January 2017 Update
Chase has lowered the online signup bonus to 50k Ultimate Rewards points.
Updated Nov 2016
Note: I do not receive any commission if you sign up for the Chase Sapphire Reserve. This is a completely unbiased review.
Perhaps no travel card burst onto the scene with greater fanfare than the Chase Sapphire Reserve. It was the talk of the travel community in the summer of 2016.
So is it the king of all travel cards, as some have claimed? Is it worth a big annual fee?
I’ve put together a thorough, top to bottom review of, and guide to, the Chase Sapphire Reserve to answer those questions and more.
Here’s my take, broken down into four main sections:
- An Overview of the Chase Sapphire Reserve
- Eleven Great Elements of the Chase Sapphire Reserve
- Three Unappealing Elements of the Chase Sapphire Reserve
- The Wrap-Up
Keep in mind that, unlike many other travel bloggers, I don’t get any commission if you apply for the Chase Sapphire Reserve. You get my unbiased review here!
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An Overview of the Chase Sapphire Reserve
The Sapphire Reserve is a high-end card with a bevy of features. It’s Chase’s answer to the Citi Prestige and the American Express Platinum. The features it carries will no doubt be ultra appealing to heavy travelers. Many of them are downright enticing to even the average two-vacation-a-year traveler.
Here is a listing of the best (my opinion) features of the card:
- The signup bonus comes in at a whopping 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points (requires $4,000 of spending in the first 3 months)
- A $300 annual travel credit is included
- Travel and dining purchases earn 3X points
- Ultimate Rewards points are be worth 1.5 cents each toward direct travel redemptions through the Ultimate Rewards portal
- Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee is reimbursed
- The card is branded as a Visa Infinite card and includes a chip
- No foreign transaction fees on purchases made with the card
Note that the annual fee is $450 and is not waived the first year. It is offset in part by the annual travel credit.
Eleven Great Elements of the Chase Sapphire Reserve
1. The Signup Bonus for the Chase Sapphire Reserve Kicks Ass
The signup bonus of 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points is extraordinary. Travel aficionados have flocked to the Chase Sapphire Preferred card for years, partly because of its signup bonus. Well that typically only came in at 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points. The fact that the Sapphire Reserve doubles it is astounding. The Sapphire Reserve is a different product altogether from the Sapphire Preferred so there is no issue getting the Reserve even if you had/have the Preferred.
I value Ultimate Rewards points at 2.1 cents each, meaning this signup bonus is worth about $2,100 in my estimation. That’s not a typo – this signup bonus can be worth over two thousand American dollars!
The reason I value UR points at 2.1 cents each is because you can transfer them to various frequent flyer and hotel loyalty programs at a 1:1 rate. Redemptions in some of those programs can often yield returns of even 3 or 4 cents per point, meaning my valuation of 2.1 cents per UR point could be considered conservative. Even if you don’t like to determine the worth of points in such a manner, the signup bonus has incredible value (see below).
Here is a list of Ultimate Rewards transfer partners, as of writing:
- British Airways
- Air France / KLM
- Korean Air
- Singapore Airlines
- Virgin Atlantic
If you like to play it as simple as possible, you can redeem the 100,000 Ultimate Rewards for $1,000 cash back (I wouldn’t recommend that unless you really don’t anticipate doing any travel in the foreseeable future).
2. Ultimate Rewards Points Instantly Gain Value
With full-fledged Ultimate Rewards (UR) cards like the Chase Ink+ and the Chase Sapphire Preferred, UR points are worth 1.25 cents toward direct travel bookings. However, with the Sapphire Reserve, UR points will now be worth 1.5 cents each toward travel bookings.
Of course even more value can usually be extracted out of UR points by transferring them to travel partners such as Hyatt, United and Southwest. However, if you’re looking to make travel arrangements with a company that isn’t a UR transfer partner, or are having issues with lack of award availability, then this direct travel booking option becomes appealing. Used in this manner, the 100,000 point signup bonus is worth a clear-cut $1,500 toward travel!
If the travel booking you’re looking to make requires more UR points than you have available you can use the UR points you have and simply pay the balance with your credit card. Though this might be how you would assume the system works some other travel booking portals for other credit card rewards programs are less consumer-friendly.
Here’s the real kicker though: Per the Program Agreement, anyone who holds a Sapphire Reserve card will be able to redeem all of their UR points at this 1.5 cent per point rate, regardless of point origin. In other words, even points originally earned on a card like the Chase Freedom will be eligible to be transferred to the Reserve account and redeemed at the 1.5 cent/point rate. That means Freedom bonus categories which earn 5% back (wholesale clubs for 3Q and 4Q of 2016) are generating a clear-cut 7.5% back towards direct travel redemptions (again, potentially even more when transferred to partner programs). Similarly, points earned on the Chase Freedom Unlimited, which gives 1.5 points per dollar spent, end up with a net return of 2.25% when redeemed for travel.
|Credit Card Used For Purchase||Type of Spend||Earning Rate for Purchase Category||Net Return|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve||Travel and dining||3X||4.5%|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve||Other than travel and dining||1X||1.5%|
|Chase Freedom||Quarterly bonus category||5X||7.5%|
|Chase Freedom Unlimited||All||1.5X||2.25%|
|Chase Ink+||Office supply stores||5X||7.5%|
3. The Card Comes With a $300 Travel Credit Each Calendar Year
Per the landing page screenshot shown above, the Sapphire Reserve includes a credit of $300 per calendar year toward travel. This is a huge, and almost direct, offset of the annual fee.
This is implemented via statement credit which will automatically be applied to your account when your card is used for purchases in the travel category. All purchases coded as travel count – flights, hotel bookings, cruises, taxis, trains, etc.
The limit of $300 in statement credits is an annual limit. That means that you can likely get the statement credit twice during your first year of card membership. That’s potentially $600 in travel credits for the first year of card membership, topping the annual fee by a whopping $150!
It will be particularly easy to reap that “double” benefit if you get the card in the middle of a calendar year. You may also be able to buy a gift card from a travel provider and time-shift your purchase to ensure you earn the travel credit twice during your first year of card membership.
Chase emphasizes in the T&Cs that the relevant date for the travel purchase is posting date. In other words, if you book a hotel in December for a February stay and your card isn’t charged until February then the statement credit won’t be issued until February (or a bit later) – the fact that you “started” the purchase in the previous year is effectively irrelevant.
To go a step further… If you want the 2016 travel credit to kick in, it will be best (and maybe essential) that the travel charges you want offset post before your 2016 December statement closes. For example, if you incur a travel charge in late December 2016, after your December 2016 statement is issued, the travel credit may not kick in until your January 2017 statement is issued. In that case the travel credit issued may be a 2017 travel credit, potentially leaving some of your 2016 travel credit unclaimed.
4. Travel and Dining Bonus Earning Rate Is Strong
The points earning structure of the card is simple. For travel and dining purchases you’ll receive 3 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent. For all other purchases you’ll receive 1 Ultimate Rewards point per dollar spent.
For many people, including most heavy travelers, travel and dining purchases make up a significant portion of credit card spending. So this elevated earning rate for purchases in those categories really pays off.
Given my valuation of Ultimate Rewards points of 2.1 cents each as of writing, the net effective return for spending on travel and dining is a whopping 6.3%! If you go for the standard redemption toward travel through the Ultimate Rewards booking portal (1.5 cents per point) you’ll be getting an effective return of 4.5% on travel and dining purchases.
Whereas some other card issuers aren’t generous per se in determining which purchases count toward a certain category, Chase seems to be going very consumer-friendly in this regard. Here is a list of the types of purchases that will count as travel, and earn 3X points:
- Hotels, motels, timeshares,
- Car rental agencies
- Cruise lines
- Travel agencies
- Discount travel sites
- Operators of passenger trains, buses, taxis, limousines, ferries, toll bridges and highways
- Parking lots and garages
5. The Sapphire Reserve Includes Complimentary Priority Pass™ Select Membership
Priority Pass Select membership gets you access to over 900 airport lounges across the globe!
In addition, it appears from Chase’s wording that companions traveling with the cardholder will also get into the lounge free of charge.
You can view a listing and map of locations of participating lounges at the Priority Pass Select website.
6. Global Entry or TSA Pre ✓® Application Fee Will Be Reimbursed
If you use your Sapphire Reserve to pay the Global Entry or TSA Pre ✓® application fee, you’ll receive a statement credit to fully offset that charge ($100 for Global Entry and $85 for TSA Pre ✓®).
This is an either/or perk so if you get reimbursed for TSA Pre ✓® you can’t also get reimbursed for Global Entry. After reimbursement of the fee you’ll be eligible for reimbursement again every four years. Interestingly, Chase indicates the statement credit will be issued within 24 hours of the application fee being charged to your card. That’s a nice departure from the common language seen in so many instances these days (e.g. Please allow 6-8 weeks for….).
Note that if you already have TSA Pre ✓® or Global Entry you can pay for someone else’s application and still get reimbursed.
I strongly recommend going for Global Entry instead of TSA Pre ✓®. Given the fact that this card reimburses both it’s a no-brainer unless you’ll have an issue getting to a Global Entry interview center. I was paying out of pocket and I opted for Global Entry even though it was an extra $15.
7. No Foreign Transaction Fees
Given this card’s status as a high-end travel card it’s no surprise that it comes without foreign transaction fees. Nonetheless, it’s worth noting because dining and travel make up the bulk of spending on many international trips. In this case we have a great combo – a card that earns a great return on purchases in those categories and won’t saddle you with payoff-sapping foreign transaction fees when you make those purchases.
8. The Card Gets You Access to The Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection
Cardmembers are eligible for The Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection program benefits and Guest Privileges. Benefits include daily breakfast for two, a special benefit unique to each property, a room upgrade if available and early check-in and late check-out if available. To receive these benefits, you’ll have to book your hotel/resort reservation through a Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection Travel Specialist or on the website, LHRCollection.com.
9. Many Ancillary Perks Are Included
As with some other high-end cards, this one will include purchase, price and return protection, primary rental car insurance, lost luggage reimbursement and trip delay and cancellation coverage. It also includes emergency evacuation & transportation coverage!
Trip cancellation/interupption insurance is good for up to $10,000 in reimbursement per trip.
Items purchased with the card will also get extended warranty protection, upping the warranty duration by an additional year, on eligible warranties of three years or less.
10. You Get Fast, Extensive Support Over the Phone
Instead of a million voice prompts and “off hours” you can talk directly to a dedicated specialist anytime by calling the number on the back of your Sapphire Reserve card.
In addition, Chase has travel agents who will help you book travel or modify a reservation on Chase Ultimate Rewards®. It’s touted as full-service support by Chase Travel Team (call 1-855-234-2542).
You can also lean on the Visa Infinite Concierges for assistance with dinner reservations, or Broadway, music and sporting event tickets (call 1-877-660-0905 from inside the US and call collect to 1-312-800-4290 if outside the US).
11. You May Be Able to Bypass the 5/24 Rule Via In-Branch Application
The Sapphire Reserve is subject to Chase’s 5/24 rule.
The good news is that getting approved in branch is still often possible for applicants who are over the 5/24 threshold. I know this from personal experience!
I have significantly more than five accounts opened in the last 24 months so I didn’t even bother applying online – I figured I would be denied due to the 5/24 rule. Instead, I visited a Chase branch. The Chase branch I stopped into is in a different state than the one in which I live (there are no Chase branches in my home state).
In the branch I asked to speak with a banker (different from teller). I sat down at his desk with him and told him that I was interested in learning whether I was preapproved for the Chase Sapphire Reserve. He had me enter my SSN into the system. He futzed with the computer for a few moments and then told me I was indeed preapproved for the card. I gave him the go-ahead to submit my application. Seconds later I was approved, with a whopping $34k credit line.
My entire visit to the Chase branch lasted less than five minutes! Of course there’s no need to stop into a physical branch if you’re not over the 5/24 threshold. If you’re under that threshold you can save yourself a trip and instead simply apply online.
If your application for the card is denied and you have not opened 5 or more cards in the past 24 months, then you may want to call the reconsideration line and inquire as to whether shifting credit lines or providing further info would result in an approval. The Chase reconsideration line phone number is 888-245-0625.
Three Unappealing Elements of the Chase Sapphire Reserve
1. The Annual Fee is Steep
An annual fee of $450 is no joke. In fact, it’s a big enough number that many potential applicants will immediately dismiss the card.
However, Chase has clearly included some major benefits with the card to entice consumers to look past that annual fee. The reality is that people that travel at any non-trivial level will come out way ahead in the first year of card membership without even considering the signup bonus.
As I mentioned earlier in this post, you’ll likely be able to “double-dip” on the $300 travel credit your first year of card membership, meaning you can get $600 of travel credit during that timeframe. Subtracting out the annual fee leaves you in the black for $150 and that’s of course before factoring in the signup bonus.
If you keep the card indefinitely then the effective annual fee becomes $150 due to the $300 annual travel credit (as long as you regularly travel as least a minor amount).
2. The Spending Requirement is Substantial
Like the annual fee, the spending requirement for this card’s signup bonus isn’t trivial. To earn the 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points you’ll have to make $4,000 in purchases in the first 3 months after account opening. It’s not an unprecedented requirement by any means but for some people it exceeds their normal purchasing patterns.
As is the case for just about every card, the minimum spending clock starts ticking upon approval for the card. If you were approved instantly for the card then the approval date is the same as the application date. However, if you weren’t approved instantly your approval date will be after your application date. There are many reports of Chase actually providing slightly more than three months to meet the minimum spending requirement, presumably because you don’t get your card into your hands for several days or a week after approval. However, it’s not advisable to push your luck – do everything reasonably possible to meet the spending requirement within 90 days of account approval.
Of course there are ways to meet spending requirements smartly. You can prepay certain bills or buy gift cards to stores you shop at repeatedly (think grocery store or home improvement store). By doing so you’re not spending any more than you would have otherwise spent; you’re merely time-shifting your purchases.
For engaged couples, you can of course put various wedding expenses on the card. With the cost of weddings these days you’ll likely surpass this spending requirement quickly.
One important note though: Adding an authorized user isn’t free like it is for most cards. To add an authorized user to this card will set you back $75. This will likely get the authorized user Priority Pass Select membership but even if so it won’t be worthwhile for most.
3. A Valuable Visa Infinite Perk Isn’t Included
One of the only other Visa Infinite cards that is widely available – The Ritz-Carlton Visa Infinite card – includes a $100 statement credit when two to five domestic roundtrip airfares are purchased with the card through a specific portal. This perk can be used over and over again as long as the card is active. At first it seemed that the Chase Sapphire Reserve would include such a perk but that isn’t the case.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve lives up to the massive hype it received. Readers of this site know that I focus quite a bit on signup bonuses (as they can be ultra-valuable) and on that front this card shines. With 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points, worth about $2,100 in my estimation, it’s an attention-grabber right off the bat. Throw in the $300 travel credit (which can be $600 the first year you have the card) and this card instantly catapults into elite territory.
The travel and dining earning of 3X is strong also. In addition, there’s the fact that holding the Sapphire Reserve makes all Ultimate Rewards more valuable for travel bookings through Chase. On top of all of that it comes with Priority Pass Select membership and reimbursement of Global Entry or TSA PreCheck (worth another $100 or $85).
Taking all of the incredible perks, features, costs and signup bonus into account, I rate the Chase Sapphire Reserve the max 17 out of 17!
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Are you planning to apply for the Chase Sapphire Reserve? Have you already? Share your thoughts and any reports of approvals/denials in the comments below!