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If you’re just getting started you need to get the most powerful combo of credit cards to earn miles. I’ve discussed the general strategy to maximize miles from credit cards over your lifetime recently, but let me be very specific for beginners.

Start with the Freedom Unlimited and Sapphire Reserve. While you’re at it, get the Ink Business Preferred if you have more spending capacity and a business. I recommend these 2-3 cards because:

  1. They earn Ultimate Rewards, which transfer to seven types of airline miles, which can book over 60 airlines’ award space.
  2. They complement each other. Most of my cards don’t work together; they are all just separately working towards different goals. But the Sapphire Reserve actually makes the Freedom Unlimited more valuable by making the Freedom Two Step possible.
  3. The bonuses are huge. If you get the Freedom Unlimited and Sapphire Reserve and meet their spending requirements, you’d have 119,500 Ultimate Rewards, enough for three roundtrips to Hawaii or two in First Class OR two roundtrips to Europe. If you get those two cards and the Ink Business Preferred, that would be 204,500 Ultimate Rewards, enough for three roundtrips to Europe or one round-the-world trip partially in First Class.
  4. If you get all three cards, you’d earn a minimum of 1.5 miles per dollar on all purchases and 3 miles per dollar on travel; dining; shipping; internet, cable, and phone services; and search engine or social network advertising

What to Do

Get the Cards, Meet the Spending Requirements

The Chase Freedom Unlimited offers:

  • 15,000 Ultimate Rewards after spending $500 in the first three months
  • 1.5 Ultimate Rewards per dollar on all purchases
  • no annual fee

The Sapphire Reserve is the best personal credit card on the market. It offers:

  • 100,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after spending $4,000 in the first three months
  • 3 Ultimate Rewards per dollar on travel and dining purchases
  • 1 Ultimate Reward per dollar on all other purchases
  • $300 per calendar year in offsetting travel credits
  • $100 statement credit toward Global Entry or TSA Precheck
  • Airport Lounge Access
  • $450 annual fee

The Ink Business Preferred offers:

  • 80,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after spending $5,000 in the first three months
  • 3 Ultimate Rewards per dollar on travel; shipping; internet, cable, and phone services; and search engine or social network advertising
  • 1 Ultimate Reward per dollar on all other purchases
  • $95 annual fee

If you get just the Freedom Unlimited and Sapphire Reserve, that’s 115,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after spending $4,500 in the first three months. If you get all three, that’s 195,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after spending $9,500 in the first three months.

Are You Eligible?

These are all Chase cards. Chase will deny your application if you have five new credit card accounts in the last 24 months from any banks. Additionally the Ink Business Preferred is a business card, so you will be denied if you don’t have a business (though sole proprietorships and putting your SSN for your tax ID are fine.)

Other than that, you just need to be approved for the cards to get the bonuses.

Which Cards for Spending

Down the line, when you’ve met the minimum spending requirements, put:

  • spending on travel; shipping; internet, cable, and phone services; and search engine or social network advertising on the Ink Business Preferred for 3x per dollar
  • spending on dining on the Sapphire Reserve for 3x per dollar
  • spending everywhere else on the Freedom Unlimited for 1.5x per dollar

Why to Do It

Ultimate Rewards

These cards earn ultra-valuable Ultimate Rewards that I value at 2 cents each. Chase Ultimate Rewards can transfer 1:1 to seven types of airline miles and four types of hotel points.

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All the airline programs and Hyatt have value. (The other three hotel programs you should avoid.)

For instance, you can use 57,500 United miles for a one way trip in a flat bed from the United States to Europe, or 40,000 United miles for a one way trip in Thai First Class from Bangkok to Sydney with a free hourlong Thai massage before the flight.

Southwest Rapid Rewards are worth about 1.4 cents toward any Southwest flight with no blackouts. You can often do better with other transfer partners, but it’s still a good option to save cash and get on any Southwest flight.

For only 45,000 Korean miles, you can fly roundtrip from the United States mainland to Hawaii in Delta First Class. Or you can book amazing Korean First Class for as cheap as 45,000 miles.

Free nights at Hyatts worldwide start at 5,000 points.

Award flights with British Airways Avios start at 4,500 miles one way, and Boston to Ireland or the west coast to Hawaii is only 12,500 miles one way.

You can fly Singapore Suites Class for only 57,375 miles to Europe, or use 30,000 Singapore miles for a United First Class flight to Hawaii.

For only 50,000 Air France Flying Blue miles, you can fly roundtrip to Israel.

Freedom Two Step

So far I’ve only hinted at something important. The Freedom Unlimited earns Ultimate Rewards, but they cannot transfer to those awesome transfer partners above; they can only be redeemed for 1 cent each. However, if you have the Sapphire Reserve or Ink Business Preferred too, you can transfer the Freedom Unlimited’s Ultimate Rewards to your Sapphire Reserve or Ink Business Preferred and from there to hotels and airlines. That’s the Freedom Two Step.

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Read more about the Freedom Two Step here.

Sapphire Reserve for Cash Tickets

Ultimate Rewards earned on the Freedom Unlimited can be redeemed for statement credits at 1 cent each. Ultimate Rewards earned on the Ink Business Preferred can be redeemed for travel through chase.com at 1.25 cent each. Ultimate Rewards earned on the Sapphire Reserve can be redeemed for travel through chase.com at 1.5 cent each.

While I think that you’re better off in almost all cases transferring your Ultimate Rewards to airline miles as described above, it can make sense in some cases to redeem the points for flights at 1.5 cents per point. When redeeming points that way, the airline sees that you purchased a cash ticket, and you’ll earn miles and status when you fly.

By getting this combination of cards, all of your Ultimate Rewards can be worth 1.5 cents each toward flights, by transferring them to your Sapphire Reserve and redeeming points there for flights.

Bottom Line

New to miles?

Get the Sapphire Reserve and Freedom Unlimited. If possible, get the Ink Business Preferred too. Now you’re all set for some huge travel. The 204,500 Ultimate Rewards you’d earn from meeting all their spending requirements is enough for a round-the-world trip partially in First Class.

Those points can be redeemed for at least $3,060 in flights or can be transferred to 204,000 United/British Airways/Southwest/Korean/etc miles.

Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. Plus earn up to $50 in statement credits towards grocery store purchases within your first year of account opening.

Just getting started in the world of points and miles? The Chase Sapphire Preferred is the best card for you to start with.

With a bonus of 80,000 points after $4,000 spend in the first 3 months and 2x points earned on dining and travel spend, this card truly cannot be beat for getting started!


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