The Ultimate Rewards Triple Threat

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I often get asked how my family earns the majority of our miles and points.  The truth is there is no one answer as we do a little bit of everything to earn.  However, one of the most reliable ways we earn points is via strategic use of credit cards, specifically being diligent about making use of the bonus categories that our various cards offer.  Ending up with 2,000 points after spending $2,000 at a one point to one dollar ratio is nice, but being able to earn as many as 10,000 points with that $2,000 spent thanks to up to a 5x bonus is obviously much nicer.  That isn’t always possible, but sometimes it is thanks to the Ultimate Rewards triple threat that my family both uses and recommends.

I’m focusing on Ultimate Rewards in this post as it is so easy to have a trio of cards that works in harmony to earn the same type of valuable currency.  As you may know, Ultimate Reward points can be transferred on a 1:1 basis to United, Hyatt, British Airways, Marriott, Southwest, IHG Rewards, and more.  They are some of my very favorite types of points out there.

The three cards we have that work together in perfect harmony to earn this valuable currency are:

Ink Plus® Business Card

This card comes with a 50,000 point Ultimate Reward bonus after you spend $5,000 in the first 3 months from account opening. It also earns 5X points per $1 on the first $50,000 spent annually at office supply stores, on cellular phone expenses, landlines, internet, and cable TV services. In addition, it earns 2X points per $1 on the first $50,000 spent annually at gas stations and for hotel accommodations when purchased directly with the hotel.  There is a $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

The Chase Sapphire Preferred awards a 40,000 point bonus when you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.  You can get an additional 5,000 bonus points on top of that if you add an authorized user and make a purchase with that card in the first 3 months.  This card awards 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants and 3x on dining during “First Fridays”.  It also has a $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95 in subsequent years.

Chase Freedom®

Note: This offer is not currently available.  To see other offers, please visit the “Top Credit Cards” page.

This card has no annual fee and awards 10,000 bonus points after you spend $500 in the first three months.  This is marketed as “cash back”, but if you also have one of the cards listed above or the Ink Bold® Business Card then you can transfer the points earned by the Freedom to hotel and airline partners.  This card is amazing because it awards 5x on rotating quarterly bonus categories, so it is easy to pick up 5x on some everyday charges.  The 2014 calendar includes:

  • January 1 – March 31, 2014: Gas stations, movie theaters and Starbucks
  • April 1 – June 30, 2014: Restaurants and Lowe’s Home Improvement stores
  • July 1 – September 30, 2014: Gas stations and Kohl’s
  • October 1 – December 31, 2014:, and select department stores

There is a $1,500 cap on the 5x bonus per quarter.  If you also have a Chase Checking account you get a 10% bonus on the points earned by the Freedom card each year.

Make These Cards Work Together:

Those are the basics on each of the individual cards, but the trick is to make them work together so you can turn your family’s everyday expenses into a points earning machine.  Here are some of the bonus categories we use from these cards on a regular basis.

Cell phone = 5x on Ink Plus or Ink Bold

Cable TV = 5x on Ink Plus or Ink Bold

Internet – 5x on Ink Plus or Ink Bold

Office Supply Store – 5x on Ink Plus or Ink Bold (lots of stuff sold at office supply stores in addition to pens and paper)

Dining = 2x on Sapphire Preferred unless it is a 5x bonus category on Freedom

Travel = 2x on Sapphire Preferred

Gas = 2x on Ink Plus or Ink Bold

Then of course we hit the 5x quarterly bonus on the Freedom in addition to all the above categories.  Counting our recurring bills like internet, TV, and cell phones that we have set to auto pay on our Ink, plus dining charges, travel charges, and more, we are earning thousand and thousands of Ultimate Reward points each month by not even really trying very hard.  Add to that the points we earn by doing our online shopping through the Ultimate Rewards portal and clearing 10,000 Ultimate Reward points a month thanks to bonus categories often isn’t out of reach just by being strategic about what cards we use to pay for various everyday expenses.


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The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.


  1. Great minds must think alike. I literally wrote a post about how awesome Ultimate Rewards are yesterday!

    United, Hyatt, British Airways, and now Southwest (considering I have the Companion Pass) makes these points so valuable!!!

  2. Hoping grocery stores and drug stores return to Freedom bonuses. I also already get 5x on gas, many department stores and Amazon with Ink card through gift cards. Maybe that will happen with the new competition coming from Amex for everyday spend.
    I am now using the UR shopping portals thanks to your posts.

  3. I’ve never understood all of the hype about the 5x cards. There are plenty of 2x cards with no fee, so the 5x is earning an extra 3x on $6,000 per year which equates to around 75 cents/day (depending on how you value UR points and assuming you max out the categories)

    Then factor in the amount of time you spend managing the points, and the fact that you will, both consciously and subconsciously, spend more money in your quest for 5x than you would have otherwise. This is basic marketing psychology and is why Chase lures you in with 5x offers

    All of this for 75 cents per day. It doesn’t make sense to me…

  4. Great post and I follow most of your directions however I am still missing on how to maximize my Amex cards. For example, having 2 growing boys we are huge Costco shoppers and they only accept Amex cards. Thus, most of our grocery shopping as well as gas goes into either my Amex Platinum or on my SPG Amex. That a huge monthly expense that I am not finding a way to maximize the points I can earn. The other one that is a challenge is that most of my hotel expenses for family travel is done by using Amex Platinum. I just booked our summer vacation and I got all hotels through Amex Fine Hotels program since I am paying equal or less per room when comparing to any other portal or hotel directly plus I get all the Fine Hotels benefits which are great in my opinion.

    Thus, these are huge expenses that we incur every year and by using Amex and getting just 1 point per dollar I feel I am not maximizing what I can earn. Any thoughts?

  5. Levy, I guess it’s both. 😉
    FreeTravelGuys, that is a good plan too. I don’t use the 2x on gas as much as some other benefits, but it is nice to have especially on the road when you may not have gift cards.
    Dovertime, nice!
    Kate, I miss grocery stores too!
    Cogswell, the 5x is very much worth it to my family and I don’t mine the strategizing to make it work, but everyone is different for sure.
    Santastico, you are going to want one of the new Amex Everyday cards that come out soon for sure. Bonuses on groceries in MR points. 😉

  6. Costco is not coded as a grocery store, so you won’t get 2x no matter what Amex you use, unless you go the indirect gift card route, but those normally incur fees.

  7. cogswell, it’s 6k spend only on the Freedom card. Chase ink has a 50k cap on its 5x categories, which can provide a lot more help. If you can convert your monthly spend to about 10k UR points/month, 120k points a year has a $1200 straight cash value on $200 worth of fees. If you hit a sweet spot with those points instead of cashing them in, they could be worth closer to $2500 (only if you know what you are doing).

    Let’s say that by exploiting all the 5x/2x categories, a typical Chase customer spend of $4000 generates 10k points. That’s about 2.5 points per dollar spent. In a year, that’s 48k spent. Being a pro at the points transfer, you cash in $2500 worth of value on your 48k spend. Take out the annual fees, and we’ll mark it as $2300. That’s a return > 4.5% on each dollar spent AFTER fees have been accounted. Or put it different, it adds up to about $6 a day.

    2.5x return rate a bit generous? Let’s try 4k spend for 8k points at 2x return. at 96k points, you could redeem around $2000 worth by doing some homework and timing your trips. That’s about $5.50 a day. But you shouldn’t see it that way. $2000 worth of points on a trip vs < $1000 on a free card (only free one that has 2% all around with no fee is the fidelity card btw) is a huge difference. Is all that effort worth $1k towards a vacation? Not if you're going out of your way every time you purchase something, but I would argue that categories like gas, grocery, etc are all a natural part of your spending. The added effort is anywhere from minimal to a couple extra routines in a given week.

    If anything, all the extra effort is front loaded onto learning award charts and how to transfer game can be played. Once you are adept at it, it's quite simple and very little time/effort involved.

    I know I sound like some evangelist, but I do a mix of both 5x categories and cash back. For example, I rather go with the straight 6% from Amex BCP for groceries and 3% on gas when Freedom is not having it's 5x points promotion. You should do what makes sense for you, but the little effort can go a long way if you invest on it up front.

  8. Cogswell:
    First, it’s not just the 5x category bonus, it’s also the 50,000 sign-on bonus points.

    Second, I don’t know any card that gives 2x points back on the categories that the Ink cards give you bonuses on. I do know many cards that give 2% cash back on general purchases, like the Arrival card and several bank cash rewards cards, but a 5x bonus on points that are conservatively worth 1.5 cents per point results in a 7.5% return on your spending. That’s a significant difference from a 2% cash back card.

    To compare, spending $6000 in a year would net you either $120 on a 2% cash back card, or $450 in points on a 5x rewards card.

  9. I’d like to reapply for Sapphire after closing it last summer. Any idea how long I need to wait in order to get the signup bonus again?

  10. We try to maximize on the 5x points on gas with the freedom when they run the promotion, otherwise I stock up at Office Depot or Staples. If you notice, many gas stations are charging a surcharge for using a credit card but if you use a gas gift card you will get the cash price (in most cases). There are a few gas stations that don’t do that. We own a small business and we spend about $800 or more on gas per month. This adds up. Another way I racked up on miles this month– I just booked a cruise through United cruises and earned over 22,000 miles. There was a promotion for booking a suite, using my United credit card, etc. The cruise would have been the same price without using my United card so I really do feel like I got a good deal. Yay! I love a good deal!

  11. I love my ultimate rewards points, especially using the portal. Noticed Kohls isn’t listed , logging on with both my sapphire and freedom. Very strange, hope it is temporary

  12. I am getting ready to buy an Apple computer this afternoon and it looks like Apple is listed as 1x under Sapphire. Did it change mid month or am I seeing something wrong? Thanks for clarifying this if anyone sees something I don’t. Would love to atleast get two points per dollar.

  13. Ignore my last comment. Apple is showing up 2x under the Chase Ink. I will just buy it with my hubby’s card. Thanks for the hard work.

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