Why (Almost) Everyone Should get the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Not the Sapphire Reserve

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Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve
Chase Tower Chicago.

Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve? Preferred Wins!

Which credit card should I get? That is the most popular question I get asked. Friends, family, members of our Facebook group, or just people sending Miles to Memories a question, this one tops the list. It is the number one question from people just starting out.

Most everyone in this “hobby” agrees that people should start with Chase cards. What they don’t agree on is whether they should start with the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve?

Why Chase?

People suggest starting with Chase because of the cumbersome Chase 5/24 rule. After your first 4 applications the best Chase products become unavailable to you. To ensure you don’t have regrets later down the line your first few applications should be Chase cards.

Ultimate Rewards are the most coveted points in this hobby.  Chase has a great rewards ecosystem and they have some of the best transfer partners out there.  Make sure you read Bethany’s guide on the ins and outs of the program for more detail.

We know you want to start with Chase, and that you should earn Ultimate Rewards points, so which card should you get?  Most experienced people will tell you to get the Chase Sapphire Reserve.  But they are wrong, in my opinion at least.


CLICK HERE to compare this and other travel credit cards.


Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve

Why Chase Sapphire Preferred?

I think most people are wrong when they suggest the Chase Sapphire Reserve over the Chase Sapphire Preferred for a few reasons. The Sapphire Reserve used to be leaps and bounds ahead of the Preferred.  Things have changed and Chase has reduced the value of the Sapphire Reserve card.

I previously discussed why the Preferred gives you more value in the first year.  With the waived annual fee, a better bonus (5,000 more points when adding an authorized user), and the Reserve’s latest reduction in perks the Preferred has taken the lead.

Chase also removed the opportunity to get the travel credit twice in the first year. That changed the Reserve from a profitable card the first year into one that has a substantial annual fee even after taking the travel credit into consideration.

Chase also added the “Sapphire Rule”, you can only carry one Sapphire product at a time now.  This forces you to choose one or the other and most people should pick the Preferred, to start off at least.

Breaking Down the Numbers

I like using analysis when making a decision so let’s crunch the numbers.

  • Annual Fee the First Year: $0 Sapphire Preferred, $450 Sapphire Reserve
  • Travel Credit: $0 Sapphire Preferred, $300 Sapphire Reserve

If you valued the travel credit at 100%, I don’t, you have a difference of $150 in annual fee the first year.  That puts the Chase Sapphire Reserve in a sizable hole.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred also allows you to add an authorized user for an extra 5,000 Ultimate Rewards points.  This is not an option for the Reserve.  The extra 5,000 points is worth $75 at a 1.5 cents per point valuation. That valuation is pretty easy to obtain via transfer partners.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve earns an extra point per dollar (1.5%) on travel and dining.  Since the Reserve is in a $225 hole you would need to spend $15,000 in those categories to make up the difference. That is not obtainable for most people.


CLICK HERE to compare this and other travel credit cards.


Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve

But What About the Perks?

You are probably thinking this is great and all but what about Chase Sapphire Reserve’s perks?  The Reserve’s perks are far superior to the Preferred but are they useful to most people? A lot depends on your base airport, does it have a Priority Pass Lounge?  If yes then this could be very valuable to you.  A majority of airports don’t offer decent Priority Pass lounge access.

One of the recent perk reductions on the Reserve card was to limit Priority Pass memberships to 2 guests.  That puts the Chase Sapphire Reserve more in line with other premium cards.

If you want lounge access I would suggest getting the American Express Platinum Card (hopefully at the 100K offer) or the Hilton Honors Aspire Card.  The Amex Platinum card comes Priority Pass membership that allows 2 guests and also comes with Delta Lounge access and Centurion Lounge access.  The Aspire card is the most valuable premium card on the market, when talking perks.  The Aspire’s Priority Pass membership also allows two free guests per visit.

I Said Almost, Not All

There are always exceptions.  One was listed above, if you live somewhere where your airport has a valuable Priority Pass lounge or restaurant, like Portland. And, if you travel with others often then you will make up the difference in value between the two cards in year one.

Another exception would be if you travel often for business and get reimbursed travel expenses.  You should be able to charge the $15,000 on restaurants and travel to make up the difference pretty easily then.  If you travel often you may want the added travel insurance the Reserve card offers, even if it has been downgraded some.

What About After the First Year?

When you get to the end of the first year the waters become muddied.  That is because the Sapphire Preferred’s $95 annual fee kicks in.  This would trim the spend differential down to $3,667 per year in the 3X earning categories.  Most people can reach that threshold which makes the Chase Sapphire Reserve more valuable card after year one.

Conclusion

As you can see the ultimate strategy when discussing how to approach the Sapphire product line is to apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred in year one and then upgrade it to the Chase Sapphire Reserve in year 2.

Once the annual fee kicks in for the Sapphire Preferred in year two it is no longer the more profitable option.  Since Chase makes you choose between one or the other we need to be creative.  This system will offer most people the best value.


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43 COMMENTS

  1. Funny, I have a post this week coming that also deals with this on the upgrade strategy! Totally agree that it is the way to go for it right now.

  2. “The Amex Platinum card comes with a more limited Priority Pass membership (guests are $27) but it also comes with Delta Lounge access and Centurion Lounge access. ”

    Not true via amex website:

    “Now when you enroll in Priority Pass Select and visit a lounge, you can bring two accompanying guests for no charge, where applicable”

  3. Mark, is there a reason you aren’t talking about the increased value of using UR points for paid travel? I know lots of us transfer to airline partners, but for those that want to use them for paid travel through portal will get a considerable bump in value with Reserve, both with the annual fee and with the ongoing points earned.

    I am literally falling under 5/24 in a month, and will be applying for the preferred as my wife has it, and I still have my Citi Prestige and AmEx Plat, so I can do without another huge annual fee for the moment.

    • To be honest it is hard to quantify but it is something to consider if you prefer cash bookings. You are going to get more value transferring the points a majority of the time though. If you find yourself using the 1.5 cents via portal option most or all of the time then something from the Flexperks family like the Ascend may be a better fit. I don’t think it would swing the pendulum enough to make a difference in the first year but it is another reason to upgrade after year 1 is finished.

      • I think too many bloggers discount the cash booking value. There are probably far more people with families who travel with 3-5 people in economy class to domestic destinations than there are those who are looking to see how to best get a first class seat that retails for $9000. Value for many of us is all about reducing the greatest amount of out of pocket expenditures with our points for something we would have purchased anyway.

        • FYI – for me the Reserve is a no brainer no matter what. I’m in the camp where a few times a year I get to put $5000 – $15000 on the card in a weekend in the travel / dining category. I just had a $25000 weekend which netted me 75000 points!

          • Then the CSR is the best fit for you. Southwest gets you 1.5 or more and is the easiest airline out there to book for families. BA can get you economy tickets for 7500 points a piece on AA flights…I think there are options out there and you will get more value going that route.

            I think a lot of people use their UR heavily on Hyatt stays, especially since award stays count towards status now. I think the 1.5 cents cash bookings is a nice feature but you can get more value even flying domestic economy with transfers.

  4. Yeah, I was debating this as well. So I travel a lot and I eat out a lot (as well as Vegas bottle service which counts as restaurants). So the extra 1x makes sense. Although, optionally I could shift it to the Citi Premier, but TY points are not as useful. I put almost all my airfare on AMEX Plat’s 5x, with the exception of Alaska airfare on Alaska and Jetsmarter on CSR. Right now I carry the CSR, AMEX Plat, Citi Prestige. AMEX Plat is well worth it due to the Cent lounge and Amex offers. The CSR and Prestige are both on the chopping block.

    • A tough decision for sure. Do you have a Ink card to keep UR transfers open if you were to close the CSR? The Ink Preferred covers some of the travel earning and I feel like Restaurants is one of the easiest categories to earn a valuable return on which makes the decision tougher. Unless you use the 4th night free perk I don’t see any reason to keep the Prestige – the Premier is the better card imo.

  5. Your refusal to count the $300 travel credit is what creates the fallacy of your entire analysis. Whether you like the travel credit or not, you STILL get the travel credit. And the opportunity for spending on travel with the CSR vs CSP means you get a credit for the CSR and nothing in that regard for the CSP. Your analysis is illogical and seriously flawed, therefore.

    Once you realize the $300 credit turns the CSR annual fee from $450 to $150, there is merely a $55 difference between the annual fees between CSR and CSP. That isn’t accounted for by $15,000 in spending in the 3x categories. That’s accounted for by only about $5000 in spending in those categories. That’s pretty easy to hit.

    Seems to me that you simply (1) want to be different in recommending the CSP over the obviously better for many CSR and (2) want to make people feel better about getting a CSP for some strange reason…

    • Bill you obviously didn’t read the article and could have saved yourself a long winded rant. In the first year the annual fee is waived on the Chase Sapphire Preferred which makes it 15,000 in spend to equalize the difference. I even said in the final paragraphs that after the first year it would make sense to upgrade to the CSR card when the gap is only $55 in annual fee.

      My figures are accurate and yours or not. May wanna try reading the actual article instead of just the headline. The plan I laid out offers the most value for the majority of people out there.

  6. Standard recommendation is to wait until your second annual fee posts, use the anniversary travel credit and then cancel asap, so you still have two travel credits.

    You’re saying this can’t be done?

    • You can do that but that could burn some bridges with Chase especially with them upping their shutdown game. It is a something people can do for sure but it comes with some risks.

      I do think most people would be better off keeping one or the other long term though since you can’t get them again above 5/24. If you are only signing up for a 2-3 cards each year then you could do this though. Most people reading probably won’t be in that boat. Now if you have an Ink card too and just want to keep that long term instead of one of these then that is another time that your suggestion could work. I value my relationship with Chase too much to risk it personally.

    • That is if you use if via the portal. You have to try hard to get less than 1.5 cents per point via transfers. Southwest, BA, Hyatt, United will all get you 1.5 cents or more per piece. Valuing them at 1.5 is actually on the low end for most people.

  7. Mark, I think you should hold off on new apps so that you eventually may qualify for either card!

    Having owned both, however, I recommend the CSR as the hands-down winner over the two for both enhanced rewards & travel benefits. If someone isn’t doing enough spemd, NEITHER card is worth it.

      • Right…but you, yourself, will qualify for 0 bonus points if you never slow down on new apps long enough! Otherwise it IS all about spend (fake or organic) on your Ink card. Right?!

        If someone is “stuck” with CSP reward spend then it is still a good long-term program – just not the CSR even if the bonuses ARE currently the same. Going into the second year, with $3,333 of travel spend, the CSR is the long-term play.

          • There will also likely be enhanced bonuses offered in the future for the CSR. Once the plunge is taken on any Sapphire product, however, it then becomes unavailable.

            I would instead try for an Ink card if just starting out & bank the cash back/URs, then get a CSR once the URs are better han the CSP. Or the CFU or CF if someone cannot get a business card.

            Patience & tenacity with these programs can yield huge gains. Devaluation isn’t a huge concern because of Chase’s diversity of award programs (within the UR program) so why not play the tortoise every once in awhile? Why not stay prudent with tightening banking laws & finish strong? Not nearly as exciting, I presume, but sure lends itself to a regulatory peace of mind & an ever-replenishing points bank.

  8. Good strategy to start with CSP now Chase is reducing some CSR travel benefits. In fact, depending on your travel profile and spending your pattern you may not ever need to upgrade to CSR. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to get in at the ground level in late 2016 when the bonus was 100k UR AND I got two $300 travel credits within the first year. Couldn’t do it today – too far past 5/24

    • The CSR back in the hey day – 100K sign up and two $300 credits the first year….couldn’t beat it back then!

    • CSR is more generous than the CSP with travel benefits. its primary car rental insurance & roadside assistance has fewer restrictions for instance.

      Overall though, the CSR is a true travel card designed for charging plane tickets, meals, & rental cars. If you travel much at all then there is no question it’s better; if you don’t really fly or rent cars but do eat out there are cheaper cards with richer rewards than the CSP to nstead own (Cap 1 Savor 3x & Barclays Uber 4x, both no AFs).

      • You forget about pairing it with something like the Ink Cash or Freedom cards etc. Some people carry the card to make their other UR points transferable etc. and don’t put a ton of spend on it.

        • .0025 (difference between the CSR & CSP’s values on the travel portal) equates to $22,000 in spend for the CSR to be more valuable than the CSP. $55 net fee between CSR & CSPnet CSR travel fee/.0025. Again, If there is not enough spend on the CSR, it’s simoly not worth (even) the net fee (after travel credit).

  9. When you say upgrade to the CSR are you talking about converting or closing and applying for CSR? Also does CSR come with global entry? I’ll be in need of 3 of those in the next year.

    • Upgrading is essentially a product change so no new account. CSR does come with Global Entry. There are a lot of cards that offer it as well so you may already have one that does – worth checking. (Cap One Venture just added it actually)

  10. Mark- I need to make a decision later this year about what to keep. I have the Reserve/Preferred/Ink Plus/Ink Preferred/Freedom. What should I do?

    • A lot of it depends on your spending patterns. I would get rid of one of the Preferred card since you have Ink cards to make the points transferable. If you are spending over $3700 on travel and dining on your Chase cards then stick with the CSR. If you don’t put much spend on it and get lounge access from another card etc you could PC to the CFU or just close it. You could also PC the Preferred instead of closing it as well. They will even let you get another Freedom 5X card a lot of the time.

      I would keep the ink plus since you can’t get it anymore. If you are maxing out the 50K in spend then you could product change the Ink Preferred to the Ink Cash to get another 25K in bandwidth. You could also PC the Ink Preferred to the Ink Unlimited if you don’t PC to a CFU with one of the personal cards above. That is all assuming you don’t put a lot of spend on the 3X Ink Preferred spending like social media ads or shipping etc.

      There are a lot of ways you can go but most depends on how much you use the cards etc. I would probably keep the 2 most valuable cards that have an annual fee and PC the other ones to no fee options or close them.

      • Thank you so much for your input. My company allows me to put work travel on my personal cards, so I am thinking I’ll keep the CSR and Ink Plus. I likely PC the CSP to CFU and PC the Ink Preferred to Ink Unlimited (Or maybe cancel it so I can apply for the signup bonus on the Ink Unlimited?).

        • If you are under 5/24 you could go for the sign up bonus for sure. Keeping the CSR is perfect for work spend :).

          I would be worried a little bit about being denied but if you PC to the CFU first and then close the Ink you would at least be guaranteed to have a 1.5 card even if you are denied. That is the way I would probably go.

  11. I need a tutorial on transferring to partners to get economy seats at a better rate than 1.5 per point. Csr seems great to me because i want as many free flights as possible rather than business or first class seats. i haven’t done the math but when conparing csr to csp i consider the 80k points from the ink at 1.5 through the portal rather than 1.25 as a benefit of the csr. But if i can do better than that by going to airline websites directly that is what I really need to figure out.

    • It is a nice benefit for sure and if you are using it and it works for you then it is something you need to factor in.

      Southwest will always get you in the 1.5 cents range or above. Using BA miles for direct AA flights will often get you over 2 cents per point (I can fly Detroit to NYC for 15,000 UR points roundtrip). Virgin Atlantic can be used to book Delta tickets, I am flying to Las Vegas in first class for 22.5K UR, economy for 12.5K. If you can find United saver space you can book flights at good redemption rates. Flying Blue can be used on Delta. Korean can be used on Alaska, Delta, and Hawaiian. There are tons of ways to book domestic for better than 1.5 cents but it takes some work (outside of Southwest and United). Some like the simplicity of the portal booking though.

  12. Mark, how would you compare the Chase Sapphire Preferred to Citi’s AAdvantage WorldElite Executive Platinum card? The Citi card has a $450 annual fee and includes Admirals Lounge access.

    For reference, every year I travel 8x for work, and 3x with my wife and two children. We primarily fly American Airlines to ensure I keep my Platinum status and because its route map and schedules fit us well. We have Citi’s card now, and we primarily use the accrued miles to buy long-distance business-class seats for the family vacation. Would you say we are best served by the Citi card, or should we consider the CSR?

    • The AA Exec Plat doesn’t offer the best return on spend 1 mile per dollar on everything except 2 on AA purchases. If you think you are getting over $450 in value from the lounge access (which may be the case if you are adding a lot of AU’s so they get access) then it may be worth keeping. I think you would rack up more value and diversify some if you got into the CSR. And if your airport has a PP Lounge to replace the Admirals Lounge it could be a swap out which will cost you less money in Annual Fees overall. I would have said in the past the SPG card actually is the best way to rack up AA miles but the earning rate is changing in a month.

      But if AA gives you the best long haul flight options from your airport and you need those extra miles from the credit card spend to book the award flights it may be the best for you.

      • We don’t value the lounge access much. Here’s the thing: my primary strategy has always been to use the miles gained by both travel and spend to buy vacation-travel tickets, ideally on business. For example, just used 220K miles per person for round-trip business-class Miami to Italy, which would have cost about $6000 if paid in cash so we’re getting $0.03 in value from each mile. And we can usually do better: I’ve often gotten $0.05 in value per mile, which means for every dollar I spend I’m getting a 3% to 5% credit in the form of air travel.

        But without ever having used Chase’s UR ecosystem, it’s hard to understand whether the CSR would provide even better value.

        • I would check out awardhacker.com and see what UR points could do for you for your next planned trip. I would imagine you are going to get more out of UR points (most people value them above AA miles). You would reduce your out of pocket cost each year by $300 in annual fees and still have some lounge access. And with the travel and dining earning 3X you are going to rack up points quicker vs with your AA card.

          Even if you stuck with AA if you don’t value lounge access downgrade to one of the cheaper cards since they have the same earning rate.

          For example for MIA to Rome you could have transferred UR to Korean for 80K a person in biz (on Delta), 125K using air france miles, 130K using Signapore miles, 140K using United, 180K using BA miles. These are all UR transfer partners. The nice thing is it gives you options in case there isn’tavailability with your preferred airline, AA.

  13. I see your point, thanks. I’ll look very closely at the CSR, then. Can you point me toward the link that generates some referral income for you?

  14. To determine which card is better, I developed a simple multivariate algebraic expression:
    (2a/100)+300b+100c+d+e-f
    If the solution is 0 or greater, the CSR is better for you. If the solution is less than 0, the CSP is better for you.

    Let’s dive into this expression.
    “A” is your spend on travel and dining. The 2 in front of “a” is to reflect the points multiplier you get for using transfer partners (TPG valuation, you may do better or worse). Because the CSR gets 3X back in travel and dining where the CSP gets 2X back in travel and dining, “a” is necessary to account for that additional point.

    “B” is the percentage of the $300 travel credit you use. I noticed in your article you said you don’t value the travel credit at $300. You can account for that here; however, I think that thought is a little flawed.
    In your linked article, you say it is like giving an interest free loan. Most guaranteed return “loans” (CDs, savings, interest bearing checking accounts) don’t give you much of any return for $300. It would be pennies. If you want to discount a few pennies then ok but you are literally nickle and dime-ing.
    You also raise concerns over locking yourself into one card and point system. But this is essentially getting a $300 travel gift card. You don’t earn points on the travel credit so this points point is weird.
    Then your next, and imo best, point: You can get discounted gift cards. While this is true there is an opportunity cost in the form of time to be checking for these gift cards but if you want to discount it because of that, that seems fair but you have to account for the time costs.
    Your last point is moot as UR points don’t expire.
    So this travel credit may only have a value of $270 compared to $300 but that’s still significant.

    “C” is the percentage of the Global Entry credit that you actually value it at. Just because they value it at $100 doesn’t mean you do. So if you value it at $50, your value for “c” would be 0.5.
    In year 2+, this value is always 0 because even if you downgrade in year 2, you keep Global Entry. Some have argued it should be prorated over it’s life but considering you have it regardless it is a year 1 perk.

    “D” is the value you have for Priority Pass. There is no way most would value it at the value Priority Pass gives it. Whatever you value Priority Pass at is your “d” value. However, if you do value it at the Priority Pass value, the CSR is a steal!

    “E” is the value of the additional benefits the CSR gives over the CSP. This includes:
    • Primary rental insurance that includes exotic cars and reimbursement up to $75,000 for theft and collision
    • 4 roadside assistance visits per year up to $50 per incident is covered (CSP charges $59.95 for this per incident). AAA memberships by me that cover this same thing cost $50 per year
    • Trip delay insurance that kicks in at 6 hours instead of 12 hours
    • An additional $500,000 for common carrier loss of life benefit
    • Purchase protection up to $10,000 per claim instead of $500 per claim
    This may very well be a zero dollar value but still needs to be considered.

    “F” is the difference in annual fees. In year 1, the value of “f” is 450 and in year 2, the value of “f” is 355.

    Plugging in your own values will help you determine if the CSR or CSP is better. For what it’s worth, if you value “d” and “e” at 0 but “b” and “c” at 1, then “a” must be $2,500 in year 1 for the CSR to be better and $2,750 in year 2+. The year 2+ required spend goes up because “c” is now 0 but “f” makes up for it leading to only $5 in lost value. This can be made up with $250 in extra spend.

    Your $15,000 figure, while accurate, seems to discount the additional CSR benefits way too much. You would have to value the travel credit at $150. This means you’re valuing the travel credit at 50% of the stated value and everything else at $0. I don’t know how you got to that discounted rate but it seems unfounded.
    What makes it more bizarre is your year 2+ break even figure was $3,667. I’m not quite sure how you came to that figure but that would mean you’re valuing the travel credit at $282 now while still valuing everything else at $0. I’m not sure if in the second year it is more valuable to you but the math seems off here.
    Can you show your math to show me where my misunderstanding must be?

    • Ryan you make a point that I forgot to add in there for the travel credit. If you don’t earn points on the $300 in spend it should be discounted at least 4.5% because that is what you could earn making that purchase normally vs having it built into an annual fee. For that reason alone I don’t think anyone could value it at 100%.

      But in my example I did value it at 100%. I focused on the difference in annual fees and the travel credit for year two. $450-$95-$300=$55. That is being generous and valuing the credit at 100%. If you divide the $55 by the additional 1.5% you earn on travel and restaurants you come up with $3,666.66 in spend needed to offset the difference. Which is pretty easily achievable for most people and why I said CSR is the better card after year 1.

      Your numbers didn’t take into account the larger sign up bonus for CSP in year one with a value of $75 (which has recently been changed so no longer matters but it did at the time).

      I didn’t put a value on the other perks for simplicity sake and because it is something that is very individualized. People can plug in their own numbers.

      If you live in NYC and don’t own a car then the roadside assistance is worthless to you. I have gone years without renting a car so in those years the increased insurance would have no value. Priority Pass is offered by EVERYONE and you may have it from another card already, same with Global Entry and since it is once per 5 years it is worth a max of $20 per year, down to $10 when discounted at 50%.

      That would be where the difference comes in.

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