The premium credit card rewards landscape keeps getting more and more competitive. A couple of years ago the Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card was introduced, which sort of became the undisputed most lucrative rewards credit card.
But lately we’ve seen several other incredible cards both introduced and refreshed. For example, a couple of weeks ago we saw the introduction of the Amex Gold Card, which offers an incredible 4x points on U.S. dining and U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 of spend per year). We also just learned the details of the refreshed Citi Prestige Card, which will soon offer 5x points on airfare and dining.
With these recent changes, I’ve seen some people say “it’s your turn, Chase,” though I’m not sure I agree. I think the Chase Sapphire Reserve maintains its position as an industry leader. Why?
The basics of the Chase Sapphire Reserve
To cover the very basics, the Chase Sapphire Reserve has a $450 annual fee and offers:
- A welcome bonus of 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 within three months
- 3x points on dining and travel
- A $300 annual travel credit, which can be applied towards any purchase coded as travel
- A Priority Pass membership with the ability to guest two people into lounges
- Great travel and car rental coverage
- A Global Entry or TSA Pre-Check credit
- Visa Infinite perks, including 30% off Silvercar rentals of two days or more
To me this is essentially a $150 annual fee card ($450 annual fee minus $300 travel credit) that gets you 3x points on dining and travel, a Priority Pass membership, and more.
So, while other cards have introduced some great new perks, there are two primary reasons that I think the Chase Sapphire Reserve is still in a league of its own, and doesn’t necessarily need to respond (though I’d of course love to see the card add 5x points on restaurants, supermarkets, airfare, etc.). 😉
Being able to redeem points for 1.5 cents each
One of the things that still sets Ultimate Rewards apart from both Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou is the flexibility the points offer. All three currencies let you efficiently transfer points to great airline partners.
What sets Ultimate Rewards apart is that if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve you can redeem points for 1.5 cents each towards the cost of a travel purchase, including airfare, hotels, car rentals, etc. That’s a solid use of those points, meaning this is a flexible points currency that can be used towards the cost of paid travel, which is practical for many.
For all practical purposes, Citi ThankYou and Membership Rewards don’t offer the same:
- The Citi Prestige is actually lowering the value of redemptions, and if you want to redeem points for airfare you’re limited to one cent of value per point, rather than the current 1.25 cents of value per point
- The only way to efficiently redeem Membership Rewards points towards the cost of airfare is if you have the Amex Business Platinum, and even there the options are limited
Whether or not all of this is a huge deal depends on how you like to redeem points. Personally I don’t typically redeem points as cash towards the cost of a travel purchase, though I suspect I’m in the minority.
The Ultimate Rewards ecosystem
The other area where I think Ultimate Rewards beats the competition is when it comes to the ecosystem of cards that Chase has created.
There are three credit cards that directly earn Ultimate Rewards points:
- Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card (personal card)
- Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card (personal card)
- Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card (business card)
Then there are four no annual fee credit cards that earn points that can be converted into Ultimate Rewards points, in conjunction with any of the above cards:
- Chase Freedom® (personal card)
- Chase Freedom Unlimited® (personal card)
- Ink Business UnlimitedSM Credit Card (business card)
- Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card (business card)
The fact that there are potentially four no annual fee cards (two of which are business, and two of which are personal) that you can pool with the Sapphire Reserve really adds value to the return that the card can offer on spend.
While Amex and Citi both have multiple cards with which you can earn Membership Rewards and ThankYou points, respectively, I don’t think the ability to pool points is quite as robust:
- Citi doesn’t have any business cards earning ThankYou points
- While Amex has lots of great cards, they don’t have as many lucrative no annual fee cards that you can use in conjunction with a premium card to maximize your spend
So with Ultimate Rewards I think you can have one card with an annual fee and then four no annual fee cards, and I’d say you’re doing a pretty great job maximizing your spend.
Sure, I’d love to see the introduction of 4-5x points on dining and all travel purchases with the Chase Sapphire Reserve. That would of course be amazing.
But being realistic, I don’t actually think Chase’s standing with the Reserve is at risk, in spite of the new competition.
Will my dining and airfare spend shift to a different card? Absolutely. But I don’t think that’s much of a loss to Chase. Much bigger picture, they’ve still created such a flexible and diverse ecosystem that there’s not a true alternative.
How does the new card competition impact your perception of the Sapphire Reserve?