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The best Chase Sapphire Reserve benefits for active-duty military

April 02, 2021
9 min read
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The strains of active-duty military service are unmatched in difficulty and intensity. It's important in this line of work to arm yourself not only with the required military equipment but also the tools that can make your everyday life easier. One of the biggest stressors I encountered for myself and my family during active duty was constant travel.

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

Today we'll look at a travel tool I wish had existed in its current form during my service to make that part of my life a little bit easier. The Chase Sapphire Reserve card took the credit card market by storm in 2016 and continues to remain firmly entrenched as one of the most rewarding credit cards on the market. It's currently offering an increased 50,000-point sign-up bonus after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.

Let's look at the card benefits that are most valuable to service members so you can decide if it deserves a spot in your wallet.

Related: Why the Amex Platinum card is best for active-duty military

No annual fee

On Sept. 20, 2017, Chase instituted a significant policy change to comply with the Military Lending Act (MLA). Because of the 36% MAPR (military annual percentage rate) cap, including fees, for a credit card account, Chase erred on the side of caution and waived the Sapphire Reserve's annual fee for military personnel for any accounts opened on or after Sept. 20, 2017.

Under the same policy, Chase actually waived all account fees — except for late fees and insufficient-funds fees. That means the $75 authorized-user fees are also waived for Chase Sapphire Reserve military cardholders who opened accounts on or after Sept. 20, 2017. These benefits are also being applied to the accounts of military dependents who are primary cardholders, but they must be enrolled in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS).

The fee waivers are reportedly being automatically added to new accounts as Chase compares Social Security numbers to DOD databases. A letter explaining the MLA benefits usually goes out to a military cardholder or dependent shortly after the card itself. If it doesn't, you can always send a secure message to Chase through or call the Chase military desk at 1-877-469-0110 and request the benefits. Receiving the card, the sign-up bonus, and all the Chase Sapphire Reserve benefits (including the annual $300 travel credit) without having to pay the annual fee is an incredible deal for military members.

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Redeem points for 1.5 cents each (or more)

Chase Ultimate Rewards are points earned by the Sapphire Reserve (and a few other cards) that can transfer to a variety of airline and hotel partners. This unlocks the door to getting outsized value from your points by splurging on a Park Hyatt hotel stay, an international first class flight, etc. Of course, while on active duty, you may not have the luxury of time or advance planning to make use of all of these ways to maximize your points. But, those options exist when you are ready.

Lufthansa First Class (Photo by Zach Honig / The Points Guy)

Enter the Chase travel portal where you can redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards earned through the Sapphire Reserve — or combined from other Ultimate Rewards cards to your Sapphire Reserve — at 1.5 cents each toward any travel booked via that site. It's a really simple way to cash in your rewards and it functions like Expedia.

The Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Center portal is great for booking free flights, hotels and more.
The Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Center portal is great for booking free flights, hotels and more.

A flight, hotel, rental car, cruise or local experience can be booked with your points at this fixed 1.5-cent rate.

So for example, if a plane ticket is $200, it will cost you 13,333 points when booked via Chase if you have the Sapphire Reserve. This is a fantastic value compared to most other rewards programs. On top of the benefit of ease-of-use and flexibility, flights booked through the portal are treated like paid tickets in the eyes of the airlines (most of the time) and you'll actually earn redeemable and elite-qualifying airline miles on the tickets booked via this manner.

Priority Pass airport lounge membership

The Wingtips Lounge Priority Pass lounge at St. Louis Lambert International Airport (STL). (Photo courtesy of Wingtips/Facebook)

The U.S. military travels the world, meaning you may want airport lounge access in far-flung commercial airports. Priority Pass lounge club membership gives you access to more than 1,200 lounges — and restaurants as well — worldwide at no charge. And as a Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholder, you can bring unlimited guests with you for each lounge visit.

I wouldn't recommend bringing your entire ship's crew to the lounge, but your entire family should be no problem. I was consistently pleased during my nine years of military travel to find a Priority Pass lounge in almost every airport the Navy required me to visit all over Asia and the Middle East.

$300 annual travel credit

Put your Sapphire Reserve $300 annual credit toward groceries through the end of 2021. (Photo by Parinda Yatha / EyeEm / Getty Images)

Every membership year (that's the one-year time period from when you opened your account until the next year on that day), you'll receive a $300 travel credit good for almost anything you purchase that would remotely count as travel.

And because of the ongoing pandemic, you can also use the credit for grocery and gas purchases through Sept. 30, 2021

Charge travel, gas stations and grocery stores to your card and Chase will automatically credit the identical amount to your account up to $300 through the end of 2021. Who doesn't love a free $300?

If you're not quite sure if an expense would be considered "travel," that term is defined on the Chase website as follows:

"Merchants in the travel category include airlines, hotels, motels, timeshares, campgrounds, car rental agencies, cruise lines, travel agencies, discount travel sites, and operators of passenger trains, buses, taxis, limousines, ferries, toll bridges and highways, and parking lots and garages."

Global Entry/TSA Precheck credit

If you’re in the military, you need Global Entry and TSA PreCheck.

If you stay in service for more than a few years, you’re going to travel internationally and there’s a good chance it will be via commercial air much of the time. So skip the immigration return line by getting Global Entry and TSA PreCheck now — for free — if you pay the enrollment fee of up to $100 with your Chase Sapphire Reserve.

(Photo by PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
(Photo by PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images.)

You’ll be reimbursed once every four years for the fee and if you already have Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, you can use this fee waiver to get a friend or family member registered for free. Anyone can use the credit, not just the cardholder.

When should you sign up?

If I were still active-duty and looking for a credit card, this is the number one card I'd get.

With no annual fee, valuable rewards and all of the travel benefits, it should occupy the first slot in your wallet. It's also great to start with a Chase card in order to maximize your 5/24 policy standing before moving to other card issuers.

Anyone, military or not, should make sure your credit is in good standing before applying and be certain your family has clear and consistent personal finance goals and organization, especially before a deployment or travel period.

Bottom line

I'm incredibly jealous of the service members (Go Navy. Beat Army.) getting the Chase Sapphire Reserve and its rewards and travel benefits for no annual fee, especially right now with its increased 50,000 point welcome bonus after you charge $4,000 in the first three months.

Don't forget about other benefits of the card such as built-in trip delay insurance, Luxury Hotel & Resort collection access for free hotel benefits and the primary collision damage waiver insurance when you rent a car. Ensure you also spend a little time learning how to maximize your Ultimate Rewards points to get every ounce of value from this great product.

Application link: Chase Sapphire Reserve -- Currently available with up to 50,000 bonus points after $4,000 in spending in the first 3 months

Additional reporting by Benét J. Wilson

Featured image by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
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