Chase Sapphire Preferred vs Reserve: Which is the better credit card?

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Chase’s line of travel rewards credit cards has always very popular. The Sapphire Preferred card was successful because it offered double points on all travel and dining and it allowed you to transfer your rewards to airline miles or hotel points. But when Chase introduced the Sapphire Reserve card in 2016, it actually couldn’t print the cards fast enough.

Today, you have the choice of either card, so is one better than the other?

How the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card works

The Sapphire Preferred let’s you earn double points on all travel and dining purchases, and one point per dollar spent elsewhere. New applicants can also earn a 50,000 point sign-up bonus after using their card to spend $4,000 within three months of account opening. Benefits include baggage delay insurance, trip delay reimbursement, damage and theft protection and extended warranty protection. There’s $95 annual fee for this card that’s waived the first year, and no foreign transaction fees.

How the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card works

The Sapphire Reserve currently offers new applicants the same 50,000 point sign-up bonus after using their card to spend $4,000 within three months of account opening. But instead of offering you 2x points per dollar spent on travel and dining, you get 3x points. You also receive a $300 annual statement credit towards any travel purchases, and a $100 credit towards the application fee for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry, which includes PreCheck. You get all of the same benefits of the Sapphire Preferred, plus return protection, lost luggage reimbursement and emergency evacuation and transportation. It also comes with a Priority Pass Select membership that allows you and your traveling companions access to more than 1,000 affiliate airport lounges around the world.

What can you use Ultimate Rewards points for?

Points are earned in the Ultimate Rewards program and can be redeemed in many ways. These points are worth one cent each towards cash back, gift cards or merchandise. But if you redeem points from your Sapphire Preferred account, they are worth 1.25 cents each when you book airfare, hotel, car rentals and activities the Ultimate Rewards Travel Center online or over the phone. Better yet, points from the Sapphire Reserve are worth 1.5 cents each towards travel reservations. Finally, you can transfer your rewards to airline miles or hotel points with the following travel partners:

  • British Airways Instant
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Iberia Plus Instant
  • Southwest Airlines Instant
  • United Airlines
  • Korean Air
  • Air France/KLM
  • Aer Lingus Instant
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • World of Hyatt
  • Ritz-Carlton Rewards
  • Marriott Rewards
  • IHG Hotels

Fortunately, you can also combine your points with cards such as the Chase Freedom, Freedom Unlimited, and Ink Business Cash. This allows you to redeem all of your points for extra value for travel reservations or point transfers, regardless of which card you used to earn them.

My experiences

I had the Sapphire Preferred for several years before getting the Sapphire Reserve when it came out. I was satisfied with the Preferred card, but practically giddy when the Sapphire Reserve was introduced. I immediately recognized that the $300 annual travel credit made the net cost of the Sapphire Reserve only $150 a year, just $55 more than the Preferred. For that extra $55 a year, I got three key features not offered on the Sapphire Preferred:

  1. The ability to earn 3x on travel and dining.
  2. A Priority Pass Select membership.
  3. The ability to redeem any of my Ultimate Rewards points for 1.5 cents each toward travel reservations made through Chase.

This ability to earn more points was nice, but perhaps not quite worth the extra $55. The Priority Pass Select membership is actually of significant value, especially since there’s no limit to the number of guests you can include. I frequently take my family of five to the Timberline restaurant in Denver International Airport, where each guest receives up to $28 in free food. I’m sure that we’ve consumed hundreds of dollars of meals there before and after flying Southwest, which doesn’t offer anything more than a bag of pretzels, even for purchase.

Finally, I am particularly happy with the chance to redeem points for 1.5 cents each toward travel reservations. This allows me to get free rental cars and hotels while feeling like I’m still receiving strong value from my rewards. Also, I often find that I can redeem fewer points for airfare than if I had transferred my rewards to airline miles.

The downsides

As premium travel rewards credit cards, the Sapphire Preferred and Sapphire Reserve are not for everyone. These cards have higher interest rates than similar cards that don’t offer rewards. In fact, you really should only be using a credit card when you can avoid interest charges by paying off each month’s statement balance in full. Otherwise, your first priority should be getting out of debt, not earning rewards for spending.

Bottom line

I will continue to renew my Sapphire Reserve card each year, as I feel that I’m able to derive much more value than its $150 net cost (after the $300 annual travel statement credit). However, those who are more infrequent travelers and more modest spenders may find the Sapphire Preferred to meet their needs. By examining the costs and benefits of these two cards, you’ll find the one that’s right for you.

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Jason Steele About the author:
Jason Steele is a journalist who specializes in covering credit cards, award travel, and other areas of personal finance. You can check out his website at JasonSteele.com.
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