A top travel card contender: Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card review
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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with the latest credit card information.
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card Overview
The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is one of the best-known travel rewards credit cards. Featuring 2x points per dollar on all travel and dining purchases, it earns valuable points that can be transferred to 13 airline partners and hotel partners or redeemed directly for travel at a rate of 1.25 cents per point through Chase Ultimate Rewards. And right now, it’s offering its best public offer to date. Card Rating*: ⭐⭐⭐⭐½
*Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG’s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
One of the most common questions we’re asked is “which travel credit card should I start with?” and I almost universally recommend the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. It earns arguably the most valuable loyalty points in existence. It carries a reasonable annual fee. It has travel and dining bonus spend categories. And it carries valuable travel protections any time I use it to pay for travel.
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Many TPGers (including myself) started their journey into points and miles with the Chase Sapphire Preferred. Let’s review this card and identify why it’s a solid start for anyone entering the points and miles world or how it can still contribute to the advanced points and miles collector’s loyalty portfolio.
Who is this card for?
The Chase Sapphire Preferred is designed to work for travelers, both frequent and casual. It can benefit both the points and miles expert and someone just starting. With a $95 annual fee, it’s not an expensive card, which makes it a good choice for a beginner. But since the card earns Ultimate Rewards points — one of the top transferrable points currencies — you’ll also find this card goes a long way if you’re an experienced loyalty program whiz looking to get maximum value. I also recommend starting your journey into the world of loyalty points with Chase cards because you need to plan around Chase’s 5/24 rule strategically. The Sapphire Preferred is definitely worthy of one of your coveted five slots for opening new cards.
While many resources may tell you to consider the CSP’s big brother — the Chase Sapphire Reserve — you need first to consider whether you’re likely to use all the advanced travel benefits that come along with the card’s much higher $550 annual fee of the Reserve (especially during this time where the vast majority of people aren’t traveling as frequently). If that’s not for you — or if you’re starting and aren’t sure — get the Preferred, and then you can always convert your Preferred to a Reserve down the line if you choose.
Sign-up bonus: As much as $1,650 in value
With the Chase Sapphire Preferred, you’ll earn an impressive 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. Additionally, the welcome offers also include up to $50 in statement credit towards grocery store purchases within your first year from account opening. With the points being worth $1,600 towards travel (based on TPG’s most recent point valuations when transferred to travel partners) and the easy to earn $50 statement credit, you are looking at a $1,650 valuation on the welcome.
This is the best public offer we’ve ever seen on this card!
This current sign-up bonus is also one of the most impressive on the market right now, and it’s certainly the best bonus among any mid-tier card that only charges a $95 annual fee. And considering you have to wait 48 months in between earning Chase Sapphire sign-up bonuses, it’s important to time your sign-ups appropriately. Scoring this bonus is an amazing way to start your points journey, but it’s also a perfect pick-me-up for experts to rack up rewards for amazing 2021 and 2022 redemptions.
Main benefits and perks
Chase has recently ramped up its partnerships with other brands, including on-demand food service DoorDash. Cardholders now get at least one year of complimentary DashPass membership with DoorDash, which gives you free delivery and reduced service fees on eligible purchases. However, keep in mind there is a cost associated with using food delivery services such as DoorDash. If you already use the service, this can be a valuable benefit, but it’s not necessarily a valuable addition to the card if you’d rather forgo delivery in favor of take-out or table service. Of course, now that we’re all staying home more frequently, a service like DoorDash might be more beneficial for the nights you may not feel like cooking.
A fairly new addition to the Chase Sapphire Preferred is that you’ll receive up to $60 back on all eligible Peloton Digital or All-Access Membership through Dec. 31, 2021. With at-home workouts skyrocketing these days, there’s a good chance that those credits can be put to good use.
I have also used this card to pay for car rentals, cruises, plane tickets and hotels because travel can often become a challenge and I need peace of mind I’ll be financially covered if and when things go awry. In my opinion, besides the points the card earns you, the highlight of the Chase Sapphire Preferred’s benefits is the primary rental car coverage — a relatively unusual credit card perk. Most cards offer secondary car insurance, which means if your rental car gets damaged, you have to first look to your personal auto policy or other primary coverages, if any, before the card’s coverage will step in and cover any losses. But with primary coverage, you can submit the claim directly to the card issuer right off the bat and avoid involving your own insurance policy entirely.
When traveling, the CSP offers $500 per ticket in trip delay insurance and $10,000 in trip cancellation insurance. It also features $100 per day in coverage for up to five days in baggage delay insurance and up to $3,000 per person in lost luggage reimbursement. That’s a strong lineup, though you’ll find even better protections on premium cards — along with higher annual fees. Keep in mind when you’re traveling internationally, the Sapphire Preferred has no foreign transaction fees, and any time you find yourself in a tough spot needing help, the Visa Signature Concierge Service is available.
Finally, the Sapphire Preferred comes with purchase protection up to $500 per claim and $50,000 per account. Extended warranty protection provides an additional year of coverage on eligible purchases with a manufacturer’s three-year warranty or less. You can read more about the CSP’s shopping and travel benefits in the card’s guide to benefits.
How to earn points
The Sapphire Preferred comes with a simple earning structure that is easy to maximize. You’ll earn 5x on Lyft (through March 2022) and 2x on both travel and dining. One great thing about Chase is the way those categories are defined. The CSP travel category is broad, encompassing many purchases that you might not think of as travel expenses.
For instance, in addition to the charges you might expect to count as travel — such as airlines, hotels, motels, car rentals, cruise lines and travel agencies — you’ll also get 2x points when paying for passenger trains (including most commuter trains), buses, taxis, limos, ferries, toll bridges and highways, parking lots and garages and even Uber. That’s a lot of different purchases you can earn 2x for, even when you’re in your home city.
When it comes to the dining side, you earn 2x points per dollar on essentially all restaurants — regardless of whether they’re fancy sit-down places or fast food joints. However, you can also get the bonus multiplier at many bars that don’t serve food and even some delivery services such as Seamless and DoorDash. Right now, you might be spending more on delivery and takeout options, and this card allows you to earn rewards now that you can use down the line.
So while it may not seem at first glance like the CSP has a plethora of bonus categories, there are actually tons of opportunities to rack up points with this card.
How to redeem points
When you’re ready to redeem the points you’ve earned with the Chase Sapphire Preferred, that’s when the card’s flexibility really shines. First, you can use your points to purchase airfare, reserve hotel rooms and even rent a car — all at a fixed rate of 1.25 cents per point through the Chase travel portal. That means if you don’t want to worry about blackout dates or finding award space, you’ll always have the option to book travel using your points.
As long as there’s a seat for sale on the flight you want, or a hotel room available to reserve with cash, you’ll be able to pay for it with your points. And if you book a flight this way, it should be treated as a normal, revenue ticket — meaning you’re eligible to earn miles and credit toward airline elite status. The portal is run by Expedia, which means the process is as simple as it would be booking through the third-party platform.
While it’s easiest to use your Ultimate Rewards points that way, it’s not the most lucrative choice. The way to get top value from your CSP is to take advantage of the card’s ability to transfer points to Chase’s 10 airline and three hotel partners. If you take this route, you’ll need to be prepared to do a little homework by learning which partners are best utilized for specific trips and searching for award availability. But if you’re willing to put in the extra time, you can get much more than 1.25 cents per point in value from your Ultimate Rewards points — especially with programs such as United MileagePlus or the World of Hyatt.
The American Express Membership Rewards program has many transfer partners, but those partners’ quality varies greatly. And while not every Ultimate Rewards transfer partner is terrific, Chase’s program is highly competitive since you can take advantage of key partners such as United, British Airways and Singapore for airline redemptions or burn points at high-end hotel properties like the Park Hyatt Sydney.
But, if travel is not on your radar and you’d prefer to utilize your points before travel kicks back in, you can also use Chase’s “Pay Yourself Back” feature. Typically, you can always redeem your points at 1 cent per point towards a statement credit — a value we’d usually not recommend. Still, through Sept. 30, 2021, they are making this feature more attractive.
During this time, you can redeem your points at 1.25 cents each to offset purchases made at grocery stores, home improvement stores and dining establishments, including take-out and delivery services. This is the same redemption value as if you were to use your points to book travel through Chase Ultimate Reward, so it serves as a good option for those who typically redeem their points this way anyways — and not by transferring their points to partner programs.
Which card competes with the Chase Sapphire Preferred?
There are many worthwhile mid-tier travel credit cards, including a few that go toe-to-toe with the CSP. The most notable of these is the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. For the same $95 annual fee, you’ll get 2x miles on all other purchases (plus a couple of perks). The Venture allows you the flexibility to redeem miles at a fixed rate by using them to erase past purchases or by transferring them to 13 airlines and three hotel partners.
When the Venture makes more sense
The Capital One Venture is a better card for non-bonus spending since you’re getting a minimum of 2x miles on all purchases. If you aren’t someone who spends much cash on travel and dining, then the Venture may be the better option from an earning perspective.
Also, keep in mind that the Capital One Venture comes with up to $100 in statement credit every four years for your Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee. Now that Global Entry and TSA PreCheck are once again open for interviews, more people may start applying and setting up appointments, and this perk could come in handy — especially for beginners who don’t have other cards with the perk.
Is the CSP worth the annual fee?
Unfortunately, like most things in this hobby, there’s no cut-and-dried answer to the question, “Is the Sapphire Preferred worth the annual fee?” That being said, there are some situations where the answer is a resounding yes, so consider opening and holding onto the card in year two and beyond if you fall into one (or more) of these categories:
- You can hit the sign-up bonus. If you know you’ll be able to earn the 80,000-point sign-up bonus, plus the $50 statement credit, that’s up to $1,650 in value that far outweighs the first-year cost of the card.
- You spend at least $4,750 in combined dining and travel purchases each year. The extra points you’d earn on the Sapphire Preferred will easily cover the annual fee, not including any additional value you get through partnerships (such as the DashPass benefit or 5x on Lyft).
- You’re looking for valuable travel protection. Some of the most under-appreciated perks on travel rewards credit cards involve the various coverages they include, and many involve travel. The Sapphire Preferred has primary car rental coverage, trip cancellation and delay insurance and even baggage delay protection. It’s hard to peg a value to these benefits before you use them, but they can be a lifesaver when things go wrong.
- You currently hold the Chase Freedom (no longer open to new applicants), Chase Freedom Unlimited and/or Chase Freedom Flex cards. When you hold the Sapphire Preferred with one of these cards, you can freely move points from one account to another, effectively augmenting the value of your Freedom earnings by translating them from cash-back rewards into fully-transferable Ultimate Rewards points.
Everyone’s spending and travel situation is unique, so it’s exceedingly hard to speak in absolutes regarding a specific travel rewards credit card. However, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card continues to represent a solid value proposition for a wide swath of the traveling public. So long as you’re using the card frequently enough to get more than $95 in value from the rewards earned and benefits utilized, this card is definitely worth the annual cost.
If you’re ready to move beyond cash-back or fixed-value travel rewards credit cards, there really is no better place to start than with the Chase Sapphire Preferred. There’s a reason it’s stuck around for so long (almost 10 years) as one of the best rewards credit cards while other cards have come and gone or languished in the shadows. It doesn’t have fancy travel benefits or lounge access, but it has a great sign-up bonus and some of the most valuable points around. It’s flexible enough to meet the travel rewards needs of practically every points and miles skill level, and it comes with a cheap price tag.
So don’t dismiss it just because it’s not flashy — sometimes a solid and adaptable performer is exactly what you need and can make for one of the best credit cards available today.
Additional reporting by Liz Hund and Jennifer Yellin.
Featured image by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy
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