The undeniable king of my wallet: Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card review

Sep 19, 2019

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The Chase Sapphire Reserve is one of the most well-received travel rewards cards of all time. Offering 3 points per dollar on travel and dining, the incredibly valuable Ultimate Rewards points it earns 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.

While premium credit cards seem pretty commonplace nowadays, the Chase Sapphire Reserve is the card that convinced average consumers that they could come out ahead even after paying a $450 annual fee. In fact, the Sapphire Reserve was so successful from the day it launched (with a short-lived 100,000 point welcome bonus) that Chase ran out of the metal slabs needed to produce the cards.

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 shot about the $450 annual fee, the little brother of CSR — the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card — is a solid option at only $95 annually and has a higher sign-up bonus of 60,000 points after $4,000 in spend in the first 3 months. But the Sapphire Reserve combines a strong value proposition with an incredible amount of simplicity. Unlike other issuers, there’s very little ambiguity about what Chase counts as travel and dining for the 3x bonus categories. They’re defined so broadly that you don’t have to put in any extra effort to enjoy 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?

This is a tough question to answer, because the Chase Sapphire Reserve would be a great addition to most people’s wallets. Let’s start with the fact that Ultimate Rewards are one of the most valuable points currencies out there, and because of Chase’s 5/24 rule, you’ll want to apply for Chase cards first before turning to other issuers. Ultimate Rewards points are incredibly easy to redeem, in terms of the wide range of airline and hotel transfer partners Chase offers and the actual user interface you’ll encounter when spending your points.

Many people will balk at the Reserve’s $450 annual fee, and while that’s a valid concern, the $300 annual travel credit drops your real out-of-pocket cost to $150 a year. Like the bonus categories, this credit is automatically applied to a broad range of travel purchases in the U.S. and abroad, making it incredibly easy to use. There is a case to be made that some people would be better off applying for the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card instead, but before making that decision I’d strongly encourage you to crunch the numbers on your own spending habits and not to make your decision based on the annual fees alone.

Further Reading: Chase Sapphire Preferred vs. Chase Sapphire Reserve: Which card is right for you?

Welcome bonus: Worth at least $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 more than 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 $150, 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, operators of 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, which is something that’s unique to the Reserve card. So 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 choose to use your points toward travel booked through the portal.

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

Further 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.

Perks

One complaint you may hear about the Chase Sapphire Reserve is that it doesn’t offer as many perks as other premium cards such as The Platinum Card® from American Express. While that’s entirely true, I’d argue that it does a good job balancing useful perks against a low annual fee (at least relative to the premium credit card landscape) to create a package that’s useful and affordable for a wide range of travelers. There are even a few areas where the Sapphire Reserve clearly excels, like 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). There’s no need to specify what kind of travel you want to use it for because Chase will automatically credit your account $300 when you use it to make eligible purchases.

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 across 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 Reserve account, but they’ll be able to take advantage of one of the card’s nicest perks.

Priority Pass’ network of lounges 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. This alternative to the standard lounge experience is a great value add.

Alaska Airlines Lounge, JFK. (Photo Brendan Dorsey)
The Alaska Airlines Lounge at JFK is part of Priority Pass. (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 of the program (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, and beyond the massive welcome bonus, the bonus earning categories will also help add to the value and your earning structure. 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. What’s often not known is just how extensive the bonus categories are — 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, let’s break it down in 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.

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

 

This chart also contains another important piece of information: the break-even point between the Sapphire Preferred and Sapphire Reserve. Once you factor in the $300 travel credit, the difference in annual fee between the two cards is $55 ($150-$95). That means you’d need to earn an extra 2,750 Ultimate Rewards points a year with the Reserve to come out ahead, and you can hit that mark by spending as little as $250 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 great value for 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. While United is switching to dynamic award  pricing for its own flights, Star Alliance partners such as Lufthansa or Swiss 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 Platinum Amex. This 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 it doesn’t offer much in terms of travel protections. And 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 up to $200 annual airline fee credit 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 (and it’s not even valid for actual airfare, although there are some 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 is cutting most of the card’s travel and purchase perks effective Sept. 22, 2019.

Other premium cards like the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card make less of an apples-to-apples comparison, since it is a cobranded hotel card that focuses on providing high-end benefits and status to travelers within the Hilton loyalty program rather than premium perks that aren’t tied to a specific brand. Plus the points the Chase Sapphire Reserve earns are more valuable.

(Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)
The Chase Sapphire Reserve offers more valuable points than many other cards. (Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)

Who’s eligible for the Chase Sapphire Reserve?

It can be difficult to get approved for some Chase cards due to the issuer’s restrictive application requirements — more specifically, the 5/24 rule. For those who haven’t heard of it, the 5/24 rule with Chase is an unconfirmed policy (but one that has been widely reported) that means 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, it looks like many are being declined. The only way to tell if you’re eligible for the card is to apply.

If you aren’t approved, you may be able to upgrade to the Sapphire Reserve. Unfortunately, if you choose to upgrade your Chase Sapphire Preferred Card to the Sapphire Reserve, 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 from $450 to $150. 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.

2018 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®
  • Named "Best Premium Travel Credit Card" for 2018 by MONEY® Magazine
  • $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✓®
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
18.99% - 25.99% Variable
Annual Fee
$450
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.