Do you want to learn how to book a $20,000 trip for just $200?
I will take you through the steps to earn tons of valuable Chase Ultimate Rewards points by using Chase credit cards. These points are arguably the most esteemed points in award travel because you can use them to book free flights, hotels, experiences, and more!
I started collecting credit card points in 2015 with the Sapphire Preferred credit card, and since then, I’ve expanded my wallet to the Freedom and Freedom Unlimited cards, Chase business cards, and their partner-branded cards. I’ve used these points to book:
- Two round-trip economy flights to:
- Paris and Madrid
- Cabo San Lucas
- Las Vegas
- Disney World
- Los Angeles for an NFL playoff game
- Five nights at the Hyatt Place Chicago/Downtown-The Loop
- And two round-trip business class flights, and Marriott and Hyatt hotels in South Africa and Tokyo, priced at over $20,000!
Enjoying our first trip on points to Paris and Spain!
Before we get started, here are definitions of a few common credit card terms terms:
- Authorized User: Any person who has permission to use a credit card account, but is not liable for paying the bill. The person will receive a credit card in his or her name, and it is linked to someone else’s account. Many credit card sign-up bonuses include an extra bonus for authorized users to make purchases with the card as well.
- Award Travel: Booking flights, hotels, or other travel options with points or miles
- Foreign Transaction Fee: A charge assessed by a bank or card issuer when you use a debit or credit card to make a purchase in a foreign currency
- Minimum Spending Requirement: The least amount of money you must charge to a credit card in a specific time frame to earn that card’s sign-up bonus (e.g. spend $4,000 in three months to earn 60,000 bonus points). Track your spending to reach the minimum spending requirement. Chase’s Ultimate Rewards portal has a status bar that shows you how close you are to earning the bonus. Although that’s helpful, I like to keep a spreadsheet of my purchases to see exactly how much I’ve spent and how much I have left to go. It is also important to meet the minimum spending requirement a week or so in advance of the three-month mark to give yourself time for the purchases to post to your account and to process any returns you’ve made.
- Sign-Up Bonus: A large amount of points or cash back that you can earn after completing a minimum spending requirement
Chase’s Travel Partners
Let’s look at Chase’s travel partners to understand your options for booking award travel with Chase Ultimate Rewards:
- Aer Lingus AerClub
- British Airways Executive Club
- Flying Blue Air France KLM
- Emirates Skywards
- Iberia Plus
- Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
- Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards
- United Airlines MileagePlus
- Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
- World of Hyatt
- IHG Rewards Club (e.g. Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, etc.)
- Marriott Rewards (e.g. Marriott and SPG-branded hotels)
You can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to these travel partners in increments of 1,000, or you can redeem points through the Chase Ultimate Rewards Portal to book hotels and flights. I find the best value in transferring to travel partners, but many swear by booking through the portal. When you’re ready to book an award trip, compare the cost in points between booking with the hotel or airline directly or the portal.
Personal Credit Cards
Before you start, make sure your credit score is 700+ and that you can use credit cards responsibly. Credit card rewards are worthless if you pay interest and late fees on these cards!
Remember Chase’s 5/24 rule! Chase will deny your credit card application for any of its cards if you have opened five or more credit card accounts across all banks in the last 24 months. This only accounts for new credit cards, whether it is through a bank or a store credit card. It does not count for bank loans, mortgages, new bank accounts, student loans, or other new accounts. Due to this rule, apply for Chase cards first before expanding to American Express, Citi, or other banks’ credit cards.
First, apply for the Sapphire Preferred or Sapphire Reserve
First, apply for one main card to transfer points to travel partners. Chase allows transfers to partners through its Sapphire Reserve or Sapphire Preferred cards. You cannot hold both the Reserve and the Preferred cards at the same time. Read through each card’s benefit guide to see which one fits your spending habits best. Both cards earn bonus points on travel and dining purchases, and 1X on all other purchases.
I noted the usual sign-up bonuses below, and if you find a higher sign-up bonuses, make sure you apply for it as soon as possible! Chase often offers higher sign-up bonuses, and it is important to take advantage of the opportunity to earn more points when you can. Often times a Chase sign-up bonus can read, “$150 cash back after you spend $500,” but this simply means 15,000 bonus points.
Next, apply for the Freedom and Freedom Unlimited
Once you achieve the minimum spending requirement to earn the sign-up bonus for either the Sapphire Reserve or Preferred card, and it’s been longer than 30 days since your first application, then apply for the no-annual fee cards: Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Unlimited. You can transfer points from these cards to your Reserve or Preferred card to transfer them to Chase’s partners.
|Chase Card||Annual Fee||Bonus Amount||Category||Foreign Transaction Fees|
Usual Sign-Up Bonus
& Minimum Spending Requirement
|Freedom||$0||5X||Rotating categories every quarter|
(e.g. gas, Uber/Lyft, department stores, etc.)
|3%||15,000 bonus points after you spend $500|
on purchases in the first 3 months
|Freedom Unlimited||$0||1.5X||All purchases||3%||15,000 bonus points after you spend $500 |
on purchases in the first 3 months
Focus on earning points through each card’s bonus categories
After you earn a card’s sign-up bonus, it is important to not earn less than 1.5X for any purchase (assuming you have the three cards mentioned above). I use my Sapphire Preferred for travel and dining out purchases, my Freedom for purchases in the rotating categories, and my Freedom Unlimited for any purchases that do not fall into the aforementioned categories.
If you are trying to earn a sign-up bonus, switch all of your spending to that card until you reach the minimum spending requirement. This is important because you will lose out on a significant amount of points if you miss the opportunity to earn a sign-up bonus! Purchases outside of bonus categories earn 1X point per dollar.
There are a few easy ways to make sure you earn the most points you can per purchase:
- Use your credit card to pay for everything – and I mean everything! Cash and debit cards are lost opportunities to earn points on purchases. Most companies accept credit cards for bill payments, including electricity and gas, insurance, water/sewer/garbage, cell phones, and cable/internet.
- Does the company charge a fee to use a credit card? If so, decide whether the purchase could help you reach a minimum spending requirement or if you will earn more cash back than the fee. Sometimes it is worth paying a small fee to use a credit card and earn a large sign-up bonus.
- Take advantage of the quarter when the Chase Freedom’s bonus categories are department stores, grocery stores, and drugstores. You can buy gift cards to different stores and merchants that would normally earn 1.5X points. Remember to only buy gift cards for the amount you can pay off immediately. I buy gift cards to Target, gas stations, Amazon, and iTunes so I can earn 5X points on these purchases, rather than the normal 1.5X earning rate.
- Going out with friends? Pay the bill with your credit card and have your friends give you their part via Venmo, PayPal, or cash.
If you follow these steps to acquiring the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve, the Chase Freedom, and the Chase Freedom Unlimited, you should have at least 94,000-104,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points. You could book one round-trip flight to Paris on United, five nights at a Hyatt hotel in Chicago, or dozens of flights on Southwest. Next, start focusing on expanding to Chase’s co-branded cards for specific hotels and airlines. Look out for my future post that covers these rewarding travel cards!
Submit your questions about these cards and earning Chase Ultimate Rewards points in the comments below.
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