Editor’s Note: Welcome to our Points Principles series, an ongoing series dedicated to explaining the basics behind the confusing world of frequent flyer miles and travel rewards points. Follow along as we lay out some of the building blocks to travel for nearly free. And check back to the Points Principles page to see what ground we’ve already covered.
There’s a good reason we tell readers getting started with points and miles to consider opening travel rewards cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred. Actually, there are two of them.
First, these cards that earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points are the best way to get a handle on points and miles. You get great value in the most straightforward way to use points: putting them directly toward the cost of a flight. And it’s also an opportunity to learn about the power of transferring points to airlines and hotel chains to get even more out of your points.
But there’s another reason, and it might be more important. The growing restrictions on getting approved for Chase credit cards means you could miss the boat on Chase entirely if you don’t time it right.
Mastering Points and Miles with Chase
There are two basic types of currencies in the frequent flyer world. There are airline miles you earn with Delta, United, and other airlines. And then there are credit card points you can use to buy down the cash price of airfare. And there are big differences between credit card points and airline miles.
With Chase Ultimate Rewards, you get the best of both worlds. You get the simplicity of Chase’s travel portal, where you can use the points you’ve earned to book airfare directly. It’s the easiest way to use points, our favorite way to book cheap flight deals, and it also allows you to keep earning miles with the airline you fly on.
However, Chase also has 10 airline partners and three hotel chains to which you can transfer your Ultimate points. Check out the full list:
|Program||Type||Transfer Ratio||Transfer Time|
|Singapore Air||Airline||1:1||12-24 hours|
|World of Hyatt||Hotel||1:1||Instant|
|Marriott Rewards||Hotel||1:1||2 days|
Some of these partners are stronger than others. But as you learn more about miles and credit cards, you’ll see that transferring points is the key to getting even more value out of your points. It’s how you can book luxurious business and first-class seats you’d never be able to afford. Read our guide on how to transfer Chase points
Chase isn’t alone in that regard. American Express, Capital One, and Citi all allow cardholders to book directly with airlines or transfer points to travel partners. And you can also book directly through each bank’s travel portal using points.
But on the whole, Chase is better. While other banks give their users just 1 cent per point for travel when booking direct, Chase ups the ante. Cardholders of the Chase Sapphire Preferred get 1.25 cents per point. The Chase Sapphire Reserve is even better, getting you 1.5 cents per point.
That combination of value and versatility is why we’ve named the Chase Sapphire Preferred the best starter travel rewards card. It’s also why the Chase Sapphire Reserve earned our endorsement as the #1 travel rewards credit card.
And it’s what makes Chase credit cards the perfect place to start with points and miles. But there’s another important factor that could make it imperative to start with Chase.
Open Chase Cards Before It’s Too Late
Chase is one of the stingiest banks when it comes to approving applications for credit cards. Some advanced planning can help you beat the sting.
If you’ve read a word about Chase credit cards, you’ve probably come across its notorious 5/24 restriction. What it means is that once you’ve opened five or more credit cards (from any bank, not just Chase) in the previous 24-month period, you will not be approved for a Chase card.
Historically, not every Chase card has fallen under this rule. The big guns like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Freedom, and others all did, as did some other big co-branded airline cards like the United MileagePlus Explorer card. Others escaped Chase’s ire.
But that number seems to be shrinking. We’re hearing from more and more readers that they’d been rejected for even co-branded Chase cards. That includes cards like the World of Hyatt card, British Airways Visa Signature Card, and Iberia Visa Signature card. Overall, Chase appears to be making it harder for travelers to keep cycling through cards to earn sign-up bonuses.
So what does that mean for a beginner who can’t fathom opening five cards in two years? Even if that thought makes your head spin, you should still plan ahead and prioritize Chase.
Think about the cards you want – and may want – before moving onto other banks like American Express or Citi, which aren’t nearly as restrictive when it comes to approving applications. You should be able to open those cards at almost anytime, but your window to open Chase credit cards can close fast.
Start with the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve. If you want to keep earning flexible Ultimate Rewards points, get a Chase Freedom or Chase Freedom Unlimited card before moving on to other banks. If you live in a United hub, consider the United MileagePlus Explorer card. Want to rack up some Hyatt Rewards points? You may want to open a World of Hyatt card.
That may seem like a lot, and you certainly don’t need to open them all. But you do need to plan ahead for the credit cards you may want, putting Chase at the front of the line.
Chase Ultimate Rewards are considered the most valuable points out there for a reason, but it’s also the perfect place to get started with points and miles. It’s the perfect system to learn the ropes. And it’s more important than ever to prioritize Chase if you want to accelerate your travels.
Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews, or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.