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The best way to earn travel rewards quickly is to make sure that you're earning bonus points for your top spending categories — like dining or travel — whenever possible.
When you're just getting started, or if you want to keep things simple, pick a single rewards program, and maximize earning within that.
A perfect trifecta of Chase cards — a Sapphire-branded personal card (the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or the Chase Sapphire Reserve), the Chase Ink Business Preferred Credit Card, and the Chase Freedom Unlimited — makes it easy to maximize your return on everyday spending.
You can also collect big sign-up bonuses on these cards to get a head start.
See Business Insider's picks for the best rewards credit cards you can get »
One of the tricks to earning points and miles quickly isn't a trick at all — it's just making sure you use the right rewards cards for the right purchases.
That's because various credit cards offer bonus points on different categories. One card might offer 2 points per dollar at restaurants and just 1 point per dollar at grocery stores (and everywhere else), while another might offer 1.5x points at grocery stores, or 3x on flights, and so on.
Keeping track of categories and cards can get confusing, but every time you use the "wrong" card at the wrong category of merchant, you leave rewards — basically free money — on the table.
The good news is that with most of the major credit card rewards programs, you can pool your points if you have multiple cards in that program. By optimizing your card strategy, you can use various cards with different bonus categories and have all the points drop into one common pool, ready for you to redeem for travel, transfer to frequent flyer programs, or, if you prefer, exchange for cash back (even though that's usually a lower value for your points).
The best thing to do is come up with a simple strategy for which cards to use, and have those ready to go in your wallet. Keep reading to see why the Chase Ultimate Rewards program could be a great option for earning travel rewards, and how you can maximize your earnings with a "trifecta" of Chase cards.
Keep in mind that we're focusing on the rewards and perks that make these credit cards great options, not things like interest rates and late fees, which will far outweigh the value of any points or miles. It's important to practice financial discipline when using credit cards by paying your balances in full each month, making payments on time, and only spending what you can afford to pay back.
Why Chase Ultimate Rewards?
I'm a fan of the Chase Ultimate Rewards program because it combines a great lineup of cards that help you earn points quickly with valuable ways to redeem your points.
You can transfer your Ultimate Rewards points to partners such as British Airways, Hyatt, United, and Singapore Airlines to book travel, or you can redeem your points directly through Chase for travel as well as for cash back, statement credits, gift cards, and merchandise. Unless you never travel, you're probably best steering clear of the non-travel redemption options, since booking flights and hotel nights is how you'll get the most value from your Chase points.
Other dynamic rewards programs that let you pool points from multiple cards include American Express Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards. These programs have their own sets of travel partners where you can use your points, so it's worth comparing the options to see which program best aligns with your travel goals. Because Chase Ultimate Rewards offers a good balance of hotel and airline partners as well as the opportunity to get 1.25 to 1.5 cents per point toward travel with certain cards, it can be one of the most convenient and valuable options for award travelers, especially those who don't want to learn the intricacies of foreign airlines' award charts.
The 'Chase trifecta'
If you've decided that Chase Ultimate Rewards is a good program for you, you'll want to arm yourself with Chase cards that earn you maximum points on your spending. This is where the so-called Chase trifecta comes in.
Using the following trio of cards is a great way to maximize your spending, since each card offers bonus rewards on different spending categories. You can pick between the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Sapphire Reserve depending on which fits your needs best, and then add in the Ink Business Preferred card for bonus points on a diverse selection of categories, and the Freedom Unlimited for a high return on non-bonus spending.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred or Sapphire Reserve
Either the Chase Sapphire Preferred or the Chase Sapphire Reserve should be the linchpin of you Chase points-earning strategy for two reasons.
First is the earning ability. The Sapphire Preferred offers 2x points on all dining and travel, while the Sapphire Reserve earns 3x points on the same. The categories are defined fairly broadly, with dining including things like restaurants, bars, restaurant-delivery services, cafes, and more, and travel including everything from subways, taxis, ride-sharing apps, and buses, to airfare, hotels, cruises, Airbnb, and more.
Second is the redemption ability. The cards both let you transfer points to Chase's partnering frequent flyer and hotel loyalty programs — although transferring points is the most complicated way to use them, it's also the most lucrative. For example, by transferring points from my Chase cards to United Airlines, I was able to fly back from Japan in first class.
If transferring points isn't for you, the next best option is to use them to book travel through Chase's website. The Chase travel portal works just like any other travel-booking website, like Expedia or Priceline. The difference is that you can pay partially or in full with your Chase points.
Plus, when you use points to book travel through Chase, you'll get a bonus — 25% with the Sapphire Preferred, and 50% with the Reserve. Chase values points at 1 cent each as cash. That means that when you book travel, they'll be worth 1.25 cents each if you have a Preferred card, or 1.5 cents each if you're a Reserve cardholder.
Finally, you can exchange points for cash in the form of a statement credit or direct deposit, or for gift cards to various merchants. Regardless of which card you have, points are worth 1 cent each this way.
Both cards offer hefty sign-up bonuses
The Sapphire Preferred offers a higher bonus: 60,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months. The Reserve offers 50,000 points for the same spending and time requirement.
Keep in mind that you can't earn the bonus on one card while you currently hold the other, and you can't earn it if you've already received a sign-up bonus on a Sapphire-branded card in the past 48 months.
While the Sapphire Reserve earns more points and gives you a bigger bonus when you book travel, it also has a higher annual fee — $450, compared to the Preferred's $95. It's worth keeping in mind, though, that the Reserve also offers a statement credit on your first $300 of spending on travel each year. When you subtract that credit, the annual fee is actually $150.
Be sure to read our comparison of the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Preferred for more info on how to decide which card is better for you. You can only have one of these two cards, since they're both in the Sapphire family.
Click here to learn more about the Chase Sapphire Preferred card »
Click here to learn more about the Chase Sapphire Reserve card »
The Chase Ink Business Preferred
While the Ink Business Preferred is aimed at small business owners, more people qualify for it than you might expect. A ton of different things count as small businesses, including freelancing (in just about any capacity), side gigs, and even selling things on Amazon or eBay. As long as it's something, it counts — you just use your own name as the business name.
The Ink Business Preferred offers 3x points on the first $150,000 you spend each cardmember year on internet, cable, and phone services, shipping and mailing, travel, and advertising purchases with social media platforms or search engines. After that, you earn 1x point on everything.
If you're a business owner, chances are those categories will come in useful. Plus, earning 3x points on utilities like internet and your cell phone is lucrative — I know that I spend more on that category than I wish I did.
Speaking of cell phones — the Ink Business Preferred has the added perk of offering loss and damage protection for your cell phone as long as you use the card to pay your monthly bill (plus you'll earn 3x points).
Best of all, the card offers a massive 80,000-point sign-up bonus when you spend $5,000 in the first three months. If you also have a Sapphire Reserve, that's worth $1,200 on travel — or potentially more transferred to partners. That's more than enough to offset the card's $95 annual fee.
Click here to learn more about the Chase Ink Business Preferred card »
The Chase Freedom Unlimited
The final card in the Chase trifecta, the Freedom Unlimited is a simple, no-annual-fee card that earns 1.5% cash back on all purchases, without any caps.
However, that "cash back" actually comes in the form of 1.5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent. If you don't have any other Chase cards, the only real way to use them is for cash back. However, if you also have a card like the Sapphire Preferred or Reserve, or the Ink Business Preferred, you can move points from your Freedom Unlimited to that card, and use them to book travel at the higher rate, or transfer them to partners.
I use the Freedom Unlimited for just about any purchase that isn't covered by the bonus category on another card. That way, I'm never getting less than 1.5 points per dollar spent — that adds up quickly, especially considering that I pool the points on my Sapphire Reserve.
The Freedom Unlimited is currently offering a sign-up bonus of $150 in cash back after you spend $500 in the first three months. If you also have a card that earns Ultimate Rewards points, you can transfer over the cash back to redeem it as rewards, in which case $150 will equal 15,000 points.
Click here to learn more about the Chase Freedom Unlimited card »
With three Chase cards in your wallet, you can ensure that you're earning 1.5–3 points on every single dollar you spend. Since those points are worth more than 1 cent each when you use them to book travel through Chase, and potentially more when you transfer them to airline partners, that translates to a fantastic return.
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