By the numbers: When does it make sense to get the Sapphire Preferred vs. the Sapphire Reserve

Jan 14, 2020

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Editor’s note: This post has been updated to handle the recent changes to the Chase Sapphire Reserve. It was originally published on Dec. 19, 2019.

Two of the best travel rewards cards are indisputably the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. Especially considering Chase’s 5/24 regulations, if you don’t have either card and are eligible to be approved, you’ll likely want to add one of these cards to your wallet.

If you’ve decided to apply for one of these cards, you may be wondering which card is best for your situation, since Chase does not allow you to carry both. So, let’s consider by the numbers how the Sapphire Preferred and Sapphire Reserve compare.

Don’t like numbers? Check out Chase Sapphire Preferred vs. Chase Sapphire Reserve: Which card is right for you?

Comparing the cards

Chase Sapphire Preferred Chase Sapphire Reserve
Annual fee $95 $550
Earning rates 5x on Lyft (through March 2022)

2x points on travel and dining

1x points on everything else

10x on Lyft (through March 2022)

3x points on travel and dining

1x points on everything else

Sign-up bonus 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months after account opening 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months after account opening
Point value when redeeming for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through the Ultimate Rewards portal 1.25 cents 1.5 cents
Estimated point value when transferring to travel partners 2 cents 2 cents
Credits n/a $300 annual travel credit

$60 annual DoorDash credit (only in 2020 and 2021)

One complimentary year of Lyft Pink (activate by March 2022)

Lounge access n/a Priority Pass Select membership
Cost to add an authorized user $0 $75

Both cards offer various travel protections and shopping protections that can provide significant value. The protections offered by the Sapphire Reserve have higher limits and kick in sooner for some benefits — but for simplicity I won’t consider those differences when comparing the cards. If you want to see the travel and shopping benefits for these cards compared side by side, check out our comparison article.

Related: See our Sapphire Reserve card review and our Sapphire Preferred card review for more details about each card.

Comparing first-year return

(Photo by Riley Arthur for The Points Guy)
(Photo by Riley Arthur/The Points Guy)

When comparing return, we have to consider how you’ll redeem your points. In short, if you transfer your points to travel partners, TPG’s valuations estimate that you can get a redemption value of about 2 cents per point with either card. But if you redeem your points toward travel booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal, you’ll only get a redemption value of 1.5 cents per point with the Sapphire Reserve or 1.25 cents per point with the Sapphire Preferred.

Related reading: Why do Chase and TPG list different values for Ultimate Rewards points?

The Sapphire Reserve earns three points per dollar spent on travel and dining purchases, while the Sapphire Preferred earns two points per dollar spent on travel and dining. However, Chase recently added increased earning on Lyft through March 2022 to both cards (10x on the Sapphire Reserve and 5x on the Sapphire Preferred). And, Chase added a complimentary year of Lyft Pink and two $60 DoorDash credits — one for 2020 and one for 2021 — for Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders.

While I expect that everyone with the Chase Sapphire Reserve should have no issue using the $300 annual travel credit, the value cardholders will obtain from other card benefits, such as Priority Pass membership, a year of Lyft Pink membership, increased earnings on Lyft through March 2022 and a $60 DoorDash credit in 2020 and 2021 will vary. So, let’s start by considering how much you’d need to spend on non-Lyft travel and dining in your first year when we only consider the benefits you’ll definitely use.

Related reading: Why you may (or may not) want to get Lyft Pink

If you’ll use the DoorDash credits

Let’s start by assuming you’d normally spend at least $60 on DoorDash each year, and see how the cards compare.

Chase Sapphire Preferred (redeeming at 1.25 cents) Chase Sapphire Preferred (redeeming at 2 cents) Chase Sapphire Reserve (redeeming at 1.5 cents) Chase Sapphire Reserve (redeeming at 2 cents)
Sign-up bonus value $750 $1,200 $750 $1,000
Travel credit n/a n/a $300 $300
DoorDash credit n/a n/a $60 $60
Annual fee $95 $95 $550 $550
Value in first year excluding earning $655 $1,105 $560 $810

The break-even point between the cards for non-Lyft travel and dining spending in your first year is $5,425 if you plan to redeem your Chase Ultimate Rewards points through the Chase travel portal for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises and value the DoorDash credit at face value. At this level of spending, you’d earn 10,850 points with the Sapphire Preferred that are worth $136 or 15,375 points with the Sapphire Reserve that are worth $231. Note that you won’t earn points on the $300 reimbursed by the Sapphire Reserve’s annual travel credit. The difference between the value of earnings is $95, which covers the difference between the value in the first year excluding earning.

If you plan to transfer your Chase Ultimate Rewards points to hotel and airline travel partners and value the DoorDash credit at face value, the break-even point for non-Lyft travel and dining spending in your first year is $15,650. At this level of spending, you’d earn 31,300 points with the Sapphire Preferred that are worth $626 or 46,050 points with the Sapphire Reserve that are worth $921. The difference between the value of earnings is $295, which covers the difference between the value in the first year excluding earnings.

Related reading: Sapphire Reserve math: When to book travel through Chase and when to transfer points

If you won’t use the DoorDash credits

If you’re an expat, live in a remote area or simply don’t use DoorDash, then you may not place any value on the new DoorDash credit. So, how do the cards compare if we ignore the DoorDash credit?

Chase Sapphire Preferred (redeeming at 1.25 cents) Chase Sapphire Preferred (redeeming at 2 cents) Chase Sapphire Reserve (redeeming at 1.5 cents) Chase Sapphire Reserve (redeeming at 2 cents)
Sign-up bonus value $750 $1,200 $750 $1,000
Travel credit n/a n/a $300 $300
Annual fee $95 $95 $550 $550
Value in first year excluding earning $655 $1,105 $500 $750

The break-even point between the cards for travel and dining spending in your first year is $8,425 if you plan to redeem your Chase Ultimate Rewards points through the Chase travel portal for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises. At this level of spending, you’d earn 16,850 points with the Sapphire Preferred that are worth $211 or 24,375 points with the Sapphire Reserve that are worth $366. Note that you won’t earn points on the $300 reimbursed by the Sapphire Reserve’s annual travel credit. The difference between the value of earnings is $155, which covers the difference between the value in the first year excluding earning.

If you plan to transfer your Chase Ultimate Rewards points to hotel and airline travel partners, the break-even point for travel and dining spending in your first year is $18,650. At this level of spending, you’d earn 37,300 points with the Sapphire Preferred that are worth $746 or 55,050 points with the Sapphire Reserve that are worth $1,101. The difference between the value of earnings is $355, which covers the difference between the value in the first year excluding earnings.

Related reading: Is the Amex Platinum once again the king of travel rewards cards?

What about Priority Pass Select membership and Lyft benefits?

In the calculations so far, I haven’t considered the value of the Priority Pass Select membership that comes with the Sapphire Reserve, the improved earnings for both cards on Lyft through March 2022 nor the one year Lyft Pink membership that Sapphire Reserve cardholders can utilize. All of these benefits can make the Sapphire Reserve more valuable than the Sapphire Preferred even if your travel and dining spending doesn’t hit the break-even point described above.

You can’t purchase a Priority Pass Select membership, but the most similar membership that you can purchase is a Priority Pass Prestige membership for $429 that doesn’t include any complimentary guests. And, Lyft Pink normally costs $19.99 per month, which is $239.88 per year.

So, assuming you value Priority Pass Select membership, one year of Lyft Pink membership and elevated earnings on Lyft rides even modestly, the value in the first year will be higher for the Sapphire Reserve than for the Sapphire Preferred without even considering earnings on non-Lyft travel and dining. After all, you’d only need to value these benefits at $155 in your first year if you’ll redeem your points for travel through the Chase travel portal ($95 if you’ll use the $60 DoorDash credit in 2020) or $355 in your first year if you’ll transfer your points to travel partners ($295 if you’ll use the $60 DoorDash credit in 2020).

Related reading: The best credit cards for Priority Pass lounge access

Comparing subsequent-year return

(Photo by The Points Guy)
(Photo by The Points Guy)

Now, let’s consider how the cards compare after your first year. Since most travelers will want to keep their Sapphire Reserve or Sapphire Preferred long-term, you’ll likely want to lean toward the card which is better for you in the long run, not just during your first year. Because we are considering long-term return, I’m going to ignore limited-time benefits and credits, such as the $60 DoorDash credit you can get in 2021 and the elevated Lyft earnings through March 2022, for these calculations.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Chase Sapphire Reserve
Annual fee $95 $550
Travel credit n/a $300
Effective annual fee $95 $250

As you can see, after the Sapphire Reserve’s $300 annual travel credit, the Sapphire Reserve has an effective annual fee of $250. And, since the difference in effective annual fee between the Sapphire Preferred and Sapphire Reserve is just $155, the Sapphire Reserve will provide a better return without even considering earnings if you value Priority Pass Select membership at $155 or more per year.

However, if you value Priority Pass Select membership at less than $155 per year, then we’ll need to dive back into the math. For the following calculations, I’ll make the conservative assumption that you won’t get any value from Priority Pass Select membership.

If you plan to redeem your Chase Ultimate Rewards points through the Chase travel portal for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises, you’ll need to spend $8,425 on travel or dining annually to justify having the Sapphire Reserve instead of the Sapphire Preferred after the first year. With the Sapphire Reserve you’d earn 24,375 points on these purchases, which are valued at $366 whereas with the Sapphire Preferred you’d earn 16,850 points on these purchases which are valued at $211.

If you plan to transfer your points to travel partners, you’d need to spend $8,650 on travel or dining annually to justify having the Sapphire Reserve instead of the Sapphire Preferred after the first year. With the Sapphire Reserve you’d earn 25,050 points on these purchases, which are valued at $501 whereas with the Sapphire Preferred you’d earn 17,300 points on these purchases which are valued at $346.

Related reading: How to maximize your Chase Ultimate Rewards points

Bottom line

(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)
(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)

So, based on the calculations in this article, here are my conclusions:

  • If you plan to redeem your Chase Ultimate Rewards points through the Chase travel portal for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises, the Sapphire Reserve is a better choice if you spend at least $8,425 per year in travel and dining — that’s just $703 per month. Note that the break even point may be lower in the first couple years if you’ll use the Sapphire Reserve’s DoorDash and Lyft Pink benefits.
  • If you plan to transfer your Chase Ultimate Rewards points to hotel and airline travel partners:
    • In your first year, the Sapphire Reserve is a better choice if you spend at least $18,650 per year in travel and dining — that’s $1,555 per month. Note that the break even point is lower if you’ll use the DoorDash and Lyft Pink benefits in your first year.
    • After your first year, the Sapphire Reserve is a better choice if you spend at least $8,650 per year in travel and dining — that’s only $721 per month.

However, the Chase Sapphire Reserve may be a better choice even for lower levels of spending if you value Priority Pass Select lounge membership and trip delay protection that kicks in after a six-hour or overnight delay (instead of after a 12-hour or overnight delay with the Chase Sapphire Preferred). Additionally, if you plan to redeem your Chase Ultimate Rewards points through the Chase travel portal for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises and have — or plan to get — additional Chase credit cards like the Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Unlimited to boost your Ultimate Rewards earning rate on other types of spending, you may want to get the Chase Sapphire Reserve to boost your redemption rate to 1.5 cents per point instead of 1.25 cents per point.

Want to learn more about the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Ultimate Rewards points? Check out the following guides:

Apply here for the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.

Featured photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 60,000 Points

TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,200

CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
  • No delivery fees for a minimum of one year on qualifying food purchases with a DashPass subscription from DoorDash -over a $100 value. Activate with your Chase Sapphire card by December 31, 2021.
  • Earn 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022. That’s 3X points in addition to the 2X points you already earn on travel.
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
17.49% - 24.49% Variable
Annual Fee
$95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good

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.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.