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One year of earning and burning with Chase Sapphire Reserve

April 16, 2021
12 min read
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If you’re new to rewards credit cards, one of the best ways to get started is choosing one of the best travel rewards credit cards. And although it's possible to maximize your earnings by using different cards for each type of expense, many consumers prefer the simplicity of using one card for all of their purchases.

So, in this post, I'll consider how easy it is to earn rewards by opening and using a single card for one year. I'll also discuss what types of rewards one year of spending could provide. In particular, today I'll consider one of the most popular premium travel rewards cards on the market: the Chase Sapphire Reserve.

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Sign-up bonus and benefits

(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)

The Chase Sapphire Reserve is currently offering a limited-time sign-up bonus of 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. This bonus is worth $1,000 based on TPG’s valuations, thanks to the various ways you can redeem Ultimate Rewards points.

When you use your card, you'll earn 3x points per dollar spent on travel and dining purchases as well as 10x points per dollar spent on Lyft rides through March 2022. Plus, the Chase Sapphire Reserve carries other benefits, including:

The Chase Sapphire Reserve carries a $550 annual fee. But, the annual travel credit is easy to use, so you're effectively looking at a $250 annual fee before you even consider the card's other benefits. To learn more, check out the full Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card review.

Related: Six little-known Chase Sapphire Reserve perks

Earning points in your first year

Earn 3x points per dollar spent on Amtrak with the Chase Sapphire Reserve. (Photo by Getty Images)

So if you open the Chase Sapphire Reserve, earn the sign-up bonus and use the card exclusively for the first year, where does that leave you? Obviously, the answer depends on your spending patterns. For this analysis, I used consumer-expenditure data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for the most recent year available (2019) to estimate what an “average” household would spend (and thus earn) on the Chase Sapphire Reserve in one year.

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In doing so, I made the following assumptions:

  • Only the "other lodging" category under "shelter" can easily be paid with a credit card (since you'll usually pay a fee for paying mortgage and rent payments with credit cards), and these transactions earn 3x points as travel purchases.
  • The "vehicle purchases" category under "transportation" can't be paid with a credit card, but all other transportation expenses can.
  • 10% of the "public and other transportation" consists of Lyft rides
  • 50% of the "healthcare" category consists of premiums and can't be paid with a credit card.
  • All “personal insurance and pensions” expenditures can’t be paid with a credit card.
  • All other expenses (including "entertainment" and "education") can be paid with a credit card.

Your situation may differ substantially, so feel free to adjust these assumptions to calculate your earning potential. Likewise, if you plan to use another card for some expenses, be sure to consider that as well.

Related: Here’s why I’m keeping my Chase Sapphire Reserve

Here’s a quick table that shows how these spending patterns in the first year of card membership would translate to Ultimate Rewards points:

CategorySpendingEarning ratePoints
Sign-up bonusN/AN/A60,000
Food at home$4,6431 point/$4,643
Food away from home$3,5263 points/$10,578
Alcoholic beverages$5791 point/$579
Housing (other lodging)$9613 points/$2,883
Utilities, fuels and public services$4,0551 point/$4,055
Household operations$1,5701 point/$1,570
Housekeeping supplies$7661 point/$766
Household furnishings and equipment$2,0981 point/$2,098
Apparel and services$1,8831 point/$1,883
Transportation (gasoline)$2,0941 point/$2,094
Other vehicle expenses$3,4741 point/$3,474
Public and other transportation$7813 points/$ for 90%

10 points/$ for 10%

2,890
Healthcare$2,5971 point/$2,597
All other expenses$6,6301 point/$6,630
TOTALS$35,657N/A106,740

As you can see, the “average” American consumer would earn 106,740 Ultimate Rewards points in his or her first year of using the Chase Sapphire Reserve. Based on TPG's valuations, these points are worth a massive $2,135.

Related: Sapphire showdown: Chase Sapphire Preferred vs. Chase Sapphire Reserve

Redeeming points from your first year

Of course, earning points is one thing, but knowing how to redeem Ultimate Rewards points for maximum value is an entirely different story. Fortunately, the Ultimate Rewards program has many valuable redemptions, most of which involve transferring to the program's 10 airline and three hotel partners at a 1:1 ratio.

Here’s a sample of what the average consumer could get after their first year of using the Chase Sapphire Reserve.

Up to four round-trip economy tickets to Hawaii

Your Chase points could take you to the Mauna Lani Auberge Resort Waimea in Hawaii. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

Planning a trip using points and miles to the Aloha State isn't always easy. However, you have a wealth of options at your disposal through the Ultimate Rewards program.

My personal favorite is for West Coast residents. By transferring points to British Airways Avios, you can take advantage of its distance-based award chart to book tickets from several West Coast gateways to Hawaii for just 26,000 Avios round-trip per person. So you can book four round-trip tickets and still have 2,000 Ultimate Rewards points left over.

Transferring points to Singapore Airlines Krisflyer for economy-class flights to Hawaii on Alaska is also a great option. Flights from most Rocky Mountain states cost 23,000 Krisflyer miles round-trip, while flights from California, Oregon and Washington cost 24,000 miles round-trip (see this pdf for rates). Flights from many central U.S. states cost 25,000 miles round-trip. So, if you depart from one of these regions, you could transfer your Ultimate Rewards points to Singapore Krisflyer and redeem for four round-trip flights.

Finally, you could also transfer to Singapore Krisflyer (35,000 miles) and book United-operated round-trip flights from anywhere in the continental U.S. to Hawaii. But this would only get you three round-trip economy tickets with your haul of Ultimate Rewards points.

Related: How to get to Hawaii: Fly nonstop from 27 mainland U.S. cities

Three nights in a top-tier Hyatt property

The Park Hyatt St. Kitts is a beautiful Category 7 property that you can book with your Chase Ultimate Rewards points. (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Another valuable transfer partner through Ultimate Rewards is World of Hyatt. After a year of spending on the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you'll have enough points for three free nights at Hyatt's excellent Category 7 properties -- or 21 free nights at Hyatt's impressive Category 1 properties.

Note that World of Hyatt will move to peak, standard and off-peak pricing in July 2021. Once that happens, you'll still barely be able to get three Category 7 nights during peak times -- but you could get up to 30 nights at Category 1 properties during off-peak times. Whether you want to splurge for a couple of nights or stretch your points to the max, you can get a ton of value from the World of Hyatt program.

Related: 6 sweet spots that get you more value for your Ultimate Rewards

Two or three nights in New York City plus airfare from multiple U.S. cities

Manhattan view from the Top of the Rock (Miguel Sanz / Getty Images)
Use your Ultimate Rewards points to "pay" for a weekend trip to New York City. (Photo by Miguel Sanz/Getty Images)

If you're looking to redeem your points for a trip that includes both flights and hotel, consider a weekend trip to the Big Apple.

One of the most economical options for flights would be for those readers east of the Mississippi and would again use British Airways. If you can find availability on American, you and a friend could fly to New York City and back from cities including Charlotte (CTL) and Detroit (DTW) for just 30,000 BA Avios round-trip. Slightly more distant cities such as Miami (MIA) and Chicago (ORD) would cost 9,000 Avios per person each way, for a total of 36,000 Avios for you and a friend round-trip.

You also could consider transferring to Southwest Rapid Rewards, as the carrier serves both New York-LaGuardia (LGA) and Long Island MacArthur Airport (ISP). Even though Southwest follows a revenue-based redemption scheme, you can still get some great value on Wanna Get Away fares. At a quick glance, I was able to find round-trip, nonstop tickets from Atlanta (ATL) to New York (LGA) for a random weekend in June for just 10,970 points each. Or you could redeem your Ultimate Rewards points through the Chase travel portal to book Southwest flights.

For hotels, you could always look at spending a couple of nights at one of the many World of Hyatt properties in Manhattan. My favorites are the Andaz Fifth Avenue (25,000 Hyatt points per night) and the Andaz Wall Street (20,000 Hyatt points per night), but the Gild Hall (15,000 Hyatt points per night) isn't a bad choice, either. You also have the option of transferring points to Marriott, which has several Category 4 and Category 5 properties in the city. I'd recommend going the Hyatt route, but it's always nice to have alternatives.

Related: Calculating break-even points on the Chase Sapphire Reserve

Bottom line

The Ultimate Rewards program is one of my favorite transferable currencies and regularly clocks in as one of the most valuable currencies on TPG's monthly valuations. And the Chase Sapphire Reserve is one of the best premium travel rewards credit cards out there.

Keep in mind, too, that the above calculation may even be a bit too conservative because:

I hope this post has illustrated just how rewarding a single card (especially in the first year) can be when it comes to free travel.

Official application link: Chase Sapphire Reserve

Additional reporting by Katie Genter.

Featured image by ISABELLE RAPHAEL/THE POINTS GUY
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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  • Earn 10x points on eligible hotels and car rentals booked through the Credit One Bank travel site
  • Earn 5x points on eligible travel, dining, and gas
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Apply for Credit One Bank Wander® Card
at Credit One Bank's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best for earning alternative rewards for travel purchases
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
3 / 5
Go to review

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10XEarn 10x points on eligible hotels and car rentals booked through the Credit One Bank travel partner site
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    Earn 10,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on eligible purchases in the first 90 days and redeem for a $100 statement credit, gift cards, or travel

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  • Annual Fee

    $95
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    Fair/Good

Why We Chose It

The revamped Wander Card from Credit One Bank earns cardmembers up to 10 points per dollar spent on eligible travel purchases. With no foreign transaction fees, the card is also great for international travel. However, points earned from this card can only be used at a fixed value, so it may not be the best option for those striving to get maximum value from their rewards.

Pros

  • This card has no foreign transaction fees and earns up to 10 points per dollar on travel purchases through the Credit One Bank travel partner site.

Cons

  • While cardholders can earn a significant amount of points on travel purchases, there isn't any way to redeem points from the Wander Card for maximum value (beyond 1 cent per point).
  • Earn 10,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on eligible purchases in the first 90 days and redeem for a $100 statement credit, gift cards, or travel
  • Earn 10x points on eligible hotels and car rentals booked through the Credit One Bank travel site
  • Earn 5x points on eligible travel, dining, and gas
  • Earn 1x points on all other purchases
  • Redeem your reward points for statement credits, gift cards, merchandise, flights, hotels, and more
  • With $0 Fraud Liability, you won’t be responsible for unauthorized charges
  • Free Online Credit Score and Credit Report summary, terms apply
  • If you are a Covered Borrower under the Military Lending Act, you may get a different offer
  • See Rates & Fees