The Best Chase Credit Card Strategy for Travel

A mix of travel and cash back Chase cards will set you up for success.
JT Genter
By JT Genter 

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Chase offers a wide variety of credit cards for travelers. For example, travelers can benefit from a Chase Ultimate Rewards® transferable points card plus airline and hotel co-branded cards. Even the no-annual-fee Freedom-branded cards can play a role in a Chase credit card strategy.

Depending on how complex of a strategy you want to pursue, you can carry just one Chase card, try out the Chase trifecta or build a portfolio of a half-dozen or more cards to complement each other. Let's look at our recommended Chase credit card strategy for all types of travelers and credit card nerds.

Start with an Ultimate Rewards® points-earning card

Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card
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Whether you're just getting started in travel rewards or are looking to fill gaps in your Chase credit card strategy, a card that earns Ultimate Rewards®, which is also known as a transferable currency, is a must. For many travelers, the $95 annual fee Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is going to be the best choice.

Points earned through the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card can be transferred to 14 airline or hotel loyalty programs. Or, you can redeem points for paid travel at a rate of 1.25 cents per point through Chase's travel portal. Plus, cardholders get up to $50 in statement credits each account year for hotel stays booked through the portal.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card holders earn 5x points on travel purchased through Chase's portal (except when utilizing the $50 hotel credit) and 2x on all other travel. Plus, you'll earn 3x points on dining, online grocery purchases and select streaming services. All other purchases earn 1x points. Then, each cardholder anniversary, you'll earn another 10% points bonus on all card spending from the previous year.

Perhaps the most underrated aspect of the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is the long list of travel protections:

  • Auto rental collision damage waiver.

  • Trip cancellation/interruption insurance.

  • Baggage delay insurance.

  • Trip delay reimbursement.

  • Travel and emergency assistance services.

Other Chase cards that earn transferable Ultimate Rewards® points include the premium Chase Sapphire Reserve® and the Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card for small business owners.

🤓Nerdy Tip

Current Chase Sapphire Reserve® holders aren't eligible to get the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card as a downgrade. Instead, consider downgrading to a Freedom-branded card before applying for a new Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.

Depending on how you travel, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® may be a better fit for your Chase credit card strategy. For a $550 annual fee, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® offers travelers complimentary access to 1,300+ airport lounges, TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application fee reimbursement, access to The Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection bookings, and other premium travel benefits not available to Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card holders.

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Get a hotel card for elite status, bonus points and a free night

Once you have an Ultimate Rewards® earning card, consider adding a hotel co-branded card to your Chase credit card strategy. After all, whether you travel by plane or car, you'll probably need a hotel stay.

Chase partners with three hotel loyalty programs to offer co-branded credit cards: IHG One Rewards, Marriott Bonvoy and World of Hyatt. The best hotel card will depend on the hotel loyalty program that's right for you.

Top Chase hotel credit card options include:

  • IHG One Rewards Premier Credit Card: Earn 140,000 Bonus Points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

  • Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card: Earn 3 Free Night Awards (each night valued up to 50,000 points) after spending $3,000 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening with the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card!

  • World of Hyatt Credit Card: Earn 30,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening. Plus, up to 30,000 More Bonus Points by earning 2 Bonus Points total per $1 spent in the first 6 months from account opening on purchases that normally earn 1 Bonus Point, on up to $15,000 spent.

The perks of these hotel co-branded credit cards vary. However, each card includes a free reward night (awarded each year following the account anniversary), elite status, bonus points on stays and additional bonus points categories. All of these perks come at a reasonable price. Each consumer Chase hotel co-branded card charges an annual fee of less than $100.

Get up to 100,000 bonus points with our favorite Chase cards
Check out our nerdy picks for the best Chase credit cards and find the right card for you.

Score free checked bags plus other perks with an airline card

The next piece of your Chase credit card strategy is adding an airline co-branded card. Like with the hotel card, the best choice is going to depend on what airline you prefer to fly.

Chase partners with the following six airlines to offer at least one consumer credit card:

The perks on these airline co-branded cards vary even more than on hotel cards. For instance, the United℠ Explorer Card offers cardholders a first checked bag for free, priority boarding, two United Club lounge passes each account anniversary and expanded award availability. Meanwhile, the British Airways Visa Signature® Card offers cardholders 10% off British Airways paid flights plus up to $600 in statement credits to offset taxes and fees on award bookings.

Top Chase airline credit cards with less than a $100 annual fee include:

Boost your points earnings with a Freedom card

Once you have an Ultimate Rewards® earning card and a Chase airline or hotel co-branded card, consider rounding out your Chase credit card strategy with a Freedom-branded card or two.

Chase Freedom cards are marketed as cash back cards. However, if you have an Ultimate Rewards® points-earning card, you can combine the earnings from a Freedom-branded card with your Ultimate Rewards® points. That makes these points fully transferable to Ultimate Rewards® transfer partners and boosts the value when redeemed through Chase's portal.

That means you can effectively consider the earning rates on Freedom cards as points-earning rates instead of cash back.

Chase Freedom Unlimited® is a great choice for boosting the earnings on your everyday purchases. Cardholders earn 1.5x points on non-bonus spending. Plus, you'll earn 4.5x points on dining and drugstores during your first year (on up to $20,000 in spending), after that you'll 3x points. Or, opt for the Chase Freedom Flex℠ to earn 5x points on up to $1,500 in spending in a rotating bonus category each quarter plus 3x points on dining and drugstores.

Consider upgrading to a Chase Sapphire Reserve® card

Chase Sapphire Reserve Credit Card
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Say you've built up a significant Ultimate Rewards® balance through a Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and a Freedom-branded card or two. With your current card portfolio, you can redeem points for travel through Chase at a rate of 1.25 cents per point.

However, there's an easy way of boosting the value of your Ultimate Rewards® points: upgrading to a Chase Sapphire Reserve® card. By doing so, you can redeem your same stash of Ultimate Rewards® points at a rate of 1.5 cents per point — a 20% boost to the value.

That might not sound like a lot, but it can really move the needle if you have a significant balance in points. For example, say you've built up a balance of 200,000 Ultimate Rewards® points. Boosting the redemption rate of those points from 1.25 to 1.5 cents each increases the value of those points by $500.

Upgrading to the Chase Sapphire Reserve® can also be a good strategy before you start traveling more frequently. By having the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, you'll get a $300 annual travel credit, Priority Pass Select membership, TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application fee reimbursement, and more.

🤓Nerdy Tip

You have two options for getting the Chase Sapphire Reserve® card. First, you can upgrade an existing Chase card. Or, if you haven't earned a sign-up bonus on a Sapphire-branded card within the last 48 months, consider applying for a new account to earn the sign-up bonus.

Be aware of Chase application restrictions

As you can see in this post, travelers have many enticing Chase credit card options. However, you'll need to be aware of Chase's application restrictions when planning your Chase credit card strategy.

The most important of these restrictions is the so-called Chase 5/24 rule. This unwritten but well-known restriction holds that Chase will deny your application for a new Chase credit card if you've already opened five or more personal credit cards from any card issuer in the past 24 months. So if you're over this 5/24 mark, you'll need to pause on any other card applications to become eligible to open a new Chase credit card eventually.

Chase also places application restrictions within a particular family of cards. For example, Chase won't approve you for a personal Southwest credit card if:

  • You are a current cardmember of another consumer Southwest credit card.

  • You have earned a new cardmember bonus within the last 24 months on a consumer Southwest credit card.

Marriott Bonvoy card restrictions are even more complicated as you also have to factor in Marriott co-branded cards issued by American Express.

Chase credit card strategies for travel, recapped

The foundation of any Chase credit card strategy should start with a card that earns transferable Ultimate Rewards® points. Each of these cards offers a slew of travel benefits and travel protections in addition to unlocking the ability to transfer points to 14 airline and hotel partners.

After that, we recommend getting a hotel co-branded credit card. The benefits of these cards can easily justify the annual fee for travelers. Often the reward night perk is worth more than the sub-$100 annual fee on these cards. Next, consider getting an airline co-branded card if the benefits — like a free checked bag, lounge access and discounts — outweigh the cost.

Finally, consider adding a no-annual-fee Freedom-branded credit card to boost your Ultimate Rewards® point earnings in bonus categories.

How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2024, including those best for:

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