For years now, the Platinum Card from American Express (a CreditCardForum advertising partner), the Citi Prestige, the JP Morgan Palladium (for private-banking clients only) and Luxury Card (formerly Visa Black) have dominated the “premium cards” arena.
But now, Chase has made a move with the Chase Sapphire Reserve ($450 annual fee), which it’s offering at the Visa Infinite tier. Does it up the ante? Read on.
- 3X points on dining and travel purchases
- 1X points on other purchases
Getting 3X points on dining and travel is a step up from the Sapphire Preferred card’s 2X points in these categories. And it makes the Sapphire Reserve the only card that offers an unlimited 3X points in a wide travel category. Chase counts the following as “travel” purchases: airlines, hotels, timeshares, camping grounds, car rental agencies, cruises, travel agencies, discount travel sites, passenger trains, buses, taxis, limos, ferries, toll bridges and roads, and parking lots and garages. That’s more comprehensive than the American Express Premier Rewards Gold (which gives 3X only on flights booked directly with the airlines) and the Citi Prestige, which limits its 3X category to air travel and hotels.
If you’re paying $450 annually for a card, you’ll expect perks that help counter-balance that fee. Fortunately, the Chase Sapphire Reserve offers perks with calculable monetary value – and others that just bring comfort/convenience to travelers:
$300 annual travel credit: This credit is higher than the Platinum’s and Prestige’s, and it’s more flexible, too. Most cards offering travel credits require you to use them toward “incidental” fees – like baggage fees, lounge passes and in-flight food purchases. The Citi Prestige is a bit more flexible, in that it lets you use its $250 credit toward airfare.
But the Chase Sapphire Reserve lets you use its $300 travel credit toward any expenses coded as travel (as Chase defines it), meaning you could use it to knock out an airfare, or a few train tickets. Plus, while some cards require you to contact the bank to use the statement credit, the Chase Sapphire Reserve applies it automatically whenever you use the card for a travel purchase.
Priority Pass Select lounge membership: This gets you complimentary access to more than 900 lounges worldwide through the Priority Pass program. The “Select” level is generally available only to those who receive membership via their card, but, if you want to get an idea of how much this benefit is worth, unlimited complimentary lounge access purchased directly through Priority Pass would cost you $399 per year. Authorized users get the lounge access benefit, too, although you have to pay an additional (smaller) annual fee for authorized users.
Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credit: Use your card to pay the $100 Global Entry fee or the $85 TSA PreCheck fee, and get refunded via a statement credit. Note that the Global Entry program automatically includes TSA PreCheck privileges. You’re allowed to use this benefit once every four years per credit account.
Chase Sapphire transfer partners: As with the Chase Sapphire Preferred, you can transfer your reward points to Chase’s hotel and airline transfer partners (see full list here). This is considered the savviest way to use your points, because it has huge maximization potential. For example, 25,000 points could be cashed in for a $250 gift card. Or, you could transfer to an airline partner and use them for a round-trip domestic flight worth more than $250.
Value boost when redeeming for travel: If you use your rewards to book travel through Chase’s Ultimate Rewards portal, your points will be worth 1.5 cents each, up from 1 cent each for many other redemption options. The Sapphire Preferred gives you a similar smaller value boost (points are worth 1.25 cents each in the portal).
Thanks to this value boost, you could get a $375 airfare for 25,000 points. That’s essentially a 33 percent discount whenever you redeem through Chase’s travel portal.
Primary rental car coverage: As with the Chase Sapphire Preferred, this card offers primary (not just secondary) rental-car coverage. This is an important distinction because primary insurance kicks in before personal auto insurance, meaning you don’t have to file a claim with your auto insurance company.
Rental car privileges: Enroll in the rewards programs of National, Avis and Silvercar, and enjoy extra benefits when you pay with your card (such as upgrades and discounts).
Luxury Hotel Collection privileges: If you book via Chase’s Luxury Hotel & Resort collection and pay with your Chase Sapphire Reserve card, you’ll get some extras during your stay, which could include free Wi-Fi, complimentary breakfast, room upgrades and late check-out.
The card carries additional benefits with ultra-luxe properties affiliated with the Relais & Chateaux collection. After you stay two nights at eligible properties in a 12-month period (and book through the Visa Infinite Concierge and pay with your Sapphire Reserve), you can enroll in Club 5C, an elite loyalty club that normally requires you to stay at least 18 nights a year at Relais and Chateaux properties.
Boosted roadside assistance: Lower-annual-fee cards give you access to a hotline, but the Sapphire Reserve gives you additional help if you’re stranded. You’re covered for up to $50 per covered incident (including towing, jumpstarts, tire changes, fuel delivery and locksmith services) up to four times per year.
Travel insurance protections: This card offers a full suite of coverage when you travel, including trip cancellation/interruption, baggage delay insurance, trip delay coverage, lost luggage reimbursement and travel accident insurance.
How it compares
The Chase Sapphire Reserve is a strong contender in the premier-cards realm and provides a viable alternative to existing competitors. But, if you’re about to pay $450 for a card, you should review all your options. For the purposes of this article, we’re considering the Citi Prestige, the Platinum Card from American Express and the Luxury Card suite to be its main competitors. JP Morgan Chase does have another high-end card (the Palladium), but it’s an invite-only card for private-banking clients.
Where it wins
-Strong categories for earning AND redeeming: Unlike any of its competitors, the Chase Sapphire Reserve offers a 3X-point earnings rate on a broad spectrum of travel purchases AND allows you to redeem your $300 annual statement credit for any of these travel expenses (not just incidental fees).
The Sapphire Reserve also earns 3X on dining (compared to the Citi’s 2X).
The American Express Platinum, meanwhile, earns a flat 1X on everything (with no bonus categories).
– Travel redemption value: Even before the Sapphire Reserve, the Chase Ultimate Rewards program was considered strong as far as redemption options go, thanks to its airline- and hotel-program transfer partners. The Sapphire Reserve is even stronger, thanks to its 33 percent redemption discounts via the travel portal (where your points are worth 1.5 each). Citi’s Prestige also has an attractive redemption-boost for points redeemed via its Travel Center, where points are worth 1.33 cents each. Next year, however, that goes down to 1.25 cents each.
Where you might have better options
-Lounge access: The Chase Sapphire Reserve offers Priority Pass network lounge access. But the American Express Platinum offers access to Priority Pass lounges AND Delta Sky Club lounges AND Airspace lounges AND Centurion lounges.
– Earning points on other purchases: The Luxury Card Black Card has a similar annual fee ($495) but offers a rate of 1.5 percent cash back on all purchases. If you want perks like lounge access and Global Entry reimbursement, but the bulk of your spending isn’t concentrated into travel or dining, you might consider this card.
– Roadside assistance coverage: The American Express Platinum has slightly more robust roadside assistance coverage — four service calls (for flat-tire changes, towing up to 10 miles, jumpstarts, flat-tire changes and more) are completely covered (not just up to $50, like the Sapphire Reserved). If you want your card to replace your AAA coverage, this is something to consider.
Where it’s a toss-up
-Other travel benefits: All these pricey cards offer Global Entry application fee credits, generous travel-insurance perks, and access to luxurious extras when you book with their affiliated luxury hotel programs.
-Transfer partners: Just as Chase does, Citi and American Express have their own transfer partners that allow you to convert your points directly into frequent-flier or hotel-loyalty points. If you plan on using this feature (and you should if you want to maximize your point value), carefully review which programs partner with which card. We have a full list here. In general, American Express and Chase have divided most of the major U.S. carriers between them, while Citi’s partners comprise more international carriers.
Balking at that high annual fee?
Consider the Premier Rewards Gold card from American Express. Its perks are a bit more toned down, but you still get a $100 airline-incidentals credit. It’s also a robust earner, with bonus categories including airfare, gas stations, groceries and restaurants.
If you want an even lower-cost option, the regular Chase Sapphire Preferred is a solid earner in the travel and dining categories and gives you access to all Chase’s hotel and airline transfer partners.
Why we gave it 5 out of 5 stars
We rated the Chase Sapphire Reserve card based on our standards for flexible rewards programs. It has a high annual fee, but has benefits to match. In addition, it’s also a strong rewards-earner, with 3X points per dollar on travel and dining, which likely are frequent expenses for those seeking out a premium, travel-oriented card.
|Rewards-earning rate: This card meets our requirements for annual-fee cards, as it offers 1X on all spending and at least 2X in at least 2 bonus categories.|
|Rewards value: To earn this star, a card’s rewards program must offer a redemption option that guarantees a 1-cent-per-point value. Chase Ultimate Rewards does this with its cash-back redemptions and travel redemptions.|
|Unique perks: As an elite travel card, the Chase Sapphire Reserve comes loaded with perks, including a yearly $300 travel credit that can be used towards not only incidental fees, but any travel expense.|
|Fair annual fee: This card has several perks whose monetary value added together roughly equals the annual fee. For example, if you use the $300 travel credit and take advantage of the Priority Pass Select lounge membership (worth $399 per year), you can offset the annual fee.|
|Bonus opportunities: The card has an advertised sign-up bonus, the ability to get 33 percent off travel redemptions and the Ultimate Rewards shopping portal.|