The Best Credit Card Duo For Maximizing Your Points

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There are a lot of great credit cards out there. Personally I have 21 at the moment, and have seven cards that I most use for my everyday spend. While I know some people are like me in terms of how many cards they have, I know other people say “I don’t want that many cards, I could never keep track of them. Give me a simpler strategy.”

In this post I wanted to share what I’d consider to be the single best credit card duo that earns you big rewards and gets you great benefits, all while keeping annual fees to a minimum. If I could just have a total of two credit cards, these are the ones I’d get.

The key to unlocking value with the Chase Freedom Unlimited

On its own, I don’t consider the Chase Freedom Unlimited® to be that great. Essentially the card earns 1.5x points per dollar spent, and each point can be redeemed for a penny, so it essentially offers a return of 1.5%. If that’s how you’re using the card then there are better options, like the Citi® Double Cash Card, which offers 1% cash back on every purchase, plus an additional 1% cash back when you pay for those purchases.

But there’s a way to unlock more value from the Chase Freedom Unlimited®. If you have the card in conjunction with a card that accrues Ultimate Rewards points — specifically, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® CardChase Sapphire Reserve℠ Card, or Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card — then you can convert the points earned on the Freedom Unlimited into Ultimate Rewards points at a 1:1 ratio. This can easily be done online for free, and it’s an instant process.

Using this method you go from earning 1.5 cents per dollar spent on the Freedom Unlimited to earning 1.5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent. I value Ultimate Rewards points at ~1.7 cents each, so to me that’s like increasing the value of the points you earn by 70%.

The perfect card duo

With that in mind, what’s the perfect card duo? As far as I’m concerned, the Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ Card and the Chase Freedom Unlimited®. You’d pay a total of $450 in annual fees (the Reserve has a $450 annual fee, the Freedom Unlimited has no annual fee), and you’d earn:

  • 3x points on dining and travel (with the Reserve)
  • 1.5x points on everything else (with the Freedom Unlimited)

But then you’d receive all kinds of other perks that make this a fabulously well rounded combination:

  • The Reserve comes with a $300 annual travel credit that’s automatically applied, so assuming you spend at least $300 on travel per year, that lowers the real “out of pocket” on the card to $150 per year
  • You get a Priority Pass membership, which gets you access to 1,000+ lounges around the world
  • You get a Global Entry fee credit every four years
  • You get no foreign transaction fees, making this a great card for international purchases (especially since you’ll largely be earning triple points on purchases abroad)
  • You get great travel protection for lost baggage, delayed flights, car rental coverage, etc.


Access Priority Pass lounges with your Chase Sapphire Reserve benefits

Essentially between those two cards you’ll get just about all the most valuable benefits offered by credit cards.

Crunching the numbers on this combination

There are two ways to redeem points earned on the Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ Card most efficiently:

The latter redemption takes no skill, but rather you can redeem points for 1.5 cents each towards the cost of virtually any flight. Given that, you’d be earning the following return (as credit towards travel) with this setup if you have both of these cards:

  • 4.5% return on travel and dining spend
  • 2.25% return on everything else

That’s an incredible return, especially when we’re just talking about two cards.

Other potential complements/options

If you want to keep things simple then skip this question, but for those who want to take this strategy one step further, there are a few other additions I should mention:

  • You could complement the above two cards with the no annual fee Chase Freedom® Card, which offers 5x points in rotating quarterly categories, and similarly allows you to convert points into Ultimate Rewards points
  • If you wanted a business card to maximize Ultimate Rewards points, you could get the Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card, which offers a huge sign-up bonus of up to 80,000 Ultimate Rewards points, and offers triple points on travel, shipping purchases, internet, cable, phone services, and advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines
  • If you don’t want to pay the $450 annual fee on the Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ Card, you could instead get the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, which has a $95 annual fee (waived the first year), and offers double points on dining and travel

Bottom line

If you’re new to miles and points, it’s tough to beat the combination of the Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ Card and the Chase Freedom Unlimited®. While you’d pay a total of $450 in annual fees, the way I see it the $300 annual travel credit is more or less worth face value, so I tend to think the real “out of pocket” on this combination is $150 per year.

For that you’re getting triple points on dining and travel, 1.5x points on everything else, a Priority Pass membership, incredible travel coverage, no foreign transaction fees, a Global Entry fee credit, and the ability to redeem points for 1.5 cents each towards the cost of a travel purchase.

I don’t think there’s a better card duo out there.

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Comments

  1. Lucky, based on this post and the 7 cards post: how are you accruing starpoints these days? Is it entirely through online reference bonuses?

  2. @ d — I’m not spending much on my SPG cards nowadays, but the truth is just that I hoard the points. It’s very rare I redeem them, and I also stay at a lot of SPG properties, which earns me Starpoints. But I’m not actively earning that many Starpoints nowadays, as much as I value them.

  3. “If you’re new to miles and points, it’s tough to beat the combination of the Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ and the Chase Freedom Unlimited®.”

    I wholeheartedly agree. I would simply add that the combination is just as good for “veterans” of the miles/points game, because I have had it since February of 2017, when I replaced my United Club card, which also earned 1.5x and was my original companion card to the CSR, with the Case Freedom Unlimited.

  4. @d – With much better ways to earn transferable points currencies at a brisk pace, why would anyone want to earn (bother with) starpoints?

  5. How about the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Amex Everyday preferred? That would give:
    3x travel and dining
    4.5x Supermarket
    3x Gas
    1.5x everything else
    A more diversified points portfolio, while maintaining some common transfer partners

    I understand that this would require and extra $100/yr annual fee, but it’s worth it.

  6. Thanks for the info. I was only aware of the CSR but the Freedom Unlimited card sounds like it’s worth getting.

    Do you think they’ll devalue the UR points anytime soon? I just feel like that 4.5% equivalent on dining and travel is pretty high and feels unsustainable to me.

    The real bonus for these types of points is the ability to earn frequent flyer miles and avoid having to find available award inventory. Even easier for large families.

  7. @DCS

    Best use of SPG is probably 90K SPG transferred to Marriott for a nights + flights package. This was how a lot of folks got their SW companion pass before SW closed that loophole.

  8. @ Danny — It’s tough to say. I do think this return is extremely generous, and perhaps in some ways is too good to be true. However, all we can go off of is the current offering, so I’d certainly take advantage of it while you can. 🙂

  9. @ Patrick McKlindon — It’s also a great strategy, though personally I think the combination of the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Freedom Unlimited is better for most. That’s because you’re accruing the same currency, and you don’t want to over diversify your points too much. Also keep in mind you need to complete 30 transactions per month on the EveryDay Preferred to maximize the card, and that’s something that a lot of people struggle with. Then there’s the annual fee difference too. So it’s a good strategy for many (especially those who spend a lot on gas and supermarkets), but there are also some mild downsides.

  10. DCS, looks like lucky is finally doing what you have been saying all along: Don’t run after starpoints!

    DCS you are like trump. Right all the time but got no respect while the dumb black dude with no charisma is everyone’s darling.

  11. @Lucky I see no reason not to have all the 5x cards as they have no fee. Obviously, CSR + others is one of the best. I also highly recommend Amex Blue Business Plus and Citi Double Cash and/or AT&T More. That gives you access to the 3 major Bank Currencies for only 2 fees. You also have a floor of either 2 MR points or 1.5 UR.

  12. My Capital One Spark Business gives me 2% cash back on everything, and they waive my annual fee. There’s no reason to accept anything less than that.

  13. I already have the chase sapphire preferred card and got the welcome bonus probably 4 years ago. Is it best to cancel this card first and wait a few months before applying for the reserve card?

  14. What do you think about AMEX Platinum + Chase Sapphire Preferred.

    For individuals who travels often, stays in hotels and want to generate solid earnings from general spending.

    My logic was using AMEX for its excellent travel benefits and have the CSP complement where AMEX falls short (trip delay, car rental insurance, better generic travel and dining earnings, UR etc). Granted adding a Freedom/Unlimited might be logical too since those are fee free cards so I am seriously considering getting the Freedom version for its rotating categories.

  15. I really don’t see how any unbiased party could recommend the Chase Sapphire Reserve over the Preferred. The CSR has a $450 annual fee, not waived the first year. The CSP has a $95 annual fee, waived the first year. The CSR offers 50,000 points, the CSP offers 50,000 + 5,000 for adding an authorized user. Both trigger the Freedom Unlimited so that’s moot here.

    As such, even if a person maximized the travel credit, Mr. CSR is spending $150 for 50,000 points their year while Mr. CSP is spending $0 for 55,000 points. How much spending on travel/dining would Mr. CSR need to spend to come out ahead? Much more than the average person spends in a year, I’d reckon.

    One the CSR lost the 100,000 point signup bonus, I see no “killer app” compared to the CSP

  16. @Danny something to keep in mind is that when you redeem for 1.5 cents from Chase’s portal, they get a commission. For hotels, I believe this can be substantial. For flights, not so much. Unsure about rental cars. Whether that all balances out, I have no idea.

  17. @James K
    If you don’t have Global Entry (etc) already, CSR gets you a credit for that. Plus free Priority Pass, which is worth more than nothing, though maybe not a whole lot.

    But perhaps more importantly (at least to me), is that if you’re someone who uses UR mostly for the travel redemptions via Chase (largely because I fly economy, for which that’s almost always a better value than transferring points), CSR gives you 1.5c/point as opposed to 1.25c/point for CSP. This produces even more value when combined with Freedom/Freedom Unlimited (and, if you’re just starting out and don’t have them yet, makes their sign-up bonuses more valuable as well, and their referral bonuses).

  18. @Debit – The oblique ‘compliment’ of comparing to Trump is not only mindless, the whole premise is utterly wrong: Trump gets nothing right. Other than lucking out and winning the presidency despite losing the popular vote by some 3M, your Trump has managed to fuck up the country royally, while alienating our closest allies and sucking up to Putin like the former KGB operative’s poodle.

    The black dumb dude with no charisma, a Harvard graduate and constitutional lawyer, did everything exactly right for this country. That you do not know that is what anyone needs to know to understand just how way out there you are.

    Get lost.

    G’day!

  19. @James K

    I can’t see the advantage of the Preferred at all over the Reserve. Assuming you spend 300 a year on travel, then the annual fee is only $50 more. And getting 3x UR points on travel/dining is a HUGE difference vs. only 2x points! Say you spend $400 on dining out a month and $5000 on travel a year, that’s already 10,000 extra points so you’ve made up for the annual fee difference and the AU bonus you could have gotten on the Preferred. Not to mention the other card benefits. It’s a no brainer to me.

  20. Anyone who thinks that the CSP is in the same league as the CSR isn’t playing the game with a “full deck” and should get out…

  21. I don’t understand why anyone bothers to say the CSR fee is $450, given the instant $300 refund on “travel”. Out here that includes ferry rides (common), bridge tolls, and a huge number of other minor travel expenses. Or if you only stay in a hotel once or twice a year, you’ve got your money back. Plus you get 3X points on the travel expenses. I agree with you, Ben – love this combo. Now if they will just let it continue for a while!

  22. @Allison

    Over the course of the first two years having the card, the CSR user spends $300 out of pocket and the CSP user spends $95. So it’s not a $50 dollar difference, it’s a $150 difference the first year and $55 every year after that.

    In two years, you have to earn enough points to make up for $205 and 5000 points (authorized user bonus. $400 a month on dining and $5000 a year on travel makes 9800 points, yes, but for one, we’re not breaking even yet. And for another, that presumes you don’t have any other cards you put travel on. If you have an Amex Platinum, for instance, all your airfare is going on that.

    Basically, even if the best case scenario, it’s taking you several years to come out ahead on CSR

  23. It seems that @James K. may have drunk too much of the “CSP is best” kool-aid dispensed by self-anointed ‘travel gurus’ who had been frustrated until yesterday that they were not allowed to peddle the CSR for a commission…

    Good luck!

  24. @DCS

    This is why nobody likes you. Because we’re having an actual discussion in which we cite data points, make arguments, etc., and you come in with your usual nonsense

  25. @James K. sez: “This is why nobody likes you”.

    Is that supposed to be a factual statement or a “projection”? And speaking of “data points and arguments”, other than the same couple of detractors who do not care about advancing their arguments no matter how ridiculous and you clearly seem intent on joining, I dare to you produce the numbers to support the claim that “nobody likes you.”

    For your edification: I am not here to get “liked”. I am here to inform and get informed. Period. If I were here to win a popularity context, challenging the site’s beloved host is definitely not a winning strategy…

    The reason you think I am hated is precisely because my arguments have been factual and almost invariably on the winning side. “Nonsense” is to claim that the CSP is a better reward card than or even in the same league as the CSR…

    When you have something smarter to say, I will address you. Otherwise we are done.

    Good bye

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