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Let’s get one thing out of the way right up front. Both the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and the Chase Sapphire Reserve are winners at their respective price points. Or said another way, you really can’t go wrong with either. Even if you’re not an avid traveler just yet, both credit cards offer plenty of exciting perks and can get you well on your way to your next free adventure.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred is aimed at the casual traveler, while the Chase Sapphire Reserve attempts to take the crown as the world’s most feature-packed, prestigious travel card anywhere. Below, we’ll break down advantages and disadvantages of both to help you make the best call for your lifestyle.
Chase Sapphire Preferred vs. Chase Sapphire Reserve
First, let’s take a look at all the key details of these two cards side-by-side:
With the Chase Sapphire Preferred, you’ll earn 2 points for every dollar you spend on travel and dining purchases, 80,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in purchases in the first three months you have the card, and you can redeem those points through Chase’s travel portal or the “Pay Yourself Back” tool at a rate of 1.25 cents per point or transfer them to Chase’s 13 travel partners for potentially even more valuable redemptions. The Sapphire Preferred has a $95 annual fee.
On the other hand, the Chase Sapphire Reserve earns 3 points for every dollar you spend on travel and dining purchases, 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in purchases in the first three months you have the card, and you can transfer those points to the same 13 Chase travel partners.
But the Sapphire Reserve also comes with a $300 annual travel credit, a $60 annual DoorDash credit in 2021, complimentary airport lounge access, a complimentary Lyft Pink membership for one year, enhanced travel protections and you can redeem your points through Chase’s travel portal or “Pay Yourself Back” at a higher 1.5 cents per point. The Sapphire Reserve has a $550 annual fee.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred is ideal for people who want to travel for free, using easily redeemable points, but with the option to learn how to master transferable points down the line for even greater value.
It currently has an 80,000-point sign-up bonus offer after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. That’s worth at least $1,000 in free travel when redeemed via the Chase travel portal for 1.25 cents per point. You’ll also get up to $50 in statement credits for grocery store purchases made in the first year after opening the account.
Conversely, the Chase Sapphire Reserve is ideal for avid travelers who appreciate the finer things in life, value top-tier customer service and plan to spend heavily on travel and/or dining on the way to fantastic free trips. It currently offers 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
While the sign-up bonus is lower, there’s one wrinkle to consider: you’ll get 1.5 cents per point when you have the Sapphire Reserve and redeem points via the Chase travel portal. So if you plan on redeeming points that way, 60,000 points on the CSR are worth $900 in free travel — nearly the same as 80,000 points on the CSP.
Many folks like easy, straightforward ways to redeem their points for travel. Others prefer more complex options through transfer partners. Others still may begin as a no-fuss type of redeemer, only to become a points-and-miles hobbyist over time. Both the Sapphire Preferred and the Sapphire Reserve cater to all of those groups
The Chase Sapphire Preferred gets a respectable 1.25 cents per point when you redeem points directly for travel at Chase’s travel portal. But as mentioned above, with the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you’ll get 1.5 cents per point when redeeming through the Chase travel portal. That means every point you earn on the Sapphire Reserve is worth an extra 20% over the Sapphire Preferred.
Both cards also pair well with the Chase Freedom Unlimited, a no-annual-fee credit card that offers 1.5% cash back on every purchase. The reason is that if you pair the Chase Freedom Unlimited with the Sapphire Preferred or Sapphire Reserve, any cash back earned on the Freedom Unlimited can be converted to points at a rate of 1 cent per point, and deposited into your Sapphire account and redeemed like the rest of your points at either 1.25 cents per point (CSP) or 1.5 cents per point (CSR).
Here, both cards are on an even footing, with equal access to Chase’s catalog of 13 travel partners:
Points from either the Chase Sapphire Preferred or the Chase Sapphire Reserve transfer to all these partners at a 1-to-1 ratio, meaning for every 1,000 points you transfer, you’ll get 1,000 points or miles in the airline or hotel program.
While it takes some research and flexibility, for those who like to strategize, you can concoct impressive itineraries by transferring points to partner programs, and often get much more value for your points than redeeming through the Chase travel portal.
Airport lounges and hotel perks
If staying cozy in an airline lounge is important to you, the Chase Sapphire Reserve is the clear winner. The CSR includes a complimentary Priority Pass Select airline lounge membership, which provides access to over 1,200 lounges worldwide, including in some cases credits for free food at airport restaurants.
With the Sapphire Reserve, you’ll also get access to Chase’s Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection, which offers special benefits such as room upgrades, complimentary meals and other perks at select hotels. CSR cardholders also get elite hotel benefits at select Relais & Châteaux properties, which include a VIP welcome and complimentary daily breakfast.
Travel and purchase protections
The Sapphire Reserve has higher per-claim thresholds than the Sapphire Preferred when it comes to purchase protection and travel accident insurance, as well as only requiring a 6-hour delay before trip delay protection kicks in.
But you’ll also have two additional protections with the CSR: Emergency evacuation and transportation insurance, which can get you out of a jam if you get sick or injured when you’re far from home, and emergency medical and dental coverage, which can cover you for medical expenses if you get sick or injured while you’re on a trip more than 100 miles from home.
At $95, the annual fee on the Chase Sapphire Preferred is quite low given its stout sign-up bonus. We also love the 2x points on all travel and dining with no foreign transaction fees. It’s a decent if basic set of perks and earning rates for a relatively low price, and Chase’s transfer partners are some of the best around.
While the Chase Sapphire Reserve’s $550 annual fee is high, it’s offset by a $300 annual travel credit that’s shockingly easy to use. Just make $300 in travel purchases over the course of your cardholder year, and you’ll trigger the reimbursement. For example, if you spend two nights in a hotel and rack up $350 in charges, your out-of-pocket cost will be just $50.
This means the net annual fee for the Sapphire Reserve is $250 — a much more palatable sum. Then toss in the new $60 annual DoorDash credit in 2021, and now the effective cost is down to just $190. Of course, if you don’t use DoorDash, then you won’t be able to take advantage of this particular perk, so you’ll need to do the math based on your own personal situation.
What could be better?
While the Chase Sapphire Reserve’s bundled Priority Pass Select membership is appreciated, the other top-tier premium travel card — The Platinum Card® from American Express — offers more comprehensive airline lounge access, including Delta Sky Clubs and Amex Centurion Lounges. It’s also curious that the Sapphire Reserve doesn’t include cell phone insurance, while many other cards with lower annual fees do.
While 3x points on all travel and dining is above-average, there are several credit cards which offer higher earning rates on dining, such as the American Express® Gold Card or the Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card. Plus, the Amex Platinum offers a whopping 5x points on airfare purchased through Amex Travel or directly with the airline. It’s time for the Sapphire Reserve to step up its earning rates as well.
When it comes to the Chase Sapphire Preferred, other cards with similar annual fees have additional perks that are missing from the CSP. As an example, the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card offers a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit worth up to $100, yet Chase only offers that benefit on the higher-priced Sapphire Reserve.
And the American Express® Green Card, while charging a higher $150 annual fee, earns 3 points per dollar on travel and dining purchases, plus comes with an annual credit of up to $100 for Clear membership, and an annual credit of up to $100 for LoungeBuddy purchases. We’d love to see some new credits added to the Sapphire Preferred in the near future.
Should you get the Sapphire Preferred or Sapphire Reserve?
If you travel frequently and plan to utilize the Priority Pass Select lounge membership and its longer list of travel protections, it may be worth springing for the Chase Sapphire Reserve. The massive (and simple to use) $300 annual travel credit pushes the effective annual fee down to $250. If you can also utilize the $60 annual DoorDash credit in 2021, you can get that net fee as low as $190.
That means that it’s effectively $95 more to hold than the Sapphire Preferred on an annual basis. So as long as you plan to use the card’s perks, including the higher 1.5 cents per point on Chase travel portal redemptions, it could make sense to pay the higher annual fee.
Otherwise, you’ll be better off grabbing the Chase Sapphire Preferred and putting another card or two in your wallet with the savings — cards which will help you maximize earnings on other popular categories such as gas, business expenses or groceries. Check out our guide to the best credit cards of 2021 for a list of some of the best complimentary cards to the Sapphire Preferred.
Find out which cards CNN Underscored chose as our best travel credit cards of 2021.