Chase Sapphire Reserve vs. Amex Platinum: Which is better for airfare purchases?
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To The Point
Both the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Platinum Card from American Express are excellent choices for airfare purchases.
Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new information about both cards.
One of the questions that TPG readers ask most often is: “Which credit card is best for airfare purchases?” The answer can depend on which cards earn the most points or miles per dollar spent on airfare, whether a card offers any discounts specifically on airline purchases or perks like free checked bags, and what kinds of travel protections each card includes.
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Two products that perennially top our lists of the best rewards credit cards for airfare purchases are the Chase Sapphire Reserve® and The Platinum Card® from American Express. As two of the most popular premium rewards cards available, the Sapphire Reserve and Amex Platinum regularly go head-to-head in discussions of earning rates, benefits and annual fees. Now that Chase has unveiled new perks — and a higher $550 annual fee — it’s time to see if it’s keeping up with the Amex Platinum card and its $695 annual fee (see rates and fees).
In this post, we are limiting our analysis to a few key criteria that relate to airfare purchases. If you are interested in seeing how the two cards stack up in a broader range of categories, we have a detailed comparison that drills down farther into the reasons you might want one or the other. To read more about the ins and outs of each card, check out our reviews of the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Platinum Card from American Express.
In the meantime, here’s a look at how they rate specifically on airfare purchases and the benefits each has to offer.
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How many points does each card earn on airfare? The good news is, both are strong contenders.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve earns a respectable 3x Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on a broad spectrum of travel purchases that includes airfare (including tickets purchased via an online travel agency such as Expedia). Ultimate Rewards points transfer to 10 airline and three hotel partners, including Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, Marriott and Hyatt.
Based on current TPG valuations, each Ultimate Rewards point is worth 2 cents apiece, so 3x points per dollar is a roughly 6% return on spending.
The Platinum Amex card cardholders earn 5 points per dollar spent on airfare purchased either directly from an airline or through Amex Travel. Starting Jan. 1, 2021, earn 5x points on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year. Amex Membership Rewards points transfer to 19 airline and three hotel partners, including Air France/KLM, Delta Air Lines and Marriott.
By TPG valuations, Membership Rewards points are also worth around 2 cents apiece, so your return on spending could be pegged at around 10% specifically for airfare.
However, as with all things points-related, these values are relative. You might be forced to purchase the majority of your travel through a channel that is neither direct from the airline or via Amex Travel — if, say, you have a corporate travel desk you have to use.
Determining which card’s earning rates you will be able to maximize depends on how you typically purchase airfare and which points program holds more opportunities for you.
This brings us to our second criterion: Which card’s travel discounts and fee refunds are a better fit for your spending?
Every year, Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders receive up to a $300 credit on travel purchases that is applied automatically. There’s no need to specify which purchases you want it to count toward. Chase just issues statement credits against your travel purchases until you hit that $300 mark every cardmember year.
This benefit is easy to take advantage of with minimal effort. It counts toward many types of travel buys, but airfare is definitely included. Note you don’t start earning 3 points per dollar spent on travel until your entire $300 travel credit is spent.
Each calendar year, cardholders must specify a particular airline to which they want this credit to apply. They can choose from the following carriers:
- Alaska Airlines
- American Airlines
- Hawaiian Airlines
This credit cannot be put toward airfare, but it can be used for the following:
- Checked baggage fees
- Overweight/oversize baggage fees
- Change fees
- Phone reservation fees
- Pet flight fees
- Airport lounge day passes and annual memberships
- Seat assignment fees
- Inflight amenity fees (beverages, food, pillows/blankets, etc.)
- Inflight entertainment fees (excluding wireless internet)
So, although it’s not strictly an airfare perk and you do have to make some effort to leverage it, this benefit is something to consider if you’re likely to make airline purchases that fall within these categories.
On top of that, The Platinum Card from American Express offers its cardmembers savings through a lesser-known benefit called the International Airline Program (IAP). The IAP is a booking portal (or service, if you want to do it via phone or online chat) that often yields significant discounts on premium-economy, business-class or first-class tickets on 25 partner airlines, including Air France/KLM, Cathay Pacific, Delta, Emirates, Lufthansa, Qantas, Singapore Airlines and others.
Cardholders can either use their card or pay with points from their account to book. We have found that reservations through the IAP can save thousands of dollars on some premium fares. So if your airline bookings tend to have you sitting up front, this benefit might be all the reason you need to carry The Platinum Card from American Express.
Related reading: Best airline credit cards
When you use the Sapphire Reserve to purchase an airline ticket, it confers all sorts of value-added benefits in case things go awry.
The card’s trip interruption and cancellation coverage maxes out at $10,000 per person or $20,000 per trip. Its trip delay protection kicks in at six hours or if your delay requires an overnight stay and is capped at $500 per ticket for things like meals and lodging. With delayed baggage protection, when a bag is missing for six hours or more, cardholders are covered up to $100 per day for up to five days for purchases like clothes and toiletries. Lost luggage is covered up to $3,000 per passenger.
Related reading: Your guide to Chase’s trip insurance coverage
Although the Amex Platinum did not offer a ton of travel protections before, Amex revamped the card’s coverage and benefits for 2020. Now cardmembers are eligible for trip cancellation or delay coverage of up to $10,000 per trip and $20,000 per account each consecutive 12-month period on round-trip, one-way, or combinations of round-trip and one-way tickets purchased entirely with the card (taxes and fees on award tickets as well as using Pay With Points also count). The card’s new trip delay insurance starts the clock at six hours and covers up to $500 per trip. It also offers lost luggage coverage of up to $3,000, but not baggage delay insurance.
Aside from airfare-specific bonuses and perks, you might want to consider a few other factors when choosing between these two cards.
First, the Chase Sapphire Reserve’s annual fee increased to $550 in January 2020 (the $550 fee applies to renewals after April 1, 2020) and its current sign-up bonus is 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months from account opening. It refunds cardholders for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fees (up to $100) and gets cardholders into more than 1,300 Priority Pass lounges at airports around the world.
One of its unsung perks is that it includes automatic primary insurance on most car rentals. The Sapphire Reserve also can save you on rides to the airport because it earns 10x points on Lyft rides and cardholders will be able to get a year of Lyft Pink for free (15% off Lyft rides and more). Cardholders also get $60 in DoorDash credit for 2020 and another $60 in DoorDash credit in 2021. Plus, when you set your DoorDash default payment to your Sapphire Reserve card (by Dec. 31, 2021) you’ll get at least 12 months of complimentary DashPass (no delivery fee).
The Platinum Card from American Express costs $695 per year to carry (see rates and fees) and is currently fielding a welcome offer of 100,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on the Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Among its benefits are a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit (up to $100), up to $200 worth of Uber credits annually and both Marriott Bonvoy Gold and Hilton Honors Gold elite status. It also grants access to Priority Pass lounges, Delta Sky Clubs when flying Delta and Amex’s own Centurion Lounges. Enrollment required for select benefits.
Related reading: Best cards with travel protections
Both the Chase Sapphire Reserve and The Platinum Card from American Express are excellent choices for airfare purchases. They both earn bonus points on airfare and include some great travel protections. The Chase card’s bonus earning usually applies no matter which portal you use to purchase your tickets, and its $300 annual travel credit is easier to use than the Platinum Card’s and can be put directly toward airline tickets.
On the other hand, the Amex card’s annual credit for up to $200 in airline incidental fees and participation in the International Airline Program might make more sense for travelers who can book through Amex Travel and tend to buy tickets in premium cabins.
Finally, you should think about whether you will get more use out of Chase Ultimate Rewards points and that program’s transfer partners (not to mention the 1.5 cents-per-point rate on direct redemptions for travel through the Ultimate Rewards portal) or those of American Express Membership Rewards. Once you answer these questions, you should be able to figure out which card will be better for your airfare purchases.
Featured photo by Josh Gribben/The Points Guy.
For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum card, click here.
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