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Trifecta Under Threat? Recent Issues with UR Points Combining Raise Concerns

For years, many of us in the points and miles game have reveled in the magic of the Chase trifecta or bifecta. The idea is simple: pair high-end Chase travel cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Sapphire Preferred, or Ink Business Preferred with their “cashback” counterparts like the Chase Freedom Unlimited, Freedom Flex, or Ink Business Unlimited. It’s a wonderful ecosystem that has allowed us to maximize our rewards on mundane purchases over the years. But recent issues with the Combine Points tool have us questioning whether this ecosystem is on shaky ground.

So, how does the Chase trifecta/bifecta work, and why is it so beloved by savvy travelers like you and me? Let’s break it down.

Earning with Cashback Cards

  • The Freedom Unlimited, Freedom Flex, Ink Business Unlimited, and of course the OG Freedom card (no longer available to new applicants) all earn cashback in the form of Ultimate Rewards (UR) points. The conversion is straightforward: 1% cashback equals 1x UR points, 5% cashback equals 5x UR points, and so on.
  • For everyday purchases, this can result in a higher earning rate compared to using Chase’s high-end cards. For instance, the CFF offers a fantastic 5x bonus on rotating quarterly categories, while the CFU and CIBU earn a consistent 1.5x wherever Visa is accepted – which adds up quickly on substantial but mundane expenses like paying vendors or estimated taxes.
  • Typically, UR points on cashback cards are restricted, redeemable only for cash and cash equivalents like gift cards or Amazon purchases. There is simply no way to extract more than 1 cent per point (cpp) in value out of these restricted points. However, there’s a valuable loophole.

Enter the Combine Points Tool

  • Chase’s “Combine Points” tool allows you to move those restricted UR points 1:1 to a travel card, liberating them from restrictions and enabling redemptions worth much more than 1 cpp. You can redeem these points for flights or hotel stays at a higher value by transferring them to Chase’s airline and hotel partners or using them through the Chase travel portal at a flat rate of 1.25 cpp on the CSP or 1.5 cpp on the CSR.
  • We usually recommend skipping the Chase travel portal and transferring directly to partners like World of Hyatt or Air Canada Aeroplan in order to obtain maximum value from your hard-earned points. While it’s tougher than it used to be, Hyatt objectively remains the best use for Chase UR points, and edge cases with redemption values north of 5 cpp are still well within reach of most of us.

The beauty of this setup is that these cards are stronger together than they ever would be in isolation. The Chase Freedom cards are incredible for earning, but horrible for redemptions; this loophole overcomes the inherent weaknesses of the Freedom series, and is a big reason my Freedom Unlimited stays top-of-wallet whenever I’m not working on a new signup bonus. However, recent reports have left us wondering if this might be the end of the Chase trifecta/bifecta as we know it.

Issues Come to Light

  • The initial report came from Zachary at Monkey Miles, and numerous other reports have since followed. While I haven’t personally experienced this issue yet, it’s concerning and makes me wonder if this is just a system issue, or if Chase is quietly piloting big changes here.
  • It appears that Chase has removed the Combine Points option from the UR portal for some cardmembers, particularly when viewing annual fee cards like the CSR.
  • As of now, cashback cards like CFU seem to be unaffected. So, if you need to transfer your points, it’s advisable to “push” them from your cashback card to your travel card rather than “pulling” them.

This loophole has been incredibly valuable over the years, allowing us to extract more value from our cashback cards. Banks often market their bonus categories by focusing on the frequency of purchases, like dining out or parking & tolls, rather than the substantial but less frequent expenses like rent or utilities. Thus, the 50% bonus on a card like CFU can be a game-changer for travelers looking to amass points more quickly.

Protecting Your Points
If you’re reading this and use the Chase ecosystem in this manner, it’s time to take action. Don’t procrastinate; combine your points right now, just in case. We strongly recommend setting monthly reminders a few days after your statement closes, as this loophole has never been guaranteed and could be closed without notice. You wouldn’t want to be stuck holding thousands of cashback points when they could have been used as full-fledged UR points for epic travel adventures.

The future of the Chase trifecta/bifecta is uncertain, but one thing is clear: we’ll keep a close eye on developments and hope that Chase continues to reward its loyal customers with the benefits they’ve come to love. Stay vigilant, and may your points continue to take you on incredible journeys.