The Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Sapphire Preferred are two of the most sought after travel rewards credit cards on the market. The cards both have great bonus categories, sign-up bonuses, and many valuable travel and purchase protections. However, these cards come with vastly different benefits and annual fees. So here’s a look at whether you should apply for the Sapphire Reserve or the Sapphire Preferred.
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Update January 2020: The Sapphire Reserve
The sign-up bonus for the Chase Sapphire Reserve is dropping from 100,000 Ultimate Rewards to 50,000 come March 11, 2017, so both cards will soon have the following sign-up bonus.
- 50,000 Ultimate Rewards after spending $4,000 within the first 3 months
(The Sapphire Preferred has the added bonus of 5,000 Ultimate Rewards when you add an authorized user and make your first purchase).
Since the 50,000 bonus is now on par with the Sapphire Preferred, the additional benefits and perks of the two cards are going to be more relevant than ever when making a decision on which card to apply for, so let’s take a look at those.
- Chase Sapphire Reserve: $550 not waived
- Chase Sapphire Preferred: $95, waived the first year
The annual fee is usually the ultimate determining factor for many people. The fact that the annual fee is only $95 and that it’s waived the first year makes a lot of people want to jump on the Preferred instead of the Reserve.
However, you shouldn’t base your decision on the annual fee alone. You need to look at the benefits that the card offers and also take into consideration your own spending habits. Don’t be immediately turned off by the $550 annual fee of the Reserve!
Keep reading to find out why.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve comes with a $300 travel credit. This travel credit can be applied to any purchase that is coded under the travel category. This is extremely broad and makes it ridiculously easy to take advantage of the travel credit. Per the Chase website, travel may include:
airlines, hotels, motels, timeshares, car rental agencies, cruise lines, travel agencies, discount travel sites, campgrounds and operators of passenger trains, buses, taxis, limousines, ferries, toll bridges and highways, and parking lots and garages.
I’ve also had random excursions like scuba diving code as travel so you never know how broad this category might be. I don’t know many travelers who wouldn’t spend at least $300 on these things within a year, so it’s easy to honestly say that the $300 travel credit and $60 DoorDash credit bring the effective annual fee of the Reserve to $190.
So in reality, you’re looking at an annual fee of $190 not waived the first year versus a $95 annual fee waived the first year.
Also, keep in mind that this credit is given out per calendar year. That means you could apply and be approved for the Reserve in May of 2017 and receive your $300 travel credit in May of 2017 and again in January of 2018. In other words, you can receive $600 before you pay your annual fee a second time and net $190.
The Reserve also comes with a $100 statement credit for Global Entry/TSA Pre-Check. If you don’t already have that and were planning on getting it, then that’s another $100 to knock off the annual fee for the first year.
Read here for more about Global Entry.
Chase Sapphire Reserve Priority Pass access allows complimentary access to you and the guests in your “travel party.” Which means all the guests accompanying you can enter subject to availability and the rules of the lounge (some lounges restrict guest access to always try to check ahead of time). This is a $399 benefit you’re getting with the Reserve.
Priority Pass is a program that offers members access to over 850 airport lounges worldwide. You can enter into any of these lounges with a boarding pass for that same day, even if your boarding pass isn’t for that particular airline, too.
Some of my favorite benefits of lounge access include:
- Free wifi
- Quick access to usually knowledgable customer service reps in the event of unexpected events
- Comfy seats in a quiet setting and even ability to take a nap or shower
- Ability to indulge in adult beverages, snacks, or even a meal before flights
- Having a comfortable area to relax in in the event of a delayed flight or a long lay-over
- The “VIP” feeling/treatment
The Sapphire Preferred does not offer any airport lounge benefit so this is one of the biggest differences between the cards.
The cards earn the following bonus category earning rates:
- 3X on travel
- 3X on dining
- 1X on all other purchases
- 2X on travel
- 2X on dining
- 1X on all other purchases
Obviously, the earnings for the Reserve are better. These bonus earning rates really come into consideration when choosing which card to remain loyal to in the long-run. If you spend enough on dining and travel each year for example, the Reserve will earn you enough return in value to make it worth keeping.
I’ll show you how that works.
Let’s say after year 1 you’d be faced with the decision to pay a $95 annual fee for the Preferred or a $550 annual fee for the Reserve. As already discussed, the effective annual fee is $190 for the Reserve. So you’d potentially be paying $95 more in an annual fee for the Reserve.
If you assume an Ultimate Reward is worth 2 cents per point then that means you’re earning an additional 2 cents per dollar spend on dining and travel with the Reserve than you are with the Preferred.
So if you divide the difference in annual fees of $55 by 2 cents you get $2,750. That means that if you spend $2,750 on dining or travel each year you will make up for the increased annual fee if you go with the Reserve. Anything spent beyond that amount will bring in more value on the Reserve than the Preferred would.
This is a key figure and is something you should heavily consider when choosing between these credit cards.
- $75 per authorized user
- Free authorized users
It can start getting a little pricey when you start adding multiple authorized users with the Reserve since it costs $75 per authorized user. With the Sapphire Preferred it’s free and you get rewarded with 5,000 Ultimate Rewards when you add one within the first 3 months and make a purchase.
Chase Travel Portal redemptions
Instead of transferring your points out to travel partners you can use points to book flights and hotels through the Chase travel portal. However, you get to redeem at a higher rate of 1.5 cents per point when you’re a cardholder with the Sapphire Reserve.
The two cards redeem at the following rates:
- 1.5 cents per point
- 1.25 cents per point
Being able to redeem at 1.5 cents per point really comes in handy when you need a lot of flexibility with your award bookings. It makes it a lot easier to fly when you want to fly or book hotels when you don’t have to worry about open award seats or rooms. For people looking to book travel for large groups or families, this option is a big help.
You’ll always have to do the math to make sure you’re not getting poor value for using the portal rather than transferring points out to hotels or airlines, but with 1.5 cents per point guaranteed, your chances are higher for getting good value than with the Preferred.
Both the Sapphire Preferred and the Sapphire Reserve come with some of the best overall credit card protections. In fact, many if not most, of the protections of the Reserve are the same for the Preferred. However, there are some key differences in protections between the cards that you definitely want to be aware of. They are listed below.
Primary rental car insurance
The Sapphire Reserve offers primary rental car insurance covering up to $75,000, while the Preferred excludes exotic and expensive cars.
(This probably is not a bit difference for many people and the fact that both offer primary rental car insurance is significant. Still, it’s worth noting.)
Trip Delay Reimbursement
With the Reserve, if you’re delayed more than 6 hours you are covered for expenses, such as meals and lodging, up to $500 per ticket. Meanwhile, the Sapphire Preferred which requires 12 hours waiting time.
The Sapphire Reserve offers this service for free for up to $50 and up to 4 times per year but the Preferred requires you to pay $60 for each service request.
The Reserve covers your new purchases for 120 days against damage or theft up to $10,000 per claim and $50,000 per account. However, the Sapphire Preferred comes with a $500 limit.
Both of these cards are top cards for travelers. In my opinion, it comes down to how much you spend on dining and travel each year. If you spend at or above $2,750 each year (excluding the travel credit) on dining and travel the Reserve is worth it on the earnings alone. Also, if you value lounge access and the other benefits like better purchase protection and travel portal redemptions, the Reserve is likely the better choice. Overall, given the factors discussed above, I think a lot of people will be surprised to figure out that the Reserve is the more worthwhile option for them despite it’s high $550 annual fee.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, and CNBC. Read my bio.