3 Ways To Know If The Chase Sapphire Reserve Is Right For You

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A few months ago I wrote a post with three reasons it could make sense to apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card rather than the Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card, even if you think the Reserve may make sense for you in the long run.

While I think a lot of people are familiar with the benefits of the two types of cards, in this post I wanted to quantify a bit better when it could make sense to have one card over the other.

Obviously there’s no math that everyone will agree on, though hopefully at least sharing the framework of how I crunch the numbers will be useful for some.

Sapphire Preferred vs. Reserve basics

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card has a $95 annual fee (waived the first year) and offers:

  • 2x points on dining and travel
  • The ability to redeem points for 1.25 cents each towards the cost of a travel purchase
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Great travel and purchase protection

The Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card has a $450 annual fee and offers:

  • 3x points on dining and travel
  • A $300 annual travel credit
  • A Priority Pass Select membership with guesting privileges
  • The ability to redeem points for 1.5 cents each towards the cost of a travel purchase
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Great travel and purchase protection

The $55 difference

When doing the math to decide which card makes more sense, I generally think of the long term cost difference between the two cards as being $55 per year.

  • The Sapphire Preferred has a $95 annual fee (waived the first year)
  • The Sapphire Reserve has a $450 annual fee, but you get a $300 travel credit that just about anyone should get full value out of, so I view the real “out of pocket” as being $150 per year

Long term your real cost difference (by my math) is $55 per year. In the first year the numbers work out a bit differently, as you’ll end up being “out of pocket” $150 vs. zero.

It’s up to you how you choose to value the first year situation vs. the situation in subsequent years. In general this is one reason it could make sense to first get the Sapphire Preferred and then product change to the Sapphire Reserve after a year (or more).

With those basic thoughts out of the way, let’s look at the three big areas where you could get a lot more value out of the Sapphire Reserve than the Sapphire Preferred.

If you value a Priority Pass membership

One of the great benefits of the Sapphire Reserve is that it offers a Priority Pass membership. You can make unlimited lounge visits, and can take two guests into the lounge with you every visit. If you travel with any frequency then this should be worth way more than $55 per year.


Priority Pass gets you access to over 1,000 lounges around the world

The global network of Priority Pass lounges keeps growing, and they add more and more innovative locations to the network. For example, in addition to traditional airport lounges, we now have almost a dozen airport restaurants in the US where Priority Pass members can eat and drink for free.

There are so many cool Priority Pass lounge concepts, like House Spirits Distillery in Portland

The catch is that nowadays many premium cards come with Priority Pass memberships, and a redundant membership doesn’t really get you anything. For example, I have three Priority Pass memberships, and therefore I value that particular benefit on the Reserve at zero. However, those of us who have multiple Priority Pass memberships are presumably in the minority.

If you spend a lot on dining and travel

One of the key benefits of these two cards is the bonus points they offer on dining and travel:

I value Ultimate Rewards points at 1.7 cents each, so to me that’s a return of 3.4% and 5.1% in those categories, respectively.

In order to recuperate that $55 yearly difference that I talk about above, you’d have to spend ~$3,200 per year in those categories. Obviously these numbers would work out differently if:

  • You value Ultimate Rewards points differently than I do (if you value them at 1.5 cents each then the breakeven cost is closer to ~$3,700)
  • You are trying to calculate the value the first year, since the cost difference between the cards is $150 rather than $55

So based on my valuation, the breakeven point on dining and travel spend with these cards is ~$3,200 per year.


Spend a lot on dining and travel? Triple points will add up quickly

If you want to redeem points for 1.5 cents each

Ultimate Rewards points are flexible, and there are several good ways to use them. You can transfer the points to one of the Ultimate Rewards hotel or airline partners, or you can redeem them as cash towards the cost of a travel purchase:

The points earned on both cards have the same value if you’re transferring them to a partner (you can transfer them at a 1:1 ratio), but if you redeem them as cash towards the cost of a travel purchase, the values are different:

  • Points earned on the Sapphire Preferred can be redeemed for 1.25 cents each towards the cost of a travel purchase
  • Points earned on the Sapphire Reserve can be redeemed for 1.5 cents each towards the cost of a travel purchase

If your goal with Ultimate Rewards points is to redeem them as cash towards the cost of a travel purchase, then the breakeven point here is earning about 22,000 points per year. In other words, if you earned 22,000 points per year you’d have:

  • $275 worth of rewards on the Preferred
  • $330 worth of rewards on the Reserve ($55 more rewards, but you’re also paying $55 more per year out of pocket)

Keep in mind that the 22,000 number is talking about points earned and not dollars spent. So if you have the Reserve and spend $8,000 per year on it exclusively on dining and travel, you’d come out ahead that way (since you’d earn 24,000 points).


You can redeem Ultimate Rewards points to pay for all kinds of travel purchases

Bottom line

The above three points are some of the key differentiators between the two cards. There are other things you have to factor in as well, like the Reserve’s better travel coverage, Global Entry/TSA Pre-Check fee credit, and Visa Infinite perks. However, my goal was to provide generally useful advice that didn’t get too complicated.

While I think both cards are excellent, personally I have the Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card. That’s in spite of the fact that I don’t value the Priority Pass membership (because I have one through other cards as well), and that I don’t redeem points for 1.5 cents each towards the cost of a travel purchase (since I get more value by converting those points to partner programs).

The main benefit that makes me love the Reserve is that it offers triple points on dining and travel. Compared to the Preferred, I feel that I come out ahead if I spend at least ~$3,200 per year on travel and dining on the card, and I most definitely do that.

If you have the Sapphire Preferred or Reserve, how do you justify one card over the other?

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Comments

  1. Quick related question:

    Has anyone applied for a Chase card, gotten the initial Pending Review message, then via the automated app status phone line received an Approval a few days later, then received a letter in the mail with a denial?

    It all sounds weird. I guess maybe I should call Chase and ask, at this point.

  2. @ Colin — How strange. Not that it really matters, but what card was it and what was the stated reason for the denial?

  3. @lucky – I’m thinking I figured it out. Applied for Ink Pref and then Sapphire Pref, back to back (Ink first).

    The next day, calling the automated app status line yielded “We received the first Application on June xx…This application is being reviewed. Expect a response in 7-10 days. We received the second application on June xx. You have been approved. Expect your new card in 7-10 days.”

    The entire time, because Ink was “first”, I always assumed that was the one being reviewed, and Sapphire was the one Approved. But because they were literally back to back (within 20 mins), and with the Sapphire denial, I’m now thinking it is actually the Ink that was approved.

    And now I’m thinking this is the case even more because Chase is offering me to refer folks to the Ink.

  4. Though you mention it in the summary, I don’t understand why you leave out the Global Entry credit. Its as easy to get as the $300 travel credit, the government charges you and right below that line Chase gives you a credit. You can either see that as either putting you $45 ahead of the Sapphire Preferred in year one or annualize it to show a reduced cost of $25 per year. Yes, other cards provide this feature too, but those are typically the same cards that also provide Priority Pass.

    I know many people who finally applied for Global Entry only because it was free once they got the Sapphire Reserve, it was just the nudge that they needed. However, after getting Global Entry and experiencing the convenience it gives them they have valued that feature highly.

  5. Been racking my brain on this. I have a Sapphire Preferred that was changed from the Fairmont card. My wife has the Reserve and I’m an AU on the Reserve. I also have the Ink Cash and Freedom Unlimited. I get Priority Pass from other cards I have so I don’t need that. However we’ve already hit around 10k on the card for travel and dining spend so that’s an additional 10k vs if we put the spend on my Preferred. I wonder if I downgrade my Preferred to a regular Freedom can I still transfer my earned points to her Reserve to redeem at 1.5 or do I have to carry an AF card on my account? A question for Chase I guess.

  6. The content was good, but it always makes me cringe when I see a Points Guy-esque title on this blog!!

  7. @ Justin — You can transfer the points from your Ink Cash and Freedom Unlimited to your wife’s Sapphire Reserve, so your best bet might be to just be an authorized user on her Reserve and get rid of the Sapphire.

  8. @ Shawn C — The reason I leave it out is because:
    a) It’s a benefit most cards only offer every 4-5 years
    b) Nowadays a lot of cards offer it
    c) It’s not something you can easily “cash out,” and it’s tough to decide in what year you want to place the value (in other words, is it a $100 value in year 1, an average of a $20 per year value, or what

    So personally the reason I don’t add that value is because I still haven’t used the benefit of the card. I have a handful of cards with these credits, as do my family members. I can’t use them fast enough. For those who do get value out of this, though, it absolutely should be added to the equation when crunching the numbers on a card.

  9. @Lucky —> You asked, “If you have the Sapphire Preferred or Reserve, how do you justify one card over the other?”

    The CSP was one of the first cards I applied for (and received) once I jumped into the “points & miles game.” At that point, the CSR did not exist, but when it first came out, I was over 5/24 and could not a) apply for it, nor b) receive the 100,000 bonus. I was still over the 5/24 when Chase cut the sign-up bonus from 100k to 50k.

    Meanwhile, I got a Citi Prestige card ($450 AF), and even though it lost the golf benefit and AA Admiral’s Club access, it didn’t matter all that much. (I don’t play golf; I rarely if ever fly AA.). I’ve received a lot of benefits using the “4th Night Free” benefit, trip delay insurance, primary auto insurance, etc. Despite some later devaluations, the card is still quite relevant for me.

    So the questions remain:
    1) How many $450+ AF cards does one need in their wallet?¹
    2) Since I cannot now have both the CSP and the CSR, I have to downgrade my CSP first, *then* apply for the CSR in order to get the sign-up bonus, but I have concerns — rational or not — about then being denied the CSR: then what would I do? At least FOR THE MOMENT, I’m content to stay with the CSP, even though — all things being equal — I *do* spend enough on travel and dining to make the CSR worth having.

    _______________
    ¹ With the devaluations in the SPG program as the two programs are completely merged as of August 1st, I’m seriously thinking about the Hilton Aspire…

  10. You forgot to mention the great 80k(with 20k spend) offer for the sapphire preferred. would definitely make to comparison different…

  11. @lucky – Ah thanks Ben. That clears up that confusion. I’ll probably product change it down to a Freedom (she has one, I don’t) and we can double up on the quarter 5’s when it makes sense to.

  12. Still cannot quite understand why this card would be better than AMEX Platinum. Yes, the 3X points on dining and travel are super as well as the redemption. Yet, AMEX goes beyond priority passes. They have their own lounges among other lounge access. They also offer TSA PreChek or Global Entry reimbursements. Etc, and Etc.

  13. Lucky, I like that you are always very responsive on these credit cards posts. Very good customer service. Taking care of paying customers.

  14. There are many alternatives to the Sapphire Reserve, such as the Altitude, the Prestige, the Propel, the Ink Preferred, the Amex Plat/PRG, and the various hotel cards. All of these cards match or beat the earning on the Sapphire Reserve and, unlike the Sapphire Reserve, offer fringe benefits which offset 100% of the annual fee.

    This leave the Sapphire Reserve with supremacy in only unique category: 3x on dining. Given that the Sapphire Reserve beats its next best competitor only by 1-2% in this category, one would have to spend 7.5-15k a year on dining to make the $150 annual worthwhile.

    Throw in the additional opportunity cost of not coverting the card to a freedom ($400-600?) this card just isn’t a keeper after the first year.

  15. Stanley:
    My reason for going with Chase CSR over Amex Platinum was simple…

    Footprint

    There are just too many places that don’t take Amex

    Chase CSR plus Freedom Unlimited is a good combo (i don’t have time for rotating category spend) and its Visa, largest footprint of any cc worldwide

    I used to upset Amex but tired of hearing “we don’t accept that”

    Only issue with CSR… cannot be Swiped using old time machine cause it has no raised numbers. This can be an issue developing countries

  16. Sapphire reserve isn’t a keeper i even in first year given you can only apply for one sapphire card in 48 months. Not unless they bring back the 100 bonus.

  17. I think you can make any credit card or credit card family look good, bad or indifferent by cherry-picking your scenario. For example, my wife and I hold the Chase trifecta of CSR, Freedom and FU and earn about 100,000 URs each year. We are not high end travelers and very rarely transfer points for flights or hotels. We usually redeem them through the Chase portal.

    In our situation, the additional .25% return on redemptions equals $250 per year, which more than offsets the $150 net difference between the CSR and CSP. We also take advantage of the Global Entry and frequent the Priority Pass lounges. I’m certain there are those who would question our choices and point out the “higher value” we could obtain by putting our spending on other cards. But, there’s also something that can be said about the ease and convenience of basically managing three cards on an ongoing basis and while it’s difficult to place a value on that, it does represent a legitimate reward.

  18. I get that 55/0.017 = 3235.29. This means you’ll need to spend 3235.29 to get enough points to cover the $55 net difference. But doesn’t that also mean you’d need 1/3 of that spend (1078.43) in travel/dining to get the same amount of points?

  19. @ James….What’s the benefit to having the CSP and the other 2 opposed to just having the CSR and the Chase Freedom unlimited? ( Aside from the signup bonus.)

  20. @David L, I’m not sure I understand your question. We have the CSR, Freedom and Freedom Unlimited. Freedom for the 5% quarterly bonus, Freedom Unlimited for the 1.5% on everyday spend and the CSR for dining and travel and to maximize the value of our UR points.

  21. Real life example: Downgraded the CSP yesterday to the Freedom. The new card showed on my Chase account immediately. Applied for the Reserve this morning at 7:30am and got the “we’ll let you know in 30 days” screen. Called the reconsideration line at 10:30am, answered a few questions and moved some credit around and was approved immediately. The new Reserve card showed up immediately in my account.

    Thanks to Lucky and everyone’s previous comments on OMA for walking me thru to my success story!

  22. @Lucky —> You wrote:
    “@ Shawn C — The reason I leave it out is because:
    a) It’s a benefit most cards only offer every 4-5 years
    b) Nowadays a lot of cards offer it
    c) It’s not something you can easily “cash out,” and it’s tough to decide in what year you want to place the value (in other words, is it a $100 value in year 1, an average of a $20 per year value, or what”

    OK, but…

    1a) What difference does that make? 1b) Every 4 years is better than every 5.
    2) Who cares if “a lot of cards offer it”? The point here is that THIS card offers it; in other words, it IS a benefit of the CSR, whether you like it or not!
    3) Specious argument and excuse: Since you can only use it 1x every 4-5 years, depending upon the card, it’s worth $25 or $20 every year, depending upon whether you receive the benefit every 4 or 5 years. This is *especially* true if you hold more than one card with this benefit, as you can use the other card(s) for your partner, kids, friends, some stranger you met at the beach, whatever!

  23. Lucky,
    I currently have
    1. Old Ink Plus
    2. Saphire reserve
    3. Business Unlimited
    4. Business Preferred

    Can I get approved of INK Cash?

  24. @ James. OK, it’s clear now. I didn’t realize there was a Freedom and Freedom unlimited and what they each did/offered. The Chase “trifecta” has been spelled out clearly in part articles, but just getting it now.

  25. For many of us, it is simple. Three hundred back for travel in the first year. Check! Use the Freedom or Freedom unlimited for day to day and transfer the points to the CSR. Check! Use the priority pass at a restaurant or club when traveling three or four times a year and usually both my wife and I are together so that is double. Check! Having the comfort of the travel benefits, rental car pay first insurance, shorter flight delay benefits to many cards. Check! A visa card so can use everywhere a credit card is taken. Check! Points worth three to five percent savings depending on how I use them. Check! Best $450 dollars I have spent hands down. Get it!!!

  26. Not clear from the comments. If you downgrade a CSP, can you immediately turn around and apply for a new CSR and get the 50k bonus, or does it have to be 48 months after receiving the CSP bonus?

  27. I’m coming up on the one year point with my CSP next month. should i upgrade my CSP to the CSR? would I lose out on the intro bonus if I do this ? what are your thoughts?

  28. I have the opportunity to upgrade from CSP to CSR (no bonus). I already put all dining on an Uber Visa with 4% cash back, but I’m looking at better value from the Chase Travel Service at 0.015/UR point.

    However. Can anyone tell me what the Visa Ultimate benefits are from this card? I know what little the Visa Preferred program gives, but what perks (if any) does the Visa Ultimate program deliver on?

    Also, does $300 on travel include hotels (I’m assuming this is a yes). Thanks!

  29. @Stanley
    Carry them both. I see CSR slightly better than AMEX for general use.
    AMEX Plat is useful only for x5 airfare and slightly cheaper premium cabin fares (it pay off in 2-3 flights). Centurion lounges are overcrowded. MR transfer are on par with CSR.

    @Jason Brandt Lewis

    1. You should have as many $450 cards as long as you get more than $450. Remember different people assign a different value to each benefit. Same goes with ANY cards with annual fee, as long as you get more than you pay, you should carry the most number of cards you can. Don’t forget the opportunity cost. Too many cards = less likely to get more and go over 5/24.
    2. What reason that makes you think you would not get approved for CSR?
    2.1 An alternative is to be an authorized user on CSR to minimize the risk.

    and about $100 being a specious argument. I have so many TSA credit unused, I don’t even care. For sure I’m not going to trust a stranger with my card nor should a stranger trust me to apply TSA stuff for them. And hey most my friends and family DO have at least one card that give them those credits too. So yes, I value it across the board much less than $20 per year per card. Too bad my “Emotional Support Animal” Kangaroo and Miniature Horse can’t fly anymore, nor do they have SSN# or “paw prints”, otherwise they would have had PreChecks.

    Now I think you have FOMO for the CSR. So this is what is better than AMEX.
    1. x3 Dining
    2. Car rental insurance (FYI Prestige is secondary in USA)
    3. Travel insurance (now that Prestige sucks)
    If you rent a lot and eat out a lot, for sure it is worth it.

  30. Should my husband apply for the CSR? He won’t get a bonus because he has had a CSP (1 year ago) and downgraded to the CF. He also has a Chase Ink Preffered.

    We do most of our spending on dinning and travel. And are trying to accumulate as many points as possible for a major trip in a few years. Should we keep trying for signup bonuses with other Chase cards 1st? Like the new Chase Ink Cash?

    I have a CSP and Ink Preffered so I can’t get a CSR bonus either, for 3 yrs anyway. Thanks!

  31. @eskimo —> I’m not sure I agree that one “should have as many $450 [AF] cards as long as you get more than $450 [in benefits].” In many cases, there is (IMHO) benefit in having the $450 AF card from X but the $95 card from Y.

    In June, when I said I might not get approved for the CSR, a) I was over 5/24, and b) I said that I had ” concerns — RATIONAL OR NOT — about then being denied the CSR.” [emphasis added]. I have, in a sense, been screwed by Chase over the CSR without ever having one. First, I was over 5/24 when the card was introduced, and lost the opportunity for the 100k signup bonus; then, I lost the opportunity for the 50k bonus; finally Chase decided you couldn’t hold both the CSP and the CSR at the same time.

    Now, I can only get the CSR either by upgrading with no bonus; OR by closing/downgrading my CSP, waiting 24 months, and the applying for the CSR . Screw that, and screw Chase! (Clearly it is *not* a matter of “FOMO.”)

    About @Lucky’s argument in re: the $100 Global Entry credit, let’s agree to disagree. It *is* a specious argument, IMHO, and Lucky even admits it to a certain extent when he wrote, “So personally the reason I don’t add that value is because I still haven’t used the benefit of the card…For those who do get value out of this, though, it ABSOLUTELY SHOULD BE ADDED to the equation when crunching the numbers on a card.” [emphasis added].

    And where did I ever suggest you should give your card to a stranger? When I wrote, “you can use the other card(s) for your partner, kids, friends, some stranger you met at the beach, whatever!”, I was saying there are no limits with regard to whom you can use the credit for — it’s not restricted to the primary cardholder or the AU’s. Mentioning a stranger was hyperbole to make the point (unlike you re: your comments about your kangaroo and miniature horse).

    Finally, I get Primary car rental insurance with the CSP; I get lots of points from dining out as it is with other cards, though now that I’m retired, I am eating out less and less anyway. I still get value from the Citi Prestige 4th Night Free benefit, FWIW, and I’m quite content with the travel insurance I receive from using both the CSP and the Citi Prestige cards, etc., etc.

    As things stand, I have no plans to acquire any more $450 AF cards, unless something dramatically changes. The ones I have are enough for me at the moment. I do like the idea of having my wife apply for the CSR, though, and being an AU on her card. But that’s up to her….

  32. @Jason Brandt Lewis

    Chill, especially if you are retired. Those wacky ESA is sarcasm to people who gave an official vocabulary for ‘pets’. On a side note, there isn’t any cards out there that seem to target retired (this group is not just seniors anymore) demographic.

    You kinda missed my point of $450 or $95 or any fees. Like I said, as long as you get more than you pay, you should carry the most number of cards you can.

    I don’t care you rational or not, I’m just trying to help you get the card. Hence I asked for the reason. Your reason could be you are afraid of heights so Chase might deny you (irrational but I still respect it). I could then advise you height plays no factor in the decision, etc.

    You are also mad that Chase reduce the offer to 50k. My point is if you hold grudge, you get 0. FOMO (of 100k) is how I see it.

    Agree to disagree on $100 credit. I just want to clear it up. Timing of when I got the card effects this and will be biased. If I got CSR before AMEX Plat, I don’t think it is fair to value CSR $20 and AMEX $0. Now if I have 8 cards that gives me and divide it equally per year, $2.5 is negligible.
    I literally need to give it out to strangers since everyone close to me have their own cards that give them this benefit so for me it is much less than that. And I did ask around.

    You should talk to your wife about CSR, since you can transfer your points from CSP and get better value for airfare there. Some retirees travel a lot, and the x2 x3 difference does add up. Citi for me is only the 4th night and I will lose the card if that benefit goes away. Travel insurance and golf was the key. Not anymore.
    Another great alternate card that isn’t covered often here (or any referral blogs) is the CityNationalBank Crystal card, that would be a great combo with your CSP and can literally replace CSR. Getting this card isn’t easy but if you let them manage your assets, with (retired assets) it might not be that hard.

  33. @eskimo —> In the FWIW mode, I don’t need to “chill out,” as I am not upset about anything. (Well, OK, I’m still upset that Chase keeps changing the rules surrounding the Sapphire family of cards and the bonus structure, but — c’est la vie.)

    I have no doubt that my credit score and history are good enough to get the CSR. I’m not really worried about that. But I’m not happy about having to either upgrade with no bonus, or cancel my existing card and waiting 24 months…the irrational concern about possibly *not* qualifying for the CSR stems simply from the fact that who of us knows exactly where we’ll be and what will happen two years from now? No one. So, “what if….”? ;^)

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