Late last week, I wrote a post talking through the upside (for me) of having access to the “Pay Youself Back” feature of the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card. Part of the reason why that’s the case is that I generate a substantial amount of Ultimate Rewards using the 5x office supply store bonus on the Ink Cash cards that both my wife and I have.
This prompted reader Tigris23 to ask an excellent question:
“For someone who doesn’t MS, the 5% categories don’t really generate many points (unless you have a true small business operation). What am I missing?”
When Tigris refers to MS, they mean Manufactured Spending, in this case buying Visa Gift Cards from an office supply store and then somehow liquidating them to cash (traditionally via money orders). If you want to read more about that, you can check out our Guide to Manufactured Spending and our Visa/MC Gift Card page.
But here I want to dig into why this bonus on the Ink Card can be incredibly valuable for the average person that doesn’t do any MS at all. In fact, I think it’s quite possibly the most rewarding no-annual fee card out there.
Key Card Details
|Card Details and Application Link|
Ink Business Cash® Credit Card
75K after $6K spend in 3 months
Click here to learn how to apply
No Annual Fee
See: How to sign up for Chase Ink cards
Alternate offer: Some people have received an offer for 90K after $6K when completing an online quiz. See here for more.
Recent better offer: 90K after $6K in 3 months 90K after $6K in 3 months [Expired 3-20-23]
FM Mini Review: This one should be in everyone's wallet. Incredible signup bonus for a no-fee card. Great card for 5X categories. Excellent companion card to Sapphire Reserve, Sapphire Preferred, or Ink Business Preferred.
Card Type: Visa Signature Business
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Earning rate: 5X office supplies ⚬ 5X cellular/landline/cable (on up to $25,000 in total purchases in 5x categories annually) ⚬ 2X on the first $25K in combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants each cardmember year ⚬ 5X Lyft through March 2025
See also: Chase Ultimate Rewards Complete Guide
Why The Ink Cash Is So Loveable
Before we dive in, it’s important to note that the Ink Cash does not generate transferable Ultimate Rewards on its own, but rather “cash back Ultimate Rewards” that can’t be transferred to partners. However, when paired with any Chase Premium Card (ie, the Business Preferred, Sapphire Preferred or Sapphire Reserve), the cashback can instantly be turned into transferable Ultimate Rewards, so much of this post assumes that you have at least one of those cards.
Now, let’s start by revisiting the 5x categories for the Ink Cash:
- Cellphone, internet and cable
- Select Streaming services
- Office supply stores.
- Cardholders earn 5x on up to $25,000/year combined on all three categories during the card membership year
We’ll break these down, one at time, from least exciting to most.
1) Select Streaming Services – Most streaming services get 5x under the same “bills/utilities” category that internet and cable fall under. While this is an easily useable category (who doesn’t have at least one or two these days), it’s also the lowest impact. I spend about $50/month on streaming services (split with a couple of other folks). That’s probably a higher number than many people, but it still only gets me around 250 UR per month. That said, what I appreciate about this is the ability to just set this as the automatic card for all of my streaming unless there are Chase/Amex/BOA offers available and still earn around 3,000 Ultimate Rewards/year.
2) Cellphone, Internet and Cable – This is another easily useable category. The average US household spends $275/month on the combination of internet, cable and cellphone. Some folks spend much more. Let’s be conservative and say it’s $250, which, by itself, adds up to 1,250 points/month or 15,000 pts/year. It’s worth noting that there is no cellphone insurance offered by the Ink Cash which, for some, may make it worth using another card instead.
The Really Exciting Stuff
Office Supply Stores.
It’s like water to my parched lips. Office supply stores are where the magic of the Ink Card really happens. While you’ve already made around 15,000-20,000 Ultimate Rewards per year by using the Ink Cash to pay for Streaming/Internet/Cable/Phone, the possibilities are much more expansive here.
You might be wondering, “how much paper and ink can I buy in a year?” While actual office supplies are a non-zero part of my yearly spend, it’s so insignificant as to be fairly inconsequential. The jewel amongst the office paper is through buying Merchant Gift Card and Bank Visa/MC Gift Cards.
Merchant gift cards. It’s possible to buy a wide variety of gift cards at office supply stores from various third party merchants, from Amazon and Home Depot to AirBnB and Subway. Note that there are also many ways to get discounted retailer gift cards, both through travel portals and through apps like Slide. Some of these will end up offering better cash back than 5x UR can give you, but oftentimes, cashback portals WILL pay out on purchases that are made with giftcards.
What I use gift cards more most often is Amazon. My household spends a lot with Amazon both through organic spend and by shipping items to buyers clubs directly from Amazon. I would consider buyers clubs to be a version of MS, so let’s just consider purely “organic, free-range Amazon.” The average Prime member spends about $250/month at Amazon/Whole Foods; for me it’s closer to $400. At $250, there’s another 1,250 points/month or 15,000 UR per year.
There have been reports that Amazon doesn’t like repeated loading of an account with gift cards. I’ve never had an issue with it on either of our household accounts, but I do alternate between loading our account with gift cards and reloading our giftcard balance with Visa Gift Cards just in case.
If you’re keeping track, for the average Prime member paying their cellphone, internet, cable and streaming, we’re already at 33,000 Ultimate Rewards/year, around 1/4 of our yearly maximum.
Bank gift cards (Visa, Mastercard, Amex). Many office supply stores sell Visa and Mastercard gift cards in store. So, you can buy these gift cards at office supply stores and then use them for your everyday purchases as a way to effectively earn 5X everywhere. There is normally an activation fee per card that would reduce some of the 5c earning 5X on the purchase. Fortunately, OfficeMax, Office Depot and Staples have almost monthly sales where they will sell Visa/MC gift cards with no activation fee or even at a slight profit. This is exclusively when I buy them, so I never pay any activation fees on these cards.
These gift cards operate just like normal debit cards and are equipped with a pin (usually the last four digits of the card). They can be used online or in person and are universally accepted. Just some ways to use them:
- Insurance – The average US household pays $350/month in home and auto insurance. Most of these companies allow you to make multiple payments via debit card, regardless of if you pay once/year or monthly. My wife and I will often do this unless we have a SUB that we are paying off. At $4200/year, the average household would earn 21,000 UR by paying this way.
- Medical bills – Almost all medical providers are not covered by category bonuses and accept Visa debit cards. The average US household spends around $200/month on out-of-pocket medical costs (not counting health insurance), so using Visa Gift Cards on medical costs is another 12,000 Ultimate Rewards per year.
- Warehouse Clubs – Until Point came out with 5% cashback on Costco, we’d use gift card exclusively for spending there, usually earning around 20-25,000 points/year.
Now we’re up to 85-90,000 miles per year, or about 75% of the yearly max for one card. We still haven’t paid an annual fee and are getting 5x back on Insurance, Medical, Amazon, Warehouse Clubs, Streaming, Internet, Cable and Cellphone. But there’s more:
- Player 2 spend – My wife has a firm 3 card limit, meaning she doesn’t want to have to track more than 3 cards at a time in her wallet. So, we’ll go through times that she’ll have a gas card, a dining card (because both of those categories require preauthorizations that can be cumbersome on some gift cards) and use the Visa gift cards everywhere else. Over the last year or two, there’s been enough SUB’s and bonused spend to make this less of an outlet, but normally it’s pretty easy for her to spend $1000 or so/month. She doesn’t have to keep track of bonus categories and I’m comfy knowing we’re earning 5x on what she spends.
- Everyday unbonused or lightly-bonused spend – This is another nebulous category and can go as far as you want it to. Usually 5x UR will just about match or exceed the highest bonus that you can get anywhere else, without counting welcome offers. If you’re not in the midst of meeting one of those, it will probably be the best return on spend that you can get.
Now, using Visa Gift Cards for regular spend or P2 spend requires keeping track of a bunch of $200 gift cards. This is definitely not for everyone and I can understand why as it requires at least some level of organization and can be a pain for some folks. If you’re not interested in doing ANY of that, Ink may not be for you. But even if I only used the Ink card to buy a couple of Amazon gift cards each month, paid my insurance with Visa Gift Cards and then used the Ink for cellphone, internet and cable, I’d easily be getting 50,000+ Ultimate Reward/year without even breaking a sweat.
Am I eligible for business card?
In a word, probably. (See detailed application tips here)
My wife and I each have an Ink Cash card registered to us as sole proprietors (meaning in our own name, using our own SSN#’s). The name of our business is identical to our personal names. One was approved instantly, the other required a brief conversation where I simply said I was trying to keep certain business expenses seperate from my personal cards.
We both carry a lot of business cards for two main reasons:
- They do not affect your 5/24 status.
- Spending on business cards does not go on your personal credit report, so they have a net positive affect on your total credit utlization. This is a significant component of your total credit score.
As a note, it is possible to churn Ink Cards at a faster rate than personal Ultimate Rewards cards, as you only need to wait 12 months before receiving the bonus on the same card again. That said, my wife and I hardly do it at all. Our relationship with Chase has been long and rewarding. We gain too much from it each year to risk having someone re-evaluate it for an extra Ink SUB or two, especially with all of the other fish in the sea.
There you have it. A no-annual fee card that offers up to 5x Ultimate Rewards…and we never even discussed the sign-up bonus, which is incredible given there’s no fee.
Oftentimes, I feel as though people hear talk about how great the Ink Cards are and assume that it’s simply the realm of high-volume MSers and business owners who buy A LOT of paper and ink. But there are some very rewarding opportunities here that have made these cards a fixture in our regular-use wallet for years. While the work involved may not be for everyone, it can be a great bedrock card for many points and miles enthusiasts.
Any data points for YoutubeTV coding as 5x?
Has anyone tried using this card at microcenter to see if it gets the 5x category?
I’ve got the Ink cash that I downgraded from something. Also have the Ink Plus so I have more Office supply bandwidth than I can use (Simply cash as well). Streaming is minimal, Amazon is 5% in many other ways, cable/cell is barely $200 and AMEX gets that (unless Sears has 10x).I actually do quite a bit of supplies shopping for my business as well as reselling gear, enough to hit Elite at Staples. Problem with G/C is that the selection stinks at both Staples and O/D (which are few and far between). I find better selection at some convenience stores (codes as fuel). Both Lowes and Home Depot as well as grocery stores have better selection. Even drug stores do. Best part about Chase cards is the offers, unlike AMEX you can use on several cards. Although, unlike AMEX, the deals aren’t as generous. My $.02
Amazon prime credit card gives 5% back cash. If you are the prime member it is free.
Tim — I knew the Ink Cash 5x worked for cable, internet and phone, but didn’t realize it also worked for streaming, e.g., Netflix. Has that always been the case?
yea i didnt know that either. i posted the same question but my comment still pending approval so i dont know the answer yet.
Sorry, it was caught up in pending because of the external link and somehow it slipped by me!
I believe that it started around 2016 or so? It’s an “unofficial” category as it seems like most streaming services code as 5x via the same “bills and utilities” category that covers internet, cable, etc. It’s not 100%, but all of them that I’ve tried do. There are a few reddit/ft posts like this one that try to list which ones are covered, but they’re all incomplete. For me, Netflix, Spotify, HBOMax, Paramount+, Showtime and Fubo all have worked. My understanding is that Chase leaves it there as sort of an included amalgamation of internet and cable, given all of the cordcutting that’s happening.
That’s actually something that I’ll work on, to try and map out which ones do and don’t work. The only negative DP that I’ve seen is Disney.
where does the ink cash get 5x on streaming services? i dont see it on the chase ink website and i must have missed this announcement. thanks in advance!
Tim, I never enter my Staples or OD customer rewards number when I check-out only buying gift cards (so less record). Are there any incentives, however, for doing so? Thanks
I give out my customer rewards number so that I can have the receipt emailed and of course I get a printed receipt.
Even without giving out my rewards number, I am still given the choice of “emailed,” “printed,” or “emailed & printed.”
No, Pam, there isn’t as far as I know. I’ve had some CSR’s tell me NOT to do it if I’m going to more than one in store in a day as it cause a multiple transaction flag. I’ve never seen that happen in practice, though.
I have the card and used it a lot over the years. It’s what got me into the store to even buy other things. Since I can’t/haven’t found a place to buy MOs in my area anymore, I haven’t shopped at OM or Staples for things like ink and other office supplies, and I have a VIP account. I found out my go to grocery store chain that was fine with buying MOs with debit went to cash only because they had no problem with that, but had young kids using their phones (the phone tap pin pads) with a fraudulent way that killed it for everyone else. Even customer service was disappointed that people can’t use debit cards and they’re WU business went down.
Man, that’s a bummer! A store that accepts Meta cards is a much rarer bird that it used to be!
$2500/month is a little higher than I would normally spend for a SUB, so I’d probably need to buy some gift cards to get there. Does Chase have issues with this like Amex?
Not that I’m aware of. When Chase puts a “speed limit” like the 25k cap, normally its fairly safe, because they’ve put the boundaries on it themselves. There’s always a risk of shutdowns if you’re doing a ton of MS and then apply for a new card (as they could examine your entire usage history and decide that you’re yucky). But in the case of a few thousand in gift cards (like you), I’d be surprised, even for a SUB.
I have noticed in months where I buy more-than-usual gc’s on my CIC there can be a warning at the bottom of my statement about using the card for non-business purposes.
How much is considered “more-than-usual”?
It’s not consistent, but anywhere from 50-200% above usual spend at OD
Great write-up Tim – I also buy gift cards to actually give as gifts! Knowing I’m getting 5x is s little gift for me, too.
I’ve done that as well for incentives with folks I work with. It’s a great idea (and it’s rewarding on our side as well :))
Since Staples started letting us buy 5 VGCs at a time during a sale, it became fairly easy to hit the $25K limit on this card in a year. It’s possible to essentially turn this card into a 5X everywhere card by buying and spending the VGCs wherever you shop.
Agreed. To max out one card, it’s just two trips a month. I appreciate the fast lane!
Would like tips on how you keep up with partial spend on so many cards. Do you write the balance on each card with a Sharpie, or? If I empty one, no issues. But keeping a partially-used card for future use creates a nightmare for me! For instance, my doctor won’t allow me to pay over my balance in order to drain a card (carry a credit).
I’ll write balances on cards with a Sharpie. I use up all of my partial cards up at Costco. They automatically drain to $0 at checkout. If you have small balances on a card, you could also add the exact amount to your Amazon gift card balance. I never use these cards for buying gas at the pump or at a restaurant where you need to tip a waiter. Gas stations will typically preauthorize your card for $100 and you’ll have to wait for the transaction to clear before you can use up the card. Restaurants will typically preauthorize the card for an extra 20% above the amount of the bill to include room for gratuity. You’ll also have to wait for the transaction to clear before zeroing out the card.
I can definitely do Costco, thx! Do they mind if you pay with several partially drained cards at a time?
Hi Pam. I’ve probably used 8 cards in one transaction. There’s no limit, but I think the cashiers start getting annoyed after about 3 cards. I shop at Costco almost every week so we don’t have a mountain of partially used cards to use up at once.
Immensely helpful to me, Barry, thanks so much!
What Barry said. If I have partials, I burn them at Costco/Grocery or Amazon. They will autodrain any remaining balance at both Costco and grocery self-checkout.
Can you use multiple cards at grocery self-checkout (I’ve never tried)?
Yes, almost always. Some may have a limit as to how many debit swipes you can do in one transaction (commonly 4 or 5), but then you can usually finish with a credit card if necessary. Costco doesn’t have any limit as far as I can tell.
I still earn cashback thru Dosh for OD, but is there any similar app that works at Staples?
I don’t think that there’s anything that works in store for Staples, but you could try checking out Payce. It’s like Dosh except that you have to activate the offers before using them. There’s a 5% in store offer for Staples (max $5), but the terms exclude gift cards.
My Dosh account has been suspended for too many GC purchased at OD.
Same here. I think the party’s over for most of us on Dosh.
Yup, just checked & I am now temporarily suspended – the last round did me in!
Dosh consistently works for me with Staples , but only online with the $300 cards, leaving an OOP activation of $3.95 per card. Not terrible, but with the monthly no activation fee sales that’s not terrible appealing.