Let’s be honest, the press surrounding the changes to the Chase Sapphire Reserve hasn’t been great. There are lots of people saying how the original king of premium cards is officially dead!
I’m going to share a little secret with you: it isn’t. In fact, The CSR is still the reigning king of premium travel cards.
Just like the American Express Platinum isn’t dead after Amex raised the annual fee to $550 and added some specific benefits that are eerily similar: monthly Uber credits, Saks Fifth Avenue shopping credit, and (finally!) some travel insurance.
In fact, I think most cardholders will get more benefits out of the Chase Sapphire Reserve than other premium cards on the market.
Join me as we take a deeper look at the CSR benefits compared to its competitors and you’ll start to see why it is the best premium travel rewards card on the market today. Plus, I’ll share some tips on how you can really maximize the value of the new benefits that come with the increased annual fee.
In This Article
Winner: Chase Sapphire Reserve
Unlike many of the other categories, travel credits are one area that all three major premium credit cards on the market offer. The American Express Platinum offers $200 in airline incidental credit that is quite limited. Meanwhile, the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Citi Prestige both offer credits that are broad to use.
The credits from the Sapphire Reserve and Citi Prestige will work for tolls, rideshares, airfare, seat upgrades, and hotel bookings. The American Express Platinum credit won’t count towards any of these categories.
What differentiates the Sapphire Reserve and the Citi Prestige? The amount. The Citi prestige offers a $250 credit while the Sapphire Reserve offers a $300 credit. I’ll take $300 over $250 any day.
Winner: American Express Platinum Card
Lounge access is a benefit you don’t realize how you lived without it until you have it. Thankfully, with any one of these three cards you’ll have access.
All three cards come with a Priority Pass Select Membership. What sets the winner apart is its unique lounge network. That’s right, The American Express Platinum Card wins this category hands down thanks to the American Express Centurion Lounges.
This may not be as valuable for some, especially if your home airport doesn’t have a Centurion Lounge. But if it does, I bet you’ll almost always end up there over any Priority Pass Lounge offered. They’re really the best lounges in the US that you can gain access to with a credit card. And while you may not get as much benefit individually, the offerings as a whole give the nod to the American Express Platinum Card.
Winner(s): Chase Sapphire Reserve and Citi Prestige
So this one is a bit of a tie, but there’s a clear loser when it comes to paid hotel earning rates: The American Express Platinum. Let’s look at the three major premium cards on the market to better understand why:
|Chase Sapphire Reserve||3 Ultimate Rewards per Dollar|
|Citi Prestige||3 Citi Thank You Rewards per Dollar|
|Platinum Card from American Express||5 American Express Membership Rewards|
On initial thought, the Platinum Card from American Express seems like it should be the clear winner. After all, one Membership Reward is fairly equal to one Ultimate Reward or one Citi Thank You Point. Once we better look at how the earnings work, the CSR and Citi Prestige will earn you more points than the American Express Platinum. Let me explain,
In order to get 5 Membership Rewards per dollar spent you have to book your hotel through American Express Travel.
What this means is you can’t stack your hotel booking with any cash back portal. Namely, you can’t stack with Rakuten. One great thing about Rakuten is that if you link an American Express Membership Rewards earning card, you can earn Membership Rewards instead of cash back.
Rakuten offers 8% cash back on hotel bookings through Expedia. This means, that if you pay for a hotel stay that you book on Expedia after going through the Rakuten portal, you’ll earn 8 Membership Rewards for every dollar that you spend. If you do this with your American Express Platinum Card, you’ll earn a total of 9 Membership Rewards per dollar spent. If you do it with a Chase Sapphire Preferred or Citi prestige you will earn 8 Membership Rewards and 3 Ultimate Rewards or Thank You Points, respectively.
What gives the edge to the Chase Sapphire Reserve here, rather than being a tie with the Citi Prestige is that Citi recently cut its travel insurance available on its cards. This included their premium Citi Prestige card. In order to get travel insurance when paying with a Citi Prestige, you’d have to pay for it separately. This gives the edge to the Chase Sapphire Reserve for paid hotel stays.
Winner: Chase Sapphire Reserve
Travel insurance is a big deal. It’s a perk that can save you hundreds or thousands. If you think this isn’t a big deal, let me put it this way: I think I’m the only 10x staff member who hasn’t had to use this benefit. Weston got $1,700 when his bags were lost in Rome. Julie’s bags were delayed on a trip to Greece. Bryce had a flight cancelled on his way home from Ireland. And I know there are other stories that I’m missing from Matt, Caroline, and Spencer as well.
Travel insurance is a benefit that doesn’t seem that valuable until you actually need it. There’s really only two cards to consider for the winner of the travel insurance category. The Citi Prestige used to have the best in the business, but Citi eliminated most of the insurance benefits to the card, leaving just the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the American Express Platinum.
Most of the coverages are the same: trip cancellation, trip interruption, etc. There is one small difference that gives the Chase Sapphire Reserve an advantage, and it’s the most widely used travel insurance. Think you’ve got it figured out from the stories above? It’s baggage insurance.
American Express does offer baggage insurance, but what makes it subpar compared to that offered by the Sapphire Reserves is that it only applies to travel booked and paid in full with your American Express Platinum Card or purchased using Pay With Points (which means redeeming Membership Rewards) are eligible. Paying taxes and fees on an award ticket issued by an airline is explicitly excluded:
“However, other Loyalty Programs (i.e. Non-American Express) DO NOT qualify on purchases redeemed in part or full towards the fare or pre-arranged travel cost. An example would be Common Carrier Frequent Flyer Miles point redemption.” -American Express Platinum Terms
Meanwhile, the baggage insurance offered by the Chase Sapphire Reserve applies if you pay for part of your trip with the card. This means that taxes on award tickets are sufficient to get coverage.
“The Cardholder and Immediate Family Members are covered when the Cardholder’s name is embossed on an eligible card issued in the United States, and the Cardholder charges all or a portion of the fare to his or her credit card Account and/or Rewards programs associated with the Account.“ -Chase Sapphire Reserve Terms
The Sapphire Reserve insurance is broader and will benefit more people. Whether you pay cash rates using your card, book through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, or book an award ticket using an airline’s frequent flier program, you’re covered.
While this may seem like a small difference, it’s enough to give the CSR the edge over the Platinum for most people who are reading this article.
Winner: Chase Sapphire Reserve
Let’s be honest, if you don’t care about ridesharing then neither one of these is a valuable perk to you. But let’s compare apples to apples to see what you’re actually getting. The Citi Prestige automatically loses by not having any rideshare benefit.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve comes with a membership to Lyft Pink, you’re getting a lot of benefits, but I want to focus on the most apples to apples comparison, so in this case let’s consider the 15% off that you’ll receive on every ride that you take.
Compare that to the American Express Platinum that gives you a $15 credit every month except December, where you receive a $35 credit. Let’s assume that you use ridesharing enough to use all of these credits monthly.
Additionally, you’ll earn 10 Chase Ultimate Rewards for every dollar spent on lyft, whereas you’ll earn 1 American Express Membership Reward for every dollar spent on uber.
|Chase Sapphire Reserve||15% off every Lyft Ride||10 Ultimate Rewards per dollar|
|American Express Platinum||$15 monthly Uber credit, $35 in December||1 Membership Reward per dollar|
The average cost per ride using a rideshare app is about $25 each way. This means your average round-trip ride will cost $50. If you use an American Express Platinum Card, you’ll be $35 out of pocket. With 1 Membership Reward per dollar spent, that’s the cash equivalent of an additional 35 cents back, meaning your total cost is $34.65.
Let’s compare this to what you get from the Chase Sapphire Reserve. With 15% off, your total out of pocket ride will be $42.50, with 10 Ultimate Rewards per Dollar, you’ll get the cash equivalent of another 10% back. This brings you final cost down to $38.25.
What makes a big difference is that the benefits you get from the Sapphire Reserve aren’t limited. You’ll get this benefit continuously. If you take just one and a half trips, the Sapphire Reserve already beats out the Uber credits offered on the American Express Platinum card. Your cost for 3, one-way trips on Lyft come out to $57.36 on average, versus $59.40 on Uber.
The difference isn’t so staggering, and you can quickly see where Lyft gets an advantage for someone who uses a rideshare service more than once per month.
To help you get the most benefit out of either credit, I recommend stacking everything you can. For Lyft, you can also earn one Delta Skymile for every dollar that you spend. Just sign up at https://www.deltalyft.com/ to begin earning now.
Additionally, you can earn cash back on all of your rides. You can go through ebates to book your Lyft rides and earn $0.25 on every ride. Another option, and one that I use is the Freebird App. If you sign up using promo code q010b you’ll get $10 up front after your first ride.
Stacking with Freebird can really boost your earnings. They partner with restaurants to give you cash back when you ride to or from the restaurant. Some of these offers are $4 or $5 cash back! You can stack this with Delta, with Lyft Pink, and still get 10 Ultimate Rewards for every dollar that you spend. You can’t earn any frequent flyer miles with Uber.
I don’t know about you, but for even a casual rideshare user, they’ll see more upside with Lyft than they will with Uber.
Winner: Chase Sapphire Reserve
Food delivery services are another easy win for the Chase Sapphire Reserve. Neither the Citi Prestige nor the American Express Platinum have any food delivery service benefits. Sure, you could use your Uber credits from the American Express Platinum for Uber Eats, but then I’d be using it twice in this consideration.
Given that no other cards have any food delivery status or credits, I have to give this to the Chase Sapphire Reserve. While this isn’t a benefit everyone will use, it is a new category introduced to the premium card space. It’s a small advantage, but it’s an advantage nonetheless.
Winner: Citi Prestige
We can’t leave out an important factor: the annual fee. These aren’t cheap cards, and most people will find themself keeping only one card, maybe two.
With the recent annual fee increase, the Sapphire Reserve joins the Platinum at having a $550 annual fee. Meanwhile, the Citi Prestige sits at $495. The Prestige takes the early lead.
And, unsurprisingly, the Prestige maintains the lead. Once you remove the airline credits as a wash, the Prestige effectively costs you $245 while Sapphire Reserve costs $250 and the Platinum Card costs $350.
Let’s tally the scores to see what premium credit card remains the king of premium cards.
The American Express Platinum Card won 1 category – best lounge access. This puts it in last place.
The Citi prestige wins 1 category – best annual fee. It ties for the best earning rate on paid hotel stays.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve wins 4 categories – best travel credit, best travel insurance, best rideshare benefits, and best food delivery service. It ties for the best earning rate on paid hotel stays.
Even if you remove the newer rideshare and food delivery categories, the CSR still beats out the other cards overall. And once you consider the card benefits holistically, rather than in a vacuum, the edge gets even bigger. The CSR effectively costs merely $5 more than the Citi Prestige, and for $5 you get the best travel insurance out there, the best rideshare benefits, and the best food delivery service.
All that said, I’m not afraid to say the CSR is still the king of premium credit cards. It is simply the best offering out there for most people. While it is upsetting to see Chase raise the annual fee, they added some benefits that they didn’t have to add in order to still be the top offering.
What are your thoughts? A lot of people are upset about the increased annual fee without any better broad benefits added, but I feel once you take the time to compare what you’re getting apples to apples to other premium cards on the market, that you’ll realize the same thing I have. These benefits weren’t needed for the CSR to increase the annual fee and stay on top. They are merely the icing on the cake.
The king has not been dethroned.
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