These are the Two or Three Cards to Get if Just Starting

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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.

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Start with the Freedom Unlimited and Sapphire Preferred. While you’re at it, get the Ink Plus if you have more spending capacity and a business (because the Ink Plus is a business card.) 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 Preferred 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 Preferred and meet their spending requirements, you’d have 74,500 Ultimate Rewards, enough for two roundtrips to Hawaii with one in First Class or one roundtrip to Europe with three nights in free hotels. If you get those two cards and the Ink Plus, that would be 139,500 Ultimate Rewards, enough for two 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; 2 on travel, dining, and gas dining; and 5 on office supplies and on cellular phone, landline, internet and cable TV services.

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 Preferred is one of the best personal credit cards on the market. It offers:

  • 50,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after spending $4,000 in the first three months
  • 5,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards for adding an authorized user
  • 2 Ultimate Rewards per dollar on travel and dining purchases
  • 1 Ultimate Reward per dollar on all other purchases
  • no annual fee the first year and $95 thereafter

The Ink Plus is easily the best business card on the market. It offers:

  • 60,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after spending $5,000 in the first three months
  • 5 Ultimate Rewards per dollar at office supply stores and on cellular phone, landline, internet and cable TV services
  • 2 Ultimate Rewards per dollar at gas stations and hotel accommodations
  • 1 Ultimate Reward per dollar on all other purchases
  • $95 annual fee

If you get just the Freedom Unlimited and Sapphire Preferred (and add an authorized user on the Sapphire Preferred), that’s 70,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after spending $4,500 in the first three months. If you get all three, that’s 130,000 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 Plus 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 at office supply stores and on cellular phone, landline, internet and cable TV services on the Ink Plus for 5x per dollar
  • spending at gas stations on the Ink Plus for 2x per dollar
  • spending on travel and dining on the Sapphire Preferred for 2x 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 Preferred too, you can transfer the Freedom Unlimited’s Ultimate Rewards to your Sapphire 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.

Bottom Line

New to miles?

Get the Sapphire Preferred and Freedom Unlimited. If possible, get the Ink Plus too. Now you’re all set for some huge travel. The 139,500 Ultimate Rewards you’d earn from meeting all their spending requirements is enough for a round-the-world trip partially in First Class.


Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

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7 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Scott,

    Thanks for another informative post! I’m fairly new to the miles and points game but have started with those 3 cards per your suggestion. I was wondering if you could explain why IHG and Marriott have little value to you? I was planning on getting those cards as #4 and #5 (I already have the Southwest card) but would love to hear your thoughts. What would you choose as the 4th and 5th Chase card instead? Thanks for any advice you can give!

    • Those programs are fine. Those cards can be OK, kinda, maybe. But transferring Ultimate Rewards, which are worth about 2 cents each to those programs is what I am saying is a bad value. You can buy IHG points for about 0.6 cents all the time.

  2. Hi Scott,
    I don’t see the 15k rewards for the chase unlimited sign up. Has that expired? Which one do you recommend chase freedom or chase unlimited? I signed up for the prestige the last day and got approved. Thanks for your reviews.

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