One year of earning and burning with Chase Sapphire Reserve

Feb 28, 2020

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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with current information and offers. It was originally published on July 19, 2017.

If you’re new to travel rewards 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. 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 travel rewards cards on the market: the Chase Sapphire Reserve. Let’s take a look at how lucrative this card can be in just your first year.

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In This Post

Sign-up bonus and benefits

(Photo by Wyatt Smith)
(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)

The Chase Sapphire Reserve is currently offering a sign-up bonus of 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.

This bonus is worth $1,000 based on TPG’s most recent valuations, thanks to the various ways to redeem Ultimate Rewards points, including valuable transfer partners like United and Hyatt. The card also offers three points per dollar spent on travel and dining purchases — which are both broadly defined — as well as 10x points per dollar spent on Lyft rides through March 2022.

Even though the card carries a $550 annual fee, numerous other benefits can add significant value:

Related reading: Six little-known Chase Sapphire Reserve perks

Earning points in your first year

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

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 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.

Here’s a quick table that shows how these spending patterns in the first year of card membership would translate to Ultimate Rewards points:

Category Spending Earning rate Points
Sign-up bonus N/A N/A 50,000
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%

Healthcare $2,464 1 point/$ 2,464
All other expenses $6,908 1 point/$ 6,908
TOTALS $33,785 N/A 94,001

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 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

Honolulu, Hawaii. (Photo by Timur Alexandrov / EyeEm)
Honolulu, Hawaii. (Photo by Timur Alexandrov/EyeEm)

Planning a trip using points and miles to the Aloha State isn’t always the easiest goal in this hobby. 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 the carrier’s distance-based award chart to book tickets from several gateways to Hawaii for just 26,000 Avios round-trip per person, including Los Angeles (LAX) and Phoenix (PHX) on American or San Diego (SAN), Oakland (OAK), Portland (PDX) and Seattle (SEA) on Alaska. This means you can book three round-trip tickets and even have 16,000 Ultimate Rewards points left over.

Transferring to Singapore Krisflyer for economy-class flights 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, though this would only get you two round-trip economy tickets with the aforementioned 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

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)
The Park Hyatt St. Kitts is a beautiful Category 7 property. (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

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 the program’s excellent Category 7 properties or 18 free nights at the program’s impressive Category 1 properties.

Note that World of Hyatt is moving to peak, standard and off-peak pricing starting March 22, 2020. So, after March 22, 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 Category 1 nights 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.

Related reading: Should I get the World Of Hyatt Credit Card or transfer points from Chase instead?

Two or three nights in New York City plus airfare from multiple U.S. cities

Manhattan view from the Top of the Rock (Miguel Sanz / Getty Images)
Use your Ultimate Rewards points to “pay” for a weekend trip to New York City. (Photo by Miguel Sanz/Getty Images)

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 utilize 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 farther 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, non-stop tickets from Atlanta (ATL) to New York (LGA) for a random weekend in June for just 12,916 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. While I’d recommend going the Hyatt route, it’s always nice to have alternatives, depending on where you’d like to stay.

Related reading: From budget to luxe: Use hotel points at these 9 NYC hotels

Bottom line

You can boost your Ultimate Rewards earning by adding other Ultimate Rewards cards to your wallet. (Photo by The Points Guy)

The Ultimate Rewards program is one of my favorite transferrable 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:

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.

Related guides

Additional reporting by Katie Genter.

Featured image by Summer Hull/The Points Guy.

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

SIGN-UP BONUS: 50,000 Points


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.

Apply Now
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
Regular APR
16.99%-23.99% Variable
Annual Fee
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.