Full disclosure: I may receive a small referral bonus for anyone that’s approved through some of the links below. You don’t necessarily have to use my links, but I’d appreciate it, and be grateful when you do.
In my last post, I wrote about How I Took a $10K Trip in Europe for (almost) Free, by using mainly Chase Ultimate Reward Points, so many people started wondering why I chose Chase credit cards for travel, and where I got so many Chase UR points from, to begin with. Now I’m going to tell you why you need Chase UR points if you like to travel for free, and how you can quickly rack up your UR points through different daily activities.
There’re so many credit cards on the market these days, some offer cash back bonuses, some offer airline miles or free hotel nights, some offer certian elite status and travel perks, so which credit cards are the right ones to choose for free travel? Like I mentioned in my previous post, not all points are created equal. In my opinion, points that offer the most diversity and flexibility when redeeming them are the ones you need to look into. Take Chase UR points as an example, if you have one of the premium Chase cards, like Chase Sapphire Preferred (CSP) or Chase Sapphire Reserve (CSR), you can redeem them at least in the Chase travel portal for flights or hotels at a 1:1.25 (CSP) or 1:1.5 (CSR) ratio, without blackout dates.
Alternatively, if you really want to maximize the value of these points, you can transfer them to one of the 11 travel partners of Chase (listed below), and redeem them for free flight tickets or free hotel nights. That was how I got to fly Business Class among 4 different European countries in my last trip in Europe. And if I felt like doing an impromptu short trip to Chicago during this raining Labor Day Weekend, I could easily transfer 15000 UR points to British Airways instantaneously, to redeem a last minute roundtrip award flight ticket for $11.2 while other people pay $725 for the same ticket. Or better yet, if you have a long international trip coming up, having enough UR points to transfer to travel partners can let you experience the premium travel products, such as the First Class Suite on Singapore Airlines, or the luxury suites of Park Hyatt Tokyo, for only a fraction of the market price.
Now we all get it, we need the UR points because of its diversity and flexibility when redeeming for travel. So how can we collect as many UR points as possible?
Credit Card Sign-up Bonus
It’s fair to say that U.S banks and credit card companies offer the most lucrative sign-up bonuses, compared to their counterparts around the world. When Chase first introduced the CSR product last August, it offered 100K UR points as sign-up bonus after $4000 spend in the first 3 months, which, even if you converted the points at the lowest rate (1:1.5) for travel, is still worth at least $1500, a whopping 37.5% return of investment.
I was one of the lucky ones that got approved when it first came out, and the $300 annual travel credit immediately helped me save $300 when I booked a flight ticket using CSR. Rumor has it that Chase loses so much money on the CSR product from all the credit and perks they are giving out, that they since then reduced the signup bonus to 50K UR points, which in my opinion, is still not a bad option, considering how much travel credit ($300/year) and perks (free Priority Pass that allows you to bring unlimited guests to airport lounges) you get from this card.
However, starting from August 27 2017, Chase tightened the restrictions of getting Sapphire products: CSR’s official T&C indicate that “current cardmembers of any Sapphire credit card” can no longer get any other Sapphire cards; also “previous cardmembers of any Sapphire credit card who received a new cardmember bonus within the last 24 months” can no longer be eligible to get other Sapphire products. But this change does not affect existing card holders who, for some reason, already have more than 1 Sapphire cards.
This definitely is a bad news for people who want to get their hands on CSR but hesitated due to its high annual fee and got CSP instead. I’ve heard multiple people telling me how they regretted not listening to me when I told them to get the CSR in the first place. Well, if you’ve had your CSP for longer than 24 months, one solution for you is to downgrade your CSP to one of the no annual fee cards, like Chase Freedom, or Chase Freedom Unlimited, both of which I’ll talk in details later in this post. By doing so, you will then be qualified to get CSR because, a) you no longer hold any Sapphire credit cards; b) the sign-up bonus you got from CSP is over 24 months ago.
UR points can sometime be advertised as “Cash Backs” by Chase (because who doesn’t like cash?!), for example, the 2 freedom cards in the picture below each has $150 “Cash Back” as sign-up bonus, but after you meet the minimum spending requirement ($500 in first 3 months) on either card, you will see 15000 Ultimate Reward points in your Chase UR Portal. So how fast would you normally earn this amount of points if the sign-up bonus didn’t exist?
Given the fact that Chase Freedom card offers 5% “cash back” (or 5x UR points) per dollar spent on specific categories in each quarter, if it weren’t for the sign-up bonus, it would have taken us (15000/5=) $3000 spending on the rotating bonus category in order to earn the same amount. Chase Freedom Unlimited, which offers 1.5x UR points/dollar spent on anything, would have needed $10,000 spending to get the same amount of points. As for the initial sign-up bonus of CSR, if the 100K UR points didn’t exist, the same amount of points would have required a whopping $33,333 dollars spent on travel or dining (both offers 3x UR points/dollar spent on these categories).
That is why getting the sign-up bonus is the fastest way of collecting Chase UR points, or any credit card points for that matter.
2. Pay with the Right Card
To help myself memorize the different functions of each cards, I alway like to assign my credit cards with their different “identities”. For example, I call my Chase Sapphire Reserve, “the Travel and Dining Card”; call my Amex Blue Cash Preferred “the Grocery and Gas card”; and call my Chase Freedom “the Point Collector”, because it collects 5x UR points on different categories rotating in each quarter. Use this year’s cash back calendar as an illustration: Normally, I use my CSR for restaurants because it offers 3X UR points per dollar in this category, but in Q3 (July – September), it’s been sitting in my wallet the whole time because Chase Freedom offer 5X UR points per dollar at restaurants (higher than CSR). I then transferred all the points I collected from Chase Freedom to my CSR account, so that these points will be multiplied by 1.5x of its original value when redeeming for travel. If you have trouble memorizing all the different bonus categories of each quarter, you can always write a “cheat sheet” to put in your wallet, or write a memo on your phone.
For any other non-catogory spending, I’ll use my Chase Freedom Unlimited that gives me 1.5x UR points, and then bank these points to my CSR account, in this way, each dollar of non-category spending will bring me 1.5 x 1.5 = 2.25 UR points to use towards travel.
3. Max out the Bonus Categories
One thing that most people fail to notice is that, there’s a maximum amount you can earn 5x points of from the bonus categories in each quarter (see slides above). If you read the fine print carefully, you’ll see that there’s a $1500 cap in combined purchases in that quarter’s bonus categories, where you can earn 5x points from. Therefore, the maximum bonus cash back (UR points) you can earn from Chase Freedom in each quarter is $75 (or 7500 UR points), after that, you can still earn cash back, but it’ll only be 1 point per dollar. That’s why my friend was surprised that Last Friday I paid my lunch with Discover It Card (which has the same concept of Freedom, and is also currently offering 5% cash back at Restaurants), because she knew I normally prefer collecting UR points for award travel. So I told her that I already maxed out this quarter’s UR bonus, I might as well get 5% real cash bonus from Discover. She looked very confused as she had no idea the existence of the $1500 cap, nor did she know if she was over the limit or not.
I think it’s very important to keep an eye on your cash back (point earning) progress and make sure you’re getting the most points/cash back out of each dollar you spend. There’re often other times where the bonus categories don’t seem to fit your lifestyle. For instance, if you dine out most of the time and rarely cook at home, you might find grocery stores bonus category less intriguing. But the truth is, you can still make the full use of this category? And the secret weapon is, gift cards sold at grocery stores! Most of the grocery stores sell 3rd party gift cards, including various restaurants, movie theaters, airlines, Uber, or gasoline gift cards, a lot of these are things you will need to use anyway, so why not get 5% cash back from it? I usually pick out the ones that I’ll use for sure in the next couple months, such as the ones for food and gas. This is also a great way to meet the minimum spending requirement of a credit card.
4. Chase Online Shopping Portal
Not only can you book travel through Chase Ultimate Reward portal, you can also do some online shopping while earning additional UR points through it. Last month, Chase launched a Chase Pay promotion in which you can earn 10% cash back on up to $250 in purchases in August with Chase Pay at Walmart.com. And at the same time, Ultimate Reward portal was offering 4% additional cash back, so I bought (I guess) a whole year worth of toilet paper and miscellaneous items that I will definitely use in my daily life, and scored another 3500 UR points by double dipping the two promotions.
These are some of the methods I use to collect credit card points, which can be turned into airline miles or hotel points, that’s basically how I get to fly for free so often. I was really going to have a spontaneous trip to somewhere sunny as I have enough British Airways points collected through an online order (a later post will teach you how), but I’ve been so busy for the past couple of weeks, so I finally decided to give myself a break and have a little staycation at home. If you guys find these tips helpful or have some interesting topics or suggestions in mind, please feel free to leave a comment, and give me a thumbs up.
If you need a referral for the 2 no annual fee Chase Freedom cards, here you go:
Hope you guys have a wonderful Labor Day Weekend! Peace out~