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The Chase Sapphire Reserve® is still one of the most popular rewards credit cards for travelers, in part because of the generous benefits and welcome bonus it offers. New cardholders can currently earn 60,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening, and its travel perks are among the most generous of any travel rewards credit card.
However, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® charges a steep $550 annual fee, so it’s definitely not for everyone — however, if you can maximize its benefits and earning potential, it can be well worth it.
One benefit that offsets a big chunk of the annual fee is up to $300 in credits toward eligible travel purchases made with the Chase Sapphire Reserve® each account anniversary year. Chase has a broad definition of what counts as travel — the usual suspects, like airfare, hotels, and rental cars, all qualify for the credit, but so do less-obvious expenses like parking, road tolls, and campgrounds.
The great thing about the Chase Sapphire Reserve® travel credit is that it’s dead easy to use. Unlike some benefits on other rewards credit cards, there’s no enrollment required and you don’t have to jump through any hoops to qualify for a reimbursement.
Even better, near the start of the pandemic, Chase started applying the credit to gas station and grocery store purchases, and this feature has been extended through December 31, 2021. This makes it a lot easier to justify keeping the Sapphire Reserve at a time when many of us still aren’t traveling much.
Here’s everything you need to know about how the Chase Sapphire Reserve® travel credit works, what triggers the credit, and how to make sure you’re maximizing this valuable benefit.
Every year, Chase Sapphire Reserve® cardholders receive up to $300 in statement credits toward travel purchases made with their card, starting from the account opening date.
The credit resets each account anniversary, except for those who opened the card before May 21, 2017, in which case the credit resets every calendar year. If you don’t use the full credit one year, it won’t carry over to the next — so use it or lose it.
You don’t have to spend the credits all at once or on large travel purchases. Chase will automatically apply the credit to your credit card statement any time you make a qualifying travel purchase until you hit your yearly maximum.
One caveat — the Chase Sapphire Reserve® normally earns 3x points on travel (and dining), but you won’t earn bonus points on purchase amounts that are reimbursed by the travel credit.
Chase’s official list of qualifying travel purchases with the Chase Sapphire Reserve® is quite large and includes categories that you might not initially think of as travel.
Be aware that there are some purchases you’d assume would count as travel that actually don’t. This includes:
- Merchants that sell points, miles, or travel gift cards
- Inflight goods and services (like Wi-Fi)
- Onboard cruise line goods and services
- Restaurants or other merchants inside a hotel (these can qualify if you bill them to your room and pay at checkout, though)
- Tourist attractions and excursions (unless you purchase the tickets through an online travel agency, then they may count)
- Merchants in airports
- RV and boat rentals
- Real estate agents and merchants that rent vehicles for the purpose of hauling (like U-Haul)
You don’t have to do anything special to take advantage of the Chase Sapphire Reserve® travel credit other than use your card to pay for an eligible travel purchase. Chase takes care of the rest — there’s no registration required and the credits are usually applied within a day or two of the transaction.
Because Chase applies the credits automatically, there’s no way to pick and choose which purchases to erase with the credit, like you can with the Chase Pay Yourself Back program. Put simply, the first $300 you spend on travel each anniversary year will get offset by the credit — whether that’s a few dozen short Uber rides, an airline ticket, or anything in between. If there’s a transaction that exceeds the amount of your unused travel credit, Chase will apply your remaining credit to the purchase, and whatever’s left over will remain on your statement balance.
To find out how much of the travel credit you have left to spend (or to check when your credit resets, as is the case in the screenshot below), sign into your Chase account and navigate to the “Rewards Activity” tab on the Chase Ultimate Rewards main page for your Chase Sapphire Reserve® account. Then, scroll down to “Benefits and Redemptions Overview” to view your travel credit spending.
It should be relatively easy for just about everyone to maximize the $300 Chase Sapphire Reserve® travel credit in 2021, since Chase is including gas station and grocery purchases as eligible categories until the end of the year.
That cover’s more than half the card’s annual fee, and if you can make the most of other benefits like Priority Pass airport lounge access, a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit, up to $60 in DoorDash credit for 2021, and travel protections like primary car rental insurance, you can get even more value from the card.
If you won’t travel enough to make use of the Chase Sapphire Reserve®‘s benefits, you might be better off with the card’s less-expensive sibling, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. It actually offers a higher welcome bonus: 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, plus earn a $50 statement credit towards grocery store purchases within your first year of account opening.
You won’t get a travel credit, Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credit, or airport lounge access, but its annual fee is just $95, and it comes with many of the same travel and purchase protections.
Jasmin Baron is an associate editor at Personal Finance Insider, where she helps readers maximize rewards and find the best credit cards to fit their lifestyles. She has covered credit cards, points and miles, and loyalty programs for over seven years, and she’s a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF).