One year of earning and burning with Chase Sapphire Reserve
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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with current information.
If you’re new to rewards credit cards, one of the best ways to get started is by choosing a solid travel rewards credit card. If you aren’t already a road warrior, your everyday spending habits play a huge role in earning points and miles — especially since TPG’s recent survey on credit cards shows that most Americans have between zero and two credit cards.
So, let’s consider how easy it is to earn rewards by opening and using a single card for one year, as well as what types of rewards one year of spending could provide. Today, I’ll consider one of the most popular premium travel rewards cards on the market: the Chase Sapphire Reserve.
Sign-up bonus and benefits
This bonus is worth $1,000 based on TPG’s most recent valuations, thanks to the various ways you can redeem Ultimate Rewards points. The card also offers 3 points per dollar spent on travel and dining purchases as well as 10x points per dollar spent on Lyft rides through March 2022.
Even though the Sapphire Reserve carries a $550 annual fee, numerous other benefits can add significant value:
- $300 annual travel credit
- Priority Pass Select membership
- Special hotel benefits through Chase’s Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection
- Up to $120 in statement credits on DoorDash purchases (up to $60 in 2020 and up to $60 in 2021) and at least one year of free DashPass
- Up to a $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry or TSA Precheck
- One complimentary Lyft Pink membership for 12 consecutive months when you activate by March 31, 2022
Related reading: Six little-known Chase Sapphire Reserve perks
Earning points in your first year
So, if you open the Chase Sapphire Reserve, earn the sign-up bonus and use the card exclusively for the first year, where does that leave you? Obviously, the answer depends on your spending patterns. For this analysis, I used consumer-expenditure data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for the most recent year available (2017) to estimate what an “average” household would spend (and thus earn) on the Chase Sapphire Reserve in one year.
In doing so, I made the following assumptions:
- Only the “other lodging” category under “shelter” can easily be paid with a credit card (since you’ll usually pay a fee for paying mortgage and rent payments with credit cards), and these transactions earn 3x points as travel purchases.
- The “vehicle purchases” category under “transportation” can’t be paid with a credit card, but all other transportation expenses can.
- 10% of the “public and other transportation” consists of Lyft rides
- 50% of the “healthcare” category consists of premiums and thus can’t be paid with a credit card.
- All “personal insurance and pensions” expenditures can’t be paid with a credit card.
- All other expenses (including “entertainment” and “education“) can be paid with a credit card.
Your situation may differ substantially, so feel free to adjust these assumptions to calculate your earning potential. Likewise, if you plan to use another card for some expenses, be sure to consider that as well.
Here’s a quick table that shows how these spending patterns in the first year of card membership would translate to Ultimate Rewards points:
|Food at home||$4,363||1 point/$||4,363|
|Food away from home||$3,365||3 points/$||10,095|
|Alcoholic beverages||$558||1 point/$||558|
|Housing (other lodging)||$782||3 points/$||2,346|
|Utilities, fuels and public services||$3,836||1 point/$||3,836|
|Household operations||$1,412||1 point/$||1,412|
|Housekeeping supplies||$755||1 point/$||755|
|Household furnishings and equipment||$1,987||1 point/$||1,987|
|Apparel and services||$1,833||1 point/$||1,833|
|Transportation (gasoline)||$1,968||1 point/$||1,968|
|Other vehicle expenses||$2,842||1 point/$||2,842|
|Public and other transportation||$712||3 points/$ for 90%
10 points/$ for 10%
|All other expenses||$6,908||1 point/$||6,908|
As you can see, the “average” American consumer would earn 94,001 Ultimate Rewards points in his or her first year of using the Chase Sapphire Reserve. Not too shabby!
Related reading: Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card review
Redeeming points from your first year
Of course, earning points is one thing, but knowing how to redeem Ultimate Rewards points for maximum value is a completely different story. Fortunately, the Ultimate Rewards program has a variety of valuable redemptions, most of which involve transferring to the program’s partners at a 1:1 ratio.
Here’s a sample of what the average consumer could get from one year of using the Chase Sapphire Reserve.
Up to four round-trip economy tickets to Hawaii
Planning a trip using points and miles to the Aloha State isn’t always the easiest goal. However, you have a wealth of options at your disposal through the Ultimate Rewards program.
My personal favorite is for West Coast residents. By transferring points to British Airways, you can take advantage of BA’s distance-based award chart to book tickets from several gateways to Hawaii for just 26,000 Avios round-trip per person. For example, you could fly from Los Angeles (LAX) and Phoenix (PHX) on American Airlines or San Diego (SAN), Oakland (OAK), Portland (PDX) and Seattle (SEA) on Alaska Airlines. This means you can book three round-trip tickets and even have 16,000 Ultimate Rewards points left over.
Transferring to Singapore Airlines Krisflyer for economy-class flights to Hawaii on Alaska is also a great option. Flights from most Rocky Mountain states cost 23,000 Krisflyer miles round-trip, while flights from California, Oregon and Washington cost 24,000 miles round-trip (see this pdf for rates). Flights from many central U.S. states cost 25,000 miles round-trip. So, if you happen to be traveling from an eligible Rocky Mountain state, you may be able to stretch your Ultimate Rewards points to four round-trip flights.
Finally, you could always transfer to Singapore (35,000 miles) for round-trip flights from anywhere in the continental U.S. on United. But this would only get you two round-trip economy tickets with your haul of Ultimate Rewards points.
Related reading: The best ways to use credit card award-night certificates in Hawaii
Three nights in a top-tier Hyatt property
Another incredibly valuable transfer partner through Ultimate Rewards is World of Hyatt. After a year of spending on the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you’ll have enough points for three free nights at Hyatt’s excellent Category 7 properties or 18 free nights at Hyatt’s impressive Category 1 properties.
Note that World of Hyatt will move to peak, standard and off-peak pricing in 2021. Once that happens you may only be able to get two Category 7 nights during peak times — but you also may be able to get up to 26 nights at Category 1 properties during off-peak times. Whether you want to splurge for a couple of nights or stretch your points to the max, you can get a ton of value from the World of Hyatt program.
Two or three nights in New York City plus airfare from multiple U.S. cities
If you’re looking to redeem your points for a trip that includes both flights and hotel, consider a weekend trip to the Big Apple.
For flights, one of the most economical options would be for those readers east of the Mississippi and would again use British Airways. Flights under 651 miles in distance on partner airlines such as American require only 6,000 Avios per person each way. So, if you can find availability on American, you and a friend could fly to New York City and back from cities like Charlotte (CTL) and Detroit (DTW) for just 24,000 Avios round-trip. Slightly more distant cities such as Miami (MIA) and Chicago (ORD) would cost 9,000 Avios per person each way, for a total of 36,000 Avios for you and a friend round-trip.
You also could consider transferring to Southwest Rapid Rewards, as the carrier serves New York-LaGuardia (LGA) and Long Island MacArthur Airport (ISP). Even though Southwest follows a revenue-based redemption scheme, you can still get some great value on Wanna Get Away fares. At a very quick glance, I was able to find round-trip, nonstop tickets from Atlanta (ATL) to New York (LGA) for a random weekend in October for just 11,760 points each. Or you could redeem your Ultimate Rewards points through the Chase travel portal to book Southwest flights.
Related reading: How to get to New York City on points and miles
For hotels, you could always look at spending a couple of nights at one of the many World of Hyatt properties in Manhattan. My favorites are the Andaz Fifth Avenue (25,000 Hyatt points per night) and the Andaz Wall Street (20,000 Hyatt points per night), but the Gild Hall (15,000 Hyatt points per night) isn’t a bad choice, either. You also have the option of transferring points to Marriott, which has several Category 4 and Category 5 properties in the city. I’d recommend going the Hyatt route, but it’s always nice to have alternatives.
Related reading: From budget to luxe: Use hotel points at these 9 NYC hotels
The Ultimate Rewards program is one of my favorite transferable currencies and regularly clocks in as one of the most valuable currencies on TPG’s monthly valuations. The Chase Sapphire Reserve, meanwhile, is generally regarded as one of the best travel rewards credit cards out there, giving you a potent combination and unlocking a variety of redemptions.
Keep in mind, too, that the above calculation may even be a bit too conservative because:
- The calculation assumes that you’re the average consumer. If you typically spend more in a year, your earnings will be even higher.
- The calculation assumes that you don’t make any purchases through an online shopping portal. The Ultimate Rewards shopping portal allows you to earn bonus points at many different online retailers, which provides a nice way to boost your earnings even more.
- The calculation assumes that you only open one card. Other Chase Ultimate Rewards cards, such as the Chase Freedom Unlimited, Chase Freedom and the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card, can be opened and used alongside the Chase Sapphire Reserve for even more earning potential.
The information for the Chase Freedom, Ink Business Preferred card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
I hope this post has illustrated just how rewarding a single card (especially in the first year) can be when it comes to free travel.
Apply here for the Chase Sapphire Reserve with a 50,000 point bonus
Additional reporting by Katie Genter.
Featured image by John Gribben/The Points Guy.
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.
- 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.