Combine a Chase Freedom card with an Ultimate Rewards card to get the best of both worlds.
Chase Ultimate Rewards are some of the most valuable loyalty points around. You can use them in many different ways—converted into cash, used to pay for travel, transferred to a dozen different airline and hotel programs, and more. Chase customers who are willing to shop around can find amazing deals for their points; those who aren’t can still do pretty well.
If you’re earning cash back on certain Chase cards, there is a back-door way to turn what you earn into Ultimate Rewards by moving them to different credit card accounts. You can also squeeze more value out of your existing Ultimate Rewards this way. It’s all perfectly kosher, but it does require that you have more than one type of Chase card.
From the Chase Freedom Flex, Chase Freedom Unlimited, as well as the business versions of these cards, you can move points to Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve accounts, transforming straight cash back into highly flexible—Ultimate Rewards. You can also bump points up the ladder, from the premium Chase Sapphire Preferred to the ultra-premium Chase Sapphire Reserve.
As cash back, your points are worth 1 cents each. GigaPoints values Ultimate Rewards at 1.8 cents per point, or almost double that, magically. If you’re the kind of consumer who likes to keep things extremely simple, juggling points might not seem worthwhile. But if you want to maximize your rewards or are switching cards, it can be pretty smart.
For example, the Chase Freedom Flex earns a big 5% on specific categories, which change every quarter. You might use the card to earn 5% on Paypal or on home improvement stories, rather than 1% you’d get using your Chase Reserve, then move those points to the Reserve to get more value out of them.
Or maybe you’ve decided to upgrade cards. You aren’t stuck cashing the rewards out of your original account, but can move them to a Preferred or Reserve to have more spending options.
At the very least, shuffling your points can get you an extra 20% of value from your points—and often more. Here’s how.
- Log in to your Ultimate Rewards account from Chase.com.
- Select your Chase Cash Back card (i.e. Freedom Unlimited or Freedom Flex).
- Click “Combine Points” in the top navigation. You should now be able to transfer points from your cash back card to your Ultimate Rewards card.
Now that you’ve converted your cash back into points, here are some things you can do with them.
Book Travel Through the Chase Portal
But Ultimate Rewards also has its own powerful travel-booking platform, which allows you to book the same flights, hotels, car rentals and cruises as on public travel sites like Priceline and Expedia—but you can pay for your reservations with cash or points.
Those points have different values depending on which card you have. With the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, you get 1.25 cents per point. So a hotel room that costs $100 a night would cost 8,000 points. If you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, you get 1.5 cents per point. That same hotel room would cost 6,667 points, a 20% savings.
Let’s dig deeper into that value for a moment. GigaPoints estimates that Ultimate Rewards are worth 1.8 cents each. Even when using the travel portal with the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you’ll be getting 1.5 cents per point. But that still might be worth it if, say, there’s a hotel or flight you really want and can’t get a better deal on. Or, if you just don’t want to shop around. It’s still a 50% boost on paying with cash.
It’s also 50% above what you would get if you used your Chase Freedom Flex or Chase Freedom Unlimited points for cashback—that’s just 1 cent per point.
Book With Travel Partners
To potentially get more—maybe even much more—value from those Flex and Freedom points, you can move them to a Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve card, magically morphing them into Ultimate Rewards.
You can then move Ultimate Rewards to more than a dozen different airline and hotel programs, at a 1-to-1 value, and use those points to book award rooms, flights, etc.
It may sound like a lot of work, shifting points to one account and another. But the process is relatively simple, can all be done online, and usually takes effect instantly, leaving you free to plan your next trip.
Chase Pay Yourself Back
Launched in early 2020, the Pay Yourself Back program is attached to the Preferred, Reserve, Freedom Flex, and Freedom Unlimited cards. It lets cardholders use points to wipe out part or all of a charge in certain categories.
You can get 1.25 cents per point for charitable donations on the Freedom cards. With the Chase Sapphire Preferred, you can request credits for dining, grocery stores, home improvement stores, and charities, also at a rate of 1.25 cents per point.
If you have a Reserve card, you can Pay Yourself back on those same categories—dining, grocery stores, home improvement stores, and charities. You can also use points to pay your annual fee. And points are worth 1.5 cents each, another 20% bonus.
Pay Yourself Back might not be how you want to use your points. But if it is, and you have multiple Chase cards, it’s easy to see how moving points can be worthwhile.
They’re the report cards of adulting. But just how important is your grade?
A simple three-digit number can have a significant impact on your life.
It’s called a credit score, and it’s like a grade that gets applied to your financial profile.Your credit score represents your creditworthiness—how likely you are to pay back a loan, whether it’s a mortgage, mobile phone bill or credit card balance.
Companies use your credit score to make all kinds of decisions about you as a customer. That includes which credit cards you qualify for, which can eventually impact the rewards you earn. Generally, the cards that earn the most rewards and have the best perks require the highest credit scores.
So your credit score is undeniably important. At the same time, it’s not *necessarily* something you should obsess about. Here are the basics you need to know.
Where do credit scores come from?
Your credit score is based on your credit report. Many people confuse the two, but they’re actually different aspects of your financial profile.
Your credit report is a record of your borrowing activity—accounts, payments, delinquencies, bankruptcies, foreclosures, and more. There are three main credit reporting companies that collect and manage this information: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax.
Companies apply different scoring systems to the information in your report, to figure out how big a credit risk you are. The resulting number is called a credit score. There are many scoring systems out there, which is one reason you don’t have a single definitive score. The most commonly used and best-known one is the Fair Isaac Corporation (FICO) score. A competitor, VantageScore, was created by the trio of big credit bureaus as an alternative.
What goes into a credit score?
The way credit scores are calculated evolves over time. But there are five major factors that consistently come into play. We’ll use FICO’s breakdown as a model, because it’s so widely used.
- Most important is your payment history—basically, whether you’ve paid your bills on time. This accounts for 35% of a FICO score.
- 30% of your score depends on how much money you owe. The system doesn’t just consider the total dollar amount, but how much of your available credit you’re using. It also looks at how many accounts you owe money on, how much debt you’ve paid down, and other aspects of your financial record.
- 15% depends on how long you’ve had your accounts. The longer, the better.
- 10% of your score is based on your mix of credit.
- 10% of a credit score is determined by new credit—basically recent account openings, including new credit cards.
This factor can make even people with excellent credit hesitate before applying for a new card. It is true that opening several new accounts around the same time can lower your credit score by a few points. But that shouldn’t deter you from, for example, getting a card that will pay you better rewards—especially if you’re not spending more as a result. Your credit utilization will go down and eventually be reflected positively in your score.
What’s a good score?
FICO and VantageScore have slightly different score formats. Both categorize scores into ranges, and in both systems, a higher the number equals a better score. VantageScore has a bigger range for “excellent” scores.
How much should you care about your credit score?
Your credit score is one of the most accessible markers of how responsible you are with money. Credit card issuers use it to decide whether to let you open a new account—and what your interest rate will be. Because it’s a factor in determining whether you can get one of the better reward cards, it can impact how much value you get from the cards in your wallet.
Keeping your score strong will give you access to more financial tools. But that doesn’t mean you should worry about every little dip or shift.
A credit score isn’t static. Your credit report is constantly being updated as accounts are opened and closed, money is spent, bills get paid (or not), etc. Even people with very consistent behavior—and excellent credit—find that their scores shift frequently.
Those small changes don’t matter much unless you’re on the very edge of a range, where five points could mean the difference between a Fair and Good score.
By law, you are entitled to a free credit report each year from each of the three credit bureaus. You can get your annual report at AnnualCreditReport.com. There are also plenty of online services that will provide your credit score for free or for a fee.
The Bottom Line
Your credit score can play a significant role in your financial life, whether you’re applying for a credit card or trying to rent an apartment. But credit scores are also fluid. If you’re concerned about your score, request your credit report from one (or all) of the credit bureaus.
Make sure you maximized the benefits from your Chase Sapphire Preferred
The biggest advantage of having a Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card is the rewards you can earn on spending. Ultimate Rewards are valuable and versatile—they can be used with more than a dozen travel partners to pay for flights, hotel rooms and more.
The card also gives cardholders a handful of other benefits, including discounts on food delivery, cash back on certain purchases and more. You have to activate these perks to take advantage of them, though.
Here are the four to activate when you get a brand-new card.
1) Add it to DoorDash ($120)
Chase Sapphire Preferred cardholders get discounts on food-delivery service DoorDash, with a complimentary one-year subscription to DashPass (normally $10 a month). Delivery fees are waived and service fees are reduced for orders over $12 on DoorDash and its sister app, Caviar. Activate DashPass by making your card the default payment method in your DoorDash account by Dec. 31, 2021.
2) Link to Lyft (5x points)
The Chase Sapphire Preferred automatically earns 2 points for every dollar spent on ride-share service Lyft, because it’s considered travel spending. But if you connect your card to your Lyft account, you’ll earn bonus points, for a total of 5 points per $1 charged.
3) Get Going With Peloton ($60)
Peloton is best known for its expensive exercise bikes. But you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars to take advantage of a Peloton workout. The Preferred card gives you up to $60 back on Peloton Digital Memberships (no equipment necessary) or All-Access Memberships (if you have the company’s gear) through the end of 2021.
4) Check for Offers (varies)
Chase gives cardholders statement credits on purchases from a constantly-changing roster of brands. Recent offers include 10% back from a well-known restaurant chain and 20% flower delivery service. You have to add the offers before making a purchase to get the credit; log in to your Chase account to see current deals.
The Bottom Line
If you want to maximize the value you get from your Chase Sapphire Reserve, make sure to enroll in or activate the various perks and benefits that come with the card. Also remember that those benefits can change over time—for better or worse.
Delta’s SkyMiles program doesn’t offer the most valuable rewards. But it is easy to earn SkyMiles, and if you put in the extra effort required to book with partner airlines, you can get some more bang for your points.
What Is Delta SkyMiles?
Delta SkyMiles is the loyalty program for Delta Air Lines, the world’s second-largest airline by passengers. With destinations in more than 50 countries and participation in the SkyTeam Alliance, Delta also has major reach. That partly makes up for the fact that Delta’s points don’t go as far as some other airlines’.
Like with most carriers, the main way to earn miles is by flying with the airline. You earn 5 SkyMiles per dollar you spend with Delta, and more if you have elite status. Delta’s Medallion program has four tiers, with associated increasing benefits; you reach those tiers through a complicated system that has both flying and spending requirements. For each mile you fly with Delta, you earn one (sometimes two) Medallion Qualification Miles. You can’t trade those miles for anything—they only count toward your elite status. And you have to spend a certain amount of money each year.
Here’s a rough guide to Delta’s Medallion levels:
- Silver. Top benefits include earning 7 SkyMiles per dollar spent on Delta tickets and complimentary upgrades starting the day before departure. To reach Silver, you have to rack up 25,000 qualifying miles or 30 qualifying segments, and spend $3,000 or get a waiver by spending enough on a Delta credit card.
- Gold. Top benefits include earning 8 SkyMiles per dollar spent on Delta tickets and complimentary upgrades beginning three days before departure. Getting to Gold requires earning 50,000 qualifying miles or 60 qualifying segments and spending $6,000 or getting a waiver.
- Platinum. Top benefits include earning 9 SkyMiles per dollar spent on Delta tickets, complimentary upgrades beginning five days before departure, and one “choice benefit,” with options such as bonus points, vouchers, gift memberships, and lounge access. Platinum requires 75,000 qualifying miles or 100 qualifying segments and spend $9,000 or get a waiver.
- Diamond. Top benefits include earning 11 SkyMiles per dollar spent on Delta tickets, complimentary upgrades beginning five days before departure, and three choice benefits. Reaching Diamond means accruing 125,000 miles or 140 segments and spending $15,000 or getting a waiver.
You can also earn SkyMiles by using a Delta credit card. Delta offers four levels of its credit card, with most non-Delta purchases earning 1 SkyMile per dollar spent and Delta purchases earning more. Some credit cards offer bonus points in additional categories. And you can transfer American Express Membership Rewards to Delta at a rate of 1:1.
Delta partners with other companies to offer even more ways to earn miles. You can collect SkyMiles when you book through Airbnb and ride with Lyft, and stay at hotel chains including Marriott and Hilton. In addition, you can earn miles when renting cars, shopping with selected stores, and dining at certain restaurants. Keep in mind that if you choose to earn SkyMiles when booking with a partner, you may be foregoing the points you would earn through that partner’s program.
Which Cards Earn SkyMiles
- Delta SkyMiles Blue American Express
- Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express
- Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express
- Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express
Ways to Use Delta SkyMiles
Delta offers quite a few options for redeeming your miles, but the smartest way to use them is for buying flights. Most other redemptions will offer a maximum value of 1 cent per mile.
- Delta and partner flights. SkyMiles are worth 0.9 to 1.5 cents each.
- Upgrades. Use SkyMiles to get a better seat.
- Marketplace. Redeem your miles through the SkyMiles marketplace for merchandise, travel, and more. 1 mile = 0.6 cents
- Experiences. Use SkyMiles to bid on exclusive opportunities.
- Gift Cards. Buy cards from a range of major retailers, for 0.4 to 0.9 cents per point.
- Transfer. Give points to friends, for a fee.
- Donate to charity.
Delta and Partner Flights
The best way to use your SkyMiles is for flights on Delta and its partner airlines. Delta has done away with its award chart and its prices for flights—in cash and miles—change constantly depending on demand and other factors. But it’s relatively easy to compare points, cash and points-and-cash prices when searching for a flight—you can toggle between them in search results. Delta also provides a chart that shows the price of a flight in miles for different departure and return dates. If you’re flexible, this can really help maximize your miles.
If you are getting over 1.2 cents per mile in value, you can be confident that you are getting a good deal.
You also have to pay fees for award flights, but within the U.S., they’re less than $6 a ticket.
Delta allows you to use points to upgrade flights that you’ve booked with cash. To see if an upgrade is available, look in the My Trips section of the Delta app or Delta website at the flight in question.The upgrade cost varies depending on the flight, but 1 cent per mile is a pretty typical value.
You can use Delta SkyMiles to pay for hotel rooms, rental cars, merchandise, and more, through its marketplace. This typically will not be as good of a use of miles as redeeming for flights, but the value you get will vary.
We checked the cost of a two-night stay at the Novotel Madrid Center in Madrid, Spain, and found that booking the hotel with points would cost 46,128 points. The cash rate for the same dates was $267. That means your miles have a value of almost 0.6 cents each.
Since the portal doesn’t show the cash value of bookings, it’s wise to do a separate search for whatever you’re considering booking, and then divide the retail price by the points price to make sure you’re getting a decent deal.
One unique way that Delta allows you to use your miles is by bidding on unique experiences. These are experiences that money can’t buy and you can’t even flat-out buy them with your miles—you have to place a bid. Some examples of experiences include Billboard Music Awards After Party Access, dinner and kitchen tours at various restaurants, and a four-night vacation to Scottsdale AZ. Depending on how you personally value the experience you are bidding on and what the final price ends up being, this can be an okay use of your miles.
Delta allows you to use your points to pay for gift cards from many different companies including Delta, Starbucks, and Airbnb. You can get a value of 0.4 to 0.9 cents per mile. Delta gift cards typically offer the highest redemption value.
Transfer to Friends and Family
You can transfer points to other SkyMiles members, but it will cost you 1 cent per mile with a minimum transfer of 1,000 miles, plus a $30 processing fee. The high cost means it’s not a good use of your miles.
Donate to Charity
Delta allows you to donate your SkyMiles to charity. There’s a wide variety of charities available including those that assist veterans, help children struggling with illness, assist with disaster relief, and more. There are no tax breaks for donating miles.
While Delta’s SkyMiles aren’t known to be the most valuable frequent flyer currency available, they are relatively easy to earn and offer the ability to book flights around the world. It’s also possible to redeem SkyMiles for hotels, experiences, and more, though you typically won’t get as much value for your miles with this type of redemption.
The decision depends on the card—and your reasons for wanting to let it go.
At some point in your financial life, you will probably consider canceling a credit card.
Maybe you don’t use it very much—or at all. Perhaps you don’t want to pay a high annual fee for perks you never use. Maybe you’re a one-card kind of consumer, and just got a new one that earns you a lot more rewards.
First, it’s worth considering the pros and cons of closing a credit card account. Canceling might streamline your life and save you a little money, but it could also ding your credit score or cause you to lose hard-earned rewards.
Here’s what to think about before you call customer service.
What’s your rationale?
There are plenty of reasons someone might want to dump a card. Your particular reason determines how you should go about making the decision.
Perhaps the card encourages you to overspend. You might share your card with someone who no longer shares your life. Maybe you’re fed up with an issuer’s terrible customer service. If you’re canceling for personal reasons like these, you mainly want to:
- Be aware of the potential impact to your credit score
- Make sure not to lose any of the rewards you may have earned.
We cover those topics more below.
The calculus is a little different if you want to cut up your card for practical reasons: You don’t use the card, you got a new one you like better, or you’re paying an annual fee for perks you don’t use.
Should You Keep a Card You Don’t Use?
Just because you own a credit card doesn’t mean you have to use it. In fact, there are some cards that are worth holding on to just for the perks they can afford, but not worth putting much spending on. At GigaPoints we call these “drawer cards” and “wallet cards.”
The decision to keep an underused card mostly depends on whether it has an annual fee. If not, you should probably keep it. The card isn’t costing you anything, while canceling it could ding your credit score. (More on that below.)
If the card does have an annual fee, the next question is whether any benefits you get from the card outweigh that cost—and keep in mind that some of those benefits may not be obvious.
Let’s take an expensive example: the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, which charges a hefty $550-a-year fee.
Reserve cardholders get an array of fancy perks, including access to airport lounges and credits for Peloton memberships. If you’re not making use of those, the card may or may not still be worthwhile, depending on how you use it. The Chase Sapphire Reserve pays generous rewards (3x) on travel and dining charges, for instance.
GigaPoints can provide personal data points that are useful for making a decision. Our AI-driven Analyzer tells users what rewards they can expect to earn from different cards, based on their past spending patterns. Plugging in your accounts will help reveal which cards are worth using.
But what if you’re not using the perks or the card? It still might be worth keeping, if you’ve racked up a lot of rewards. Let’s say you have 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards—the loyalty points the card earns. You could cash them out and get 1 cent per point, or $500. But you can also use them to pay for travel through the card’s booking portal, at a value of 1.5 cents per point. That’s the equivalent of $750, or $200 more than the annual fee. Once you cancel the card, that’s no longer an option so make sure you….
Don’t Lose Your Rewards
If you’ve accumulated points, miles, vouchers, statement credits or other rewards with your credit card, canceling your card could void them.
Third-party rewards—like hotel points or airline miles—generally won’t be affected. They’re held in your hotel or airline loyalty programs, completely separate from your credit card.
If you have points that are specific to a credit card or bank, like Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, or Capital One Miles, make sure to use, cash out, or transfer them before you cancel.
There’s often a lag between when you use your card and when the points for that spending are credited to your account. It’s smart to keep your card for a couple of months without using it, sweep out all your accumulated rewards, then close the account.
Canceling Can Hit Your Credit Score
It’s completely counterintuitive, but having one less credit card can have a negative effect on your credit score. These scores rate customers’ creditworthiness, and can determine everything from whether you get approved for a card to how high the interest rate is on your mortgage.
Because of the way credit scores are calculated, you could take a hit on two fronts by canceling a card:
- Age of accounts. The average age of all your financial accounts makes up about 15% of your credit score, according to Experian, one of the world’s biggest credit reporting companies. If you cancel a card that you’ve had for several years, it could lower your credit score.
- Credit utilization. This is a bigger one, making up about 30% of your credit score. It’s a ratio of how much you borrow to how much credit you have access to. The more credit you have access to but don’t use, the better. Canceling a card with a high credit limit, in particular, could ding your credit score.
How much does all this matter? It depends. If you have excellent credit, small changes aren’t likely to affect your score very much. And if you’re not looking to take out a mortgage, sign a lease, or apply for a bunch of credit cards soon, it might not matter anyway.
But if you’re trying to boost or maintain your credit score, it makes more sense to keep that card and try to eliminate the fee.
Try to Go Fee-Free
If you’re planning to cancel a card with an annual fee, it’s worth calling your issuer first. Some companies will waive annual fees for loyal customers. Or, they may counter-offer with a discount or credit.
Alternatively, you can switch to a no-fee or lower-fee card from the same issuer. Your account will stay open, which can help maintain your credit score. (But your credit limit may be lower.)
Keep in mind: You don’t normally get a welcome bonus for a card you’re downgrading to. And if you’ve been earning points with your card, be aware that in some cases they won’t be as valuable after you downgrade. If you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, Ultimate Rewards points are worth 1.5 cents in the company’s travel-booking portal. With the cheaper Chase Sapphire Preferred card, they’re worth 1.25 cents each.
Cancel at the Last Minute
It doesn’t make sense to cancel a card with an annual fee six months into your membership year. Most credit card companies won’t refund the annual fee if you cancel your card more than 30 days after it’s charged, so you’ll just be losing money. But if you downgrade to a no-fee card from the same issuer, you can probably get a prorated refund.
Keep that Drawer Card Safe
One risk of hanging onto a card you don’t use: losing track of it. You don’t need the hassles that come with fraudulent charges or identity theft. So stash that card somewhere secure.
You also might want to use it to auto-pay a small monthly bill; there have been cases of cards being closed by issuers for being inactive for too long. And you always want to be the one who cancels, not the one who gets canceled.
This card’s benefits, like airport lounge access and food-delivery credits, can be really valuable—if you activate them.
With most credit cards, getting started is a simple process: Open envelope, activate card, insert in wallet.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve isn’t like most credit cards. It’s costly, with an annual fee of $550 a year. For the right spenders, it can pay off big in terms of rewards. And it comes with a number of benefits—from ride-share credits to airport-lounge access to hotel perks—that can be far more valuable than that $550 fee.
Some of those benefits are automatically activated when you open your account; others require enrollment, activation, or other kinds of light work on your part. In many cases the sooner you turn those features on, the more valuable they are.
These are the seven steps to take with that new Reserve card.
1) Sign Up for Priority Pass ($429 per year)
Priority Pass gives members access to private airport lounges around the world. Instead of hanging out in a crowded boarding area, you can retreat to a (generally) quieter, calmer space with complimentary snacks and drinks, free Wi-Fi, and sometimes even amenities like showers, work areas and day beds. To use this benefit, you have to activate it through the Chase Ultimate Rewards site. Since membership cards can take a couple of weeks to arrive in the mail—and your membership gets renewed every year—it’s smart to get it rolling right away.
2) Add it to DoorDash ($180+)
Reserve customers get two benefits with food-delivery service DoorDash: $60 in statement credits for orders for the 2021 calendar year, and a complimentary DashPass subscription for at least 12 months. DashPass (normally $10 a month) gives you $0 delivery fees and reduced service fees for orders over $12 through DoorDash and partner app Caviar. Activate DashPass by making your Reserve card the default payment method in your DoorDash account. When you use it to pay, the credits will be automatically deducted from your statement.
3) Get Rolling with Peloton ($120)
You don’t need to buy a Peloton bike or treadmill to take advantage of the workouts. The Chase Sapphire Preferred card gives you up to $120 back on Peloton Digital Memberships (no equipment necessary) or All-Access Memberships (if you have the company’s gear) through the end of 2021. You also get 10x points for bike and treadmill purchases.
4) Activate Lyft Pink ($240)
Lyft’s membership program, Pink, gives ride-share customers up to 15% off rides, priority airport pickups, and up to three free bike and scooter rides a month. It normally costs about $240 a year, but Reserve customers get it for free for one year—as long as they activate it before March 31, 2022. Enter your card for payment in the app, and you should be prompted to set up Pink. Cardholders also get 10x points on Lyft rides through March 2022.
5) Enroll in Global Entry or TSA PreCheck ($100)
Spend less time in airport lines by signing up for expedited security screening and clearance at U.S. immigration checkpoints. Just use your Chase Sapphire Reserve to pay the fees, and you’ll automatically get a $100 credit on your statement. The credit is good once every four years, so the sooner you use it, the better.
6) Spend on Gas, Groceries and Travel ($300)
Normally, Chase gives Reserve customers a $300 credit on travel purchases; because spending has changed so much during the pandemic, grocery and gas charges count for that credit through Dec. 31, 2021. The credits automatically appear on your statement.
7) Activate Chase Offers (varies)
Chase gives cardholders statement credits on purchases from a constantly-changing roster of brands. Offers can range from $5 off a streaming subscription to hundreds (sometimes thousands) of dollars in credits on travel and jewelry purchases. You have to add the offers before making a purchase to get the credit; log in to your Chase account to see current deals.
The Bottom Line
If you want to maximize the value you get from your Chase Sapphire Reserve, make sure to enroll in or activate the various perks and benefits that come with the card. Also remember that those benefits can change over time—for better or worse.
Start by figuring out what is most important to you. Then consider using the GigaPoints Analyzer tool.
There are more than 1 billion credit cards circulating in the United States. And when you’re in the market for a new card, it can seem like there are almost that many to choose from.
Picking the right one from the crowd can be a confusing process, even for people who are financially savvy. It’s certainly not a life-or-death decision, but there are financial consequences to having the wrong card. For starters, you can miss out on hundreds—and possibly thousands—of dollars in rewards and benefits each year.
Here’s how not to choose your next credit card:
- Default to the one your bank offers, because it’s easy.
- Do an online search for the “best” card and sign up for whatever tops the results—in many cases, someone has paid for that placement.
- Get an airline card because it was promoted on your flight.
- Sign up for a card just to get a big welcome bonus and automatically keep it forever.
You want to pick the card that’s best suited to your needs and your spending patterns—not the one that pays bloggers the biggest kickbacks, or makes banks or airlines the most money.
At GigaPoints, we’re all about using technology to match customers to the cards that will earn them the most rewards for the way they spend. It’s one of the biggest factors in choosing a new card, but card-seekers will also want to take into account fees, credit requirements and (if they might carry a balance) interest rates.
Here are the seven factors to consider when selecting the next addition to your wallet.
Many—maybe even most—credit cards now pay customers some sort of rewards on their spending. Rewards can come in many forms, but the main ones are cash back and points (sometimes called miles).
The first thing to figure out is which currency you prefer. Cash back tends to be simpler, but points can be more valuable. We break down the pros and cons of each in this article. You should also consider what kinds of points you’ll actually use—airline miles aren’t terribly useful if you never travel.
Then you’ll want to look at how much those rewards are worth. Credit card companies don’t make it easy to figure out how you’ll earn. Some cards offer different rewards for different kinds of spending—say, 2% for gas and 1% for everything else. Others pay extra rewards on certain categories of spending and switch those categories around regularly. Still other cards pay more rewards once you’ve spent a certain amount of money.
Just as important: Not all points have the same value. In fact, there can be huge gaps in how much different loyalty currencies are worth. For instance, GigaPoints estimates Hilton Honors points to be worth about 0.6 cents each, while Chase Ultimate Rewards are worth 1.8 cents per point. Would you rather have 100,000 points that are valued at $600…or $1,800?
You can calculate how much you might earn from a card with a year’s worth of statements, an abundance of patience and a knack for data entry. You can also just guesstimate your spending. But this is exactly why we built GigaPoints. Our algorithm does the math for you, looking at how you spend over the course of a year, and comparing those patterns to the rewards programs for dozens of different credit cards. We then show you how they stack up. You can read more about how it works, then try it for yourself.
2) Welcome bonus
In addition to ongoing rewards, many credit cards offer welcome bonuses to lure new customers. Like rewards, these bonuses most often come as cash or points/miles. It’s nice to get a big welcome bonus with a new card. But for most consumers, it’s not as important as the rewards you’ll earn as you use a card over the years.
Cards that charge annual fees tend to have more generous sign-up bonuses. The higher the fee, the bigger the bonus. (Secured cards and cards aimed at consumers who are building—or rebuilding—their credit generally don’t offer bonuses.) You’ll want to figure out whether the fee is worth it for the size of the bonus.
To qualify for a welcome bonus, card issuers often require you to spend a certain amount of money after opening your account. (For instance, 50,000 points if you spend $3,000 in the first three months.) That’s especially true for larger bonuses. If that spending requirement isn’t in line with your normal patterns, you may end up spending unnecessarily to get the bonus—not a good financial move.
3) Annual fees
An annual fee is like a membership fee that some credit cards charge each year. It can seem a little excessive, given all the other fees that credit cards can levy. But you shouldn’t reject a card just because it has an annual fee—or because it doesn’t.
Again, it comes down to how you spend. A card that costs $95 might net you $500 in rewards over the first year. At the same time, a $450 card will pay off for some spenders but not others.
The GigaPoints Analyzer takes annual fees into account when it matches users with the best credit cards for their spending, balancing them against the rewards that card can earn. You can try it here.
4) Interest rate
If you’re the kind of consumer who pays your credit card bill every month, you have one less thing to worry about. The interest rate on your card is irrelevant if you never have to pay it.
But if you’re one of the roughly 40% of credit card holders who carry a balance, interest rates matter. One perk that many card issuers offer is 0% APR for new accounts—at least for a while. (If you use the GigaPoints Analyzer, you can filter your results to find cards with Intro APRs.) Most often the no-interest honeymoon lasts for a year, though some cards offer up to 18 months.
You’ll still have to make minimum monthly payments, however. And at the end of the promo period, your interest rate will shoot back up to normal—generally between 16 and 25%. If you’ve got a great credit score, you may be able to pull a lower rate.
5) Credit Requirements
Like the Rolling Stones said: You can’t always get what you want. You may think you’ve found your dream credit card, but the feeling may not be mutual.
Credit card companies use credit scores to decide which customers to take on. They may reject an application because they think the person already has too much debt, doesn’t have sufficient credit history, doesn’t earn a high enough income, and on and on.
There’s usually no penalty for aiming high in life. But when it comes to credit cards, you should choose one that fits your financial profile and avoid longshots. Applying for multiple cards in a short time span can harm your credit score and make your applications even more likely to be rejected.
On top of rewards, there are a slew of benefits available to credit card customers. Depending on the card, you might get free checked bags on flights, rental car insurance, Uber and food-delivery credits, invitations to special events, and so on.
These perks are mostly attached to fancier credit cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve and American Express Platinum, which also have high annual fees. But less expensive cards have them as well—the no-annual fee JetBlue card, for instance, gives holders 50% off in-flight purchases.
Perks sure sound appealing—and they’re designed to. But at GigaPoints, we value these perks very conservatively, and suggest you do, too. Some perks may not get used, and some only last for a certain amount of time.
For many people, a credit card is simply a financial tool. For others, an upper-echelon credit card can be a signifier, telling people they are successful, discerning, intelligent.
There’s a grain of truth in there. Prestige credit cards aren’t available to just anyone—applicants have to meet credit and income requirements to get them. And a very few, like the American Express Centurion card, are offered by invitation only.
If status matters to you, go for a fancy card. But even if money is no object, you may want to use our Analyzer to make sure it’s the right one.
The Bottom Line
You can choose a credit card without putting much thought into it, but you might end up leaving a lot of money on the table. It’s worth doing some research—and leveraging tools that can help you make a smart decision.
It might feel weird to pay for the “privilege” of carrying a credit card. But it can often pay off in the long run.
Credit card fees are bad, right? Late fees, cash-advance fees, returned payment fees, foreign-transaction fees…they’re all charges that consumers are supposed to avoid, if they can.
But there’s one fee that can make good financial sense: the annual fee.
An annual fee is a fee that is charged just to have certain credit cards, regardless of how (or whether) those cards are used. Some people refuse to carry a card with an annual fee, out of sheer principle. At GigaPoints, we believe that annual fees aren’t inherently good or bad.
Fees can be a way to make money by spending money. Cards that charge annual fees often earn more rewards and offer bigger welcome bonuses. Some come with more additional perks, such as access to airport lounges or a free hotel night each year. You may be able to pay a little up front (annual fee) and earn it back—plus more—in rewards.
But whether a specific card is worth paying for depends on your spending patterns—as well as the particulars of that card. Here are the basics you should know.
How much are annual fees?
Annual fees vary widely, from $50 to several hundred dollars a year. Most fall into the $75 to $99 range.
A handful of cards are much more expensive—including the Chase Sapphire Reserve, American Express Delta Reserve, and American Express Platinum card, which all cost $550 a year. A couple of invitation-only cards charge far more, including the American Express Centurion card, whose annual fee is $5,000 (after a $10,000 initiation fee).
Should I pay an annual fee?
For some consumers, an annual fee is a waste of money. For others, it’s a smart financial move. It all comes down to your spending habits: If they’re aligned with the card’s rewards, you could earn back far more than the annual fee, and more than you would with a no-fee rewards card.
The GigaPoints Analyzer is designed to figure this all out automatically—you connect your credit card accounts and it figures out which cards will earn you the most rewards, taking annual fees into account. If you want to understand the math yourself, let’s walk through a very simplified example.
Take someone who charges $30,000 a year on their credit card. They have a nice no-fee card that pays 2% cash back on all spending.
$30,000 x 2% = $600 a year
That’s not a bad return.
But let’s say this person travels and eats out a lot, to the tune of $20,000 a year. And let’s give our friend a new card, the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which has a $95 annual fee.
Instead of earning 2% rewards on all spending, this person will earn points: 2 points for each dollar spent on dining and travel and 1 point per dollar on everything else.
|$20,000 x 2 = 40,000 points
|$10,000 x 1 = 10,000 points
|TOTAL = 50,000 points
Remember, with the 2% cash-back card, they earned $600 a year. GigaPoints values Chase Ultimate Reward points at 1.8 cents each, so those 50,000 points have a value of $900. Even after you subtract the annual fee ($95), this card comes out ahead on rewards.
What about other perks?
Sometimes, cards that charge an annual fee offer benefits that go beyond spending rewards. They’re more likely to pay a sign-up (or welcome) bonus—a lump sum of rewards for opening and using your account. These bonuses can range widely in value, from small ($25) to very generous (thousands of dollars). We didn’t take that into account in our example, but the GigaPoints Analyzer does when matching users to the best cards.
The extra perks are all over the map. Some hotel cards provide a free night’s stay each year. Airline cards give holders free checked bags and in some cases, upgrades. The more expensive cards offer credits for travel spending, “elite” status with travel programs, credits with fancy department stores, ride-share subscriptions, and even personal concierge services.
Sometimes the value of those perks is obvious—a $300 statement credit is exactly what it sounds like. In other cases, their value depends on your actually using the benefit. If you never get food delivered, a complimentary subscription to a food-delivery service is probably worthless.
The bottom line
To figure out if a card with an annual fee makes sense for you, you need to do some math. Or, you can let GigaPoints do it for you—just click if you’d like to see how it works.
Some credit card companies pay big incentives to get customers. We answer your big questions.
Credit card companies make a lot of money off their customers—so much money that they can offer generous incentives for opening a new account. Those incentives are called welcome bonuses or sign-up bonuses. They’re basically lump sums of cash, loyalty points or other rewards, paid out after you get a new credit card.
You may have seen welcome bonuses mentioned in ads, on mailers, or in personal finance articles. They’ve become something of an industry staple. And while they can be truly valuable—worth hundreds of dollars or even more—they can also be confusing.
The welcome bonus isn’t the only factor you should consider when choosing a credit card, but it is a significant one. The GigaPoints guide covers what you need to know.
Does every credit card come with a welcome bonus?
Nope. It’s common for credit card companies to offer bonuses to entice customers to open new accounts, but not every card comes with a bonus. Rewards cards are more likely to offer extra points or cash back for signing up, while secured credit cards and cards marketed through your bank rarely do. The rule of thumb: The more expensive and exclusive a card is (in terms of the credit required) the more likely it is to offer a sign-up bonus.
Are welcome bonuses cash?
Cash-back credit cards offer welcome bonuses in the form of a statement credit that gets applied to your spending balance. For example, the American Express Blue Cash Preferred card pays $300 back after you spend $3,000 within the first six months of opening your account. The Chase Freedom Flex card offers a $200 cash back bonus after you spend $500 in the first three months of opening your account.
Other cards pay out bonuses as points—airline points, hotel points, transferable points—gift cards, or even discounts on your first purchase, as with some retailer credit cards.
It’s important to understand what kind of bonus is being offered before you apply for a card—no matter how big the offer. You want a card that meets your financial goals, not a big pile of points you may never use.
How big are welcome bonuses?
Welcome bonuses vary widely. Cash-back cards tend to offer smaller sign-up bonuses—often $150 to $300, though business cards can go much higher.
One exception: Discover It Cash Back card, which offers unlimited cash-back matching for the first year. Whether you earn $100 or $3,000 cash back on your card, you’ll get the same amount again at the end of the year.
Points or miles bonuses will generally have higher values than cash back bonuses, but they almost always have limitations, and their value depends partly on how you use them.
When we published this article, for instance, the IHG Rewards Club Premier credit card was offering 140,000 bonus points for new cardholders who spent $3,000 within the first three months. Those points could be worth more than $1,000—but only if you use them on IHG hotel or resort stays. You can move them to certain airline loyalty programs, or use them for online shopping, but they may be worth 80% less.
Chase Sapphire cards are known for their generous and flexible bonuses. If you get 80,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards for signing up for a card, that’s worth $800 in cash and at least $1,000 in travel—possibly much more, if you transfer it to an airline or hotel loyalty program.
It’s important to know how much reward points are worth before you sign up for a card. Numbers like 50,000 and 75,000 may sound impressive—but some simple math will reveal if they really pay. GigaPoints performs valuations of various points programs; you can read more here.
How do I know which bonus to go for?
The first thing you’ll want to figure out is which type of reward you want to earn: cash back or points. Cash back is more straightforward; points can be more lucrative. GigaPoints goes into more detail about points vs. cash back.
Next, focus on which card will earn you the most rewards—in both short and long term. A big bonus is great, but if the card you signed up for gives you skimpy rewards for your ongoing spending, you could be leaving a lot of money on the table. Conversely, a card with a smaller sign-up bonus may end up being worth keeping over the years, because it pays a lot of rewards for your particular spending habits.
Not to brag, but GigaPoints is really—really—good at figuring out how much you can earn from different credit cards. We have an algorithm that will match your individual spending patterns to various reward programs and identify which will pay you the most. Often, the card you think is best for you—because you like to shop at a certain store or fly on a specific airline—isn’t.
Go ahead, give it a try and see what we recommend for you.
Are there catches to welcome bonuses?
They’re not so much catches as rules.
Welcome bonuses can be really valuable—worth more than $1,000, depending on the card, the size of the bonus, and how you use the points. But most companies will require you to spend a certain amount of money on your credit card to qualify for a bonus. And normally, you’ll have to spend that amount in a specific amount of time, usually within 30 to 90 days of opening your account.
Welcome bonus offerings can also change, with or without notice. An airline card may be willing to give you 70,000 miles for spending $2,000, but only if you open an account by a certain date. A bonus offer that’s available one week may vanish the next.
Do I have to track my spending to get my welcome bonus?
Nope, the credit card company does that automatically. No need to keep receipts, either.
But if you’re not going to transfer all your spending on the new card—or you may not meet the spending requirement for a bonus with your normal spending—it’s a good idea to keep tabs on your total, so you don’t miss out on those extra points. And don’t forget that your annual fee does not apply to your welcome bonus spending, no matter how big it is.
Do balance transfers count towards spending for welcome bonuses?
It would be nice, but no.
Should I wait for a bigger bonus?
Some cards boost their welcome bonuses—a bonus bonus, if you will—on a regular basis. If you know which card you want to add to your wallet but are in no particular hurry, it might be worth waiting a few months to see if you can score a bigger bonus. But it’s not worth waiting for a unicorn-type bonus, the kind that comes around every several years—or might only happen once in a lifetime.
Your financial situation also comes into play. If you’re a big spender, the points you would miss out on by waiting can outweigh the additional value of a larger bonus. If you’re transferring a balance to a lower-interest card, speed takes priority over any potential welcome bonus. Choosing a card that fits your spending habits over the long term is more important than a one-time windfall.
When can I expect my bonus?
You’ll probably be waiting several weeks. Chase says it takes six to eight weeks to distribute Ultimate Rewards welcome bonuses. Other cards say one to two billing cycles—which is about the same, in the end. A few credit card companies award welcome bonuses a few business days after you’ve met the spending requirements.
If you’re trying to get your welcome bonus quickly, try to meet your spending goal early. And make sure that whatever purchases you make to qualify are made at least a week before your billing cycle closes.
Can I return the purchases I make to meet the spending requirement for a bonus?
Yes, but the refund will be deducted from your spending. If that puts you under the spending requirement for the welcome bonus, you’ll lose it.
Some credit cards require you to spend a good chunk of money to qualify for a welcome bonus. The IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card, for instance, is currently offering a 140,000-point bonus, but only if you spend at least $3,000 within three months of opening your account.
Maybe some of those purchases didn’t work out—or you’re hoping to game the system. Either way, the dollar value of your returns will be subtracted from your spending balance. If that puts you under the welcome bonus requirement, say goodbye to all those shiny points. Even if your refund hits after you’ve received your bonus, some companies will take the points back.
As long as you’re not extending yourself financially, it’s smart to overshoot your spending requirements for a welcome bonus, in case you do want to return something. Otherwise, make sure whatever you buy, you’re certain to keep.
Can I cancel my card after I get my bonus?
You can cancel your credit card at any time, but depending on the card issuer, you may lose access to your bonus.
With airline or hotel rewards cards, like the Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express, bonus points automatically transfer to your loyalty account. Even if you cancel your card, you’ll be able to use those miles.
Chase and American Express let you access bonus points after you cancel your account—but with specific conditions. Your account has to be in good standing and you’ll only have access to the points for a certain amount of time.
If you cancel a Capital One account, however, you’ll lose access to your points.
Before you make any big moves, make sure you read the fine print—and transfer, cash out, or redeem your miles before you call customer service.
I signed up for a credit with a welcome bonus, but didn’t get it. What’s up?
If you didn’t receive your welcome bonus, it’s possible you didn’t meet your spending requirement by the deadline. The clock starts ticking once you open your account—not when you activate your card, which can come several days later.
User error is another possibility. In the case of an airline or hotel credit card, rewards are usually transferred directly to your loyalty account, not to your credit card account. If your loyalty account information wasn’t entered correctly, your points may be floating in the void—or worse, in someone else’s account.
You also may not have been eligible for the welcome bonus. Some credit card companies won’t give you the bonus if you’ve gotten one for the same card in the past. Others will only make you eligible if a certain amount of time has passed since your last welcome bonus.
If you think you’ve met the requirements for your welcome bonus, contact the company and present your case. Gather all the paperwork you can to show that you’ve kept up your end of the deal.
Can I share my bonus?
Feeling generous? The easiest way to share your welcome bonus with someone is to make them an authorized user on your account. Needless to say—but we’re going to say it anyway—only do this with people you trust.
You can also pool or transfer certain kinds of reward points. Chase Ultimate Rewards allows sharing between your own accounts, as well as with “one member of your household” (you’ll need their name and credit card number). Citi lets you transfer points to anyone who also has a Citi ThankYou account. Capital One allows you to share as well—but you have to do it over the phone. In other words, rules vary between programs, so check with your credit card company before you make any promises.