Reader credit card question: What are some alternatives to the Chase Sapphire Reserve?

Feb 10, 2020

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TPG reader Jazzy recently wrote in a response to a TPG Instagram post that she is looking for alternatives to the Chase Sapphire Reserve. She said:

$450 was already pushing it for me, $550 is just way too much. What alternatives are there to this card that gives me as many points for eating out and travel? Ideally with Priority Pass too?

Jazzy

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The recent annual fee increase on the Chase Sapphire Reserve has caused many cardholders to reconsider whether the card is worth a $550 annual fee. It can certainly make sense to keep the Sapphire Reserve for some cardholders. But, especially for cardholders that believe they’ll get little to no added value from the card’s new Lyft and DoorDash benefits, it may be time to consider replacing the Sapphire Reserve.

Related reading: Consider your options before canceling your Chase Sapphire Reserve

Based on Jazzy’s question, she is primarily interested in maximizing the points she earns at restaurants and on travel purchases, but she would also ideally like access to Priority Pass lounges. I assume since she is looking for replacements for the Chase Sapphire Reserve that she would prefer to earn transferable points.

So, let’s focus on some of the best consumer cards that can provide the benefits Jazzy wants for a modest annual fee:

Related reading: The no-annual-fee cards that best the Chase Sapphire Reserve

Comparing the best low annual fee cards for travel, restaurants and lounge access

Annual fee Earning rate for restaurants (Return based on TPG’s valuations) Earning rate for travel (Return based on TPG’s valuations) Lounge access
American Express Green Card $150 (see rates and fees) 3x Membership Rewards points (6%) 3x Membership Rewards points (6%) Up to $100 LoungeBuddy statement credit each calendar year
Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card $95 (see rates and fees) 6x Hilton points at U.S. restaurants (3.6%) 12x Hilton points on purchases made directly with hotels and resorts within the Hilton portfolio (7.2%) 10 free lounge visits each Priority Pass Membership year once enrolled
American Express Gold Card $250 (see rates and fees) 4x Membership Rewards points (8%) 3x Membership Rewards points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com (6%) None, although the up to $100 airline fee credit can be used to purchase lounge access with your chosen airline
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card $95 2x Ultimate Rewards points (4%) 2x Ultimate Rewards points (4%) None
Citi Premier Card $95 2x ThankYou points (3.4%) 3x ThankYou points (5.1%) None

The information for the Citi Premier has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

American Express Green Card

(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)
The Amex Green provides great earnings on travel and at restaurants. (Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)

Welcome bonus: 30,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $2,000 on purchases on your new card in your first three months of card membership. Based on TPG’s valuation of Membership Rewards points at two cents each, this bonus is worth about $600.

Annual fee: $150

Earning: 3x Membership Rewards points on travel including transit (6% return based on TPG’s valuations); 3x points at restaurants worldwide (6% return); 1x points on everything else (2% return)

Lounge benefits: Purchase lounge access through LoungeBuddy and receive up to $100 in statement credits per calendar year

The American Express Green Card provides just as good of a return on travel and dining purchases as the Chase Sapphire Reserve for a much lower annual fee. It also offers two $100 statement credits each calendar year that can more than offset the $150 annual fee for some travelers.

Granted, the travel protections offered by the Amex Green aren’t as extensive as those offered by the Chase Sapphire Reserve, and the lounge access is more limited. But for some travelers, the lower annual fee will easily justify the switch.

Related reading:

Apply here for the American Express Green Card

Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card

(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)
The Hilton Surpass provides 10 Priority Pass lounge entrances each year. (Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)

Welcome bonus: 125,000 Hilton points after you spend $2,000 in purchases on the card within your first three months of card membership. Based on TPG’s valuation of Hilton points at 0.6 cents each, this bonus is worth about $750.

Annual fee: $95

Earning: 12x Hilton points at hotels and resorts within the Hilton portfolio (7.2% return based on TPG valuations); 6x points at U.S. restaurants, at U.S. supermarkets, and at U.S. gas stations (3.6%); 3x points on everything else (1.8%)

Lounge benefits: Complimentary Priority Pass Select membership with 10 free lounge visits each Priority Pass Membership year once enrolled

The Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card provides decent earning at U.S. restaurants and at Hilton properties — but the real reason to have this card is the 10 free lounge visits each Priority Pass Membership year. If you use all 10 visits and don’t get value from any of the cards other benefits, you’ll get each lounge visit for $9.50 — which is a great value, especially if you use your visits at some of the best Priority Pass lounges.

The Hilton Surpass also comes with Hilton Gold status, which is enough to get you complimentary breakfast at all Hilton hotels and space-available room upgrades up to executive type. And you can earn a free weekend night reward from Hilton after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases on your card in a calendar year. It may be worth having the Hilton Surpass Card even if you put most of your spending on another card.

Related reading:

Apply here for the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card

American Express Gold Card

(Photo by Isabelle Raphael)
The Amex Gold is particularly popular with foodies. (Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)

Welcome bonus: 35,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases on your new card in your first three months of card membership. Based on TPG’s valuation of Membership Rewards points at two cents each, this bonus is worth about $700.

Annual fee: $250 (see rates and fees)

Earning: 4x Membership Rewards points when you dine at restaurants worldwide (8% return based on TPG’s valuations); 4x points at U.S. supermarkets on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases (8% return); 3x points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com (6% return); 1x points on everything else (2% return)

Lounge benefits: None, although you can get lounge membership or one-time passes reimbursed through the $100 annual airline fee credit if you incur these expenses on the airline you chose for the credit.

The American Express Gold Card earns an 8% return at restaurants worldwide, which is better than what is earned by the Chase Sapphire Reserve. But the Amex Gold only earns 3x points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com, so many types of travel expenses will only earn 1x. The Amex Gold also doesn’t provide Priority Pass lounge access, so it will only be a good pick if you can maximize the $10 monthly dining credit at select restaurants and the $100 annual airline fee credit.

Related reading:

Apply here for the American Express Gold Card

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

(Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)
The Sapphire Preferred earns bonus points on travel and dining with a sub-$100 annual fee. (Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)

Welcome bonus: 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months after account opening. Based on TPG’s valuation of Chase Ultimate Rewards points at 2 cents each, this bonus is worth about $1,200.

Annual fee: $95

Earning: 2x Chase Ultimate Rewards points on travel and dining (4% return based on TPG’s valuations); 1x points on everything else (2% return)

Lounge benefits: None

The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card earns 2x points instead of 3x points on travel and dining when compared to the Chase Sapphire Reserve, doesn’t come with a Priority Pass Select membership, offers weaker travel protections and only gets 1.25 cents per point when booking through the Chase Travel portal (instead of 1.5 cents per point with the Sapphire Reserve).

But the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card can be a solid downgrade option — or a good option to sign up for once you’re eligible for the sign-up bonus after downgrading to the Chase Freedom or Chase Freedom Unlimited — that will allow you to maintain the rewards you’ve earned with your Sapphire Reserve. Your rewards will only be worth 1 cent each if you downgrade your Sapphire Reserve to the Chase Freedom or Chase Freedom Unlimited. But your rewards can become transferrable again once you add an Ultimate Rewards-earning card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Ink Business Preferred Credit Card to your wallet.

Related reading:

Apply here for the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

Citi Premier Card

Welcome bonus: 60,000 Bonus Points after you make $4,000 in purchases with your card within the first three months of account opening

Annual fee: $95

Earning: 3x ThankYou points on travel including gas stations (5.1% return based on TPG’s valuations), 2x points at restaurants and on entertainment (3.4% return); 1x points on all other purchases (1.7% return)

Lounge benefits: None

If you’d rather earn Citi ThankYou points than American Express Membership Rewards points, the Citi Premier Card is your best bet due to 3x points on travel including gas stations and 2x points at restaurants. Although Citi removed all travel protections from its cards in 2019, the Citi Premier still offers solid extended warranty protection.

Related reading:

Apply here for the Citi Premier Card

Bottom line

If you’re set on not paying the Chase Sapphire Reserve‘s $550 annual fee, this guide hopefully showed you that there are other options that still provide some of the Sapphire Reserve’s most popular benefits. The most appealing option may be to use the American Express Green Card for travel and restaurant expenses and use the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card for Hilton stays and Priority Pass access. Together, the annual fees of these two cards total $245, which is a nice decrease from the Sapphire Reserve’s $550 annual fee.

Alternatively, if you prefer using the Chase Ultimate Rewards program or still have points in your account when the annual fee comes due on your Sapphire Reserve, you may want to downgrade your Sapphire Reserve to the Chase Freedom or Chase Freedom Unlimited. Then, you can apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card once you’re eligible for the sign-up bonus and regain the ability to transfer rewards to partners.

Related guides

For rates and fees of the Amex Green, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Gold, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Surpass, please click here.

Featured image by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy.

American Express® Green Card

WELCOME OFFER: 30,000 Points

TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $600

CARD HIGHLIGHTS: up to $100 annual CLEAR statement credit, up to $100 annual LoungeBuddy statement credit, 3x points on travel and transit, 3x points on restaurants worldwide

*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 30,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $2,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months.
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on all eligible travel, from subway swipes and window seats to hotel stays and city tours.
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points at restaurants worldwide.
  • Receive up to $100 per year in statement credits when you use the American Express® Green Card to pay for your CLEAR® membership at select airports and stadiums across the U.S. and Permissible Biometric Scanning Technology terms: eye scanning, irises scanning and fingerprints scanning.
  • Use the American Express® Green Card to purchase lounge access through LoungeBuddy to any of the lounges in the LoungeBuddy network – no memberships, elite statuses, or first class tickets required. Earn up to $100 in statement credits per calendar year on your LoungeBuddy purchases.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $150 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
See Rates & Fees
Annual Fee
$150
Balance Transfer Fee
See Terms
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

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.

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