Original travel planning.jpg?1530898442?ixlib=rails 0.3

What travel benefits and rewards do Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders really receive? An AFAR editor gives her honest review of the credit card in almost every dedicated traveler’s wallet.

For years, I resisted the siren call of rewards credit cards. So many numbers to calculate! So much fine print! The thought of putting effort into collecting points and converting them to miles was simply too much for my math-averse brain to handle.

But eventually, I caved and got myself a Chase Sapphire Preferred card. I was thrilled with the 50,000-point sign-up bonus and double points for travel and dining. I still didn’t know what I was doing, but I figured I must be on the right track if I was able to redeem points for travel benefits like a pair of one-way Qantas tickets from Melbourne to Los Angeles. I’ll be damned, I was finally starting to see the light: If I put most of my charges on my travel credit card and I pay my bill monthly, I get free things. Ding! Ding! Ding!

Just as I wrapped my head around the Sapphire Preferred card, along came the flashy, splashy Chase Sapphire Reserve card. When it was first introduced, the card unwittingly ignited a premium rewards race. Demand was so high, in fact, that Chase ran out of the metal material it uses to manufacture cards. Slowpokes who didn’t sign up in time were issued flimsy plastic, much to their chagrin. How the Sapphire Reserve card went viral without any marketing has been the subject of magazine cover stories.

The biggest Chase Sapphire Reserve card perks

With this new card, I earn three times the points on all travel and dining purchases, and one point per dollar spent on everything else. When redeemed through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, those points are worth 1.5 cents each, or about $1,500. There are no blackout dates or travel restrictions, no foreign transaction fees, and, so long as my account remains open and in good standing, no expiration date.

At first blush, the fees for Sapphire Reserve might seem steep: a $450 annual fee, plus $75 for each authorized user. But then I subtract the card’s $300 annual travel credit—essentially a reimbursement for travel purchases that can be applied toward airline passenger fares, car rentals, hotels, Airbnb bookings, timeshares, campgrounds, cruise lines, taxis, ferries, toll bridges, parking meters, rideshares, and more. I also consider the $100 credit toward the Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee, which is renewable every four years.

article continues below ad

I think of the complimentary Priority Pass Select membership, which grants me access to more than 1,200 airport lounges around the world. I make mental notes about all of the perks I hope I never need to use, including roadside assistance, primary rental car insurance, trip cancellation and delay coverage, plus reimbursement for lost luggage and emergency evacuation.

Lastly, I remember the lucrative sign-up bonus: After spending $4,000 within the first three months of opening the account, cardholders earn 50,000 points worth $750 toward travel. With all of these benefits and features in mind, it’s almost as if Chase pays me to use the Sapphire Reserve card.

Value summary:

  • 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening
  • $300 annual travel credit
  • $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck
  • Three times the points on dining and travel worldwide
  • Complimentary access to 1,200 airport lounges
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • 1:1 points transfer to select airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Enhanced travel protection benefits

Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card

How to earn points and rewards

Here’s what it meant IRL to earn those 50,000 bonus points after opening my account:
Unless a place was cash-only or I was buying, say, a pack of gum, I paid for everything with my Reserve card. I didn’t care if some barista gave me the death stare for charging a $3.95 latte. Every point mattered.

The trick in earning and redeeming the most benefits, of course, is paying your bill in full, every single month. With a higher-than-usual variable interest rate (16.24 to 23.24 percent), any interest or penalties owed could very well negate the rewards earned from the Chase Sapphire Reserve card.

Of course, the Sapphire Reserve card should be your default form of payment on every airline and hotel website where you regularly book travel. (You might also want to set the card to default on ridesharing apps like Uber and Lyft.) It’s also worth nothing that Chase Sapphire Reserve points are potentially even more valuable when booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal or when transferred to loyalty programs with one of Chase’s 13 travel partners—British Airways, United, Air France/KLM, Korean Air, Singapore Airlines, Southwest, Virgin Atlantic, Hyatt, Marriott, and Ritz-Carlton among them. 

As for my 50k points, I transferred them to Korean Air (along with some points I’d already earned) and bought two one-way business class tickets from New York to Bangkok. With taxes and surcharges, it cost $130.26. Not too shabby considering the value of the two tickets was nearly $12,000.

article continues below ad

While I’m still no points dork, I am a convert. Whenever the numbers and redemption possibilities start to overwhelm me, I consult pro websites like The Points Guy and One Mile at a Time. Those dudes live for chasing points. For them, it’s a churning game. For me, it sounds like a whole lotta work.

I think I’ll just stick with the one card that treats me the best.

This article originally appeared online in December 2016; it was updated on July 6, 2018, to include current information.

>>Next: The Best New Credit Cards for Serious Travelers