There’s a lot of buzz in the points and miles world around Chase Ultimate Rewards, and for good reason. Chase Ultimate Rewards are one of the most flexible currencies available.

When discussions of Ultimate Rewards come up, two cards often come to the forefront: the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. Many new and experienced points and miles enthusiasts are torn between which card to choose. Rightfully so.

The choice between the Sapphire Reserve or the Sapphire Preferred is one of those where you can’t go wrong. Both are great cards with great benefits, and there’s justifiable reasons to pick one over the other. Or is there?

Let’s take a deeper dive to see if this really is true. Is there really a right and wrong choice when it comes to opening a new Sapphire Card?

travel-category spend

Which Sign Up Bonus is More Valuable?

For starters, the biggest thing to consider when choosing a new card is the value of the sign up bonus. Most people will get the most value from the sign up bonus.

Marketed correctly, it would appear that the Sapphire Reserve and Sapphire Preferred’s bonuses are equivalent. How so?

To begin, let’s consider the standard bonus on both cards. The standard bonus on the Sapphire Reserve is 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points while the standard bonus on the Sapphire Preferred is 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points.

 

However, each point on the Sapphire Reserve is worth 1.5 cents when redeemed for travel, while each point on the Sapphire Preferred is worth 1.25 cents each when redeemed for travel. Doing the math, you see that both bonuses are worth $750 when redeemed for travel.

CardSign Up BonusValue of Each PointTotal Value of Bonus
Chase Sapphire Reserve50,0001.5c$750
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card60,0001.25c$750

So on face value, it appears there is no wrong choice.

Well, I’m here to tell you that’s simply not true.

See, this value only applies when you redeem the points for travel in the Chase travel portal. If you instead utilize Chase transfer partners, then you can easily get a higher value for each point that you transfer.

Each card has the same transfer partners, and points transfer at the same amount regardless of which card you have. Whether you’re transferring points to United or to Hyatt, you’ll end up with the same number of points no matter which card you started with.

When thinking about the bonuses in this way, it is easy to see which card is the real winner. Would you rather have 50,000 United miles or 60,000?

If you answered 60,000, then you answered the question already. Quite simply, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is the better choice when it comes to the bonus.

Winner: Chase Sapphire Preferred

hotel-stay-category-spend

The Question of the Annual Fee

A big hang up for many people is the annual fee associated with each card. The Chase Sapphire Reserve has a $550 fee while the Sapphire Preferred has a more modest $95 annual fee. That’s a difference of $455, on paper at least.

HOT TIP

The Sapphire Reserve comes with a $300 travel credit. This credit is one of the most flexible available. With such an easy to use travel credit, it’s easy to consider it a neutral benefit to offset the annual fee. That still makes the Sapphire Reserve’s annual fee $250 vs $95.

Sure, the Sapphire Reserve has more benefits than the Sapphire Preferred, but for now let’s focus on the annual fee.

The Sapphire Reserve comes with a $300 travel credit. This credit is one of the most flexible available. With such an easy to use travel credit, it’s easy to consider it a neutral benefit to offset the annual fee. That still makes the Sapphire Reserve’s annual fee $250 vs $95.

Most of the other credits are conditional. The Reserve’s DoorDash credit is nice, but if you don’t live somewhere that DoorDash is available, it won’t really benefit you. The same goes for the TSA PreCheck/Global Entry credit. If you already have PreCheck/Global Entry, it won’t truly benefit you. For that reason, I’ve chosen to exclude the value of those as not everyone will get the same value out of them.

That leaves a net difference in annual fees of $155. When does the Sapphire Reserve make up that difference? That’s going to take some math, but first the details.

The Sapphire Reserve earns 3X points on dining and travel versus 2X points on the Sapphire Preferred. You’ll earn 1 extra point with the Sapphire Reserve. The points on the Sapphire Reserve are also worth more, at the most basic level. Each point on the Sapphire Reserve is worth 20% more than it is on the Sapphire Preferred, ignoring the value of transfer partners.

I’m a math nerd, so I’ll spell it out for the curious. For those who would rather just get the answer: somewhere between $7,750 and $62,000, depending on how much you spend in the bonus categories.

If you’re following along for the math, here’s how we calculate it. First, we figure out the extra value you get on every dollar spent on the Sapphire Reserve compared to the Sapphire Preferred. Then, we figure out how much you have to spend to make up the difference in the annual fee.

dining-category spent

Let’s start with non-bonus spend. This one is a bit easier. At a minimum, we know that points on the Sapphire Preferred are worth 1.25 cents each versus 1.5 cents each on the Sapphire Reserve. This means for every dollar spent in non-bonus category spend, you’ll get an extra 0.25 cents for every dollar spent.

We’ve already determined that the net difference in annual fees between the two cards is $155. Converted into cents, that’s 15,500 cents. If you get 0.25 cents for every dollar spent, you would need to spend $62,000 on the sapphire Reserve to make up the difference. I got to that number by dividing 15,500 cents by 0.25 cents per dollar.

Next, let’s take the more extreme example. How much would you need to spend in bonus categories exclusively to make up the difference?

In bonus categories on the Sapphire Reserve, you’ll earn 3 points worth 1.5 cents each. This means every dollar spent in bonus categories earns a value of 4.5 cents per dollar spent. Sapphire Preferred cardholders will earn 2 points worth 1.25 cents each. This equates to a value of 2.5 cents for every dollar spent. The net difference is an additional 2 cents in value for every dollar spent on the Sapphire Reserve in bonus categories compared to the Sapphire Preferred.

For those who don’t want the annual fee long term, the Sapphire Preferred is the winner. You aren’t opening the card for the benefits, you’re opening it for the points. Since you’re opening it just for the points, you should open the Preferred since it comes with more points anyway.

We again use the 15,500 cents differential that we need to overcome. Dividing this by the 2 cents per dollar spent tells us you need to spend $7,750 in bonus categories to make up the $155 annual fee difference.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2015 the average American household spent around $3,000 eating out. That means you’d need to spend the additional $4,750 on travel every year.

Well, if you’re here at 10x, you are likely trying to minimize the amount of money that you spend on travel every year. Even if you are spending some, you’d need to spend almost $5,000 on travel every year to make up the difference.

What’s our verdict?

For most people, the Sapphire Preferred is again the winner. The average family doesn’t spend enough on dining out to make up the difference in the annual fee, and your average 10x reader is trying to travel more while spending less.

As always, this doesn’t mean this applies to everyone, merely that for the average family you’ll find the Sapphire Preferred is more than enough. This doesn’t consider the other benefits with the card, but goes to show how much extra spend is really needed to justify the Sapphire Reserve.

Winner: Chase Sapphire Preferred

chase sapphire preferred vs reserve

How Each Card Compares to its Competitors

Another important consideration in the Sapphire Dilemma requires comparing each card to its competitors. Recall, you can only get one Sapphire product at a time. If you can get a competing card that is equal or better than the Sapphire product you’re looking at, then you can choose that as an alternative.

First, let’s look at where the Sapphire Reserve ranks amongst its competitors.

first class cabin and seat

Chase Sapphire Reserve vs The Competition

There’s two primary competitors to the Sapphire Reserve: The Platinum Card from American Express and the Citi Prestige Card.

When it comes to the annual fee, the Citi Prestige card wins. Citi has resisted the temptation to increase its annual fee above $500. It is just shy at $495 compared to $550 next to the other two cards.

All three cards come with a travel credit. The Amex Platinum has a credit up to $200 to help offset airline incidentals while the Citi Prestige has a similar credit to the Sapphire Reserve, but at just $250 instead of $300. However, when you consider the Sapphire Reserve’s annual fee is $55 higher, the Prestige still comes out ahead.

Both the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Citi Prestige offer Priority Pass memberships. The Amex Platinum does as well, but it also comes with access to Amex’s expanded lounge network, including Centurion Lounges.

And how about bonus earning rates? The Sapphire Reserve tops out at 3X Ultimate Rewards on dining and travel, and through March 2022 you can get 10X on Lyft. The Amex Platinum earns 5X Membership Rewards on the first $500,000 spent on airfare and hotel bookings. The Citi Prestige earns 5X on restaurants and air travel, and 3X on hotels.

lounge access
CardSign Up BonusAnnual FeeLounge AccessTravel CreditHighest Bonus Earn
Chase Sapphire Reserve50,000 Ultimate Rewards$550Priority Pass$30010X on Lyft, 3X on Travel and Dining
Amex Platinum60,000 Membership Rewards$550Priority Pass, Centurion Lounge Network$2005X on Airfare and Hotels
Citi Prestige50,000 ThankYou Points$495Priority Pass$2505X on Restaurants and Air Travel, 3X on Hotels

Putting this all together what can we say? The Sapphire Reserve is somewhat competitive, but doesn’t really come out on top anywhere. It doesn’t have the highest sign up bonus, the lowest annual fee, the best lounge access, or the highest bonus earn rate. It does have the highest travel credit, but considering its annual fee is $55 higher than that of the Citi Prestige, you’re basically paying for it every year.

That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have some redeeming qualities. You get access to unique transfer partners like United and Hyatt that other cards don’t have access to. The primary rental car insurance is hands down the best out there.

But the overall verdict is that, although it is a solid card, it isn’t winning in its category unless some of its more niche features appeal to you.

chase sapphire preferred vs reserve

Chase Sapphire Preferred vs The Competition

So we’ve seen the Reserve vs the competition, but how does the Sapphire Preferred hold up in its market segment? Rather than the premium card space, the Sapphire Preferred is a mid-tier card. Its biggest competition is the American Express Green Card and the Citi Premier Card.

Unlike the Reserve, Chase hasn’t increased the annual fee on the Sapphire Preferred. Leaving it at $95 ties it for the lowest annual fee amongst these value cards. The Citi Premier also is only $95, while the Amex Green Card is $150.

The bonus on the Sapphire Preferred also ties for the highest in the group at 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points. The Citi Premier also offers a generous 60,000 ThankYou point bonus, while the Amex Green Card lags behind at 45,000 points.

These cards don’t come with a ton of other benefits, although each does have something unique to itself. That means none really have a strong differentiating factor over the other cards.

When it comes to bonus categories, the Sapphire Preferred does lag behind a bit. The Preferred offers 2X Ultimate Rewards on travel and dining and 5X on Lyft through March 2022. Meanwhile, you can earn 3X ThankYou points on air travel, hotels, gas stations, supermarkets, and restaurants. The Amex Green Card also earns 3X points on all travel and at restaurants worldwide.

CardSign Up BonusAnnual FeeHighest Bonus Earn
Chase Sapphire Preferred60,000 Ultimate Rewards$955X on Lyft, 2X on Travel and Dining
Amex Green Card50,000 Membership Rewards$1503X on travel and restaurants
Citi Premier60,000 ThankYou Points$953X on air travel, hotels, gas stations, supermarkets, restaurants

What can we take away from this? The Chase Sapphire Preferred ties in at least two major categories. The sign up bonus and the annual fee are just as good if not better than all of its competitors. Although it isn’t as good of a daily spender, it is a solid choice – especially when you consider you can get the other cards once you’re over 5/24.

When it comes to their competitors, the Sapphire Preferred wins in some, but not all major categories while the Sapphire Reserve mostly lags behind by not offering any beneficial changes to most users despite increasing the annual fee.

Winner: Chase Sapphire Preferred

air travel-category spend

Product Changing Up vs Down

Finally, keep in mind you can only get the bonus from one of these cards every 48 months. With that in mind, does it make more sense to product change up or product change down?

If you get the Sapphire Reserve in year one, you’ll get less points. After product changing you’ll lose the travel credit and the 3X bonus points on travel and dining. You will, however, save the annual fee.

Meanwhile, if you start by opening the Sapphire Preferred you’ll get the higher bonus, and after a year if you product change up you’ll gain some extra benefits. These benefits do come at a higher cost, so be prepared to pay the higher annual fee.

For those who don’t want the annual fee long term, the Sapphire Preferred is the winner. You aren’t opening the card for the benefits, you’re opening it for the points. Since you’re opening it just for the points, you should open the Preferred since it comes with more points anyway.

If you do want the added benefits, then after the first year you can get access to all of them if you product change up from the Sapphire Preferred to the Sapphire Reserve. But beyond the travel credit and the higher earning rate on daily spend, the Sapphire Preferred comes with similar travel insurance protections to the Sapphire Reserve.

For most people in this situation, opening the Preferred and product changing to the Reserve later makes more sense.

Winner: Chase Sapphire Preferred

Final Thoughts

For some of you, this may come as no surprise. When faced with the Sapphire dilemma, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is the winner for most people.

Although it doesn’t have the travel credit and only earns 2X points on travel and dining, the average family doesn’t spend enough to make up the difference in the annual fee. And if you do eventually want the benefits of the Sapphire Reserve, you can product change up after the first year.

Whichever card you choose, both are great options. You’ll most certainly find one of these cards in the pockets of every points and miles enthusiast out there.

Sapphire Preferred? Sapphire Reserve? There really is no wrong choice as these are both great cards, but since you can only choose one, I’d recommend the Sapphire Preferred.