The best Chase credit cards to get for cash back and travel rewards

Jennifer Yellin, CNN Underscored
Wed May 20, 2020

CNN Underscored reviews financial products such as credit cards and bank accounts based on their overall value. We may receive a commission through The Points Guy affiliate network if you apply and are approved for a card, but our reporting is always independent and objective.

If you're looking for a way to increase your cash back, airline miles or hotel points, look no further than Chase credit cards. Chase is known for offering excellent rewards, lucrative sign-up bonuses and even money-saving benefits. Fortunately, Chase also offers a slew of popular credit cards, which means there's a card for everyone.

The one major downside to keep in mind is that Chase's credit cards fall under what is colloquially known as the "5/24" rule. This is an unpublished Chase rule, but it essentially means that if you've gotten five or more credit cards across all banks in the last 24 months, your applications for new cards from Chase will be automatically denied.

Most people don't apply for credit cards that often, so you likely won't have to worry too much about 5/24. But now that you know the rules, let's take a look at our list of the best Chase credit cards in 2020.

The best Chase credit cards

Chase Freedom Unlimited: Best for cash back
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: Best for flexible travel rewards
Chase Sapphire Reserve: Best for travel perks
Chase Freedom: Best for rotating categories
The World of Hyatt Credit Card: Best for hotel elite status
Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card: Best for companion flights
IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card: Best for reward stays
United Explorer Card: Best for airline miles

Why did we choose these as our best Chase credit cards? Let's dive into the details of each card and see how they compare to one another.

Best for cash back: Chase Freedom Unlimited

The Chase Freedom Unlimited card is by far the best Chase credit card for earning cash back. With 1.5% in cash back on every purchase, there's no need to worry about what month it is or which categories earn bonus points. You can use the Freedom Unlimited anywhere and earn 1.5% cash back on everything you buy.

But this no-annual-fee card provides an opportunity to earn an even higher return if you prefer to trade in your cash back for travel rewards. That's because if you pair the card with a more premium Chase Ultimate Rewards card — such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve — you can convert the cash back to flexible travel points at a 1-to-1 ratio.

Your converted points can then go even further by booking travel through the Chase travel portal or transferring them to one of Chase's 13 airline and hotel travel partners, such as Hyatt or United.

Thanks to this flexibility, CNN Underscored's partner The Points Guy values Ultimate Rewards points at 2 cents apiece. This means instead of earning just 1.5% cash back, you could instead effectively end up with a 3% return if you pair your Freedom Unlimited to the right Chase card and use your points for travel instead.

Other benefits of the Chase Freedom Unlimited include purchase protection and extended warranty protection, a complimentary three-month subscription to DashPass, 5% cash back on Lyft rides through March 2020 and, for a limited-time now through May 31, an elevated 5% cash back on DoorDash and Tock orders, up to a maximum of $500 in combined purchases.

Related: Chase and Amex add bonus rewards for ordering from food delivery services.

Of course, the Freedom Unlimited's 1.5% cash back rate isn't as good as the 2% total return you'd earn with the Citi® Double Cash Card, which offers 1% when you make a purchase and another 1% when you pay your statement. But there are more benefits on the Chase Freedom Unlimited, and the opportunity to earn premium Ultimate Rewards points is worth extra to some people.

If you want to have your cake and eat it too, one strategy is to use the another Chase Ultimate Rewards credit card for purchases that offer bonus points — such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve for travel and dining out purchases — and then use the Chase Freedom Unlimited for everything else you buy. Then you're getting the best of both worlds.

Sign-up bonus: Earn $200 in bonus cash back after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening. (Offer only available when applying directly with Chase.)

Best for flexible travel rewards: Chase Sapphire Preferred

The Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great first card for those interested in travel rewards.

Many people agree that the Chase Sapphire Preferred is one of the best starter cards for those looking to earn travel rewards. The card offers a relatively low $95 annual fee and provides a number of popular bonus categories and benefits.

With the Chase Sapphire Preferred, you'll earn 2 points for every dollar you spend on travel and dining purchases, 5 points per dollar on Lyft (from now through March 2022) and then 1 point on everything else. Additionally, for a limited time through June 30, 2020, you'll earn 3 points per dollar on grocery purchases.

Related: Are you using the best credit card when ordering food for delivery?

New customers can also earn 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in the first three months after opening the card, which is the highest sign-up offer you'll see across all of Chase's personal Ultimate Rewards credit cards.

With the Chase Sapphire Preferred, if you book travel with points through the Chase travel portal, you'll get 1.25 cents per point in value, meaning the sign-up bonus alone is worth $750 toward travel. But since you can also transfer points to 13 different airline and hotel partners, you can potentially get even more value. When used this way, Ultimate Rewards points are worth as much as 2 cents apiece according to The Points Guy, which could bring the sign-up bonus value up to a whopping $1,200.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred also includes a much more expansive purchase and travel protection benefit than you'll see with the Chase Freedom Unlimited. When you use your Sapphire Preferred card on eligible purchases, you'll be covered against damage or theft for 120 days from the time of purchase, and receive an additional year of coverage with a manufacturer's warranty of three years or less.

You'll also get primary rental car coverage with the Sapphire Preferred, which can save you money since you can decline the collision insurance option on your next car rental. You're also eligible to be reimbursed if your trip is canceled or delayed for a covered reason (though unfortunately a pandemic typically isn't one of those reasons) or your baggage is delayed or lost.

Finally, as an added bonus, all Chase Sapphire Preferred card holders receive a complimentary DashPass membership through Dec. 31, 2020.

Sign-up bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening.

Read CNN Underscored's complete review of the Chase Sapphire Preferred.

Best for travel perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve

The Ambassador Transit Lounge in Singapore's Terminal 2, accessible with the Chase Sapphire Reserve's Priority Pass membership.

Even if you're staying away from the skies right now, it's still a great time to earn points for future travel, and the Chase Sapphire Reserve is hard to beat for the premier traveler. Despite the card's expensive $550 annual fee, you'll find that the points add up quickly, and the benefits can easily outweigh the fee.

Normally, the card earns 3 points for every dollar you spend on travel and dining, 10 points per dollar spent on Lyft rides (through March 2022) and 1 point per dollar on everything else. However, for a limited time, Chase is giving their card holders an extra bonus on grocery store purchases, and the Chase Sapphire Reserve currently earns 5 points per dollar on groceries from now through June 30.

Since Chase Ultimate Rewards points are worth 2 cents apiece according to The Points Guy, this means you can currently get an effective return of 10% on your supermarket purchases. That's currently the best return you can get on groceries with any credit card, though it's only for a limited time.

Related: Earn more cash back or rewards on your groceries with these credit cards.

On the redemption side, points earned with the Chase Sapphire Reserve are worth slightly more than what you'll get with the Sapphire Preferred. While you can transfer your points to the same 13 airline and hotel partners, your points are worth 1.5 cents apiece instead of 1.25 cents apiece when used for travel via the Chase travel portal.

To help offset the annual fee, the Sapphire Reserve also comes with a $300 annual travel credit and up to $60 in statement credits on DoorDash purchases in both 2020 and 2021. You'll also receive a complimentary Priority Pass airport lounge membership and up to $100 in credits when you apply for either Global Entry or TSA PreCheck.

The purchase and travel benefits on the Chase Sapphire Reserve are similar to those that you'll find on the Sapphire Preferred, but with one slight difference: trip delay protection. While many Chase credit cards offer trip delay protection, the benefit generally doesn't kick in until your flight is delayed more than 12 hours or requires an overnight stay. With the Sapphire Reserve, however, you'll have access to this benefit at the 6-hour mark instead.

That's quite a big difference, and one reason to use the card for all of your airline travel. Even if you book a flight with airline points or miles, as long as you pay for the taxes on the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you'll get the same trip delay coverage.

Sign-up bonus: Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening.

Read CNN Underscored's guide to decide if the Chase Sapphire Preferred or the Chase Sapphire Reserve is best for you.

Best for rotating categories: Chase Freedom

The Chase Freedom card requires a little more planning, but if you can maximize the card's rotating bonus categories, you can use it to earn some great cash back or even travel rewards.

With the Chase Freedom, you'll earn 5% cash back in bonus categories that rotate every three months, on up to $1,500 in combined purchases each quarter. And just like the Chase Freedom Unlimited, if you also have a premier Chase Ultimate Rewards credit card, you can convert any cash back earned from the Chase Freedom into Ultimate Rewards travel points.

The current Chase Freedom bonus categories for April through June 2020 are grocery stores, fitness clubs, gym memberships and select streaming services. Many people are seeing their grocery and streaming service subscription costs at an all-time high, so being able to earn as much as $75 in bonus cash back — even while staying at home — should be quite easy.

You'll also receive 5% cash back on Lyft rides through March 2022, 5% cash back on DoorDash and Tock orders from now through May 31 and a complimentary 3-month DashPass membership, which waives delivery fee on select DoorDash orders over $12.

As of now, the rotating bonus categories for the 3rd and 4th quarters of this year haven't been released yet, but in the past we've seen categories like department stores, gas stations and purchases at Amazon. Given the current pandemic situation, it's likely that Chase will be thoughtful with their upcoming bonus categories to make sure they include purchases that can be made from home.

The Chase Freedom is a great card to use on those rotating categories, but keep in mind that on all your other purchases, you'll earn a better return when using the Chase Freedom Unlimited card or another Ultimate Rewards card that provides bonus points in other categories. One other thing to remember is that you must activate the bonus categories each quarter, so this card does require you to be organized.

Although the Chase Freedom is a no-annual fee-card, it does come with 3% foreign transaction fee, so it's not the card to take with you on international trips once travel starts to open up again. But on the plus side, the card features purchase protection and extended warranty protection, plus a 0% introductory APR on all purchases for 15 months from account opening (you'll pay a variable APR of 14.99% to 23.74% after the intro period ends).

Sign-up bonus: Earn $200 in bonus cash back after you spend $500 on purchases in your first three months from account opening. (Offer only available when applying directly with Chase.)

Learn more about the Chase Freedom card.

Best for hotel elite status: World of Hyatt Credit Card

Earn Hyatt elite status faster with the World of Hyatt Credit Card.

Hyatt continues to feature one of the top hotel loyalty programs for many people. Despite the chain's footprint not being as large as Marriott's or Hilton's, its reward points hold value and its benefits are top notch. The program also allows World of Hyatt Credit Card holders to work their way up the ladder to money-saving benefits and other perks, which could truly garner the royal treatment during your stay.

With the World of Hyatt Credit Card, you'll typically earn 2 elite qualifying nights for every $5,000 you spend on the card. However, for purchases between April 15 and June 30, you'll receive 3 elite qualifying nights, a 50% bonus. This means you can theoretically earn milestone benefits and elite status without stepping foot into a Hyatt property.

Also, World of Hyatt Credit Card holders automatically receive 5 elite night credits annually, but new cardmembers who apply for the card by June 30 will receive 10 elite night credits in 2020. Typically, you need to earn 60 qualifying nights per year to get top-tier Hyatt Globalist status, which means World of Hyatt card holders only need 55 qualifying nights, and new card holders who apply by June 30 only need 50 nights in 2020.

Related: Earn extra nights toward Hyatt hotel elite status while you're sitting at home.

Another benefit of the World of Hyatt Credit Card is that you'll receive a complimentary reward night, valid at a category 1-4 property, every year starting at your card's first anniversary. Despite a $95 annual fee for the card, the yearly certificate is potentially worth much more, and should easily outweigh that cost. You can even earn a second reward night certificate each year by spending $15,000 on your card within your card holder year.

Sign-up offer: Earn up to 50,000 bonus points — 25,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, and 25,000 additional bonus points after you spend $6,000 total within 6 months of account opening.

Learn more about the World of Hyatt Credit Card.

Best for companion flights: Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card

Use the Southwest Premier card to help earn the Southwest Companion Pass.

The Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card might not earn the highest number of points on your everyday purchases, but it'll help you get one step closer to earning the coveted Southwest Companion Pass. With the Companion Pass, another individual can fly with you for free (plus taxes) on every single flight you take on Southwest from now through the end of 2021.

Normally, you need to earn 125,000 Southwest qualifying points in a calendar year to get the pass, but for 2020, Southwest is giving its frequent fliers a boost. For those members who already had a Southwest frequent flyer account open as of April 1, the airline is depositing 25,000 qualifying points automatically. This means you only need to earn 100,000 qualifying points by the end of 2020 to earn the pass.

Related: Flying your Companion for free through 2021 just got easier with these Southwest credit cards.

Best of all, points earned from the Southwest Premier card count for the Companion Pass. This includes not only points earned from everything you buy on the card, but also the 40,000 bonus points new card members can earn after spending $1,000 in purchases within the first three months after they open the card. You can also couple this card with one of Southwest's business credit cards and potentially earn the pass with just two credit card approvals.

Southwest is also helping its members earn A-List or A-List Preferred elite status this year. The airline is upping the number of Tier Qualifying Points you can earn with your credit card for the rest of 2020, and also won't have a cap on earning them with a credit card this year.

Sign-up offer: Earn 40,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening.

Learn more about the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card.

Best for reward stays: IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card

The IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card is a card that should be in every traveler's wallet, although it shouldn't be pulled out too often. Right now the card is offering a highest-ever 140,000-point bonus offer after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months. With IHG points worth about 0.5 cents apiece according to The Points Guy, that's worth $700 toward IHG stays.

Although that's not nearly as much value as some other Chase sign-up bonuses on our list, the card's benefits will allow you to get even more from it. For instance, one of the best perks of the IHG Premier is the reward night certificate you'll receive yearly, starting with your first card anniversary. You can redeem these certificates at any IHG hotel that normally costs up to 40,000 IHG Rewards points based on IHG's rewards nights chart.

Some notable properties where this certificate can be redeemed include the InterContinental Hotel Lisbon, the InterContinental Fiji Golf Resort & Spa, the Holiday Inn Resort Aruba and the Hotel Indigo San Diego Del Mar, just to name a few. Often, these certificates can even be used during peak times when hotels are quite pricey, making the card's $89 annual fee well worth it.

Related: Earn a highest-ever 140,000 bonus points with the IHG Premier credit card.

Another highly-rated benefit is the IHG Premier's complimentary fourth night. All card holders who redeem points for their stay will get a fourth night for no additional points. This can be used at any IHG property, regardless of the number of points it costs. Combine this with the complimentary night award and you'll ultimately be able to book a five night stay for the cost of three, as long as you're staying at a property that costs 40,000 points or less.

Other perks of the IHG Premier card include complimentary IHG Platinum status, a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee credit and cell phone protection. These benefits, along with the ones listed above, are some great reasons to make sure that this card makes way into your wallet.

Sign-up offer: Earn 140,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening.

Learn more about the IHG Club Premier Rewards Credit Card.

Best for airline miles: United Explorer Card

Get a free checked bag on United flights with the United Explorer Card.

The biggest concern for many people when it comes to earning airline miles is that using them can be hard. The fights you want aren't always available, and it takes some flexibility and planning to find an ideal trip.

Fortunately, having the United Explorer Card opens up more opportunities. When searching for award flights, card holders will see expanded award availability, which means you'll have access to more flights at a lower mileage cost.

Aside from saving you miles, this card also comes with a number of other benefits. United Explorer Card holders save money by getting a first checked bag free for you and a companion on United flights, two United Club day passes per year, 25% back on in-flight United purchases and up to $100 as a statement credit when you apply for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck.

Related: The best credit cards for United flyers in 2020.

With the United Explorer Card, you'll also earn 2 miles for every dollar you spend on all United purchases, as well as restaurant and hotel purchases. And for a limited time through the end of June, you'll also earn 3 miles for every dollar you spend at grocery stores.

Right now, the United Explorer Card is offering a sign-up bonus offer of 40,000 miles after you spend $2,000 in purchases within the first three months you have the card. But higher offers pop up quite often — for example, we recently saw a 60,000-mile offer. So if you're in the market for the card and not in an immediate rush, you might want to hold off for a higher bonus.

Sign-up offer: Earn 40,000 bonus points after you spend $2,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening.

Learn more about the United Explorer Card.

Which Chase credit card is best?

With so many highly-rated Chase credit cards, it's tough to choose a truly "best" card. They're all strong in their own way, offering unique benefits that cater to different people.

If you're looking for a card that's simple and offers cash back, then the Chase Freedom Unlimited is the way to go. If you don't mind paying slightly more attention to your purchases, then the Chase Freedom will allow you to maximize the rewards you earn every quarter.

But, if travel rewards are more to your liking, then you can't go wrong with either the Chase Sapphire Preferred or the Chase Sapphire Reserve. The leisure traveler will probably find the Sapphire Preferred suits them better, while those who spend a significant amount of money on travel and dining out and classify themselves as a road-warrior will find value in the more-expensive Sapphire Reserve.

If hotel benefits are a priority, the World of Hyatt Credit Card could potentially help you get treated like a VIP during your next hotel stay. And it's tough to beat the annual night certificates that come each year with the IHG Rewards Premier.

Finally, if you'd prefer to focus on flying, look no further than the Southwest Premier card to help you secure the Southwest Companion Pass, or the United Explorer Card to provide you with some better award flight options.

Looking for the best overall credit card? Find out which cards CNN Underscored chose as its best credit cards of 2020.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Note: While the offers mentioned above are accurate at the time of publication, they're subject to change at any time and may have changed, or may no longer be available.