Athos: ambitious, religious, and a loyal friend. Porthos: outgoing, funny, and a lover of good drinks and good times. Aramis: the wild card of the group. Within minutes of meeting all three, brash young D’Artagnan challenged each of them individually to a duel. But before they could fight, the Cardinal’s men arrived to arrest them all and they ended up fighting together instead and becoming best friends. Sometimes it helps to have three good friends. Or, in other situations, like when you want to travel for free, three good credit cards. The trick to defeating M’lady and Cardinal Richelieu, and saving yourself money on travel, is to rack up the rewards points by using one Chase premium card (with a fee) in conjunction with two free cards.¹ Here’s how it works:
1) Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: The Porthos of the collection. This is the extroverted card: it will get you places.
Rewards are 2.5 points on the dollar.
50,000 point sign up bonus.
This is my premium travel card. It has a $95 a year fee, but comes with some nifty perks. It has all sorts of travel protection, from baggage loss to flight cancellation. It also has travel insurance, such as primary car insurance for rental cars. But what I really want to focus here is the travel rewards. It gives you two points per every dollar you spend on travel and restaurants. However, there are several other fee-based travel cards, such as Capital One’s Venture Card, and Barclays’ Arrival Plus card, and both those cards give you 2 points on any dollar spent, not just travel and dining. So why Chase Sapphire? Because when you redeem the points through Chase’s travel portal, you get an extra 25% of what the points are worth. So every 2 points are actually worth 2.5 points through the portal. In effect, you are not just getting 2 points per dollar you spend on restaurants and travel, you get 2.5. When you couple this with Chase’s point-transfer system, which allows you to transfer points you get on other Chase cards, instantaneously to your premium card, the free trips add up quickly.
2) Chase Freedom Card: The Aramis of the collection. Noble, but with a dark past, this card is tricky if not used correctly.
Rewards are 6.25 points on the dollar for bonus categories.
15,000 point sign up bonus.
This is a free card and is technically just a simple cash back card. But when paired with the Chase Sapphire, it may be your most valuable card. This is because it can give you 5 points per dollar you spend on bonus categories. These categories change every three months. For example, from January to March, you may get 5 points per dollar on gas and local travel. The next three, you get 5 points on groceries. The next quarter, 5 points per dollar back on restaurants. You get the idea. So if you are careful, and just use this card on its bonus categories, you really tally up the reward points. What you can then do, since you followed my advice and got the Sapphire card, is transfer all those points back to your Sapphire Rewards card program. It’s instantaneous and one to one. Let’s say you bought $100 worth of groceries with this card while you were getting 5 points per dollar for groceries. You would then have 500 rewards points. You can transfer those 500 points to your Sapphire rewards program, and instantly, you now have 500 points to use with your Sapphire Card. And using that rewards program, you can redeem those points through the travel portal, and they are not worth just 500 points, but are worth 625 points with the added 25% redemption bonus (500*.25 = 125, 500 +125 = 625). So in effect, when you use this card when it is in a bonus category, and then transferring to your premium card rewards program, you are saving 6.25% on every dollar you spend. Pretty good!
3) Chase Freedom Unlimited: This is the Athos of the group. Ambitious, loyal, it gets you good rewards on just about everything.
Rewards are 1.875 points on the dollar.
15,000 point sign up bonus.
This card is also free, like the Chase Freedom, and gives me 1.5 points per dollar I spend with it. I then transfer the points from the Chase Freedom card to my Chase Sapphire, and shazam, I have lots more points to use. When you factor in the 25% redemption bonus using my Chase Sapphire, which I can do since I transfer all my points from this card to my travel card, I’m actually getting 1.875 points per dollar. The only across-the board card out there that also doesn’t have a fee, that earns more than this, is Citi’s Double Cash Credit Card. But Citi’s card comes with no sign-up bonus. L’horreur! The Chase Freedom Unlimited comes with a $150 sign in bonus, which, when I transferred to my Chase Sapphire card, was actually worth 187.5 dollars towards travel! At my spending rate, it would take me over ten years while using a 2% cash back card to out-earn a card getting 1.875% back with a $150 bonus to begin with.
Now, two other points. Chase is the only credit card company that I know of that has this transfer ability. If other credit card companies have it, I’d love to hear about it! Also, if you travel a lot, I’d recommend going for the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card, instead of the Sapphire. The Reserve earns you 3 points per dollar spent on restaurants and travel, it has a bunch of other travel perks, AND, you receive a 50% redemption bonus on all Chase points redeemed through the travel portal. So not only do you get this bump with the points you earn with the Reserve card, but because of the transfer program, the points you earn with the Chase Freedom at 5 points per dollar are really worth 7.5 per dollar, and the Chase Freedom Unlimited goes up from 1.5 points per dollar, to 2.25 points per dollar. If you travel enough to use all these points plus the $300 travel voucher you get, it seems worth it. So if you’re on the lookout for a good travel card and are willing to pay for the Sapphire Preferred Card, get all three cards. After all. All for one, and one for all.
¹ I first read about this strategy on The Points Guy and have loved it ever since I started using it. He uses a business card as one of his three cards, but I adapted it for three personal cards to best fit my finances.