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If you’re no stranger to flying, a travel rewards card is the perfect tool to bring on your trips. While Chase offers the Sapphire Preferred for a lower annual fee, the Reserve card is a premium pick for travelers looking to maximize rewards and perks.
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Choosing a travel rewards credit card? Then you’re probably facing the same Sapphire Preferred/Reserve conundrum that I once did.
I spent weeks asking myself: Chase Sapphire Reserve vs. Preferred? Which one is better?
Since I’ve now held both cards, I feel confident saying the Reserve is the better choice for frequent travelers. Here’s why.
Here’s what else they have in common:
Chase Ultimate Rewards points are some of the most valuable in the business. Rather than being tied to a single airline or hotel chain, you can transfer these points at a 1:1 ratio to a dozen partner loyalty programs:
|Airline Travel Partners|
|Aer Lingus AerClub||British Airways Executive Club||Emirates Skywards||Flying Blue AIR FRANCE KLM||Iberia Plus|
|JetBlue TrueBlue||Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer||Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards||United MileagePlus||Virgin Atlantic Flying Club|
|Hotel Travel Partners|
|IHG Rewards Club||Marriott Bonvoy||World of Hyatt|
As for differences, the Reserve is allegedly harder to qualify for than the Preferred.
That’s because it has a minimum credit limit of $10,000, while the Preferred has a minimum of $5,000. So if you don’t think you’ll be able to qualify for a $10,000 credit limit, due to your annual income or credit scores, the Preferred is probably a better bet.
Here are a few notable differences in their fees and rewards programs, too. (We’ll get into the rest of the perks below.)
|Chase Sapphire Reserve||Chase Sapphire Preferred|
|Authorized User Annual Fee||$75||$0|
*With the Sapphire Reserve, you’ll start earning 3X points on travel only after using your $300 annual travel credit, as described below.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve card or the Chase Sapphire Preferred card? In a perfect world, you could grab both.
But you can only hold one Sapphire card at a time — and can’t get a Sapphire card’s signup bonus if you’ve received another Sapphire card’s signup bonus in the past 48 months.
So, now that you’ve got the basics under your belt, here’s why I think the Reserve is a better choice for most people.
I know, I know. The Reserve’s $550 annual fee sounds scary — and has made many people wonder: “Is the Chase Sapphire Reserve worth it?”
Here’s the thing: The Reserve’s net annual fee is more like $250, because the card offers a $300 annual travel credit that applies to a wide range of purchases, including transportation, hotels, and airfare.
Although you’ll pay the annual fee as soon as you open the card, you’ll then notice statement credits popping up for the first $300 of travel purchases you make every year.
Spent $20 on parking? Chase will reimburse it. $150 on a hotel? Same thing.
In essence, these credits bring the Reserve’s annual fee down to $250 — only $155 more than the Preferred.
After using up the full $300 travel credit every year, you’ll begin earning 3X points on travel purchases.
You’ll also receive a $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck with the Reserve, which you can use once every four years. So if you’re not yet a member of either program, that’s another useful credit worth up to $25 per year.
Get this: The Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card offers a whopping 3X points per dollar on travel and dining purchases worldwide. (The travel category only starts after you use up the $300 travel credit.)
If you’re redeeming through the Ultimate Rewards portal for 1.5 cents per point, you’d be getting a 4.5% cash back equivalent in those categories. If you get more value through a point transfer, like 2 cents per point, you’d be getting a 6% cash back equivalent.
You’ll only find a travel rewards rate that good on premium credit cards like this, unless you’re talking about cash back cards with quarterly categories, or co-branded cards that earn a high rate with one chain — like the Hilton Honors American Express Card (Review) earning 7X Hilton Honors Bonus points per dollar for eligible purchases charged on your Card directly with a hotel or resort within the Hilton Portfolio.
Since much of my credit card spending goes toward Lyfts, plane tickets, hotels, and restaurants, this is a super valuable perk for me.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred still earns a good rewards rate: 2X points per dollar on travel and dining.
That gives you a cash back equivalent of 2.5% in those categories when redeeming through the Ultimate Rewards portal, at 1.25 cents per point. If you transfer points for 2 cents per point you’d be earning a 4% cash back equivalent instead.
2X might not seem like much less than 3X, but if you spend an average of $500 per month in these categories, that’s a difference of 12,000 versus 18,000 Ultimate Rewards points each year. Over the next five years, that’d add up to 30,000 extra points — enough for a roundtrip flight!
The Sapphire Reserve and Sapphire Preferred are also offering bonus points for Lyft rides. The Sapphire Reserve will provide 10X points per dollar for Lyft rides, and the Sapphire Preferred will provide 5X points.
As mentioned above, another important thing to note is the Reserve’s points are actually worth more when redeemed through Chase’s Ultimate Rewards portal.
When redeemed for travel expenses like flights or hotel stays through Chase’s booking engine, each Reserve point is worth 1.5 cents. The Preferred card’s points are only worth 1.25 cents. That means you’re getting 20% more value per point with the Reserve than the Preferred.
Although we’d recommend transferring your points directly to an airline or hotel to get the most value, this is a solid perk for people who prefer to book through Chase.
Imagine the value you can earn through the introductory bonus of either the Preferred or Reserve, at 1.5 cents per point!
This was the reason I jumped ship to the Chase Sapphire Reserve: It comes with a Priority Pass Select membership. While this isn’t the best airport lounge membership card around, it is a fabulous perk if you don’t have lounge access through other cards or elite statuses.
The Priority Pass perks aren’t limited to lounge access, either: Membership also gets you dining credits at select airport restaurants.
In the past, I’ve used my Priority Pass card to get a $30 credit at P.F. Chang’s in LAX (plus $30 for my guest!) and $28 at Capers Cafe in PDX. All I had to pay was the tip. Free restaurant meals, just for having a credit card? Count me in!
Certain lounges restrict Priority Pass access when they’re busy. A few times, I’ve walked to a lounge to discover it wasn’t accepting Priority Pass users for another few hours. If premium lounge access is your main credit card goal, I recommend The Platinum Card® from American Express (Review) instead, which has the best lounge access of any credit card (along with the business version of that card).
Back when I had the Chase Sapphire Preferred, I had to use its rental car insurance after being rear-ended by a bus in Iceland. The coverage was great — and while I haven’t had to test the Reserve’s car rental coverage yet (knock on wood!), it’s even better.
Both of these Sapphire cards provide “Primary” Car Rental Insurance, which means that, if you’re in an accident, you can send the bill directly to Chase. (The vast majority of other cards offer “secondary” insurance, which means you’ll need to bill your regular car insurance first, potentially increasing your premium.)
The biggest difference is the Reserve covers “expensive and exotic cars,” and offers reimbursement of up to $75,000. The Preferred will only cover “up to the actual cash value of the vehicle as it was originally manufactured,” according to that card’s Guide to Benefits.
In terms of Roadside Assistance, the Reserve shines, too: Whereas the Preferred charges a fee for each service call, the Reserve covers up to $50 per incident, up to four times per year.
And there’s more: Sapphire Reserve cardholders get one free year of Lyft Pink, which provides 15% off rides, priority airport dispatch, relaxed cancellation fees, and more.
Earlier this year, due to a cascade of canceled flights, I got stuck at the Greenville-Spartanburg (GSP) airport for eight hours. It was about as exciting as it sounds.
Although GSP didn’t have a Priority Pass lounge, I still managed to avoid paying for expensive airport food. That’s because the Reserve card offers up to $500 per ticket of Trip Delay Insurance on delays of six hours or more (or those which require an overnight stay).
That covers purchases like “meals, lodging, toiletries, medication and other personal use items,” according to the Sapphire Reserve’s Guide to Benefits.
The Preferred offers $500 of trip delay coverage, too, but only on delays of 12 hours or more (or that require an overnight stay). On that day in GSP, I wouldn’t have been eligible for reimbursement with the Preferred.
That said, both cards offer solid travel coverage, including:
The Reserve offers a few additional health benefits, too: up to $100,000 in Emergency Evacuation Coverage and up to $2,500 in emergency medical expenses, including $75 per day (for up to five days) for a hotel room if a doctor says you can’t travel right away.
Let’s say you buy a new laptop on your credit card, and the next week it gets stolen. While that royally sucks, it’ll suck a little less with the Sapphire cards.
As long as you charged the item to your card, you’ll get Purchase Protection for 120 days.
The Reserve also offers Return Protection, which reimburses you if you’re dissatisfied with a purchase you made — and the merchant won’t accept your return.
Within 90 days of the purchase (which must be made on the card), Chase will reimburse you up to $500 per item, for a maximum of $1,000 per year. The item must be in “like-new/good working condition.” The Preferred discontinued return protection in August 2018.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card (Review) is a mid-tier travel rewards card (annual fee: $95) that provides 2X points per dollar on travel and dining (among other things). It’s known for its valuable signup bonus, and for allowing cardholders to transfer points to a variety of partner airlines and hotels. The Preferred also provides a 25% redemption bonus when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
Benefit-wise, the Sapphire Preferred is fairly trim, delivering a handful of shopping and travel protections.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve® (Review) is a premium travel rewards card (annual fee: $550) that’s essentially an upgraded version of the Preferred. It provides 3X points per dollar on travel and dining, the same transfer opportunities as the Preferred, and an enhanced 50% redemption bonus.
However, it’s the Reserve’s benefits that really shine. Cardholders receive an assortment of perks, including a Priority Pass membership for free airport lounge access, a $300 annual travel credit, a recurring Global Entry/TSA PreCheck fee credit, and more.
Do you travel enough that the top-tier features (airport lounge access, a $300 travel credit, etc.) of the Chase Sapphire Reserve® (Review) are worth the money? If so, the card will likely pay for itself, and the upgrade may be worth it.
If you’re simply looking for a way to earn points on your travel expenses, and you don’t think you’ll use the Reserve’s benefits, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card (Review) should get the job done (learn more about what the Preferred has to offer). No need to spend more money than necessary.
No. Chase only allows cardholders one Chase Sapphire card at a time.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve® (Review) caters to applicants with excellent credit scores. FICO considers scores “very good” starting at 740, and “exceptional” at 800, while VantageScore marks scores “excellent” starting at 750. So it’s safe to assume you’ll need scores somewhere in that range (more about scoring ranges here).
Just remember that your credit scores aren’t the only factor considered when you apply for a credit card. You could have near-perfect credit and still be denied, or slightly lower scores and still be approved, depending on factors like your debt-to-income ratio.
Should you upgrade your Chase Sapphire Preferred to the Reserve? That’s up to you. But I made that move several years ago — and have never looked back.
The biggest roadblock — the $550 annual fee — is offset by the $300 annual travel credit and $100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit.
You’ll also be able to earn 1X more point per dollar on travel and dining, redeem points for 20% more value through Chase’s travel portal, and take advantage of the wealth of perks like lounge access and travel insurance.
In my opinion, the only reason you might opt for the Preferred is if your credit isn’t quite where it needs to be for the Reserve. Or if you don’t think you’ll use the entire $300 annual travel credit.
But, for most frequent travelers, the Reserve is simply one of the best credit cards around.
Want to take a deeper dive into these cards? Explore 20 of the best Sapphire Reserve benefits, and read our comprehensive reviews:
Still wondering about your other options? See our picks for the best travel credit cards.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Honors American Express Card, please click here.
Susan is a freelance writer who specializes in turning complex financial topics into engaging and accessible articles. She's been writing about personal finance for six years, and was previously the senior writer at The Penny Hoarder and a staff writer at Student Loan Hero. Her personal finance writing has also appeared in publications like MarketWatch and Lifehacker.
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