Credit card showdown: Chase Sapphire Reserve vs. Amex Gold
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When it comes to travel rewards cards, you get what you pay for in terms of bonus categories and perks. This is why we usually compare cards within a single category, to try and find the best premium rewards card or the best no-annual-fee cards.
The problem is, the American Express® Gold Card doesn’t fit cleanly into any category. It straddles the line between entry-level and premium, offering high-value foodie bonus categories at a manageable annual fee. Today we’re going to take a look at how it stacks up against the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, one of the all-around best cards for travel and dining.
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Comparing the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Amex Gold
|Chase Sapphire Reserve®||American Express® Gold Card|
|Annual fee||$550||$250 (see rates & fees)|
|Sign-up bonus/Welcome offer||50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months of account opening||35,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months of account opening (though you could be targeted for a higher offer through CardMatch)|
|Bonus categories||3x points on travel and dining, limited-time COVID related bonuses on gas stations, Instacart and streaming, 1x on all purchases||4x points on dining worldwide and at U.S. supermarkets (U.S. supermarkets capped at $25,000 per calendar year, then 1x), 3x on flights booked directly from the airline or|
|Annual statement credits||$300 annual travel credit||Up to $100 annual airline incidental fee credit
Up to $10 monthly dining credit at the following partners: Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, some Shake Shack locations and Boxed (up to $120 annually)
|Other card benefits||Priority Pass Select membership, DoorDash DashPass and $60 in DoorDash statement credits for 2020 and 2021, Lyft Pink membership, Global Entry / TSA PreCheck application fee credit, trip cancellation/interruption insurance, baggage loss and delay insurance||Trip delay reimbursement, baggage loss or damage reimbursement, 2x points and up to a $100 property credit when booking eligible stays of two nights or more through the Amex Hotel Collection|
Welcome offer/sign-up bonus
The sign-up bonus or welcome offer is the first thing many people look at when evaluating a new card. When you’re paying $250 or more in annual fees, it’s important to pick a card with a strong bonus so you can start recouping that value right away.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve offers new applicants 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. Meanwhile, the Amex Gold Card offers 35,000 Membership Rewards points after spending the same $4,000 in the first three months of account opening. TPG value Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards points equally at 2 cents apiece, making these bonuses worth $1,000 and $700, respectively.
However, you could potentially be targeted for either 60,000 or 75,000 bonus Membership Rewards points after spending $4,000 in the first three months for the Amex Gold through CardMatch (these offers are subject to change at any time). If you are targeted for either of those offers, the Amex Gold’s bonus actually beats out the Chase Sapphire Reserve — 60k Membership Rewards points are worth $1,200, while 75k points are worth a lucrative $1,500.
Of course, bonus value is only one piece of the equation. You also need to make sure you’re eligible to apply for either of these cards, as both Chase and Amex have different restrictions on bonus eligibility.
With Chase you have two considerations. First, the issuer’s 5/24 rule says that you’ll automatically be rejected if you’ve opened five or more cards across all issuers in the last 24 months (note that most business cards don’t count against your 5/24 tally). You also won’t be approved if you currently hold any Sapphire card or if you’ve earned a bonus on any Sapphire card in the last 48 months.
Amex, on the other hand, only allows you to earn the welcome offer on each card once per lifetime. This means that if you’ve ever held the Amex Gold Card before (including the Amex Premier Rewards Gold Card before it was refreshed) you won’t be eligible to apply. While you’re filling out your application, you may also get a pop-up alerting that you that you’re not eligible for this offer based on your prior history with Amex. It’s unclear exactly what triggers this alert, but behaviors like closing cards after exactly one year (implying you just wanted the welcome bonus) appear to be red flags.
Winner: The Chase Sapphire Reserve has a significantly more valuable bonus and clearer guidelines on eligibility making it the overall winner, but if you are targeted for a higher Amex offer, it becomes the more valuable bonus.
Here’s how the two cards stack up when it comes to earning points on your purchases:
|Chase Sapphire Reserve®||American Express® Gold Card|
|Earning rates||10x on Lyft through March 2022
2x on travel and dining
1x on all other purchases
|4x worldwide dining and U.S. supermarkets (U.S. supermarkets capped at $25,000 per calendar year, then 1x)
3x on flights booked directly from the airline or amextravel.com
1x on all other purchases
When the Chase Sapphire Reserve originally launched, it had two great things going for it: broadly defined bonus categories and a high points multiplier in two of the most popular spending categories. However, as the premium card landscape has continued to heat up, it’s lost some of its luster to cards like the Amex Gold.
The Amex Gold is clearly designed to be a foodie-friendly card, and that’s reflected in the bonus categories. 4x on groceries (an 8% return based on TPG’s valuations) is one of the best earning rates you’ll find from any card, and it compares quite favorably to the Sapphire Reserve’s 1x earning on groceries. The Amex Gold also has an edge when it comes to dining worldwide, as its 4x points (8% return) again edge out the 3x (6%) on the Sapphire Reserve.
The cards tie for airfare purchases made directly with the airline, but the Sapphire Reserve is stronger for all other travel purchases. Things such as hotels, group tours, rental cars, even parking meters and tolls all earn 3x points with the Sapphire versus 1x with the Amex Gold. Similar to The Platinum Card® from American Express, the Amex Gold’s airfare bonus is incredibly limited and only applies to purchases made directly with the airline or at amextravel.com.
Winner: These cards clearly target slightly different audiences, but even before adjusting for the lower annual fee, the Amex Gold offers a higher earning potential. However, keep in mind that Chase is currently offering a number of temporary bonus categories that could make it a better option in the short term.
TPG values Chase Ultimate Rewards points and Amex Membership Rewards points equally at two cents apiece, but the programs each have various strengths and weaknesses that could cause you to pick one over the other.
If you’re primarily looking to fly long-haul premium cabin flights, you’ll probably get more value out of Amex points thanks to 1:1 transfer partners like Avianca LifeMiles and Air Canda Aeroplan. I find myself using LifeMiles for about ~50% of my redemptions these days, including flying EVA Air’s phenomenal business class between the U.S. and Asia for just 75,000 miles or taking advantage of an award sale to book Air China’s 747-8 first class for only 81,000 miles (10% off the already low normal rate).
While Chase has fewer airline transfer partners, it’s much better for those looking to redeem points for hotel stays, thanks to a 1:1 transfer option to World of Hyatt. While both Chase and Amex points transfer 1:1 to other hotel programs like Marriott Bonvoy and Hilton Honors, Hyatt points are worth more than other hotel points. Free nights at top-tier Hyatt properties such as the Park Hyatt Sydney and Park Hyatt New York cost just 30,000 points, while you’d have to transfer 70,000-100,000 points to book a single night at Marriott’s most expensive hotels.
Transfer partners are the best way to score an outsized value from your points, especially if you’re looking to stay at luxury hotels or fly in fancy premium cabins. However, if you value simplicity and flexibility, the Sapphire Reserve offers another redemption option that might interest you. When you redeem points for travel through the Chase portal you’ll get a 50% bonus, making your points worth 1.5 cents each.
Also keep in mind that Chase added a new Pay Yourself Back feature, which is currently allowing you to redeem points across some non-travel purchases at that same 50% bonus.
You can use this option to book just about any seat that’s for sale without worrying about hunting down award space. Because these redemptions are technically cash bookings, you’ll also earn redeemable and elite qualifying miles on flights booked this way.
Winner: This category is ultimately a tie, as factors like your travel preferences and home airport could easily push you to one program over the other. While I personally prefer earning and burning Amex points, I’d give the Sapphire a slight edge in this comparison thanks to the 50% bonus when redeeming points through the Chase portal.
This is where we start to see the biggest differences arise, as the Chase Sapphire Reserve is a premium, luxury travel card with the perks to match. Let’s start with the most important benefit that can help offset the card’s $550 annual fee: a $300 annual travel credit. Similar to the 3x travel bonus category, this credit is automatically applied to a wide range of travel purchases including airfare, hotels and many other options.
The Sapphire Reserve also comes with a full-fledged Priority Pass select membership, including guesting privileges and access to Priority Pass restaurants (unlike the Amex Gold). Cardholders also get access to a premium concierge service, a Global Entry / TSA PreCheck application fee credit, a number of useful travel and baggage insurance policies and more.
Earlier this year Chase announced that it would be raising the annual fee to $550, although it is offering a $100 renewal credit for existing customers with renewal dates between July 1 and Dec. 31, 2020, and adding a few new perks to help offset the change. These include a minimum of one year of free food delivery with DoorDash DashPass, a $60 DoorDash statement credit in 2020 and 2021, a Lyft Pink membership and 10x points on Lyft rides through March 2022.
Chase announced 5x points on Instacart delivery and pickup orders — on up to $3,000 across the three-month promotional period that ends on Sept. 30, 2020 — and up to $50 in statement credits towards an Instacart Express membership (annual or monthly). You also earn 5x points at gas stations — on up to $1,500 across the three-month promotional period, 10x points on select streaming services (such as Spotify or Netflix) — on up to $1,500 across the three-month promotional period through Sept. 30, 2020. Note that while the annual fee increase is permanent, many of these new benefits are temporary.
The Amex Gold offers a much shorter list of perks, but if you’re able to maximize them each year they make an already rewarding card nearly free to hold. First is the $100 annual airline incidental fee credit. Unfortunately, this can’t be applied directly to airfare, only to eligible airline fees such as checked baggage and seat selection. You need to select an airline each year in order to use your credit.
Keeping with the card’s food-friendly theme, Amex Gold cardholders also get a $10 monthly dining credit valid at the following merchants: Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, some Shake Shack locations and Boxed. If you max out both of these benefits you’ll wind up with $220 in annual statement credits, almost completely erasing the card’s $250 annual fee (see rates and fees).
The Amex Gold also offers insurance if your baggage is lost, damaged or stolen, trip delay reimbursement, and double points and up to a $100 property credit when booking stays of two nights or more through the Amex Hotel Collection.
Winner: It’s no surprise that the Chase Sapphire Reserve offers more perks in just about every category than the cheaper Amex Gold. Ultimately though, you’ll need to see which card’s benefits you’ll be able to use easily.
Which card should you get?
Let me begin by saying that if you’re eligible for both of these cards, they make an all-star pairing and there’s a real case for having both in your wallet. Diversifying your points between Chase and Amex can help you unlock higher value redemptions, and these two cards complement each other very well when it comes to earning, redeeming and benefits. Personally, these two cards occupy the top spots in my wallet. I use my Amex Gold for dining and groceries and my Sapphire Reserve for all of my travel purchases. The combined food and travel benefits of these two cards work very well for me.
If you have to pick between one or the other, you’ll need to decide what you want out of your card. If you’re looking for the best possible earning rates or the lowest annual fee, the Amex Gold is an easy choice. If you’re looking for luxury travel benefits and you’re willing to pay more for them, the Sapphire Reserve is the way to go. You also need to think about the redemption side, and spend some time deciding whether your travel goals will be better served with Ultimate Rewards or Membership Rewards points.
Despite not technically being a premium credit card, the Amex Gold gives the Chase Sapphire Reserve a run for its money in several different categories. These two cards complement each other quite well, but they also target slightly different audiences. The Amex Gold is a go-to card for all things food-related, while the Sapphire Reserve is more focused on luxury travel experiences.
For rates and fees of the Amex Gold card, click here.
Featured image by The Points Guy staff.
Additional reporting by Madison Blancaflor.
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WELCOME OFFER: 80,000 Points
TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,600
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.
- Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide, eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out & 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, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
- Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on orders over $12 for a minimum of one year on qualifying food purchases with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
- Earn 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022. That’s 3X points in addition to the 2X points you already earn on travel.