Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card review

Jan 9, 2020

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Chase Sapphire Reserve Card Overview

The Chase Sapphire Reserve is one of the most well-received travel rewards cards of all time. It’s undergoing a long-expected refresh that will see the annual fee climb to $550 in exchange for new discounts on Lyft rides and food delivery credits with DoorDash. Offering 3 points per dollar on travel and dining, it earns incredibly valuable Ultimate Rewards points that can be transferred to 13 hotel and airline partners or redeemed directly for flights at a rate of 1.5 cents per point. Add in a $300 annual travel credit, airport lounge access and a free concierge service, and this card is guaranteed to upgrade your travel lifestyle.
Card Rating*: ⭐⭐⭐⭐½

*Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG’s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.

Premium credit cards seem commonplace nowadays, but the Chase Sapphire Reserve is the card that convinced average consumers that they could come out ahead even after paying an annual fee of several hundred dollars a year. In fact, the Sapphire Reserve was so successful from the moment it launched in August 2016 (with a short-lived 100,000-point welcome bonus) that Chase ran out of the metal slabs needed to produce the cards.

There has been intense competition in the premium credit card space in recent years, as issuers continue to raise annual fees and add new perks like food delivery and ride-sharing credits. Chase has now followed this path with the Sapphire Reserve. The CSR’s annual fee will be increasing by $100 to $550 a year, although the card will also offer up to $120 in DoorDash credits ($60 in 2020 and $60 in 2021) and a Lyft Pink membership, which includes ride discounts and priority airport pickups.

Related Reading: Significant changes confirmed for Chase’s Sapphire Reserve Card

The Sapphire Reserve has remained incredibly popular among beginners and advanced award travelers alike in the years since its launch. It’s not the absolute best card in most categories, and for those with sticker shock about the $550 annual fee, the little brother of CSR — the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card — is a solid option. It has an annual fee of $95 and has a higher sign-up bonus of 60,000 points after $4,000 in spend in the first three months. But the Sapphire Reserve combines strong value with simplicity. Unlike other issuers, there’s little ambiguity about what Chase counts as travel and dining for the 3x bonus categories. They’re defined broadly so it’s easy to reap the full benefits of your card.

Let’s review the features that continue to make the Sapphire Reserve such an attractive card, and one that has earned a permanent spot at the top of my wallet.

In This Post

Who is this card for?

The Chase Sapphire Reserve would be great for most people. First, Ultimate Rewards are one of the most valuable points currencies. They’re incredibly easy to redeem, with a wide range of airline and hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. (Because of Chase’s 5/24 rule, you’ll want to apply for Chase cards first before turning to other issuers.)

The Reserve’s $550 annual fee is a valid concern, but the $300 annual travel credit drops your real out-of-pocket cost to $250 a year before you factor in other perks like the DoorDash credits, Lyft Pink membership and Priority Pass lounge access. Like the bonus categories, this annual credit is automatically applied to a broad range of travel purchases in the U.S. and abroad. Some people might be better off applying for the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, but before making that decision, crunch the numbers on your spending habits and don’t make a decision based on the annual fees alone.

Welcome bonus: Worth a minimum of $750

At 2 cents apiece for Ultimate Rewards points according to TPG valuations, the 50,000-point bonus (after you spend $4,000 in the first three months) on the Sapphire Reserve is worth $1,000. That’s equivalent to nearly two years of the annual fee.

Plus, as mentioned, when you take out the $300 in travel you get each year as a perk, the annual fee is really only $250, because it’s simple to spend $300 a year on travel. Chase has a wide description of what counts: airlines, hotels (including Airbnb), motels, timeshares, campgrounds, car rental agencies, cruise lines, travel agencies, discount travel sites, passenger trains, buses, taxis (including Uber and Lyft), limousines, ferries, toll bridges and highways, and parking lots and garages.

Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders get a value of 1.5 cents per Ultimate Rewards point when redeeming for travel in the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal. Even if you’re a novice in the travel rewards field and don’t know how to maximize transfer partners, you’re guaranteed to get at least $750 in travel from the welcome bonus if you use your points to book travel through the portal.

Not only are you getting great value out of bookings through the portal, but any flight you book this way also counts as a revenue booking. This means you’ll earn airline miles and elite credit as well, getting you even more value.

Related Reading: How to get more than 1.5 cents in value from Ultimate Rewards Points

Get $750 in travel from the welcome bonus if you use your points through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal.

Main Benefits

The Chase Sapphire Reserve doesn’t offer as many perks as other premium cards such as The Platinum Card® from American Express but with the card’s new benefits with DoorDash and Lyft that were announced on Jan. 8, 2020 the perk package is useful and affordable for a wide range of travelers. There are even a few areas where the Sapphire Reserve clearly excels, such as its travel credit and the fact that it still allows access to Priority Pass restaurants.

Annual travel credit. One of the biggest benefits of the card is the $300 annual travel credit because it can be applied toward purchases that qualify as travel (defined above). Chase will automatically credit your account $300 when you use it to make eligible purchases.

Unlimited DoorDash delivery. Even before Chase revealed the full details of the Sapphire Reserve refresh, it announced that cardholders will be eligible for a total of $120 in DoorDash credits as part of the issuer’s new partnership, which also includes a minimum of one free year of DashPass. Cardholders will be eligible for $60 in DoorDash credits in 2020 and $60 in DoorDash credits in 2021. DashPass members receive free delivery and reduced service fees on all orders over $12. With the membership normally costing $9.99 a month, this equates to nearly $120 in value and appears to be a direct response to the $10 monthly dining credit Amex added to the American Express® Gold Card in 2019.

Lyft Pink membership. Sapphire Reserve cardholders will now also gain access to a Lyft Pink membership. Launched late in 2019, this program (which normally costs $19.99 a month) offers 15% savings on all car rides, priority airport pickups, surprise offers, relaxed cancellation fees and more. Sapphire Reserve cardmembers will now automatically earn 10x total points every time they use their card for a Lyft ride through March 2022.

Priority Pass Lounge access. Although you won’t be able to access Delta Sky Clubs (as you can with the Platinum Amex card) or American Airlines Admirals Clubs (as you can with the Citi®/AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®), the Sapphire Reserve does include a Priority Pass Select membership, which gives you access to more than 1,200 airport lounges around the world. In addition, authorized users receive a Priority Pass Select membership of their own. You’ll pay $75 to add each authorized user to your CSR account but they’ll be able to take advantage of one of the card’s nicest perks.

The Priority Pass network includes some premium lounges, both in the U.S. and abroad. For example, the Turkish Airlines Lounge at Washington Dulles (IAD), the Alaska Airlines Lounge in New York (JFK), the SkyTeam Lounge in Vancouver (YVR), the Oman Air Lounge in Bangkok (BKK) and the SATS Premier Lounge in Singapore (SIN) are all part of this program.

In recent years Priority Pass has also begun adding airport restaurants to its network (you can see the full list here). Amex recently cut these restaurants from its Priority Pass benefit, but Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders will continue to get free food (usually ~$28 per person) at all of these locations.

Alaska Airlines Lounge, JFK. (Photo Brendan Dorsey)
The Alaska Airlines Lounge at JFK is part of the Priority Pass network. (Photo by Brendan Dorsey/The Points Guy)

Application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. Like many other premium cards, the Sapphire Reserve will reimburse you when you charge the application fee for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck to the card. Remember that Global Entry includes PreCheck, so that’s the smarter choice. This benefit is available to cardholders once every four years and if you already have enrolled, you can use the credit to cover a friend or family member’s application fee.

Visa Infinite Perks. Because the Sapphire Reserve is a Visa Infinite card, you’ll have access to a selection of the perks that come along with the program. Highlights (that also apply to this card) include primary rental car insurance, trip cancellation and delay coverage, lost luggage reimbursement, a concierge service and access to the Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection.

Earning

The ability to redeem with a number of partners is one of the most important aspects of a credit card. Besides the massive welcome bonus, the bonus earning categories will also help built your Ultimate Rewards account. With the card, you’ll earn 3x points on all travel (excluding the $300 travel credit) and dining purchases worldwide and 1x points on everything else. The bonus categories are extensive — ride-sharing services, food delivery, etc.

To get an idea of how much more value you can get from the Sapphire Reserve card on the travel and dining bonus earning categories, here’s a comparison with what you’d earn with the Sapphire Preferred. The table considers that you won’t earn points on the $300 in travel that is reimbursed by the Sapphire Reserve’s travel credit.

Travel & Dining Spend (Month; Year) Chase Sapphire Preferred Chase Sapphire Reserve Total Difference (Added Value)
$1,000/month; $12,000/year 2,000 points per month; 24,000 per year 2,925 points per month; 35,100 per year 11,100-point difference per year; worth $222 in extra value
$2,000/month; $24,000/year 4,000/month; 48,000/year 5,925/month; 71,100/year 23,100-point difference; $462 in value
$3,000/month; $36,000/year 6,000/month; 72,000/year 8,925/month; 107,100/year 35,100-point difference; $702 in value
$5,000/month; $60,000/year 10,000/month; 120,000/year 14,925/month; 179,100/year 59,100-point difference; $1,182 in value
$10,000/month; $120,000/year 20,000/month; 240,000/year 29,925/month; 359,100/year 119,100-point difference; $2,382 in value

 

Once you factor in the $300 travel credit, the difference in annual fee between the two cards is $155 ($250-$95). That means you’d need to earn an extra 7,750 Ultimate Rewards points a year with the Reserve to come out ahead. You can hit that mark by spending as little as $750 a month on travel and dining.

Redeeming

If you choose to transfer your points from the welcome bonus to one of Chase’s 13 travel partners, there’s potential for some amazing premium-class redemptions. You can book short-haul flights of up to 1,151 miles on American Airlines for only 9,000 British Airways Avios each way — so you could get up to five of these short-haul flights with this welcome bonus. Another great option would be to book one-way economy awards to Europe on Star Alliance airlines. United has switched to dynamic award  pricing for its own flights, but Star Alliance partners such as Lufthansa or Swiss Air Lines will still cost a fixed 30,000 miles each way. The possibilities are endless.

If you’re new to Chase Ultimate Rewards, make sure to see Redeeming Chase Ultimate Rewards for maximum value, as well as our guides for maximizing Chase redemptions with each major airline alliance:

Further reading: Best sweet spots with Chase Ultimate Rewards

Which cards compete with the Chase Sapphire Reserve?

The Sapphire Reserve‘s most natural competitors, besides the Chase Sapphire Preferred, are other premium cards, such as the Amex Platinum. The Amex card, with its $550 annual fee (see rates and fees), is a strong pick when it comes to airfare purchases, since it earns 5x Membership Rewards points on flights booked directly through airlines or via Amex Travel. But for more general travel purchases, as well as dining spending, you’re getting just 1 point per dollar compared to the Sapphire Reserve’s 3x points. The Amex Platinum does offer complimentary Gold elite status with Hilton and Marriott, along with access to Fine Hotels & Resorts, while the Sapphire Reserve only offers access to the Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection.

The Platinum Card’s annual airline fee credit of up to $200 is also much less flexible than the Sapphire Reserve’s $300 annual travel credit, since you can only use the Platinum’s with one designated airline. Unlike the Sapphire’s credit, it’s not even valid for actual airfare and Amex has recently cracked down on some popular workarounds.

There’s also the Citi Prestige® Card, which relaunched in late January 2019, with 5x earning on dining and air travel. The Citi ThankYou Rewards program’s selection of transfer partners isn’t as impressive as Chase’s list (there are currently no hotel partners), but the Prestige does stand out for its 4th Night Free benefit. Unfortunately, this benefit is now capped at twice per year. Even so, if you make paid hotel stays at high-end properties, it could be worth using the Citi Prestige Card for that but still using the Sapphire Reserve for the majority of your travel and dining spending. Also note that Citi cut most of the card’s travel and purchase perks as of September 2019. The information for the Citi Prestige has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Other premium cards such as the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card are harder to compare because they are cobranded hotel cards that focus on providing high-end benefits and status to travelers within the Hilton or other loyalty programs rather than premium perks that aren’t tied to a specific brand. Plus the points the Chase Sapphire Reserve earns are more valuable.

Who’s eligible for the Chase Sapphire Reserve?

It can be difficult to get approved for some Chase cards because of the issuer’s restrictive application requirements — more specifically, the 5/24 rule. The 5/24 rule is an unconfirmed policy (but one that has been widely reported) that if you’ve opened five credit card accounts with any issuer in the past 24 months, your application will be automatically declined. Although there are reports of some customers being approved for the Chase Sapphire Reserve despite having opened five or more cards within the past 24 months, an overwhelming majority are being declined. Before you apply, make sure to check your own credit report and see how many cards you’ve opened in the last two years.

If you aren’t approved, you may be able to upgrade your Chase Sapphire Preferred Card to the Sapphire Reserve, but you won’t qualify for the welcome bonus. You will be able to reap the other benefits of the card, however, so the decision whether to upgrade the card will vary on a case-by-case basis.

Bottom Line

The Chase Sapphire Reserve is a complete no-brainer — especially for big spenders and frequent travelers. The $300 travel credit effectively brings the card’s annual fee down from $550 to $250. This means the annual fee can be justified even for small spenders if the primary goal is points earning. With 3x travel and dining bonus categories, industry-leading travel protections, valuable Chase Ultimate Rewards points and various perks, the Chase Sapphire Reserve is one of our best credit cards.

Here’s the link to apply for the Chase Sapphire Reserve with a 50,000-point bonus.

For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum Card, please click here.

2019 TPG Award Winner: Premium Card of the Year
Chase Sapphire Reserve®

SIGN-UP BONUS: 50,000 Points

TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,000

CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 3X points on all travel and dining, $300 annual travel credit, 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.

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More Things to Know
  • Earn 50,000 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®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • 3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. 3X points on dining at restaurants & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. $0 foreign transaction fees.
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,000+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select
  • Up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®
  • One Year Complimentary Lyft Pink ($199 minimum value). Complimentary DashPass subscription from DoorDash after activating by 12/31/21.
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
18.49% - 25.49% Variable
Annual Fee
$550
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each balance transfer, whichever is greater
Recommended Credit
Excellent Credit

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.