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The strategy for earning credit card bonuses and points (and therefore, free travel) that I most frequently recommend to beginners is the Chase Trifecta. Not only is the strategy easy to understand and execute, it’s also realistic for the everyday spender.
Looking back, some of my family’s top trips have been thanks to the Chase Trifecta.
My family of five recently enjoyed a seven-day vacation to Breckenridge, Colorado. Our hotel room (a two-floor, two-bedroom suite), our flights, and our rental car were all 100% paid for with the Chase Trifecta.
A year ago, the four of us (our latest addition hadn’t arrived yet) flew round-trip from Chicago to Honolulu — also thanks to the Chase Trifecta.
A few months later, we road-tripped down to the incredibly kid-friendly Dollywood Resort for six nights. Once again, we stayed in an upgraded two-bedroom suite. And once again, it was 100% paid for with the Chase Trifecta.
The Chase Trifecta is quite powerful, and in this post you’ll learn:
- A simple explanation of the Chase Trifecta
- Why it works so well
- Sweet spots for using Chase Ultimate Reward points
- How the Chase Trifecta compares to the Amex Trifecta
- And a little trick for knowing which card to use when
Let’s get started!
What Is the Chase Trifecta?
The Chase Trifecta is a strategy that uses three Chase rewards credit cards to quickly rack up points that can be redeemed for free travel. Using three different cards for your everyday spending allows you to earn three lucrative sign-up bonuses (potentially six, for couples) and to use the right card for the right purchase in order to absolutely maximize the points you earn.
The three cards that make up the Chase Trifecta are:
Chase Freedom Unlimited:
- Earn between 5% back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3% on dining and drug store purchases, and 1.5% on everything else.
- No annual fee.
- $200 sign-up bonus after spending $500 within three months of opening the account.
- 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points (valued at up to $750 in travel) after spending $4,000 within three months of opening the account.
- Earn three points per $1 spent on travel and one point per $1 spent on everything else.
- Points are worth 50% more when redeemed for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
- $550 annual fee plus $75 for each authorized user (i.e., a spouse or children).
Those are some quality offers in their own right. But what makes the Chase Trifecta so powerful is that you can combine the points across different Chase accounts.
Here’s an example. Say you’re able to earn 5% using your Chase Freedom card. You can then transfer those points to your Chase Sapphire Reserve card, where they’re worth 50% more when redeemed for travel. As such, you’re getting 7.5% cash back!
For non-category spending, you then use your Chase Freedom Unlimited card, earning 1.5%. When transferred to your Chase Sapphire Reserve card, those points get you a minimum of 2.25% towards travel.
You can also share Chase Ultimate Reward points with one member of your household. That means more than one person in your household can earn the bonus on a card, then transfer to another account.
What Is the Chase Superfecta (or Quadfecta)?
You can increase the points-earning power of your Chase Trifecta strategy by adding a business card to your arsenal, turning the Chase Trifecta into the Chase Superfecta (or quadfecta, if we’re sticking with the horse racing terms).
Two business cards worth considering are:
Chase Ink Business Unlimited:
- 50,000 bonus points, which can be redeemed for $500 cash back after spending $3,000 within three months of opening the account.
- Earn 1.5% cash back on all purchases.
- No annual fee.
Chase Ink Business Preferred:
- 100,000 bonus points after spending $15,000 within three months of opening the account.
- Earn 3% cash-back in travel and select business categories on up to your first $150,000 in spending each anniversary year, and then 1% on all other purchases (with no earning limits).
- $95 annual fee.
Points accumulated on business cards can be transferred to a household member’s individual account. For example, I use the Chase Ink Business Preferred card for advertising spending. That’s a bonus category, so I earn 3X points per dollar spent.
Once I get the points, I transfer them to my wife’s Chase Sapphire Reserve account where they’re worth 50% more (or where they can be transferred to travel partners).
(Side Note: The reason why I don’t have the Chase Ink as well is that my application was denied. I’ve read that it’s harder to get approved once you start getting four to five cards with one issuer. So, as much as possible, for all non-bonus business spending, I’m trying to work towards other non-Chase business card bonuses.)
Sweet Spots for Rewards With Chase
There are a few ways to get the most out of your Chase rewards program points. Chase has dozens of transfer travel partners, but one of the best values is to transfer points to British Airways. You can book cheap first-class airfare tickets on short-haul flights. If you want to see what goes on behind that curtain without spending too much money, this is the way to do it.
If you’re planning a trip abroad, United Airlines (a Chase partner) is a Star Alliance member. That means you can transfer points from United to any airline within the Alliance.
If you book your airfare via the Chase travel portal, your points are worth 50% more. This is an especially good strategy when you find a great deal on a flight or hotel. For example, when flying out to Colorado from Chicago, instead of transferring points to another airline, I simply booked our flight through the Chase travel portal and snagged the 50% bonus.
We paid a total of 51,893 points for four round-trip tickets, amounting to a total savings of $778.40:
Some travelers just consider a hotel a place to sleep. For others, a luxe hotel room is part of a great vacation. For those travelers, using their Chase points for high-end Hilton or Hyatt hotels will save a ton of money.
Chase Trifecta vs. Amex Trifecta
There is a ton of competition in the credit card world, and American Express has some great cards too.
The three cards that make up the Amex Trifecta are:
American Express Platinum:
- 60,000 American Express membership rewards points after spending $5,000 within three months of opening the account.
- Earn five points for each $1 spent on flights and hotels booked through American Express Travel, and one point per $1 on everything else.
- $550 annual fee.
American Express Gold:
- 35,000 American Express membership rewards points after spending $2,000 within three months of opening the account.
- Earn four points per $1 spent at restaurants, four points per $1 spent at U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 per year, then one point per $1 thereafter), and three points per $1 spent on airline tickets.
- $250 annual fee.
American Express Blue Business Plus:
- Currently, this card has no welcome offer/bonus.
- Earn two points per $1 spent on the first $50,000 in purchases each year, and 1 point per $1 thereafter.
- No annual fee.
I prefer the Chase Trifecta strategy. Chase points are more versatile to me than Amex points. Furthermore, American Express doesn’t allow you to transfer points from one household member to another. For someone with a travel-hacking spouse on board, that’s a big disadvantage.
But this whole credit card points game is really something that’s individual to each of us. If you travel frequently for business, for example, you may prefer the Amex Trifecta because Amex has better airport lounge access (Centurion lounges are some of the nicest I’ve been in). Add to that the five points per $1 spent when you book flights and hotels on the Amex Platinum card, and it could end up being a better fit.
Can You Do the Chase Trifecta in One Year?
Now that you’re primed to employ the Chase Trifecta to fund your travel dreams, let me give you a few caveats.
Chase uses something known as the 5/24 rule. If you’ve opened five or more new cards from any credit card issuer in the past 24 months, Chase will not approve your application for any of its cards.
Also, no matter how good sign-up bonuses are — or how determined you are to become a credit card rewards points collector — don’t lose sight of the bigger picture: your credit score.
If you’re planning to borrow money soon — for a mortgage, to buy a car, to fund a business, to paying off high-interest debt, or to refinance your student loans to a better interest rate — don’t apply for a bundle of credit cards.
Remember, applying for cards shows up on your credit score and negatively impacts it. A lender may refuse your loan application, or you may get the loan but at a higher interest rate. No amount of travel rewards points is worth paying a higher interest rate on a loan.
You also don’t want to apply for credit cards you’re not likely to be approved for. In a case like that, your credit score takes a hit and you’ve got nothing to show for it. So before you apply, know both your credit score and the typical score required for the credit card you’re trying to get. If your score is below that number, work on improving it and apply for the card later.
The best strategy to avoid hurting your credit score too severely (and avoiding the dreaded 5/24 rule) is to split the applications between yourself and your spouse.
And remember, there are minimum spends you must meet in order to qualify for the sign-up bonuses (and you typically only have three months to meet them).
You can put nearly every expense — even rent, in some cases — on a credit card these days. So, hitting a single spending requirement through regular means shouldn’t be a stretch for most people. But hitting several spending minimums within the same-three month period may be a stretch, and some people might be tempted to charge things on those cards that they can’t afford. You don’t need me to tell you that this is a terrible idea that can lead to loads of credit card debt.
If you can’t hit the minimum spending requirement on more than one card through your regular shopping and bill paying, spread your applications out so that you apply for one card after meeting the spending threshold on the previous card.
Which Chase Trifecta Card Should You Get First?
Match your application to meeting the minimum spending requirement. The Chase Sapphire Reserve has the highest minimum, so it’s a good place to start if you have a large purchase on the horizon — such as new furniture or holiday travel plans.
Another good reason to start with this card is the Global Entry reimbursement. Global Entry gives you expedited clearance through U.S. Customs when re-entering the United States from abroad. There’s a $100 application fee, which Chase Sapphire Reserve will reimburse you for.
The application can take several weeks to process. So, if you start with this card, you can apply for Global Entry and hopefully get your approval before you start using your points for international travel. Global Entry is good for five years and includes TSA Precheck. The Global Entry reimbursement is one of the perks that makes the somewhat steep $550 annual fee easier to swallow.
The Right Card for the Right Job
In order to really make the Chase Trifecta strategy work — or any other credit card strategy, for that matter — you need to make sure you’re using the right cash-back cards for every purchase you make.
You’ll want to use the Chase Sapphire Reserve rewards card for all travel-related purchases. But keep in mind, this encompasses a lot more than just airline tickets and hotel stays. You’ll earn three points per $1 spent on things including car rentals, cruises, trains, taxis (including Uber), ferries, bridge and highway tolls, Airbnb, and even parking garages.
Meanwhile, the Chase Freedom rewards card gives you 5% cash-back in categories that rotate quarterly (such as grocery stores, gas stations, etc.), but you have to log into your account and activate those offers. Be sure to do so, even if you don’t think you’ll spend in that quarter’s categories. As is true with the travel category example above, Chase may have a broader definition of a particular category than you realize.
If you have a hard time keeping track of all this, here’s what I’ve done: I created a little “cheat sheet” that lists which cards give the most cash-back or points for each kind of spending.
Here’s what that looks like:
Card X is the best to use at the drugstore.
Card Y is best at the grocery store.
Card Z is best for random everyday purchases.
And so on…
I’ll rewrite this list once per quarter, based on the new quarterly bonuses offered by Chase Freedom.
A bit over the top on my end? Maybe… but not a bad price to pay for free travel.