The best way to earn huge piles of points quickly is to apply for great credit card welcome offers. As long as you meet each offer’s minimum spend requirements and pay off your card in full every month, you’ll “beat the bank” by getting much more from them than they get from you. And, contrary to popular belief, opening lots of cards does not usually hurt your credit score (in fact, it often improves it!). When annual fees come due in the second year, you can call to cancel or downgrade to a fee-free card. I recommend using Travel Freely to help manage the process.
If you’re just getting started with credit card rewards, Chase is a great place to start. Chase offers a terrific variety of valuable cards, often with great welcome bonuses. That’s good, but the main reason to start with Chase is because of their dreaded 5/24 Rule (more on that below), which makes it hard to qualify for new cards once you’ve been in the game for a while. In this post you’ll find my recommendations for the Chase cards that you should get before it’s too late.
Chase has quite a few excellent cards, but they also have the dreaded 5/24 rule. If you have opened 5 or more cards in the past 24 months, from any bank, Chase usually won’t approve you for any more cards. For that reason, anyone considering signing up for a bunch of credit cards should think seriously about starting with Chase. I recommend getting all of the Chase cards that you want before going on to other cards.
For more about 5/24, see: Chase 5/24 Rule — How to Count Your Status (3 Easy Ways)
Don’t shy from business cards
In order to sign up for a business credit card, you must have a business. That said, it’s common for people to have businesses without realizing it. For example, if you sell items at a yard sale or on eBay, then you have a business. Similar examples include: consulting, writing (e.g. blog authorship, planning your first novel, etc.), handyman services, owning rental property, renting on Airbnb, driving for Uber or Lyft, etc. In any of these cases, your business is considered a Sole Proprietorship and you can apply for a business credit card using your own name as the business name, and your Social Security Number as your business Tax ID (also known as EIN).
Another advantage to signing up for business cards is that in most cases they don’t add to your 5/24 count. That’s true even for Chase business cards. You do have to be under 5/24 to get approved for a Chase business card, but once you are approved the new card won’t increase your 5/24 count.
Must-have Ultimate Rewards cards
While Chase offers cards from many co-brands like Marriott, Hyatt, United, Southwest, etc., they also have their own cards with their own rewards system called Ultimate Rewards. Ultimate Rewards points can be easier to earn than hotel points and airline miles and they’re more valuable because they’re much more flexible. Points can best be used to book travel or transferred to select airline and hotel partners. This latter point is the real key to value. If you see a great award flight deal on United, for example, you can transfer your points to United Airlines to book the award. Or, if you see an opportunity to save big by using Hyatt points for a hotel stay, you can transfer points to Hyatt to book the stay. If you’re just getting started, it’s OK if you don’t yet have any idea how to do these things. It’s enough to know that getting set up with the right cards now can set you up for great opportunities in the future.
Not all Ultimate Rewards cards allow transferring points to airline and hotel partners. Only three currently available cards offer this option: Sapphire Reserve, Sapphire Preferred, and Ink Business Preferred. The fee-free Chase Freedom and Chase Ink Business cards, don’t allow point transfers but they do offer the ability to earn points faster, and you can move your points from a fee-free Freedom or Ink card to one of the transfer-enabled cards and then transfer your points to partners. Confusingly, Chase advertises the fee-free cards as cash back cards, but they actually earn Ultimate Rewards points. On their own, the points earned on these cards are worth only 1 cent each, but when you move the points to a premium card they become more valuable either due to the ability to transfer to partners or to book travel through Chase.
At a minimum, it makes sense to have one transfer-enabled card with decent bonus categories (like travel & dining) and one card that offers 1.5 points per dollar for all other spend. Most should also have a good 5x card. This is a card that offers the ability to earn 5 points per dollar for some categories of spend.
|Card Name w Details & Review (no offer)|
FM Mini Review: Great signup bonus. Unlocks ability to transfer points to hotel & airline partners. Solid option to pair with fee-free Ultimate Rewards cards such as the Freedom cards, Ink Business Cash, and Ink Business Unlimited.
$95 Annual Fee
Earning rate: 5X Travel booked through Chase (2X all other travel) ✦ 3X Dining ✦ 3X Select streaming services ✦ 3X Online grocery ✦ 5X Lyft (through March 2025) ✦ 10% annual point bonus
Card Info: Visa Signature issued by Chase. This card has no foreign transaction fees.
Noteworthy perks: Primary auto rental collision damage waiver ✦ Free DashPass through 2025 ✦ Transfer points to airline & hotel partners ✦ $50 annual credit for hotel stays booked through Chase ✦ $15 quarterly Instacart credit ✦ 6 months free Instacart+ ✦ $10 monthly GoPuff credit (through 12/31/23)
This is my pick for the best starter Ultimate Rewards card that offers the ability to transfer points to airline and hotel partners. Earn 3X Ultimate Rewards points for dining, streaming services, and online grocery; earn 2x for all travel; and 1x everywhere else. Get an annual 10% points bonus on spend (this turns the earning power into 3.1x, 2.1x, and 1.1x depending upon the category of spend). Get $50 back each membership year for hotel stays booked through Chase. Points are worth 1.25 cents each when used to book travel through the Chase travel portal. More importantly, points can be transferred to airline and hotel partners.
Sapphire Preferred alternatives:
- Sapphire Reserve: This one has a much higher annual fee ($550) but you’ll get back $300 each year automatically on travel spend. The card earns 3X Ultimate Rewards points for all travel & dining spend (1X for most other purchases). Points are worth 1.5 cents each when used to book travel through the Chase travel portal, or can be transferred to airline and hotel partners. The card also offers Priority Pass and best-in-class travel protections. If you like the idea of getting this card, you might still be better off getting the Sapphire Preferred card initially (since the Preferred card usually has a better welcome offer) and then upgrading to the Sapphire Reserve card after a year.
- Ink Business Preferred: 3X travel, shipping, internet, cable, phone, and advertising with social media sites (up to $150K spend per year). This one isn’t a great choice for dining spend, but it offers the same 3X for travel that the Sapphire Reserve offers. Points are worth 1.25 cents each towards travel. Points can be transferred to airline and hotel partners. Primary rental car collision waiver is only for business travel.
Important note: In order to transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to airline and hotel partners, you, or someone in your household, must have one of the premium cards listed above (Sapphire Reserve, Sapphire Preferred, or Ink Business Preferred). Then, when you earn points on Chase Ultimate Rewards cards that are advertised as cash back cards (Freedom Unlimited, Freedom Flex, Ink Business Cash, Ink Business Unlimited), you can move those points to your premium card (Chase calls this “Combine Points”). Once there, you can transfer those points to airline and hotel programs.
|Card Name w Details & Review (no offer)|
FM Mini Review: Great for 3x categories and 1.5X everywhere else. Excellent companion card to Sapphire Reserve, Sapphire Preferred, or Ink Business Preferred.
No Annual Fee
Earning rate: 5x travel booked through Chase ✦ 5X Lyft through March 2025 ✦ 3x dining ✦ 3x drugstores ✦ 1.5X everywhere else
Card Info: Visa Signature or Platinum issued by Chase. This card imposes foreign transaction fees.
Noteworthy perks: Free DashPass for up to 3 months upon activation ✦ $10 quarterly Instacart credit ✦ 3 months free Instacart+ ✦ $10 monthly GoPuff credit (through 12/31/23)
See also: Chase Ultimate Rewards Complete Guide
Earn 3X for all dining spend; 3X at drug stores, and 1.5X everywhere else. No annual fee. This card does impose foreign transaction fees.
This is a great card to pair with the Sapphire Preferred or Sapphire Reserve. Use the Sapphire Preferred only for its bonus categories. Use the Freedom Unlimited for all other spend (but don’t use the Freedom Unlimited card internationally since it imposes a foreign transaction fee). Even though this card is advertised as a cash back card, it actually earns valuable Chase Ultimate Rewards points. Move Freedom Unlimited points to your Sapphire Reserve (or your Sapphire Preferred, or Ink Business Preferred) account in order to make the points more valuable.
Freedom Unlimited alternative:
- Ink Business Unlimited: Like the Freedom Unlimited card, the Ink Business Unlimited offers a base earning rate of 1.5X everywhere, but the business card doesn’t offer 3X categories like dining and drug store purchases. Importantly, since it is a business card it won’t add to your 5/24 count. If earning 3x at drug stores isn’t important to you, I recommend picking up the Business Unlimited card instead of the Freedom Unlimited.
Ink Business Cash
|Card Name w Details & Review (no offer)|
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.
No Annual Fee
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
Card Info: Visa Signature Business issued by Chase. This card imposes foreign transaction fees.
See also: Chase Ultimate Rewards Complete Guide
Earn 5X Ultimate Rewards points in several categories of spend. No annual fee.
The Chase Ink Business Cash is one of my favorite cards. It offers awesome 5X category bonuses (and a couple decent 2X bonuses), and even though it is advertised as a cash back card it actually earns valuable Chase Ultimate Rewards points. Surprisingly this no-fee card offers a few valuable perks as well: auto rental coverage, 1 year extended warranty, and 120 day purchase protection.
The card’s bonus categories are: 5X office supplies and 5X cellular/landline/cable (on up to $25,000 in total purchases in 5x categories per cardmember year); and 2X gas and restaurants. 5X for office supplies is the true secret weapon of this card. The reason this is so powerful is that you can earn 5X when buying gift cards at office supply stores. OfficeMax / Office Depot and Staples sell many different gift cards in-store, and frequently offer discounts that eliminate the fees on Visa or Mastercard gift cards. And Staples.com sells many gift cards online.
Unfortunately, this card does charge foreign transaction fees, so it is not a good choice for spend outside of the US.
Even though this card is advertised as a cash back card, it actually earns valuable Chase Ultimate Rewards points. Move Ink Business Cash points to your Sapphire Reserve (or your Sapphire Preferred, or Ink Business Preferred) account in order to make the points more valuable.
- Freedom Flex: Another way to earn 5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar is with the fee-free Freedom Flex card. This card offers 5 points per dollar on up to $1500 of spend each quarter. The specific categories of spend for earning 5x changes every quarter.
Must have airline cards
Chase offers a large selection of airline co-branded cards including cards for United, Southwest, Air Canada Aeroplan, British Airways, and more. Any of these cards can make sense to have if you fly the specific airline often, but I’ll call out some special options below. The only one in the bunch that I think makes sense for people who don’t fly the airline often is the United Gateway card. That card has no annual fee and yet it unlocks lower economy award fees for domestic flights. You never know when you might need that. And once you have the Gateway card, the United Business card becomes more valuable, so you may want to pick that one up too!
- United Gateway Card: Like all United branded cards, the Gateway card unlocks improved economy saver award availability. Unlike other cards, this one doesn’t have an annual fee. So, if you rarely fly United, this is a great card to keep in the sock drawer for times when you want to book award flights (you don’t even have to pay with this card to unlock improved award availability). To maximize rewards, sign up first for whatever consumer United card offers the best welcome bonus (see our Best Offers page) and then downgrade to the Gateway card when the second year annual fee comes due.
- United Business Card: For semi-regular United flyers, this $99 card offers a lot of potential value: Free first checked bag; Priority boarding; 2 United Club passes per year at anniversary; Primary auto rental collision damage waiver; and 5,000 bonus miles each anniversary when you have this card and also a personal Chase United credit card (including the no-fee Gateway card listed above).
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card: If you fly Southwest a few times per year, this card can make a lot of sense to keep. For $149 per year, you get 7,500 anniversary points each year; $75 Southwest annual travel credit; Four A1-15 boardings every year; and 20% back on in-flight drinks, Wi-Fi, messaging, and movies
- The Aeroplan Card: Frequent Air Canada flyers will find a lot to like here including great category bonuses (3x grocery, dining, and Air Canada spend); the ability to earn & boost elite status with spend; discounted award pricing; a free checked bag; etc.
Must have hotel cards
Chase offers hotel cards branded by Marriott, Hyatt, and IHG. Almost all of these hotel cards are worth considering because most come with an annual free night that can be worth more than the card’s annual fee. The one’s that I consider must-have, though, are these:
- Ritz-Carlton: The $450 Ritz card offers an annual free night certificate worth up to 85,000 points; $300 in annual travel incidental credits; Priority Pass with unlimited guests; and Free authorized users (each of which can get their own Priority Pass). This is a great card, but it’s not available directly. The only way to get it is to start with a regular Chase Marriott consumer card and upgrade to the Ritz card after a year. The Bonvoy Boundless Card is my favorite stepping stone in that process. Its good enough on its own that if you change your mind about upgrading, or if Chase stops allowing upgrades in the future, you’ll still have a decent card. For more details, see: Which Marriott Bonvoy card is best?
- World of Hyatt: For $95 per year, this card offers an annual award category 1-4 free night certificate. Get another certificate after $15K annual spend. Certificates can be used not just at Hyatt properties, but also at partnering Small Luxury Hotels of the World. Those certificates can often be used at hotels that would have cost over $250 per night. Hyatt does not impose resort or destination fees on award stays. Hyatt often has promotions which are significantly more beneficial to those with the Hyatt credit card. This card is also great for those who would like to earn high level Hyatt elite status through spend.
- IHG Premier or IHG Premier Business: The personal and business versions of this card are nearly identical and so you might as well go for the business version to avoid adding to your 5/24 count. Both cards offer an annual 40K free night e-certificate (with the ability to top-off with points for higher-level stays); Fourth night free award stays; Platinum elite status (or Diamond status with $40K annual spend); and up to $50 in United TravelBank cash per year.
“Must have” summary
If you are able to sign up for business cards, then I recommend the following line-up of Chase cards:
- Sapphire Preferred: Earn 3X Ultimate Rewards points for dining, streaming services, and online grocery; earn 2x for all travel; and 1x everywhere else. Points transferable to airline and hotel partners. Points worth 1.25 cents each towards travel booked through Chase.
- Ink Business Cash: Earn 5X Ultimate Rewards points at office supplies and 5X cellular/landline/cable (on up to $25,000 in total purchases in 5x categories annually); and 2X gas and restaurants. If you’re not interested or able to sign up for a business card, then consider the Freedom Flex instead.
- Freedom Unlimited or Ink Business Unlimited: Earn 1.5X Ultimate Rewards points for all other spend. If you’re OK signing up for business cards, go for the Ink Business Unlimited.
- United Gateway Card: Start with whatever United card offers the best welcome bonus and later downgrade to the fee free Gateway card.
- [Almost Must-Have] United Business Card: If you fly United occasionally, this will give you some decent perks, plus 5K points per year if you also have a United consumer card.
- Ritz-Carlton: Start with the Bonvoy Boundless Card and later consider upgrading to the Ritz.
- World of Hyatt: Keep for the annual free night certificate. Consider spending $15K per year for a second certificate, especially if you pursue Hyatt status since you’ll earn 2 elite qualifying nights with each $5K spend.
- IHG Premier Business: Keep for the annual 40K free night e-certificate (with the ability to top-off with points for higher-level stays); Fourth night free award stays; Platinum elite status (or Diamond status with $40K annual spend); and up to $50 in United TravelBank cash per year. If you’re not interested or able to sign up for a business card, then sign up for the IHG Premier instead.
What about the Southwest Companion Pass?
A post about “must have” Chase cards isn’t complete without considering Southwest. Southwest offers one of the best deals in travel: earn 135,000 qualifying points within a calendar year and then a companion can fly free with you for an unlimited number of flights (paid flights and/or award flights) for the rest of that year and all of the next year. Significantly, points earned from Chase Southwest credit cards do qualify.
The easiest way to earn a Southwest Companion Pass is to wait until near the end of a calendar year and then apply for both a personal and business Southwest card (or two business cards). Make sure not to complete the minimum spend requirements until January 1st so that points will be awarded early in the new year. With two signup bonuses, you will likely earn enough points for a companion pass that will be good for the rest of that year and all of the next.
So, this is obviously an awesome deal, but it requires staying at 4/24 or below in order to sign up for the Southwest cards. (If you are at 4/24, you can get approved for a Southwest business card first and then go for either the other business card or a consumer card).
Luckily, if you first sign up for all of the “must have” cards that I listed, and no other consumer cards, you’ll end up at 4/24. So, even after obtaining these cards within a 24 month period, it would still be possible to do the Southwest two card strategy to obtain the companion pass.