Chase Sapphire Reserve® Review: A Premier Travel Credit Card

Chase Sapphire Reserve® hit the market with a thud more forceful than its heavy metal footprint plunking down on a table. Few travel credit cards have dished out such lucrative rewards. So much so that Chase didn’t have to spend much on marketing, relying, rather, on the internet to carry the load with the card going viral quickly after launch. With that in mind, let’s cut through the noise to help you understand if it's right for you.

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

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Best for: Travel sign-up bonus and travel & dining spending Chase Sapphire Reserve®

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Our Bottom Line

The annual fee isn't cheap but the sign-up bonus, premium rewards for travel & dining, and array of valuable travel credits make this a compelling offer that will offset the cost of the annual fee for many.

Credit Rating Requirement: good
Highlights

  • Earn 50K bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Named a 'Best Travel Credit Card for 2017' by MONEY®Magazine
  • 3X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases. Plus, no foreign transaction fees
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,000+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass Select
  • Up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®

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Why you can trust me

I've been a self-admitted money nerd since landing my first finance job over a decade ago. Ever since, I've kept up on everything related to money, whether that's unearthing great investments or top credit card picks. Articles I've written about personal finance have appeared on sites such as MSN, CNN, and Yahoo. Importantly, I launched The Ascent's credit card reviews and ratings that you see on our site. I have also personally held 19 credit cards and earned thousands of dollars in rewards without paying a cent of interest.

What I like about Chase Sapphire Reserve®

50,000 bonus points -- Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending at least $4,000 on purchases within three months of account opening.

50% bonus points -- Points redeemed for travel through Chase's Ultimate Rewards® travel portal will bump up your overall yield significantly with a 50% bonus. That means the 50,000 sign-up bonus is worth $750 towards travel ($0.015 per point), or $500 redeemed for cash back ($0.01 per point).

$300 annual travel credit -- Cardholders receive up to $300 in statement credits each year to reimburse travel purchases, such as airfare or hotels charged to the card.

3 points per $1 for travel and dining -- Travel and dining purchases earn 3 points per $1, both worldwide. All other purchases earn 1 point per $1. Redeeming points for Ultimate Rewards® travel will net you a lofty 4.5% yield in premium categories and 1.5% for all other purchases. Not only is the yield high in bonus categories, but bonus purchase points are uncapped -- many credit cards cap bonus points up to a quarterly spending limit.

No foreign transaction fee -- Foreign transaction fees can quickly add up when whipping out credit cards for purchases abroad. Fortunately, Chase Sapphire Reserve® has nixed the typical 3% foreign transaction fee many card issuers charge. That’s a savings of $60 on $2,000 worth of international spending.

Points transfer partners -- Chase has secured one of the longest lists of points transfer partners we’ve seen, making the card a no-brainer for cardholders stretching the value of their points, where redemption value per point can reach higher than $0.05. Here’s a sample list of participating programs: British Airways Executive Club, Flying Blue AIR FRANCE KLM, Korean Air SKYPASS, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards®, United MileagePlus®, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, Hyatt Gold Passport®, IHG® Rewards Club, Marriott Rewards®, and The Ritz-Carlton Rewards®.

Priority Pass™ Select Lounge Access -- Cardholders can enroll in this program, which opens up access to over 1,000 airport lounges worldwide.

$100 credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓® -- Pay for your enrollment in either services with your card and receive a $100 statement credit. This perk, in combination with the other credits, helps to defray the costs of the annual fee and adds a ton of value.

What could be improved

Annual fee – The price for such lucrative rewards is a big $450 annual fee. Granted, an annual fee is warranted for such a premier card but it is a high fee, nonetheless, and isn’t waived for the first year.

How to best use

To avoid paying interest charges

Travel rewards cardholders will generally be better off paying balances by the due date monthly to avoid interest charges. It’s a losing strategy to rack up debt for the sake of earning rewards at single-digit rates only to watch as they get eaten up by far higher double-digit interest charges.

To breakeven on the annual fee

Run your budget numbers before applying and ensure the card makes sense for your needs. It takes $10,000 worth of travel and dining purchases redeemed through Chase’s portal to just breakeven on the $450 annual fee. The math goes as follows: $450 ÷ 0.045 = $10,000. Granted, the bonus and travel credits will reduce the required amount to breakeven. But the bonus is a one-time shot and we believe cardholders should establish long-term relationships with their cards, not churn the offer by grabbing the bonus and cancelling the card.

Stretch the value of your points

Redeem points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® to stretch the value by 50%. Chase's booking portal offers access to more than just airfare and runs the gamut of travel-related purchases, including hotels.

Apply for a Chase companion card as well

Consider placing travel and dining purchases on Chase Sapphire Reserve® and all other purchases on an alternative credit card with a higher base rate for non-bonus-category purchases. Remember, the highest yield you can get outside of bonus categories is 1.5%, whereas carrying a Chase Freedom® cash-back card as well can help you earn more rewards with it's 5% cash back (capped at $1,500 of spending each quarter) quarterly categories you activate, which have included restaurants, gas, groceries and shopping. The juice of carrying a few cards to optimize rewards may be worth the squeeze, especially for the type of person considering Chase Sapphire Reserve®, who has a large credit spending budget.

Chase Sapphire Reserve® vs. Chase Sapphire Preferred®

Some cardholders may either not spend enough on credit or travel to justify the $450 annual fee for Chase Sapphire Reserve® or may not value the various credits and soft benefits. In that case, Chase Sapphire Preferred® may be the better option. Both cards include the same 50,000 points sign-up bonus but Sapphire Preferred® has some notable differences. The card carries a smaller $95 annual fee (waived the first year), doesn’t include annual travel credits, and points are worth 25% more when redeemed for Ultimate Rewards® travel. Worldwide dining and travel purchases earn 2 points per $1 and all other purchases earn 1 point per $1. Ultimately, both credit cards are considered by many to be best-in-class, must-have travel cards, but deciding between the two comes down to your credit spending budget. We give a slight edge to Chase Sapphire Preferred® since the majority of cardholders don’t spend enough on credit to justify a $450 annual fee, but we recognize both cards have fans for good reasons. It’s worth reading our full Chase Sapphire Preferred® review and then running your budget numbers to see if one is better for your needs.

Final take

Chase Sapphire Reserve® has a passionate legion of fans, and deservedly so. Few credit cards on the market have made such a dent in the credit card industry. Chalk it up to lucrative travel rewards and a full slate of valuable perks. This combination of cardholder favorites make it a great travel credit card, particularly for cardholders with large credit spending budgets looking for a premier card.