Amex or Chase Trifecta? See Which Can Earn You the Most

The right combination of Chase or Amex cards can score you tons of free travel.
Last updated Nov 19, 2020 | By Christy Rakoczy
Woman comparing the Chase and Amex Trifectas

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When it comes to earning free travel, both Chase credit cards and American Express credit cards are leaders of the pack. But if you're just using one card each from either of these credit card issuers, like the popular Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, you could be missing out on major credit card rewards.

Because individual cards offer different benefits and perks, you can actually turbocharge the rewards you receive by combining several credit cards from each issuer. These popular three-card combinations — called the Chase trifecta or Amex trifecta, respectively — allow you to both earn the most points and get the most value from your redemptions.

But one of these winning combos may be better for you than the other. If you need to choose between the Amex trifecta vs. Chase trifecta, this guide can help.

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Amex trifecta vs. Chase trifecta

Both the Amex and Chase trifecta work in similar ways: You sign up for three different cards from the same card issuer. You then use these cards to take advantage of special earnings bonuses or more generous reward redemption offers. With Chase you earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points and with American Express you earn Amex Membership Rewards points.

Expert card users committed to racking up rewards as quickly as possible have identified the best rewards credit cards from each issuer that combine to provide the best value. So you'd sign up for three specific cards and then strategically use each card for different purchases to reap as many bonus points as possible. When you’re ready to cash in your points, you’d transfer your rewards to the most beneficial card and redeem them for the maximum value.

When figuring out how to choose between the Chase vs. Amex trifecta, you need to understand which cards are commonly part of each; what the total costs are of each trifecta; and what benefits each provides.

The table below provides a quick glimpse into what each trifecta offers, but we'll go into more detail below.

Amex trifecta Chase trifecta
Most common cards
Total annual fees $800 $550
Total annual credits
  • Uber ($200)
  • Dining ($120)
  • Saks Fifth Avenue ($100)
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee credit every four years ($100)
  • Annual travel credit ($300)
  • DoorDash ($60)
  • TSA Precheck or Global Entry fee credit every four years ($100)
Earning categories
  • Platinum: 5X points per dollar spent on eligible airfare and hotel purchases, and 1X points per dollar on all other eligible purchases
  • Gold: 4X Membership Rewards points at U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 per year) and at restaurants worldwide, 3X on flights booked directly with airlines or on Amextravel.com, and 1X on all other eligible purchases
  • Blue Business Plus: 2X Membership Rewards points on business purchases up to $50,000 each year, and 1X points on purchases after that
  • Sapphire Reserve: 10X points on Lyft rides, 3X points on travel (excluding $300 travel credit), 3X points at restaurants, and 1X points per $1 spent on everything else
  • Freedom Flex: 5% on rotating quarterly categories (on up to $1,500 spent) and travel purchased through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal; 3% at restaurants (including takeout and delivery) and drugstores; and 1% on all other purchases
  • Freedom Unlimited: 5% on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3% on dining and drugstore purchases, and 1.5% on all other purchases
Transfer partners AeroMexico
Air Canada
Alitalia
Aer Lingus
Air France
All Nippon Airways
Avianca LifeMiles
British Airways
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
Delta Airlines
El Al Israel Airlines
Emirates
Etihad Airways
Hawaiian Airlines
Iberia Plus
JetBlue Airways
Singapore Airlines
Qantas Airlines
Virgin Atlantic
Aer Lingus
Air France / KLM
British Airways
Emirates
Iberia Plus
JetBlue
Singapore Airlines
Southwest Airlines
United Airlines
Virgin Atlantic
IHG
Marriott
World of Hyatt

Overview: Amex trifecta

Though the exact cards used can vary, the Amex trifecta commonly consists of:

  • The American Express Platinum card, which charges a $550 annual fee
  • The Gold Card, which charges a $250 annual fee
  • The Blue Business Plus Card, which has a $0 annual fee

Your combined annual fee for the cards is $800, but both of the cards with annual fees provide generous statement credits for various dining and travel purchases that almost make up for the fees you'll pay. The statement credits include:

  • A $200 annual Uber credit from the Platinum card
  • A $120 annual dining credit from the Gold Card
  • A $100 annual credit at Saks Fifth Avenue from the Platinum Card
  • Up to a $100 credit every four or 4.5 years to pay for Global Entry or TSA precheck.

The value of the annual credits is $520, which effectively brings the total fees for cardholders for both cards down to $280 if you can max out your credits each year. If you also figure the TSA credit is worth $25 per year (since you get that $100 credit once every four years), your fee comes down even further.

For this cost, you get cards that provide you with the opportunity to earn ample rewards including:

  • 5X points per dollar spent on eligible airfare and hotel purchases, and 1X points per dollar on all other eligible purchases, plus new cardmembers get 10X on U.S. gas station and U.S. supermarket purchases for the first 6 months (on up to $15,000 combined) on the Platinum card
  • 4X Membership Rewards points at U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 per year) and at restaurants worldwide, 3X on flights booked directly with airlines or on Amextravel.com, and 1X on all other eligible purchases with the Gold card
  • 2X Membership Rewards points on business purchases up to $50,000 each year, and 1X points on purchases after that on the Business Plus card

You also get access to Centurion and Priority Pass airport lounges; Hilton Honors Gold Status; Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status; a group membership to The Travel Collection; and baggage insurance.

And you can combine your points across the three cards and transfer them to 19 different American Express airline partners, as well as to hotel rewards programs including the Hilton Honors program, the Marriott Bonvoy Program, and Choice Privileges.

Best Luxury Travel Benefits

Benefits

  • 75,000 Membership Rewards point welcome offer
  • 10X points on purchases at U.S. gas stations and supermarkets
  • 5X points on eligible flights and hotels
  • $15 in free U.S. Uber rides each month ($20 in December)
  • Access to Centurion and Priority Pass airport lounges
  • Terms apply

Big Rewards for Dining Out

Benefits

  • 60,000 Membership Rewards point welcome offer
  • High rewards rate in certain categories
  • $120 in dining credits
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Terms apply

Simplified Earnings for Small Business Owners

Benefits

  • 0% intro APR on purchases
  • 2X Membership Rewards Points on first $50,000 each year
  • Global Assist hotline
  • No annual fee
  • Terms apply

Overview: The Chase trifecta

The Chase trifecta, on the other hand, commonly consists of:

  • The Chase Sapphire Reserve, which has a $550 annual fee
  • The Chase Freedom Flex Card, which has a $0 annual fee
  • The Chase Freedom Unlimited Card, which has a $0 annual fee

The combined fee on the cards is $550, which is well below the combined Amex fee. But, you get just two annual statement credits — a $300 annual travel credit and $60 annual DoorDash credit, both from the Sapphire Reserve. So after subtracting for annual credits, the effective fee of $190 is actually higher for cardholders with the Chase trifecta.

And, because both the Amex and the Chase trifectas offer the $100 Global Entry or TSA credit, the credit doesn't offset the fact that Chase's trifecta is more expensive than the Amex, after accounting for credits.

For the fees you pay Chase, you get cards that provide you with the opportunity to earn:

  • 10X points on Lyft rides, 3X points on travel (excluding $300 travel credit), 3X points at restaurants, and 1X points per $1 spent on everything else with the Sapphire Reserve
  • 5% on rotating quarterly categories (on up to $1,500 spent) and travel purchased through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal; 3% at restaurants (including takeout and delivery) and drugstores; and 1% on all other purchases with the Chase Freedom Flex card
  • 5% on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3% on dining and drugstore purchases, and 1.5% on all other purchases on the Chase Freedom Unlimited

You also get complimentary access at more than 1,200 airport lounges and restaurants with Priority Pass Select; DoorDash DashPass for at least one year, a one-year Lyft Pink membership which includes 15% off Lyft rides, travel cancellation insurance; lost luggage reimbursement; purchase protection; extended warranty protection; primary rental car damage collision insurance; and a 0% APR for 15 months on purchases with the Chase Freedom Flex.

When you opt for the Chase trifecta, you can also transfer the points from all three cards to the Chase Sapphire Reserve so they can be redeemed through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. When you book through the portal using this card, points are worth 50% more.

#1 Premium Travel Credit Card

Benefits

  • 50,000 point sign-up bonus
  • 3X points on travel and at restaurants
  • $60 annual DoorDash credit in 2020 and 2021
  • Priority Pass airport lounge access

Powerful New Cashback Card

Benefits

  • $200 sign-up bonus
  • 5% cash back on grocery store purchases for the first year (up to $12k)
  • Up to 5% cash back on spending
  • Lyft and DoorDash perks

Unlimited Cash Back

Benefits

  • $200 sign-up bonus
  • 5% cash back grocery store purchases for the first year (up to $12k)
  • Bonus rewards on travel, dining, and drugstores
  • No annual fee
  • 0% intro APR on purchases

Which trifecta should you get?

Picking between the Amex trifecta vs. Chase trifecta isn't easy, because both provide the chance to earn generous points that can be redeemed for travel. But there are important differences between the two trifectas that can help inform your choice.

Annual credits and other perks

First and foremost, if you aren't likely to max out most of the available Amex credits, the Amex trifecta is more expensive than the Chase trifecta. Some of these credits, such as the $120 annual dining credit, are easy to use up. But if you never take Uber and don't shop at Saks, you're probably better off with Chase. On the other hand, if you do use all the credits available, the Amex is the cheaper offering and your best choice — although it appears to cost more at first glance.

Both the Chase and Amex cards offer airline lounge access through Priority Pass — but the Amex cards also offer Centurion lounge access. If you frequently travel in airports with Centurion Lounges, access to these luxury locales may convince you the Amex trifecta is the better deal. On the other hand, Chase cards also give you access to PriorityPass airport restaurant benefits while Amex does not, making the Chase perk more valuable for some.  

Chase does offer more perks outside of just travel-related benefits, though. Two of the Chase cards come with an introductory APR offer on purchases, unlike the Amex cards. And Chase provides extended warranty protection and purchase protection, which can be nice features if you are a frequent shopper. So if you're looking for an introductory APR, or added protection for things you buy, opting for Chase could be the right choice.

Earning and redeeming points

When it comes to points, both cards provide the chance to earn generous rewards on travel and restaurants. While the Amex Platinum offers 5X points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com (on up to $500,000 per calendar year, starting jan. 1, 2021) and prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com compared with the Sapphire Reserve’s 3X points on travel (excluding $300 travel credit) and at restaurants, Chase does provide a 50% bonus on points redeemed for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards.

That means points actually could go further if you're OK with booking your trips through Chase's portal. Amex does allow for redemption with more airline travel partners, though, so if you want maximum flexibility you may prefer the Amex trifecta.

The Chase Freedom Flex's 5% cash back on rotating quarterly categories (on up to $1,500 spent) and travel purchased through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal means that Chase offers better rewards than Amex on some select purchases. But the $1,500 quarterly spending limit is low, so the amount of additional points you can earn likely won’t make much of a difference, and this probably isn’t enough to tip you to Chase.

However, if you do lots of spending outside of travel, restaurants, and other bonus categories, you'll likely do better with the Amex option, since the Blue Business Plus Card provides up to 2x points. This is more generous than the 1.5% cash back you can earn on general spending with the Chase Freedom Unlimited.

How to create your own rewards credit card trifecta

Just because these two sets of cards are the most popular or frequently recommended, doesn't mean they're your only option. For example, you can incorporate business credit cards into the Chase mix and come up with your own rewards earning trifecta. Business cards can be especially powerful depending on your spending habits since they will provide bonus points for business expenses. 

For this reason, a card like the Chase Ink Business Preferred Credit Card a great addition for your wallet. Make sure you do a thorough comparison of the Chase Ink business cards before you decide which small business card you want to apply for. You can also replace the Chase Freedom Flex with the original Chase Freedom card if that's the card you have. The Freedom Flex has better earning rates, though.

The bottom line

As you can see, both the Amex and Chase trifectas are great choices. But before you make a final decision on which set of rewards cards is right for you, you'll need to consider your spending habits in regards to travel and dining, which airline lounges you'll use, whether you want other non-travel related perks, and how much you spend when deciding between the two cards.

Hopefully, you now have a much better idea of how to choose between the Chase vs. Amex trifectas and you can make the decision that gets you the maximum possible rewards.

Unlimited Cash Back

Benefits

  • $200 sign-up bonus
  • 5% cash back grocery store purchases for the first year (up to $12k)
  • Bonus rewards on travel, dining, and drugstores
  • No annual fee
  • 0% intro APR on purchases