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/or 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 on 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 those points for 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 a 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 new Chase Sapphire Reserve card. When it was first introduced in August, 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 already been the subject of magazine cover stories.
Suddenly the Reserve sign-up bonus of 100,000 points made my original Sapphire carrot look like chopped liver. But that was just the start. With this new card, I would earn triple the points on all travel and dining purchases, and one point per dollar spent on everything else. Those points were worth 1.5 cents each, or about $1,500, when redeemed through the Ultimate Rewards portal. They were potentially even more valuable when transferred to loyalty programs with a Chase travel partner (British Airways, Air France/KLM, Korean Air, Singapore Airlines, Southwest, United, Virgin Atlantic, Hyatt, Marriott, and Ritz-Carlton among them). There were no blackout dates or travel restrictions, no foreign transaction fees, and, so long as my account remained open and in good standing, no expiration date.
At first blush, the fees for Sapphire Reserve seemed steep: $450 annually, plus $75 for adding an authorized user. But when I subtracted the card’s $300 annual travel credit (good toward passenger fares, hotels, Airbnb bookings, parking meters, and more), the $100 credit toward the Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee (renewable every four years), and that lucrative sign-up bonus, it was as if Chase were paying me to use its card.
For the first time in my life, I actually read the fine print; I didn’t want to miss out on a single benefit. I applied for Global Entry. I requested a complimentary Priority Pass Select card, granting me access to airport lounges in more than 400 cities around the world. And I made mental notes about all of the perks I hoped I never needed to use, including roadside assistance, coverage for theft and collision on rental cars, and reimbursement for trip cancellation/interruption, baggage delays, lost luggage, and emergency evacuation.
In order to get those 100,000 bonus points, I needed to spend $4,000 in the first three months. What that meant IRL: 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 all this, 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.
As for those 100k 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.
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. Their wallets bulge with rewards cards, and they’re constantly sniffing out new ones, sometimes grabbing the sign-up bonuses and then closing the cards before the annual fees kick in. 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.