How to use the Chase Sapphire Reserve travel credit

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A cult favorite. The world’s first viral credit card. Perhaps the best travel credit card ever to be offered.

All of those statements reference the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, which took the credit card world by storm when Chase introduced it in 2016. Since then, it has endured as one of the best credit cards around, despite its steep $550 annual fee.

That’s thanks in part to the $300 travel credit it bestows upon cardholders every year. But how exactly do you use it? And which travel purchases are eligible? Here’s what you need to know in order to take full advantage of this premium perk.

A look at the Chase Sapphire Reserve

Chase Sapphire Reserve
Annual fee $550
Welcome bonus 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in your first three months
Rewards rate 3X points on travel and eligible restaurant purchases (after earning your $300 travel credit); 10X points on up to $500 in takeout orders and prepaid reservations through June 30, 2021, via Chase Dining in the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal; 10X total points on Lyft purchases through March 31, 2022; 1X points on all other purchases
APR 16.99% to 23.99% variable
Other things to know 50% more points value when you redeem them for travel via Chase Ultimate Rewards; up to $100 in statement credits toward your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee every 4 years; Priority Pass lounge access; $300 annual travel credit; complimentary Lyft Pink membership and DoorDash DashPass subscription; travel protections

What is the Chase Sapphire Reserve travel credit?

The Chase Sapphire Reserve travel credit is one of the card’s most well-known benefits. Worth $300 per year, the credit differs from a welcome bonus in that you don’t have to meet any spending requirement to earn it. It’s something you get just for being a cardholder, and it applies to all qualifying travel purchases paid for with the card.

As you may have guessed, the annual travel credit resets every year, but unlike similar credits on top-tier travel cards—like the up to $200 in airline fee credits that come with The Platinum Card® from American Express—the timing is based on your card renewal date instead of the calendar year. (An exception: If you opened your account before May 21, 2017, you’ll still get the credit every calendar year after December’s statement closure.) The Reserve’s credit is also much easier to use since it isn’t tied to a specific airline or travel provider. (With the Platinum, you have to commit to one carrier at the beginning of the year, and you can’t switch later if your travel plans change.)

How does the Chase Sapphire Reserve travel credit work?

The travel credit is a use-it-or-lose-it benefit; it doesn’t roll over, so you forfeit any portion that remains at the end of your cardmember anniversary year. (That’s the last thing you want to have happen since you won’t earn bonus rewards on travel purchases until the $300 is all used up.) The full credit is at your disposal as soon as you open your account, though, so you can start taking advantage of it right away.

Thankfully, using the travel credit is as easy as swiping your card as you normally would. Chase automatically issues a statement credit equal to the amount of all eligible travel purchases made with the Reserve. (Yes, it’s really that simple.)

The credit and corresponding travel purchase generally post to your account on the same day, and you should see them reflected in your statement within one or two billing cycles.

The fine print: Just as the 3X travel rewards rate doesn’t kick in until the $300 is gone, you can’t earn any rewards—even 1 point per dollar—on the charges the credit covers. And if you make a qualifying transaction within one annual period but it posts after that period ends, the statement credit counts toward the following year’s $300 limit.

What counts toward the Chase Sapphire Reserve travel credit?

One of the best parts of this travel credit is that Chase’s travel rewards category encompasses a broad range of purchases, including:

  • Flights
  • Car rentals
  • Hotel stays
  • Cruises
  • Discount travel sites (including Priceline, Expedia and Orbitz)
  • Public transportation (such as trains, buses and taxis)
  • Toll bridges and highways
  • Parking lots and garages
  • Timeshares
  • Travel agencies

Lest you think you couldn’t possibly make $300 in travel purchases during the coronavirus pandemic, you’re in luck. To account for the fact that many of its customers are avoiding travel altogether, Chase expanded its travel credit to include gas and grocery purchases through June 30, 2021, so existing Reserve cardholders should have no trouble maxing out their annual credit.

What doesn’t count

Unfortunately, not all travel-related purchases will be eligible for reimbursement under this credit. For instance, Chase’s grocery category doesn’t include warehouse clubs (such as Sam’s Club and Costco) or “superstores” (such as Walmart and Target). But a Walmart Neighborhood Market that sells mostly groceries should qualify. Some common airline charges—like in-flight purchases—won’t count either, and airfare itself must be purchased directly with the airline.

Per Chase, here’s a partial list of what else doesn’t count toward your $300 travel credit:

  • Drugstores
  • Stores that specialize in only a few grocery items
  • On-board cruise line goods and services
  • Sightseeing activities, excursions and other tourist attractions
  • Merchants located within hotels and airports
  • Gift cards
  • Traveler’s checks
  • Casino gaming chips
  • Truck stops
  • Boat marinas
  • Balance transfers or cash advances

For more information about Chase rewards categories, see your Reserve card’s terms and conditions.

How to track your travel credit usage

Whether you know it or not, chances are good that you’ve already used at least part of your travel credit, especially since Chase has added gas and groceries to its list of eligible expenses through June 30, 2021. But if you’re not sure where you stand, all you have to do is log into the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal and check the dashboard for your Reserve card.

You can also view when your travel credit resets so that you can plan your purchases accordingly and be sure no portion goes unused.

How to maximize the Chase Sapphire Reserve travel credit

First things first: Don’t let it go to waste. The Chase Sapphire Reserve carries a hefty $550 annual fee, so you’ll need to squeeze as much value from the card as possible if you want to come out ahead. Using the full amount of the travel credit means you’ll recoup more than half the cost of keeping the Reserve in your wallet—and since you don’t have to actually travel or do anything extra to earn that $300, it’s a pretty easy way to offset a good chunk of the annual fee.

Resist the urge to save it

Like a pile of points from a sweet welcome bonus, it makes sense to want to hang onto the travel credit for a special trip. But even if you have an upcoming vacation on the calendar, make a point of using the $300 as soon as possible, both when you first sign up for the card as well as when the credit resets on your account anniversary. You can’t start earning 3X bonus rewards on eligible travel purchases until it runs out, so you could be leaving a ton of points on the table by keeping it around.

That said, if you’ve already used up the full $300 and your cardmember anniversary is right around the corner, you may want to hold off on making a qualifying travel purchase until then so that it counts toward next year’s credit.

Swipe your Reserve for all travel purchases

On the same note, use your Chase Sapphire Reserve to pay for all travel-related purchases; this is to your benefit even after you’ve exhausted the travel credit, of course. And remember, right now gas and grocery purchases are also covered, which should make it easier to maximize the credit if you’re still unable to travel. Keep in mind that this policy expires at the end of June 2021, though.

Search for a store’s merchant category code

If you find yourself struggling to break the $300 threshold, you can find out whether a purchase will or won’t qualify by familiarizing yourself with merchant category codes, or MCCs. An MCC is a four-digit number used by the credit card network—in this case, Visa—to classify a business’ products and services. (This is how Chase tracks your rewards earnings.) Sometimes, a purchase you think should be eligible for bonus rewards won’t be and vice-versa.

As an example, many airports are owned by a government entity. (For instance, the Kansas City, Missouri, Aviation Department owns and operates Kansas City International Airport.) So while you might assume that parking fees will be coded as travel, they may be classified under “government services.” Chase Sapphire Reserve cardmembers can reference the Visa Supplier Locator Tool or the Visa Merchant Data Standards Manual to look up a business’s MCC and know ahead of time whether a particular purchase will qualify.

The bottom line

Frequent travelers and would-be jetsetters can find a lot of reasons to love the Chase Sapphire Reserve, including the $300 annual travel credit. It’s also one of the most flexible credits to use among all luxury travel cards—and that was true even before Chase temporarily expanded the credit to include gas and grocery purchases during the pandemic.

When you take full advantage of the travel credit in addition to the card’s other valuable perks—Priority Pass Select membership, up to $100 in statement credits toward your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee every four years, trip cancellation/interruption insurance and more—we think you’ll find it easy to earn back that $550 annual fee (and then some).