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When it was launched over two years ago, the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card was hailed by finance writers as the best travel rewards card ever. Despite the hefty $450 annual fee, tens of thousands of applicants were drawn to the generous sign-up bonus, 3X rewards and lavish travel perks.
In 2018, Money Magazine named Chase Sapphire Reserve the “Best Premium Travel Credit Card” for the year.
But is the Sapphire Reserve still worth the price of the annual fee?
Let’s consider the rewards, perks and benefits cardholders get for their $450. It’s worth comparing the card to other top travel rewards cards to see if there may be a better value out there.
It’s all about the sign-up bonus
What attracts people to the Chase Sapphire Reserve at first? Undoubtedly, the sign-up bonus of 50,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months of opening your account takes the sting out of the $450 annual fee.
Those 50,000 points are worth $750 when you redeem them through the Chase Ultimate Rewards® portal, so the card can more than pay for itself within the first three months.
Chasing the rewards
Ideally, when you open a credit card, you’re in it for the long haul.
That’s where Sapphire Reserve’s 3X rewards rate comes in. You’ll earn a statement credit for your first $300 in travel expenses charged to the card. After that, you earn 3X rewards on all travel purchases. You’ll also earn 3X points on restaurant dining and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.
There are no limits to the points or bonus points you can earn.
Points increase in value by 50 percent when you redeem them for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, making each point worth 1.5 cents when you redeem them for travel and more through the portal.
Benefits and perks for travelers
Like many top-rated travel credit cards, Chase Sapphire Reserve has no foreign transaction fees and provides travel insurance and purchase protection. Your Sapphire Reserve card also includes an Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, which means you can decline the rental company’s insurance and have coverage up to $75,000 for theft and collision if you use your card.
The card also gets you into more than 1,000 VIP lounges in over 500 cities through Priority Pass.
Finally, you’ll get a credit for your Global Entry / TSA PreCheck application once every four years, a $100 value.
But that annual fee…
Even with all these amazing bonus points and benefits, is the Chase Sapphire Rewards card worth $450 a year after the first year, when you’re no longer earning that $750 sign-up bonus?
As long as you purchase $300 in travel expenses with the card, you can shave $300 off the top with a statement credit, bringing the effective cost to $150.
The Global Entry and TSA PreCheck credit saves you $100 on your application fee. Since you have to re-apply only once every five years, that’s another $20/year savings, prorated.
Will you earn enough rewards to cover the remaining $130? Since rewards are worth up to 3 cents each, you’d have to spend $4,333 on restaurants and travel each year, or about $360 per month, to earn 13,000 points, or $130.
Cash in your points through the portal and those same 13,000 points are worth 19,500 points, or $195, instead.
You’ll have to take a close look your finances to determine if you’ll hit the spending minimums to make the annual fee worth it after the first year.
Also consider the bonuses and benefits you may receive. Are they benefits you will use?
Since the Chase Sapphire Reserve card came out, several issuers have stepped up their travel rewards game to introduce highly competitive cards in the category.
Let’s explore some other options for big travel spenders.
|Travel Rewards Card||Intro Bonus||Annual Fee||Bonus Points||Annual Statement Credits||APR|
|35K points after spending $2,000 in first 3 mos.||$250||4X pts. at U.S. restaurants, 4X at U.S. supermarkets (up to $25K annually, then 1X), 3X points on qualifying air travel, 1X everything else||$10/mos. dining, $100 annual hotel, $100 annual air travel||N/A
(See Rates & Fees)
|Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card||50K bonus miles after spending $3,000 in first 3 mos.||$95, waived the first year||10X miles at hotels.com/venture, 2X everything else, unlimited||None||17.99% – 25.24% variable|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve||50K pts. after spending $4,000 in first 3 mos.||$450||3X on restaurants & travel, 1X everything else||$300 travel credit||19.24% – 26.24% variable|
|Citi Prestige®||50K after spending $4,000 in first 3 mos.||$495||5X airlines & dining, 3X cruises, 1X everything else||$250 travel credit, plus 4th night free at hotels (unlimited until 9/19, then 2 per yr.)||17.99% – 25.99% variable|
American Express® Gold Card
With a $250 annual fee, the American Express Gold Card initially looks like it might be a better value. The welcome bonus of 35,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $2,000 within the first three months of opening your account, valued at $250 when you book through Amex travel, covers your annual fee the first year. And the welcome bonus could be worth even more if you transfer your points to American Express airline partners.
But how are the rewards?
The Amex Gold Card offers 4X points at U.S. restaurants, 4X points at U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 per year, then 1X), 3X points on flights booked directly with the airlines or through Amex Travel, and 1X points on all other purchases.
Like Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Amex Gold also offers a generous statement credit. The total possible value equals $295 each year, but the credits are divided into different categories and carry some restrictions.
For instance, the $120 per year dining credit gives you $10 per month to spend at select restaurants, and the $100 hotel credit and $100 travel credit are good only at qualifying hotels and airlines, respectively.
The Amex Gold has no foreign transaction fees, but American Express may not be as widely accepted across the world as Mastercard or Visa.
Citi Prestige® Card
Citi joins Chase and Amex with a premium travel credit card that combines a hefty annual fee with a big sign-up bonus and generous rewards.
The Citi Prestige Card was recently revamped with an annual fee of $495, offset the first year by 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 within the first three months of opening your account for new Citi® cardholders. These points translate into $500, making it nearly an even swap for the first year’s fee.
Cardholders get a $250 travel credit every calendar year, offsetting some of the cost of the annual fee after the first year.
You’ll also earn some of the highest rewards available: 5x points on airfare and dining and 3X on cruises, plus 1X on all other purchases, with no limits.
Travelers who take cruises tend to be enthusiastic about them, often taking multiple cruises per year. If this sounds like you, it may be worth diving into Citi’s offer for the triple points.
Citi’s highly coveted 4th Night Free at select hotels benefit remains a good value, but it’s been capped to two stays per year beginning in September 2019. Hotel visits prior to this fall won’t count toward the two-night maximum, so use this offer as much as you can, while you can.
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
The Capital One Venture Rewards credit card waives the annual fee for the first year, helping your sign-up bonus go even further. New cardholders receive a one-time bonus of 50,000 miles, which totals $500 in travel, after spending $3,000 in purchases within the first three months.
After the first year, the card has an annual fee of only $95.
What do you get for your money?
You’ll earn 2X miles on every purchase, and 10X miles on thousands of well-known hotels when you book and pay through Hotels.com. Redeem your points for any airline or hotel at any time with no blackout dates, or transfer miles to one of your favorite travel loyalty programs.
Like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you’ll also get up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry and TSA PreCheck. If you’re looking for a great value in a travel credit card, consider Venture Rewards.
The bottom line
The Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card is still a gem for frequent travelers. The high-value rewards plus free lounge access, travel insurance, travel credit and Global Entry fee credit, among other perks, can make it worth the annual fee.
But there are plenty of other options worth exploring, too.
Of course, these top-tier travel cards with high annual fees are worth it only if you pay your balance in full and on time every month. If you accrue any interest, you’ll watch the value of your points vanish with your bigger monthly payments.
If you often carry a balance, consider one of these low-interest credit cards for 2019 instead.