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As a credit cards reporter, I feel pretty confident in saying that I know my way around a wallet full of plastic. Between my husband and me, we have 10 credit card accounts, and we use each one for different transactions to earn the maximum rewards possible.
Like most people, we like to save money whenever we can. Knowing which card to use for which type of purchase has helped put money back in our pockets just for spending the way we normally would.
So when it came time to pay the bill to send my two kids to overnight camp this summer, I knew I wanted to use a card with an introductory 0% APR offer. Camp had to be paid in full before the start date, and it was a hefty chunk of change that my husband and I didn't want to shell out at once. With a 0% introductory APR offer, we could pay it off over several months without adding interest charges to the total.
How I chose a 0% intro APR card
Aside from helping us finance a large purchase, I also wanted a card that we could still benefit from once the promotional period expired. The Chase Freedom Unlimited® made the most sense for our needs, for a number of reasons.
For starters, the Chase Freedom Unlimited® offers the following APR: 0% intro APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers, and then the ongoing APR of 19.24%-27.99% Variable APR.
There are cards that offer longer introductory 0% APR periods on purchases, but they tend to be pretty plain-vanilla cards without much to offer beyond a slightly longer break on finance charges. We wanted a card with staying power beyond any promotional period.
Personal strategies from our credit card writers
• Chanelle Bessette: A Card for Every Case • Gregory Karp: Making Simplicity Rewarding • Melissa Lambarena: Two Cover the Bases and One’s on Deck • Robin Saks Frankel: Fund Summer Camp, Get 'Chase Trifecta' • Kimberly Palmer: Stretch the Budget With Cash Back • Claire Tsosie: I'm Disloyal, and It's Paying Off • Sara Rathner: Meet #TravelGoals Via Smart Swiping
Not only does the Chase Freedom Unlimited® come with the introductory 0% APR offer we were looking for, but it also pays a hefty 5% back on travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3% back on dining and drugstores and 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.
There are other flat-rate cash-back cards that offer higher ongoing rewards, like the Citi® Double Cash Card, which pays a total of 2% cash back — 1% when you make the purchase, and another 1% when you pay it off.
But I had a good reason for being happy with the Chase Freedom Unlimited®'s reward rate.
Owning the Chase Freedom Unlimited® completes for us what some credit card enthusiasts call the "Chase Trifecta" — a collection of three Chase cards that allows you to amp up your rewards-earning power.
We already had the Chase Freedom®, which earns 5% back on up to $1,500 in quarterly spending on rotating bonus categories that you activate. (All other purchases earn 1% back.) We also have the Chase Sapphire Reserve® and use it for our spending on travel and dining at restaurants, as these categories earn 3 Chase Ultimate Rewards® points per $1 spent (when not booked with Chase). All other purchases earn one point per $1 spent.
Adding the Chase Freedom Unlimited® into the mix means that we can use it to earn 1.5% back on purchases that don't fall into a bonus-earning category for the other two cards.
Increased redemption power
Where the Chase power trio really starts to pack on the value is when it comes to redeeming and pooling rewards.
All three cards earn Chase Ultimate Rewards® points — even the cash back you get from the Chase Freedom® and the Chase Freedom Unlimited® comes in the form of Chase Ultimate Rewards® points.
When redeemed for cash back, Chase Ultimate Rewards® points are worth a penny each. But a key perk of the Chase Sapphire Reserve® is that the points you earn are worth 50% more when redeemed for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards® portal.
For example, if you've earned $100 (or 10,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards® points) with your Chase Sapphire Reserve® card, you can redeem those points for $150 worth of travel through the Chase portal.
Also, you can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards® points from other Chase cards to the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, effectively increasing their value. So that 1.5% cash-back rate on the Chase Freedom Unlimited® is worth 2.25% when redeemed for travel through the Chase portal. And those 5% bonus categories become worth 7.5% when redeemed that way as well.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve® also allows you to transfer points to multiple travel partners at a 1:1 ratio — meaning those rewards rates could be even higher if you find the right deal with a travel partner.
You would be hard-pressed to find another way to get this much value back on your spending.
Why this works for us
There are other credit cards we still use in specific circumstances that make sense — like a co-branded hotel or airline credit card, which can come with things like late checkout or free checked baggage.
But most of the time, one of the three Chase cards will do the job and help us squeeze the maximum value out of our spending. For my household, that beats paying in cash every time.