedom are normally locked in at one cent each, because I also have an Ink Plus (see below) they become flexible when moved into that account.

Current Offer: $150 (15,000 points) after spending $500 in the first 3 months

Chase Freedom Unlimited

This is the newest (for now) Chase Ultimate Rewards earning card. It earns a straight 1.5X on all purchases. By itself that is only 1.5% cash back, but because I also have the Ink Plus, I can get much higher value out of those points. The Freedom Unlimited carries no annual fee and I recently converted my third Freedom card to it in lieu of signing up from scratch.

Current Offer: $150 (15,000 points) after spending $500 in the first 3 months

Chase Ink Plus

The Ink Plus is the anchor of my Ultimate Rewards strategy. It is a premium card and thus allows me to transfer points earned with my other cards to travel partners and to use them at a higher value. I first opened my first Chase Ink several years ago for my business and have acquired a few more since then. The card comes with a $95 annual fee, but earns 5X points on office supplies and internet, cell and cable tv services. It also earns 2X on gas and hotels. (Up to $50K in each set of bonus categories.)

I have also found great value out of my Ink Plus when buying gift cards. Gyft, Gift Card Mart and PayPal Digital Gifts all code as 5X and I also can earn 5X when buying gift cards at office supply stores such as Office Depot or Staples. Overall, I earn back my annual fee by paying my internet/cell bills and get so much value by earning 5X on other stuff.

Current Offer: 60K after spending $5K in the first 3 months. $95 annual fee is not waived. You may also be able to get a 70K offer and/or the first year annual fee waived by applying in-branch.

Chase Ink Cash

I used to have more Ink Plus cards, but decided to downgrade a few to the Ink Cash. It too earns 5X in the same categories, but it has a cap of $25K per year instead of $50K. The 2X categories are a bit different, with restaurants replacing hotels which I actually think is an improvement. The Ink Cash doesn’t have an annual fee either, meaning I get tremendous value from this card.

Current Offer: $200 (20,000 points) after spending $3K in the first 3 months.

Honorable Mentions

Sapphire Preferred – Everyone’s favorite travel card doesn’t sit in my wallet unfortunately. As I mentioned before, I think the Freedom is a better long term value proposition. While I was happy to try out the Sapphire Preferred and its nice bonus the first year, I decided to downgrade it at that point. Do note though that if you don’t have the Ink Plus, you need this card to unlock points transfers on the other cards.

Upcoming Sapphire Reserve

In case you have been living in a box, Chase is set to launch a brand new premium card in 10 days called the Sapphire Reserve. This card will come with a 100K sign-up bonus, $300 travel credit, lounge access and so much more. I covered the full details here and I highly recommend giving them a look. This card truly looks amazing.

The question then becomes how I will get my hands on it. I am personally over 5/24, so I am hoping to talk to a banker to see about becoming a Chase Private Client. I am also hoping that given my long relationship with the bank and the fact that I have moved my business banking over to Chase (thanks to their generous bonus), that I may get a pre-qualified offer.

The Sapphire Reserve is replacing the Palladium card, so my guess is that this will be a card that is tough to get. In other words they are probably looking to grab that high-end of the market, but who knows. When products launch, especially in the beginning when companies want to show great acquisition numbers, things (like loose approval guidelines) can happen. I plan to pay close attention to this card and to people’s experiences to give myself the best shot of getting one!

Putting It All Together

So now that I have gone over all of the cards I have, take a look at how I earn Ultimate Rewards points:

  • 1.5X everywhere
  • 5X rotating categories
  • 5X office supply, internet, cable, cell phone
  • 2X hotels, gas stations and restaurants

and crossing my fingers:

  • 3X travel & dining with the Sapphire Reserve

As you can see, that is a robust and widespread way to earn points. I haven’t gone into the points spending side, but these points can be spent in a wide variety of ways as well. In other words, this is an ecosystem that is worth investing in.


This turned out to be a long post, but I do think everyone should look at their Chase strategy now more than ever. With the Sapphire Reserve coming to the market and with Chase continuing to clamp down on “credit card enthusiasts” it is prudent to choose which direction you want to go and how you want to get there. Unfortunately for some of us that will mean sacrificing some applications or cards, but in the end it can definitely be worth it.


  1. How did you convert a Freedom account to a Freedom Unlimited account? I have had 2 representatives tell me it’s not possible to do exactly that – and that I would have to apply for the Unlimeted Freedom separately. Doing that may not work for me because of the 5/24 rule. I’d love to be able to convert one of our Freedoms to the Unlimited version to use for everyday purchases.

  2. I kept the Sapphire for the primary car insurance, but maybe I don’t need that. I do rent a lot of cars for personal use and not for business.

  3. Does your strategy include cards issued by Chase that are not part of Ultimate Rewards? (MileagePlus Explorer, Southwest, IHG etc.) Or are these cards not as valuable as cards that earn flexible points?

    • They are great for sign ups but not good for regular spend – outside of maybe using the hyatt card for 2pts per dollar at restaurants.

  4. So is it better to forego the signup bonus for the Ink Cash and downgrade? Same for the Freedom Unlimited, is it better to forego the signup bonus and upgrade from the Freedom?

  5. So for those of us who can not become a private client, would it be beneficial to upgrade a Freedom or Sapphire card to the Reserve even if we cant get the signup bonus?

    • I’ll have a post coming on that when the card officially comes out. I want to confirm first off which cards they will allow to convert and also want to go over all of the benefits in detail when they are officially announced. I do think there will be value in the conversion for some though.

  6. Shawn, wouldn’t you want to put your dining spend on the Chase Sapphire Reserve (assuming it has 3x UR earning) rather than the Ink Cash at 2x UR?


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