CNN Underscored reviews financial products such as credit cards and bank accounts based on their overall value. We may receive a commission through the LendingTree affiliate network if you apply and are approved for a card, but our reporting is always independent and objective.
With so many travel credit cards on the market today, it can seem overwhelming to try to pick the right one for you, especially if you’ve never had a travel credit card before. Should you be mostly concerned about the sign-up bonus? Are you worried about being able to easily redeem your points? Or are travel protections the most important aspect of a travel credit card for you?
That’s why if you’re looking to dip your toes in the world of travel rewards, one of our favorite choices for first-timers is the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. Introduced over 10 years ago, the Sapphire Preferred is still one of the best all-around credit cards, especially for beginners. With its low $95 annual fee, easy-to-use points and advanced redemption possibilities, this is a card that can grow with you over time.
But don’t take our word for it. Let’s dive into the Chase Sapphire Preferred and compare it against some of the other entry-level travel credit cards that are available today.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred is one of those credit cards that are always offering a relatively solid sign-up bonus, so you know you’re getting a good value when you first get the card. However, if you’re looking at applying for your first travel credit card right now, you’re in luck, because the Sapphire Preferred is currently offering the highest bonus we’ve ever seen on it.
Folks who apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred today can earn 80,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in purchases on the card in the first three months after opening the account. Plus, new card holders also get up to $50 in statement credits on grocery store purchases within their first year with the card.
Now, you might have seen that the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card is currently offering 100,000 miles as a sign-up bonus. And while that’s a strong offer, the actual value of the Capital One bonus is lower than the bonus on the Chase Sapphire Preferred.
Miles earned with the Capital One Venture card are worth 1 cent per mile when you redeem them for travel purchases you make with the card. But when redeeming Chase Sapphire Preferred points for travel at Chase’s website, you’re getting 1.25 cents per point.
That means the 80,000 bonus points on the Chase Sapphire Preferred are worth the same $1,000 toward travel as the 100,000 bonus points on the Capital One Venture. But with the Sapphire Preferred, you also get up to $50 in grocery store statement credits, meaning the bonus is actually worth slightly more.
On top of that, you have to spend a lot less on the Sapphire Preferred to earn the entire sign-up bonus than you do on the Capital One Venture — $4,000 on the CSP versus a whopping $20,000 on the Venture.
There’s no better way to start learning more about travel loyalty programs than by starting off with a big stack of points. The 80,000 bonus points on the Chase Sapphire Preferred will get you excited about the opportunities and enable you to redeem your rewards for some great travel vacations immediately.
You can easily redeem the points you earn with the Chase Sapphire Preferred for a post-pandemic vacation.
We promise you, using your travel points isn’t going to be as difficult as you might think — especially if you’re earning points with the right program. That’s why one huge reason we think the Chase Sapphire Preferred is one of the best first travel credit cards is that the points it earns are extremely easy to use.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred earns points that are called Chase Ultimate Rewards®, and when it comes to redeeming Ultimate Rewards points for travel, there are two options: redeeming them through Chase’s website, or transferring them to one of Chase’s partner loyalty programs.
If you’re looking for the easiest way to redeem your points, booking through the Chase website is very straightforward. Chase has partnered with Expedia to run its travel website, which means any flight or hotel that you can normally book through Expedia can also be booked through Chase. There are no blackout dates or restricted awards — you can choose any flight or hotel you want.
The process works just like any other travel website: You search for a flight or hotel, choose the one you want and book it. But when you book, you can pay with points instead of cash. You can even pay for part of your trip with points and the rest with cash if you don’t have enough points to cover the entire cost, or if you don’t want to use all your points at once. Either way, your points are worth 1.25 cents apiece toward the price of your flight or hotel room.
How does this compare to other starter travel credit cards? Well, we’ve already talked about Capital One miles, which are only worth 1 cent each toward travel. But what about American Express?
The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express also earns points that can be redeemed for travel, but when using AmexTravel.com to redeem your points, you’ll only get 1 cent per point, and you’ll only get that rate on airfare. Your points are worth even less on hotel bookings. And Citi ThankYou points are also only worth 1 cent each when using them to book travel through Citi’s website.
Now, when you’re ready to take your credit card rewards one step further, you can also transfer the Ultimate Rewards points you earn with the Chase Sapphire Preferred to any of Chase’s 13 airline or hotel partners:
Ultimate Rewards points transfer to these partners at a 1-to-1 ratio, so the 80,000 bonus points from the sign-up offer equal 80,000 points or miles in any of these 13 airline or hotel programs. You can also transfer as many or as few points as you want at any time — the only rule is that points must be transferred in blocks of 1,000 points.
When you transfer points to another program, you’re redeeming those points in that program and you’re subject to that program’s rules and award availability. While this process is more complicated than just booking on Chase’s website, it’s not that hard once you understand the basics, especially if you focus on some of the domestic airlines and hotel programs, and you can get even more value for your points.
For example, Hyatt Hotels has some unbelievable properties, both in the US and internationally, and having 80,000 points in your back pocket could lead to a fantastic luxury vacation. The spectacular Grand Hyatt Baha Mar charges 20,000 World of Hyatt points per night, which means as long as there’s availability on the dates you want to stay, all you have to do is transfer your 80,000 Chase points to your World of Hyatt account, and then redeem them directly with Hyatt to get a free four-night stay.
While American Express, Citi and Capital One all have their own set of airline and hotel partners, Chase’s partners are popular because they include several easy domestic options, such as United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Hyatt and Marriott. And as you learn more about the Ultimate Rewards program and its international airlines, the opportunities to travel around the world are endless.
If your flight is delayed or cancelled, the Chase Sapphire Preferred will help cover any unanticipated expenses.
Even though it’s a relatively inexpensive travel credit card, the Chase Sapphire Preferred offers a surprising amount of protection when it comes to covering you both before and during your travels.
Simply by using the Sapphire Preferred card to pay for your flights, hotels and any other nonrefundable travel activities, you’ll automatically get trip cancellation insurance, trip delay protection, baggage delay insurance and primary auto rental insurance.
What do each of these protections do? Well, with trip cancellation insurance, if you need to cancel your trip due to a covered situation such as sickness or severe weather — or, yes, even a quarantine restriction due to the coronavirus pandemic — you’ll be reimbursed for your lost costs, up to $10,000 per person and $20,000 per trip for all pre-paid, non-refundable travel expenses.
Trip delay protection is another one of our favorite Chase Sapphire Preferred benefits, and one that you might find yourself using more than you expect. If your flight is delayed by 12 hours or more (or requires an overnight stay), you’ll be able to claim up to $500 in out-of-pocket expenses — such as hotels, taxis, food and even clean clothes — for not only the card holder but also all family members who are booked on the same reservation.
And while many travel credit cards offer auto rental damage coverage nowadays, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is one of the few travel credit cards that offer primary car rental coverage. Primary coverage means if you have an accident with your rental car, you can submit a damage claim directly to Chase rather than submitting the claim to your personal auto insurer first and then to your credit card second. That means it’s easier to keep your personal auto insurance premiums down by having fewer claims.
Compare the Sapphire Preferred’s suite of travel benefits to Citi’s starter travel card, the Citi Premier® Card, which doesn’t offer any travel protections despite charging the same $95 a year. Knowing that you have baked-in travel insurance if an unfortunate situation arises is huge, and will definitely help put your mind at ease when booking a trip with the Chase Sapphire Preferred.
If you’re looking to get your first travel credit card, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is our top choice.
When you compare the Chase Sapphire Preferred against other competing travel credit cards from American Express, Capital One and Citi, it’s easy to see how the Sapphire Preferred has stood the test of time, and why it remains such a popular choice when it comes to travel credit cards.
So, if you’re starting to get excited about travel again as the pandemic begins to wane, and you think now might be the right time to put a travel credit card in your wallet, you’ll want to consider the Chase Sapphire Preferred with its all-time-high 80,000-point sign-up bonus as a way to break down the walls and get one step closer to booking that dream vacation.
Find out which cards CNN Underscored chose as our best travel credit cards of 2021.
Get all the latest personal finance deals, news and advice at CNN Underscored Money.