September 20, 2021

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It’s Time to Fly

Why I’m Underwhelmed With Recent Changes to the Chase Sapphire Reserve

10 min read

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I still remember the day I got approved for the Chase Sapphire Reserve® card. It was January 2017, I was a college junior, and I could already taste the pre-departure champagne that the welcome bonus would net me.

I actually ended up redeeming most of the bonus for an Air Canada business class award between Tokyo and Chicago, writing my first ever professional flight review and kick-starting my career as a travel blogger.

At the time I thought that the Sapphire Reserve would stay at the top of my wallet forever, with its bonus points on broadly defined travel and dining categories, and a $300 annual travel credit that made a premium credit card affordable to a student like me.

While none of the things that initially drew me to the card have changed, a lot has changed in the world around it and I’m finding the Sapphire Reserve falling farther and farther behind. 

Updates to the Chase Sapphire Reserve

Regular APR

16.99%-23.99% Variable

Chevron icon It indicates an expandable section or menu, or sometimes previous / next navigation options.

  • Pros & Cons
  • Details

  • Pros
    • Annual travel credit can effectively shave $300 off the annual fee if you use it
    • Strong travel insurance
    • Strong bonus rewards on travel and dining
    Cons
    • Very high annual fee
    • The new DoorDash statement credits may not be useful for everyone, which can make the recently increased annual fee harder to justify
    • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $900 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
    • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year. Through December 31, 2021, gas station & grocery store purchases will also count towards earning your Travel Credit
    • Earn 5X total points on air travel and 10X total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3X points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
    • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 60,000 points are worth $900 toward travel
    • With Pay Yourself Back(SM), your points are worth 50% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories
    • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
    • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass(TM) Select and up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®
    • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more

    Read Our Review
    Read Our Review A looong arrow, pointing right

    With new and improved premium credit card offerings from airlines, hotels, and other banks, Chase frankly had to make some tweaks to the Sapphire Reserve to prove that they weren’t asleep at the wheel. The good news is that the changes announced at the beginning of August weren’t accompanied by a hike in the annual fee like Amex did with The Platinum Card® from American Express
    early this year.

    Read more: Chase Sapphire Reserve card review

    The bad news is, these new benefits (really, three new bonus categories added to the card) are quite limited in scope and won’t provide a ton of additional value for most cardholders. 

    Specifically, Sapphire Reserve cardholders will now earn:

    • 10 points per dollar on Chase Dining booked through Ultimate Rewards
    • 10 points per dollar on hotel and car rental purchases booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal
    • 5 points per dollar on airline travel booked through the Ultimate Rewards Travel portal

    On the one hand, it’s easy to look at this as a win-win. Chase added new benefits to a popular card without raising the annual fee, so if you’re able to use these bonus categories even once or twice a year you’ll come out ahead.

    10x points on Chase Dining

    Still, I think this leaves a lot to be desired. Dining portals have previously existed as a “set it and forget it” type of platform, where you link your card during account setup and automatically earn points when dining at a participating restaurant.

    Chase requires you to actually book your reservations through Chase Dining in order to earn the bonus points, which isn’t ideal. You’ll only earn 10x points for prepaid Chase Dining purchases through Ultimate Rewards, including delivery, pickup, prepaid reservations, or reservation deposits. Any purchases made at the restaurant don’t qualify for bonus points.

    Read more: The best credit cards for dining

    I searched for dining reservations in Miami where I live, every Friday for the next several weeks for a party of two. Unless the entire city is booked up that far in advance, it would appear that Chase has no more than 20 partner restaurants in the entire Miami metro area, ranging from Ft. Lauderdale in the north to Kendall in the south (a roughly one-hour drive without traffic).

    This means that in order to actually use this benefit, I’ll need to plan my reservations around the limited selection on the Chase dining platform which I just don’t see happening very often. The one saving grace is that they have Palmar, a delicious Chinese-South American fusion restaurant in Wynwood, as a partner. 

    10x points on hotels

    Next up is the 10x points for hotels booked through Ultimate Rewards. While airlines still award redeemable and elite qualifying miles whether you book directly or through an online travel agency, hotels generally only award points and elite benefits if you book directly with them.

    This means that as a Marriott Titanium elite member, if I booked a hotel through Chase Travel to earn 10x Ultimate Rewards, I’d be giving up the 13.5x Marriott Bonvoy points per dollar I’d otherwise earn (7.5x as an elite bonus, 6x for using a Marriott credit card).

    Read more: I haven’t paid for a hotel room in 10 years — here’s how I stay for free

    I’d also be giving up my free breakfast and complimentary upgrades, and those stays wouldn’t help me requalify for status for the next year. I value those perks way more than 10x Ultimate Rewards points, and I think most travelers with mid- to top-tier hotel elite status will opt to book directly to enjoy their benefits. 

    The American Express Gold is better for foodies

    Regular APR

    See Pay Over Time APR

    Featured Reward

    60,000 points after you spend at least $4,000 in your first 6 months of account opening

    Chevron icon It indicates an expandable section or menu, or sometimes previous / next navigation options.

  • Pros & Cons
  • Details

  • Pros
    • Great rewards for dining and for shopping at US supermarkets
    • Monthly statement credit for eligible dining purchases recoups some of the annual fee
    Cons
    • Underwhelming welcome bonus
    • Rose Gold is back. You can now choose between Gold or Rose Gold.
    • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months.
    • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, including takeout and delivery, and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
    • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
    • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
    • $120 Dining Credit: Earn up to a total of $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the Gold Card at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Boxed, and participating Shake Shack locations. This can be an annual savings of up to $120. Enrollment required.
    • Get up to 12 complimentary months of an Uber Eats Pass subscription when you enroll with your Gold Card by 12/31/21.
    • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
    • Annual Fee is $250.
    • Terms Apply.

    Read Our Review
    Read Our Review A looong arrow, pointing right

    Up until now, none of the points I’ve raised would be a real issue unless there was a more compelling option on the market. But with a lower out-of-pocket cost than the Sapphire Reserve (even after accounting for the Reserve’s $300 annual travel credit), I’ve found myself swiping my American Express® Gold Card
    more often than not.

    For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to say that I value Chase Ultimate Rewards and Amex Membership Rewards points roughly equally (though the truth is Amex has an undeniably better set of transfer partners for most people). So why am I using the Amex Gold Card more often?

    For starters, it offers 4x points on worldwide dining (the Sapphire earns 3x) and 4x points on U.S. supermarket purchases (to the Sapphire’s 1x), on up to $25,000 in purchases each year (then 1x). While it doesn’t offer as broad of a travel bonus category as the Sapphire does, it does offer 3x points on flights booked directly with the airline or through Amex Travel. 

    Based on the way the average American spends, the American Express Gold is simply a more rewarding card. When you factor in the cost, it pulls even farther ahead. Instead of focusing just on the annual fee, I like to judge cards based on their total out-of-pocket cost (annual fee minus easy-to-use credits).

    Read more: American Express Gold Card review

    The Sapphire Reserve has a $550 annual fee and a $300 travel credit, leaving you with a net cost of $250. The Amex Gold Card has an annual fee of $250 (See Rates) but it comes with up to $120 per calendar year in Uber Cash credits (can be used for rides or

    Uber Eats
    , and the Gold Card needs to be added to the Uber app to receive the Uber Cash benefit) and up to $120 per year in dining credits at select partners.

    Each of the credits breaks down to up to $10 per month, and you’d only have to use a month or two of each to really pull ahead of the Sapphire Reserve’s cost. If you don’t already have the Amex Gold Card, you can apply now and earn 60,000 points after you spend at least $4,000 in your first 6 months of account opening.

    Why I’m still holding on to my Sapphire Reserve

    The credit card landscape changes fairly quickly, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a year from now Chase had tinkered with the Sapphire Reserve to the point that this entire story was obsolete (I certainly wouldn’t be disappointed if that happened).

    So partly, I’m playing a waiting game. But even in the short term, I’m holding on to my Sapphire Reserve for one simple reason: It makes my Ultimate Rewards points more valuable. I’m still actively utilizing the Ultimate Rewards ecosystem, putting a lot of spending on my Chase Freedom Unlimited® to earn at least 1.5x Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on all purchases.

    Having the Sapphire Reserve gives me 50% more value when it comes time to redeem. Whether I opt to use my points to book travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal or use the Pay Yourself Back feature to erase eligible purchases from my statement, I’m getting 1.5 cents per point thanks to my Sapphire Reserve instead of 1.25 or even 1 cent with other Chase cards.

    Bottom line

    There had been rumors of a Sapphire refresh in the works for quite some time, and Chase finally showed us what they’ve been working on.

    While it’s ultimately hard to complain when a card gets more benefits added to it without seeing the annual fee raised, I think Chase fell short of what they needed to do to make the Sapphire Reserve competitive again, simply from an earning perspective, with more affordable options like the Amex Gold Card. 

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