Earn 2.25% to 15% Back on Purchases With These 2 Credit Cards

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The credit card rewards game can be lucrative, but it can also be quite complicated. For those who like to keep it fairly simple, I’ll explain the one-two punch that gives me plenty of money back for my credit card purchases.

If two cards are too many, I’ll also give you my top one-card alternative, and it’s neither of the cards in the two-card combo.

If you are loyal to a particular hotel or airline card, it’s worth running the numbers and making sure you’re getting good value for the money you spend on the card. If you’re not getting the equivalent of at least 1.5 cents back per dollar spent, I’d look for a better solution.

With two cards from Chase, you should be able to get anywhere from a minimum of 2.25% to as much as 15% back on every purchase that can be made by credit card.




Card Number 1: Chase Freedom Unlimited®


The Chase Freedom Unlimited is a simple “cash back” credit card, but the Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR) points you earn are actually better than cash. As cash equivalents, you can redeem them for cash at a rate of 1 penny per point, and you earn 1.5 points for dollar spent, so this card certainly can be used as a 1.5% cash back card.

However, there are better ways to use your Chase UR points.

Fortunately, this card has no annual fee, so you’ll pay no premium to own it and use it if you already have Card Number 2.

One cool thing that Chase does is allow you to move points earned on one Chase card to another Chase card, and there are other cards with better redemptions options.

For example, when you take your 1.5 points earned by spending a dollar on the Chase Freedom Unlimited Card and move them to Card Number 2, they’re now worth 2.25 cents (or more) with numerous redemption options.


Chase Freedom Unlimited

Up to $300 bonus from an extra 1.5% back on your first $20,000 in purchases in the first 12 months.
PoF Summary

The Chase Freedom Unlimited offers 3% back on dining and drugstores and a flat 1.5% cash back on all other purchases. No annual fee.


Card Number 2: Chase Sapphire Reserve®


A premium credit card with premium perks, the Chase Sapphire Reserve allows you to get 1.5 cents for every UR point redeemed to pay yourself back on prior purchases in eligible spending categories.

As of May 2022, those categories include dining, Airbnb, and certain charitable organizations.

In the past, grocery and travel expenses have been reimbursable at the 1.5 cents per point rate, as well. Those are not currently on the list of eligible expenses, but restaurants account for at least a few percentage points of our spending, anyway, so it’s not difficult to use all of our points this way.

If you don’t use Airbnb and rarely eat out or order in from restaurants, you can still get 1.5 cents per point in value by booking travel using the Expedia-powered Chase travel portal. The vast majority of hotels, motels, airlines, etc. are available via the search engine, and in my experience, you can expect to find the same prices using the Chase travel portal as you can by using other online search engines or the companies’ own websites.

Using either Chase’s Pay Yourself Back feature or booking future travel via the Chase Portal gives you 1.5 cents per point redeemed with the Chase Sapphire Reserve.


paying myself back for purchases made in Medellin


Earning 1.5 points per dollar spent with the Chase Freedom Unlimited and redeeming those points with the Chase Sapphire Reserve can get you 2.25% back on all of your credit card spending.

2.25% is a good start, but you can do a lot better in several purchase categories.


Chase Sapphire Reserve®

60,000 Points with a $4,000 spend in 3 months
PoF Summary

The Chase Sapphire Reserve offers great travel perks including Priority Pass lounge access, a credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓ and a $300 annual travel credit. When using Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal, get 10x points on hotels and car rental & 5x points on flights. 3x points on other travel & dining. Elevated Peloton, Lyft and DoorDash benefits. $550 Annual Fee


Getting 4.5% to 15% Back on Certain Purchases


While the Chase Freedom Unlimited gives you a flat 1.5 point per dollar spent on all purchases, the Chase Sapphire Reserve card rewards you at varying rates depending on the spending category.


As of January 2023, you can earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually.

Using the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal is basically no different than using Expedia, and it’s very similar to the user experience with Kayak, Orbitz, and other online travel search engines.

When you pay for Lyft rides with your Chase Sapphire Reserve (which will also be 15% discounted thanks to a complimentary Lyft Pink membership as a cardholder benefit), you also earn 10 points per dollar spent.

When you use the Chase UR portal to book your flights, you get 5 points per dollar spent.

Let’s say you just returned from a trip where you spent $2,000 on a hotel, $800 on a rental car, $800 in flights, and $500 in dining on a recent trip.

You earned 28,000 points from the $2,800 spent on the hotel and rental car and 4,000 points on the $800 in flights because you used the Chase UR portal to book everything. Dining out, you earned another 1,500 points because all dining and non-Chase UR portal travel charged to the card earns you triple points.


$ Spent Category Multiplier Points Earned
$2,000 Hotel via Portal 10x 20,000
$800 Car via Portal 10x 8,000
$800 Flights via Portal 5x 4,000
$500 Dining 3x 1,500
$4,100 33,500


You’ve got 33,500 points from $4,100 spent. With a 1.5 cent per point redemption, you can pay for $502.50 in past dining or future travel with those points.

Redeem these points to pay for all $500 worth of dining you made on the trip, and you’ve got a few points left over. I can confirm that you can also cover a rather expensive bar tab, if you’re so inclined.


a valentines’ day to remember


In the example above, you got 15% back on the hotel and rental car, 7.5% back on the flights, and 4.5% back on the dining. The overall benefit was 12.25% ($502.50 back / $4,100 spent).


When to use the Chase Sapphire Reserve


If you have these two recommended credit cards, you’ll want to use the Chase Sapphire Reserve for certain purchases and the Chase Freedom Unlimited for everything else.

When traveling internationally or paying an overseas vendor, use the Chase Sapphire Reserve. There are no foreign transaction fees, which is not true of the Chase Freedom Unlimited.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve also gives you 3 points per dollar when dining or paying for travel. Book your travel using the Chase UR Portal and that benefit goes up to 5 points per dollar on flights and 10 on points per dollar for hotels and rental cars.

If you use Lyft, link your card to earn 10 points per dollar on already-discounted Lyft rides.


When to Use the Chase Freedom Unlimited


The Chase Freedom Unlimited gives you 50% more points per dollar spent on any spending category not mentioned above.

Since you get 1.5 points per dollar spent instead of the 1 point that the Chase Sapphire Reserve gives you on most things, the Chase Freedom Unlimited should be your default card for most things.

Basically, use the Chase Freedom Unlimited for anything that’s not travel, dining, or Lyft rides.

Yes, there are other cards that can get you more in specific categories (you can find them here), but with this two-card combo, you should use the Chase Freedom Unlimited to pay for everyday things like:

  • Groceries
  • Gasoline
  • Utilities
  • “Shopping”


Again, if you’re not paying for travel, food at a restaurant, or Lyft, and you’re in the United States, charge your purchase to the Freedom Unlimited card.


Other Chase Cards


One big caveat of this combination is the fact that the Chase Sapphire Reserve has a hefty annual fee. You do get $300 in travel reimbursed automatically each year, making the $550 annual fee an effective $250.

For that, you get unlimited Priority Pass airport lounge access for you and two guests, $100 reimbursed for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓ every four years, and other great travel perks outlined here, including medical evacuation from foreign countries if necessary.

If those benefits do nothing for you, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card is an alternative, and the annual fee is only $95. The welcome bonus also tends to be higher.

However, when using your Chase UR points with the Chase Sapphire Preferred, you only 1.25 cents per dollar when paying yourself back or booking future travel with the card. Your floor of 2.25% back on card purchases drops to 1.875% when substituting the Preferred card for the Reserve card.

Also, the maximum reward categories are reduced from 10x to 5x. Instead of 15% back on hotels and car rentals booked on the Chase UR Portal, you’ll get 6.25%. It’s a substantial drop.


Chase Sapphire Preferred

60,000 Points good for $750 in travel or more with a $4,000 spend in 3 months
PoF Summary

The Chase Sapphire Preferred is an excellent first (or only) rewards card. $50 annual hotel credit for bookings via the Chase UR tavel portal & 5x points for all travel via the portal. 3x points on dining, 2x on other travel. Flexible rewards good for cash, travel, or transfer to travel partners, great travel protection & new Peloton, Lyft & DoorDash perks! $95 Annual Fee

Chase Sapphire Reserve

60,000 Points with a $4,000 spend in 3 months
PoF Summary

The Chase Sapphire Reserve offers great travel perks including Priority Pass lounge access, a credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓ and a $300 annual travel credit. When using Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal, get 10x points on hotels and car rental & 5x points on flights. 3x points on other travel & dining. Elevated Peloton, Lyft and DoorDash benefits. $550 Annual Fee


There are also alternatives to the Chase Freedom Unlimited. The Chase Freedom card and Chase Freedom Flex℠ card also earn Chase UR points, but in rotating categories. Purchases that don’t fall into featured categories each quarter earn you one point per dollar spent.

The categories that do give you 5x points can net you 7.5 cents back per dollar spent when those points are transferred to your Chase Sapphire Reserve card and redeemed at 1.5 cents per point, but it doesn’t make sense to charge anything not in those categories to these cards.


Chase Freedom Flex

$200 cash back with a $500 spend in 3 months
PoF Summary

The Chase Freedom Flex offers 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate, and new 5% categories each quarter; 5% back on travel booked via Chase; 3% back on dining & drugstores. 1% back elsewhere. No annual fee.


An Excellent Business Card Option


If you have a small business, you can use the Chase Ink Business Unlimited® Credit Card as an alternative or supplement to the Chase Freedom Unlimited card.

The Chase Ink Business Unlimited gives you 1.5 Chase UR points per dollar spent in any category.

Chase Ink Business Unlimited

$900 cash back with a $6,000 spend in 3 months
PoF Summary

The Chase Ink Business Unlimited offers a flat 1.5% cash back on all purchases. No annual fee.


Additional Redemption Options


There are other ways to get 1.5 cents or more in value per point redeemed with the Chase Sapphire Reserve. I’ve seen Apple products offered at 1.5 cents per point via Chase’s shopping portal, for example.

You can transfer points to travel partners. Hyatt, in particular, seems to be one where you can get the most bang for your buck and rooms can be had for as few as 5,000 points.

Airline transfer partners (United, Southwest, and others) are additional options where your points can be transferred. International business class flights often offer a redemption value significantly higher than 1.5 cents per point.

For additional information on the many ways to use Chase’s flexible point program, see 10 Ways to Use 122,500 Chase Ultimate Rewards Points.



The Chase 5/24 Rule


Be aware that Chase doesn’t want you loading up your wallet with a new card every other month. They want your loyalty.

If you’ve already applied for 5 credit cards in the previous 24 months, you can expect to be denied a new Chase card. It doesn’t matter if you were approved for each of those cards or if they came from a variety of different banks and card issuers.

Your credit score of 832 won’t matter, either, if you’ve been card collecting. If you want to add both the Chase Freedom Unlimited (or Ink Business Unlimited® Credit Card) and Chase Sapphire Reserve, make sure you’ve applied for three cards or fewer in the last two years. If not, wait.


A One Card Option


If what I’ve outlined sounds like too much work or you’re not comfortable with the Sapphire Reserve’s annual fee, you can get some of the advantages of the two-card combo with fewer restrictions.

For a one-card solution, my recommendation is the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card.

It won’t get you 2.25% back on everything, and it certainly won’t net you 15% back on anything, but it is good for 2% back on all purchases.

There are other cash back credit cards offering 2% back, but none that give you Priority Pass Lounge access like the Capital One Venture X.

The welcome bonus is currently 75,000 points worth $750 in travel after a $4,000 spend in your first 3 months.

The Venture X carries a $395 annual fee. Capital One also gives you a $300 credit on travel booked via the Capital One Travel search engine, and they give you an annual point bonus of 10,000 points  — a $100 value. That makes the effective fee -$5 ($5 in your favor) after your first year.

The card also offers reimbursement of up to $100 for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓.

The travel protections and perks aren’t nearly as good as those offered by the Chase Sapphire Reserve, unfortunately. You get what you pay for. Fortunately, if you spend at least $400 a year in travel, your $395 annual fee will be completely offset with travel credits when using the Venture X.


Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card

75,000 point bonus after spending $4,000 in the first 3 mo.
PoF Summary

2 points per dollar spent (2% cash back equivalent). Up to $300 credit each year for travel booked on Capital One Travel, 10,000 bonus miles each account anniversary ($100 value). Unlimited Priority Pass Lounge Access, $100 Global Entry or TSA Pre✓ credit. $395 fee can be more than offset with travel credit & annual point bonus


The 2.625% to 3.5% Option


If you’re willing to fund a Merrill Edge brokerage account with at least $100,000 and hold Platinum Honors status with a particular bank, you can earn 3.5% back on dining and travel and 2.625% back on everything else charged to one of that bank’s cards.

If I were already banking with Merrill Lynch and had a six-figure balance there, this would be a great option. But I don’t, and I don’t feel it’s worth moving a substantial amount of money from Vanguard to Merrill just to have this option.

I mention it primarily because whenever I propose a solution to get 2% or 2.25% or more back on credit card purchases, existing Merrill Lynch customers tend to chime in and mention this deal, and it is a good deal if you’re a Merrill Lynch customer.

I am not.


Next Steps


If the Chase Sapphire Reserve sounds right for you, learn more here.

If you’ve already got the Sapphire Reserve, look to either the Chase Freedom Unlimited or, if you’re a business owner, the Chase Ink Business Unlimited® Credit Card.

Finally, if you prefer the simplicity of a single premium card with lounge access and an effective annual fee that works out to $5 in your pocket, consider the Capital One Venture X. This is also a good option if the Chase 5/24 Rule precludes you from being accepted for a new Chase credit card.


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Physician on FIRE has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Physician on FIRE and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.

8 thoughts on “Earn 2.25% to 15% Back on Purchases With These 2 Credit Cards”

  1. I don’t spend enough on their specific categories to make it worth paying an annual fee for a card. If you’re a heavy traveler I can see where those travel-centric cards do work out. I don’t have one but Wells Fargo has a 2% cash back on all purchases, no annual fee. I am a fan of Chase in general, however.

    I do have Chase Ink and Capital One 1.5% cards for business use that I’ve had longer than when the WF deal came to my attention. The categories I spend in the most would likely never show up on any kind of card – but with all the farm supplies I buy, I do get a generous cash back amount. And had no problem with the initial spending required to get a lump sum bonus shortly after opening the accounts.

    I use my BofA corporate card for farm gas/diesel purchases, can’t beat that 3%.

    To each their own!

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  3. I feel like this is just Chase advertising. Credit cards that cost $500 per year are rarely good to keep after the first year, as it’s hard to make back the value unless your lifestyle matches Chase’s subscription service bonuses. I highly recommend annual fee-less cards. Lots of free cards will get you similar rewards. citi double cash for 2%, it/freedom for 5%, penfed for ~4.25% gas, citi for 5% category up to $500/month, cash+ for 5% in a chosen category, onjuno is similar up to $300 in rewards yearly. These are all cards without annual fees. Everyone should do their math and see if annual fees are worth it – I would almost never recommend a card with an annual fee.

  4. Fantastic article! I am verifying the point redemptions on my own since this stuff changes so frequently and notice that both the CSR and CFU both give 3% back on dining. So does it matter which one is actually used for meals?

    I am just trying to set up a framework that is as straight forward as possible, striking a balance between how many cards I need to carry and minimizing the brainpower required to decide which one to use at any moment. It seems that I could probably leave my CSR card out of my wallet (since any travel or Lyfts I book will use my CSR as a saved default) and just use the CFU as my “walking around” card that gets swiped, including at restaurants.

    Is that right? Sorry new to this points game.

    • Good catch! I forgot that dining and drugstores give you 3% back with the CFU — like you say, the rules change, so it’s best to stay abreast.

      In this case, as long as you redeem your points with the CSR, it doesn’t matter if you charge dining purchases to the CFU or the CSR. As of May, 2022, at least.

      Thanks for pointing that out!

  5. Great article! I am excited to implement this by picking up the Freedom Unlimited to go with the CSR we’ve had for years.

    The Ink Unlimited was a nice addition to the article and opened up a thought I had not had before.

    My wife has that card for her retail (read: inventory heavy) business. We got it to get the sign up bonus (which we easily met th3 minimum spend on in the first month) and were planning to revert back to buying our inventory on our Capital One Spark card, which offers a 2% straight cash back option.

    If the Ink gives 1.5 points per dollar spent, we can convert that to 2.25% pay me back (or travel portal) value and come out ahead of the Spark.

    Am I thinking about that correctly or am I missing something?

    Thanks again for the excellent article


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