How to easily use the Chase Sapphire Reserve $300 annual travel credit in 2021

Jan 28, 2021

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Update: The $300 travel credit redemption benefit has been extended to the end of 2021. 

In addition to the bonus points on travel and dining charges, a marquee benefit of the Chase Sapphire Reserve since its debut in 2016 has been its $300 per year travel credit. Fortunately for cardholders, Chase was very responsive to changing needs during the ongoing pandemic as it has allowed the “travel credit” to be used not only toward travel, but also toward gas and grocery purchases both in 2020 and now through June 30, 2021.

Easy-to-use annual credits like this increase the odds that a credit card stays safely in your wallet despite the annual fees. These built-in credits can be pretty narrow (think the up to $50 Saks Fifth Avenue credit available with The Platinum Card® from American Express every six months; up to $100 annually; enrollment required), or they can be quite broad.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve comes with a $550 annual fee (though some with upcoming renewal dates are receiving a $100 statement credit to lessen the blow from coronavirus-related travel slowdowns), but if you can maximize the card’s $300 annual travel credit, that annual fee is a lot less painful.

This annual credit is in addition to other Sapphire Reserve perks, such as Priority Pass membership, the application fee credit toward Global Entry/PreCheck, $120 in credits toward Peloton memberships, the Lyft Pink membership and up to $60 per year in DoorDash credits (at least for 2021), which together make it an easier call to continue holding the card.

But how do you use the Sapphire Reserve’s travel credit?

Moreover, how do you use the card when you aren’t traveling very much? The good news is that it’s really, really easy to use. The (sorta) bad news? You may use the credit before you even realize it.

Related: Complete review of the Chase Sapphire Reserve

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

When do you earn the $300 Chase Sapphire Reserve travel credit

The Chase Sapphire Reserve annual $300 travel credit is awarded each year that you have the card and it is ready to use as soon as you open your new account.

In most cases, when this credit resets, it is tied to a cardmember year, not a calendar year. That means when you first opened the card will influence the date each year that you get a fresh $300 travel credit. However, those who opened a Sapphire Reserve before May 21, 2017, are awarded the annual travel credit based on a calendar year. In that case, the credit is awarded after the last statement closure date in December, regardless of when during the year the account was opened.

American Express airline fee credits from cards such as the Amex Platinum are awarded on a calendar-year basis (enrollment required).

Related: Chase Sapphire Reserve vs. the Amex Platinum

What counts toward the travel credit?

A great element of the Sapphire Reserve’s travel credit is that it is quite broad in what types of charges it covers, even during normal times.

Essentially, you can typically use the annual travel credit on anything that codes as travel on your Sapphire Reserve. Remember, you’ll earn 3x points per dollar awarded by the card on travel charges, so the same sort of charges that you earn 3x points for on travel will be the same charges you can use toward the travel credit. (Though just know you don’t actually earn points on the travel charges offset by the $300 travel credit.)

Some examples of types of purchases that count for the Sapphire Reserve’s travel credit include:

  • Airlines
  • Hotels
  • Timeshares
  • Campgrounds
  • Car rental agencies
  • Cruise lines
  • Travel agency services
  • Trains
  • Buses
  • Taxis and car services
  • Toll bridges and highways
  • Parking lots and garages

Because airline charges generally code as travel, this means you can use the credit on purchases such as your airline tickets, taxes on award tickets, upgrades, seat assignment fees, checked bag fees, onboard snacks, change fees, lap infant fees, etc.

Your cruise deposits and payments should also count, as do hotel bookings and deposits. If you have to pay for parking, taxis, or road tolls in your normal life, you can even use the travel credit toward those everyday charges.

Related: How to use credit card credits from home 

Upgrade that seat with your CSR travel credit (Photo by Zach Griff/ The Points Guy)
Upgrade that seat with your CSR travel credit. (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

What does not count toward the Sapphire Reserve travel credit?

Of course, not all purchases in the travel space code as travel charges. If a purchase doesn’t code as a travel charge, you won’t be able to use the $300 travel credit from the Sapphire Reserve.

Items that code as travel vary and can also change at any time. Some things that may not code as travel include theme park tickets brought directly from theme parks, ski lift tickets, points.com purchases, some airline or travel gift card purchases, inflight purchases that are processed by a third party, some meals eaten at a hotel but not charged to a room, etc.

Pro tip: If you want Disney tickets to code as a travel charge, book them via a third-party travel site such as Get Away Today or Undercover Tourist.

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

How do you use the Sapphire Reserve travel credit?

Using your Sapphire Reserve travel credit is very simple — just use the card to pay for eligible travel purchases. That’s it.

There is nothing to activate; no codes to use or special sites to book through. The offsetting statement credits will usually appear on your account within a couple of days, until you’ve used the year’s travel credit in full.

The credit is so easy to use that several travelers in the TPG Facebook Lounge report using their credits up each year on everyday travel charges such as tolls, parking, cabs, subway fares, etc. before they could purposefully use it for something bigger.

Related: Best travel credit cards

How do you use the Sapphire Reserve travel credit from home

It’s easy to quickly use the Sapphire Reserve annual travel credit as you travel, commute to work, hop in an Uber, etc. during normal times. Luckily, while many of us are still staying largely within the confines of our homes during the pandemic, it is still easy to use the credit thanks to the inclusion of gas and groceries until June 30, 2021.

Related: 8 credit card credits you can use from home

In the event you don’t have any expenses that code under the broad travel categories on tap for the foreseeable future, don’t stress. You can just use the $300 credit the next time you fill up the fridge with groceries by the end of June 2021, which should be easy for pretty much all of us. Just keep in mind that if you mentally like to save your credit for a travel splurge, it will automatically get used up by those other temporarily eligible gas and grocery expenses.

Related: Chase adds temporary bonus categories 

How to see if you’ve used your travel credit

If you’ve lost track of whether you’ve used up your Sapphire Reserve annual travel credit, you can easily figure it out by logging into the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal and checking the dashboard for your Reserve card. This will also tell you when next year’s credit becomes available, so you know to use up this year’s credit before then.

Bottom line

It’s great when credit cards give you annual travel credits that are easy to use. In normal times, it really doesn’t get any easier to use than the annual $300 travel credit that comes with the Chase Sapphire Reserve. But even now, using the credit is still easy with the temporary additional categories.

Of course, if you have decided you simply can’t make the most of the Sapphire Reserve benefits at the moment, you could also talk to Chase about potentially downgrading to the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or even the no-annual-fee Chase Freedom Unlimited®.

Featured photo by The Points Guy

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