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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
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
See Pay Over Time APR
60,000 points after you spend at least $4,000 in your first 6 months of account opening
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
, 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.
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.
Good to Excellent
3 Free Nights (valued up to 50,000 points each) after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months, plus 10x total points per $1 spent on up to $2,500 in combined purchases in select categories within your first 6 months
Good to Excellent
$200 after spending $500 on purchases in the first three months from account opening
Good to Excellent