PHOTO: iStock
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The Chase Sapphire Reserve has been an extraordinarily popular credit card since it was first introduced in 2016. With the ability to earn 3 points for every dollar you spend on both travel and dining purchases, along with extra travel perks like airport lounge access, it’s become a popular go-to credit card.

However, the card isn’t cheap. At the start of 2020, Chase raised the annual fee from $450 to $550 a year, a 22% increase. While the issuer has been offering a $100 credit to existing Sapphire Reserve card holders who renew in 2020, new card holders still get charged the full freight.

Regardless, at either $450 or $550, it’s fair to wonder if the annual fee is worth paying. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of the card to see if the Sapphire Reserve should have a place in your purse or wallet.

Original features of the Sapphire Reserve

The Chase Sapphire Reserve originally launched with a rich suite of benefits. The list starts with two prime bonus categories: 3 points per dollar on a very wide range of both travel and dining purchases. The card also features a $300 annual travel credit that works on those same travel purchases, a Priority Pass Select membership that gives you access to over 1,000 airport lounges around the world, and a credit of up to $100 when you apply for either the Global Entry or TSA PreCheck expedited security programs.

The Sapphire Reserve also currently comes with a sign-up bonus for new card holders. If you’re approved for the card, you’ll earn 50,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 in the first three months after you open the account.

Points earned with the Sapphire Reserve can be redeemed for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards at a rate of 1.5 cents per point, or transferred to any of Chase’s 13 airline and hotel partners for potentially even more value. Even if you just redeem the bonus points at 1.5 cents per point, that makes them worth $750 in travel, which on its own more than offsets the $550 annual fee for the first year.

Additional Chase Sapphire Reserve perks

Of course, with the coronavirus pandemic continuing to wreak havoc on airlines and hotels, many of the travel perks of the Chase Sapphire Reserve are likely to go unused right now. Fortunately, Chase has been proactively adding limited-time benefits that you can use at home, on top of several other new features that were added to the card in January.

When it comes to earning points, the card added a new bonus category in January. Card holders now earn 10 points per dollar on Lyft rides through March 2022, up from the normal 3 points earned for travel purchases (which includes ride-shares).

Also on the Lyft front, the card now comes with a complimentary Lyft Pink membership for one year. Lyft Pink provides a 15% discount on all Lyft rides, along with priority airport pickups, up to three cancellation fee waivers each month if you rebook within 15 minutes, three free 30-minute bike or scooter rentals in select cities each month and other perks. Lyft normally charges $19.99 per month for Lyft Pink.

The Sapphire Reserve also added two new benefits linked to the DoorDash food delivery service. Card holders receive $60 in annual DoorDash credits for both 2020 and 2021, along with up to two years of complimentary DashPass membership. DashPass offers free delivery fees and reduced service fees at select restaurants, and normally costs $9.99 per month.

More recently, due to the pandemic, Chase added several limited-time bonus categories to the card that can be useful while you’re not on the road. From now through Sept. 30, the Chase Sapphire Reserve earns 5 points for every dollar spent on purchases at gas stations (for up to $1,500 in spending), 5 points per dollar on Instacart grocery delivery and pickup orders (up to $3,000 in spending) and 10 points per dollar on select streaming services (up to $1,500 in purchases).

Through Sept. 30, you
Through Sept. 30, you'll earn 5 points per dollar at gas stations with the Chase Sapphire Reserve.
PHOTO: iStock

Also through Sept. 30, Sapphire Reserve card holders get up to $50 in statement credits toward an Instacart Express membership, which offers unlimited $0 delivery fees and reduced service fees on all orders over $35.

All these perks come on top of a new Sapphire Reserve feature that Chase launched in May. The card’s “Pay Yourself Back” tool allows card holders to now also redeem points for purchases made at grocery stores, dining establishments (including delivery and takeout) and home improvement stores.

Through Sept. 30, Chase Sapphire Reserve card holders get 1.5 cents per point on these new redemptions, which is identical to the value you get when using points for travel via Chase’s travel portal. That’s a solid return for your points and an option worth considering if you can’t use your rewards on flights or hotels right now.

Finally, because of the current restrictions on travel, Sapphire Reserve card holders have access to additional limited-time options for using the card’s $300 travel credit. From now through Dec. 31, gas and grocery store purchases will also count toward the travel credit, along with the usual eligible travel charges.

Value of the Sapphire Reserve’s benefits

Let’s be frank: $550 is a lot to pay for a credit card. The 50,000-point sign-up bonus is worth $750 in travel (and possibly more), which makes the first year a no-brainer. But what about the second year and beyond? Some people will be able to take advantage of all the card’s features, but not everyone. And while the Chase Sapphire Reserve is a popular card, it’s not worth it if you can’t use its perks.

The $300 travel credit is relatively easy to utilize, and even more so right now. It covers not just airfare, hotel rooms, car rentals and the like, but also daily travel expenses such as transit costs, tolls, taxis, rideshares and even parking. And with the credit’s limited-time expansion, you can also currently use it on gas and grocery store purchases for the rest of 2020.

Even if you’re not traveling, it’s highly likely you’ll spend $300 on gas and groceries between now and the end of the year. So, assuming you can use the entire $300 credit, that brings the effective annual fee on the Sapphire Reserve down from $550 to $250, a significant drop.

The question then is whether the rest of the card’s features and benefits are worth $250 a year. If you’re using DoorDash a lot more now due to the pandemic, that’s another $60 a year in value. The free delivery fees that are part of the DashPass membership are a little harder to calculate, but if you normally use DoorDash, you’ll see a few bucks in savings there as well.

The $50 credit toward Instacart Express membership for grocery deliveries is also potentially more useful at the moment than it might have been before. You’ll need to take advantage of it by Sept. 30, but you can apply it to an annual membership and essentially get up to half off the usual cost.

Get up to $50 off an Instacart Express membership by Sept. 30 with the Chase Sapphire Reserve.
Get up to $50 off an Instacart Express membership by Sept. 30 with the Chase Sapphire Reserve.
PHOTO: Instacart

It’s less likely that you’re a regular Lyft rider right now, but if you are, you’ll also get some use from the Lyft Pink membership, as well as the additional 7 points for every dollar you spend on Lyft. Again, it depends on how much you use Lyft, but regular or heavy users of the ride-share service could score a couple more dollars in savings.

The $100 application fee credit for either Global Entry or TSA PreCheck isn’t terribly useful at the moment, and since membership in those programs is good for 5 years, it only comes to $20 a year once you prorate that $100 over 5 years.

Also, many other credit cards feature the same Global Entry/TSA PreCheck rebate, so it’s not as useful to you if you already have the same $100 credit with another card (though keep in mind you can use this credit for the application fee of a friend or family member if you already have your own Global Entry or TSA PreCheck membership).

It’s impossible to put a precise dollar amount on the Priority Pass Select airport lounge membership, as you might use this benefit once a year or fifty times a year. If you paid for these lounge visits individually using a “pay as you go” Priority Pass membership, they’d cost you $32 a visit plus $99 for the year (or you could pay for a $299 membership that includes the first 10 visits).

But at those prices, you’re almost certainly better off just getting the Sapphire Reserve or another credit card with Priority Pass if you want lounge access instead of paying for a membership.

Is the Chase Sapphire Reserve a good credit card for you?

Add all of the above benefits together and if you use each of them at least a few times a year, you’re likely getting your $250 worth. But let’s say you only use half of them, meaning you only get $125 in value from the card’s perks. How much would you need to spend on the card in a year to make up that remaining $125 in extra points?

CNN Underscored’s benchmark credit card, the Citi® Double Cash Card, has no annual fee and earns 2% cash back on everything you buy — 1% when you make a purchase, and another 1% when you pay your statement. In comparison, each point earned with the Chase Sapphire Reserve is worth at least 1.5 cents apiece when redeemed directly for travel via Chase Ultimate Rewards, meaning you’re getting 1.5% in travel redemptions on all purchases you make, and 4.5% on travel and dining purchases since you earn 3 points per dollar in those two categories.

Related: Earn 2% cash back on everything with the no-annual-fee Citi Double Cash credit card.

So if you spend $2,000 a month overall on your credit card and one-third of that is on travel and dining, you’d earn $120 more in rewards in a year than you would with the Citi Double Cash, which is almost the entire remainder of the annual fee. Spend more than that each month on travel or dining — or in any of the other currently-available bonus categories — and you’re coming out ahead. Spend less than that, and the card is costing you more than it’s worth.

Sapphire Reserve or Sapphire Preferred?

The Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve credit cards.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve credit cards.
PHOTO: iStock

If you’re looking for a Chase travel credit card but don’t want to pay a high fee, there’s another option. The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card doesn’t come with all the fancy perks or the $300 travel credit. It only earns 2 points for every dollar you spend on travel and dining instead of 3 points, and 5 points per dollar for Lyft rides through March 2022. It offers the same limited-time gas, Instacart and streaming bonus categories, but at lower bonus rates. But it only costs $95 a year, so it could be a better fit for your budget.

Related: CNN Underscored’s complete review of the Chase Sapphire Preferred.

The Sapphire Preferred also has a sign-up bonus, and it’s even higher than the Sapphire Reserve — you’ll earn 60,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months after you open the card. But if you only have the Sapphire Preferred, the points are worth 1.25 cents apiece when redeemed for travel instead of 1.5 cents each, meaning those 60,000 points are worth the same $750 even though there’s more of them.

But you can transfer points earned with the Sapphire Preferred to the same 13 airline and hotel partners as the Sapphire Reserve, which makes the points just as flexible, no matter which of the two cards you decide to carry. And Chase Sapphire Preferred card holders also have access to the new “Pay Yourself Back” tool, so you can also currently redeem points for grocery stores, dining establishments (including delivery and takeout) and home improvement stores at 1.25 cents apiece.

Not sure which card is right for you? You might consider signing up for the cheaper Chase Sapphire Preferred to start since it has a higher bonus, and then converting to the Sapphire Reserve after the first year. You won’t get all the perks of the Reserve in Year #1, but you’ll pay a lot less and can take that time to consider whether paying for the extra perks makes sense.

Related: Chase Sapphire Preferred vs. Chase Sapphire Reserve: Which is best for you?

If you do end up converting to the Reserve in Year #2, any points you earned with the Preferred that you haven’t already used — including the sign-up bonus — will be redeemable for travel via Chase Ultimate Rewards at 1.5 cents each once you have the Reserve in hand. (Note that you can’t get a second sign-up bonus for converting from one card to the other.)

Is the Chase Sapphire Reserve worth the annual fee?

It all comes down to how much you’ll utilize the benefits of the Chase Sapphire Reserve. if you don’t take a lot of Lyft rides, the new Lyft features won’t be of value to you. If you don’t fly much, you won’t need airport lounge access very often. And if you live in an area without DoorDash service, you won’t see any benefit from having a DashPass membership or credits. That’s why it’s important to consider how many features of a credit card you’ll actually use when deciding if it’s right for you.

But if you do see yourself using some or all of these features, or spending a significant amount of money each year on travel or dining purchases, the math can work out in your favor.

In our opinion, the sign-up bonus and the current limited-time perks make getting the Sapphire Reserve an easy decision for the first year for anyone who spends money on travel and dining, since those 50,000 bonus points are so valuable. After the first year, you can take stock of how you used the card and its benefits to decide if the $550 annual fee is worth it for another year. If it isn’t, you can call and cancel the card within 30 days of being charged the second year annual fee, or convert your Sapphire Reserve to a Chase Sapphire Preferred and pay the lower $95 annual fee for the second year and beyond.

Finally, if you’re already struggling with debt, now is not the time to go out and get an expensive travel credit card. Get your financial house in order first — then you can explore the world of credit card rewards. But if you’re in solid financial shape and have been considering whether a premium credit card is a good choice, take a look at the Chase Sapphire Reserve and see if it fits your current and future needs.

Learn more about the Chase Sapphire Reserve.
Learn more about the Chase Sapphire Preferred.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Note: While the offers mentioned above are accurate at the time of publication, they’re subject to change at any time and may have changed, or may no longer be available.