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Reader Andrew asked the following on the “Ask Lucky” page of the blog:
Any idea if Chase is going to return the $300/30,000 point bonus for the Freedom card? Have the Chase Sapphire, so would like the points, but 10,000 is low right now.
While I have no inside information, I’ve been putting some thought into this question, or more generally what I imagine Chase’s strategy to be the past year or so. Going back a few years American Express hands down had the most valuable consumer credit cards. However, Chase has quickly gained market share, and I’d argue on the whole now has more valuable cards for the savvy consumer (though there are cards with both issuers that are “must haves”).
I think the biggest growth we’ve seen at Chase is with non co-branded credit cards that accrue Ultimate Rewards points and not points in any of their co-branded points programs (like United MileagePlus, Hyatt Gold Passport, etc.). This essentially makes these “super-cards,” given that you can accrue points in a central currency, and later decide where you want those points transferred to. And while the cards that accrue Ultimate Rewards points have annual fees, they offer an extraordinary amount of value. The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card accrues double points on dining and travel, while the Ink Plus® Business Credit Card and Ink Bold® Business Charge Card offer 5x points on the first $50,000 spent annually at office supply stores, and on cellular phone, landline, internet, and cable TV services, and double points on the first $50,000 spent annually at gas stations and on hotels.
Both of these cards have annual fees of $95, though don’t really offer any other annual “bonus” which incentivizes customers to keep the card. But for most, the sheer number of points you can earn thanks to the bonus categories more than justify the annual fee.
Interestingly a majority of co-branded Chase cards (including Hyatt, Priority Club, etc.) offer an annual bonus just for keeping the card. It basically makes the card a keeper regardless of whether you plan on using it or not. This is unique because there aren’t many American Express cards I can think of that offer such a bonus.
So with that in mind, my perception is that Chase thinks of both the Ultimate Rewards branded and co-branded credit cards as being more in the “stable” phase than the “let’s-grow-the-heck-out-of-it” phase. And I say that simply because they’re not offering mega sign-up bonuses for the most part anymore, at least not like in the past.
This brings us to the Chase Freedom® Card, which is one of the most unique “valuable” Chase cards out there, given that it has no annual fee. Not the first year, not ever. The card is valuable because it offers 5x points in rotating quarterly categories for up to $1,500 of spend. This basically translates into an easy 30,000 points per year. It’s worth noting each point can be redeemed for 1% cash back, though if you link it to an Ultimate Rewards branded card, they can also turn into Ultimate Rewards points. As a result the card has been getting more popular, because it’s not just worthwhile for people looking for 5% cash back, but it’s also worthwhile for people looking for five Ultimate Rewards points per dollar.
Over a year ago we saw sign-up bonuses on the card ranging from 20,000-30,000 points, though nowadays it’s at 10,000 points after spending $500 within three months.
Could we see that bonus again? Sure, it’s definitely possibly. Is it likely? I don’t think so. This is a no annual fee credit card and I think the reason behind the higher bonus while the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Ink Bold, and Ink Plus cards were being promoted, was to try and get people engaged in the Ultimate Rewards program. I think Chase is done trying to promote the Freedom Card as an every day spend card, but rather all the branding focuses around the 5x points category, which is the card’s “hook.” And that makes sense because while a 1% cash back credit card might have been competitive a few years ago, it’s not anymore. Now that people are sufficiently engaged in the Ultimate Rewards program, they really don’t have to offer a huge sign-up bonus on the card anymore.
Anyway, just my guess, though hope I’m wrong. I’m going to be picking up the Freedom in my next round of credit card applications since I’ve had so many other cards I’ve prioritized over it, but at the end of the day not having it is costing me ~24,000 Ultimate Rewards points per year.
Has anyone else been holding off in hopes of a better sign-up bonus?