The BEST travel rewards card

Chase Sapphire Reserve

For background regarding the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, please see our new resource guide: Chase Sapphire Reserve Complete Guide.

Nope, I’m not going to declare that the new Chase Sapphire Reserve card is the best travel rewards card.  By many measures, it probably is the single best travel rewards card, but it’s possible to do better.  Let me explain…

The Chase Sapphire Reserve card offers 3X Ultimate Rewards points for Travel & Dining.  But, Citi’s ThankYou Premier card offers 3X ThankYou points for Travel & Gas, and 2X for Dining & Entertainment.  And the Amex Premier Rewards Gold card offers 3X Membership Rewards points for airfare, and 2X points for dining, gas and groceries.  Even better, for many, the Amex Everyday Preferred card offers 3X for groceries (up to $6000 per year in spend), 2X for gas and a 50% bonus on all points earned in every billing period in which you use the card 30 or more times.  Depending upon your purchase habits, the Amex or Citi cards may offer better point earnings than the Chase Sapphire Reserve card.

The Sapphire Reserve card lets you redeem points for travel for 1.5 cents per point value by booking through Chase.  This means that travel and dining purchases effectively earn a 4.5% rebate when rewards are used to purchase travel.  That’s excellent.  But, for all other purchases (which earn just 1 point per dollar), it means a paltry 1.5% rebate.  For those purchases, most would be better off with a no-fee 2% cash back card such as Citi’s Double Cash card.

The BEST travel rewards card

The BEST travel rewards card, in my opinion, is the combination of several Chase cards: Ink Cash (or Ink Plus) + Freedom + Sapphire Reserve + Freedom Unlimited.  If that’s too much to handle, the Sapphire Reserve + Freedom Unlimited combination alone is well worth considering.

Combination Earning

Consider the following point earning rates:

  • Sapphire Reserve: Earn 3 points per dollar for travel and dining.
  • Freedom Unlimited: Earn 1.5 points per dollar for all spend.
  • Freedom: Earn 5 points per dollar in rotating categories each quarter.  5X earnings are limited to $1500 spend per quarter.
  • Ink Plus Business or Ink Cash Business card: Earn 5 points per dollar for cell phone service, cable TV, internet, and office supply purchases. Earn 2 points per dollar at gas stationsYou can also earn 2X for hotels with the Ink Plus or 2X for restaurants with the Ink Cash, but you should use the Sapphire Reserve instead to get 3X for travel and dining purchases.

As you can see above, a person with four Chase Ultimate Rewards cards can earn a minimum of 1.5X on all spend, 3X for travel and dining, and 5X on many other purchases.

Combine points before redeeming

Chase allows cardholders to move points freely from one Ultimate Rewards account to another.

For details, see: Chase point transfer rules made simple [Infographic].

This means that you can move points earned with your Ink or Freedom cards to your Sapphire Reserve account.  Then, if you use points to book travel through Chase, you’ll get 1.5 cents per point value from all points.

With this plan, at worst you’ll earn 1.5 points per dollar (using the Freedom Unlimited) and will therefore get a minimum return of 2.25%.  That alone is better than a 2% cash back card.  And, obviously, returns will be much higher when earning 3X or 5X rewards.

How to keep annual costs low

There’s no way to avoid the fact that the Sapphire Reserve card charges a $450 annual fee.  That said, it also offers $300 per year in automatic travel credits.  This means that each year in which you use the card to purchase $300 or more in travel, you’ll get $300 in statement credits.  For most people looking for travel rewards cards, this will be easy enough to achieve and will effectively lower the final out of pocket cost of the card to $150 per year.

You can get the rest of the credit card category bonuses without any additional annual fees.  The Chase Ink Cash, Freedom, and Freedom Unlimited cards have no annual fees.

While $150 per year isn’t cheap, it’s only $55 more than the Sapphire Preferred card.  And, I believe that its enhanced earning power, its increased redemption value, and its various other perks (Priority Pass lounge access, National Car Rental Executive status, etc.) are worth far more than $55 per year.

How to get all of those cards

The first goal is to get approved for the Sapphire Reserve card.  After all, the card’s 100,000 point signup bonus is worth pursuing even if you don’t plan to keep the card long term.  So far, results are mixed as to whether or not Chase is enforcing the 5/24 rule with this new card (with many cards, Chase won’t approve your application if you’ve opened 5 or more cards in the past 24 months).  See also: Get approved for the Sapphire Reserve 100K offer despite 5/24.

If you already have the Sapphire Preferred card, you should then consider downgrading it to either the Freedom or Freedom Unlimited card (you could always upgrade it later if you change your mind).  If you combine finances with a spouse or significant other, there’s no reason for both of you to have the Freedom Unlimited card — one of you can downgrade to that card and can get an authorized user card for the other.  So, if you both have Sapphire Preferred cards, consider having one person downgrade to the Freedom Unlimited, and the other downgrade to a regular Freedom card (for it’s rotating 5X categories).

If you have an Ink Plus card, consider downgrading it to the no-fee Ink Cash card.  You’ll get the same 5X categories and will save $95 per year.  Keep the Ink Plus card, though, if you have very high 5X spend since the Ink Cash card is limited to $25K in annual 5X spend whereas the Ink Plus is limited to $50K.  Or, try to get a second Ink Cash card by signing up with a second business.

In the long run, you and/or your significant other or spouse may be able to get more Ultimate Rewards cards by breaking 5/24 or by flying under 5/24.

 

 

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

More articles by Greg The Frequent Miler »

Regarding comments: Comments posted at the bottom of Frequent Miler pages and posts are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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Steve Myers
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Steve Myers

You mention downgrading the Sapphire Preferred card to Freedom. Do you do this by calling Chase and telling them you want to “downgrade” or do you apply for the Freedom card and then cancel the Sapphire Preferred card?

J Sim
Guest
J Sim

Hi, I currently already have the Chase Sapphire Preferred + Chase Freedom + Chase Freedom Unlimited trifecta. I want to get the Chase Sapphire Reserve (should be able to qualify, haven’t hit 5/24 yet) but don’t want to be paying both the $450 for the CSR plus the $95 for the CSP and since I already have the other cards I don’t think I can downgrade.

Do you recommend I cancel my CSP? Or would it be difficult to sign up for it again later if I decide to cancel it now?

Or perhaps is it possible to cancel the CSP, sign up for the CSR, and then later downgrade the CSR back down to the CSP?

Thanks!

theBOAT
Guest
theBOAT

Decision pending – WTF! I’m Chase PC, so I (wrongly, apparently) assumed I’d get the instant approval… Sad face

How are others faring?

theBOAT

webazoid
Guest
webazoid

link doesn’t show 100k. how do i know they’ll honor the 100k?

alcwj
Guest
alcwj

Not sure why people keep saying this card only cost you $150 after the $300 statement credit in travel. Yes, I get it, you spent $300 on travel and get credited, but you still spent $300 CASH, it just that you convert cash into travel or gc. The card still cost you $450 AF in CASH.

James
Guest
James

Only if you have ABSOLUTELY NO travel paid cash in a given year in any way or shape or form. if you do, the only OPPORTUNITY COST is the forfeited miles on $300, whether on Chase or whatever other card you would have used. In other terms, the max AF CASH cost is 300 x 2% = $6, so that the annual fee can be seen as $450 – $300 + $6 = $156. Again none of us can rightfully say they don’t spend $300 in travel in an entire calendar year. That’s $25 a month…even if you do have points/miles, the “copays” or fees will total that amount easily. Otherwise, you’re reading the wrong blog and do not travel.

anon
Guest
anon

your math is so fuzzy, I’d have to smoke a joint to agree with it.
ALCWJ you are correct it is $450 out of pocket no matter how they justify it.
I have points for air, hotel , and rental car awards…cards that give free bags and other than $11.20 in taxes on most domestic flights have no travel expenses at all…the taxes can be free if you use an airline gift card for them and have one of the many cheaper cards that reimburses for it. I could travel monthly for a year and never spend a dime out of pocket….so I can rightfully say that in order to use the $300 credit I would be spending money for something I can easily get for free. Using the card benefits to justify the huge AF, is one thing….pretending that the fee is “virtually” $300 cheaper is delusional, and no amount of incoherent math will change the fact.

Lrdx
Guest
Lrdx

You don’t get reimbursed for bridge tolls, parking fees, metro passes with any other card. With this, you do up to $300, and if you live in any area with >5 million population, it’s pretty much given you spend that annually on these only.

Obviously if you live in the middle of a corn field in Kansas, this is not the optimal card.

Mindray
Guest
Mindray

Woot Woot. Tis a happy day. Just got approved and with a massive $35,000 limit.

FM…you are the man.

JB
Guest
JB

I thought I read somewhere that there was going to be a 100,000 point sign-up bonus if $4,000 is put on the card in the first three months. But I don’t see that. Is there a sign-up bonus?

wise2u
Guest
wise2u

I knew today would be all about this card on many boarding area blogs…to find out that the draconian 5/24 is in place for it, makes deciding on whether or not it is worth the outrageously high $450 AF a moot point. Amex doesn’t want repeat business on their cards and implemented once in a lifetime bonuses, so I went from 8 amex cards to 1….now chase wants to limit even new cards to only people with 5 new cards (including authorized users) in 2 years…looks like they go in the sock drawer, and get cancelled when AF is due….of my 4 chase cards only INK is worth using….I have shut down all my accounts with them (and other than the yearly checking bonuses) will keep it that way until they adapt a more friendly card policy than 5/24……I guess I am ready to get some CITI cards, WF cards, and Barclaycard bonuses.

Mark O
Guest
Mark O

Citi’s new policies are worse then Amex and Chase FYI

Jon
Guest
Jon

So Chase has policies in place to prevent people like you from sucking them dry and you are going to show them by…not sucking them dry? I’m not clear on this.

ed
Guest
ed

Greg, did you get approved for this card? I know you’re like me and way over the 5/24, but some have gotten approved anyhow. I’m trying in branch, but I have a lot of card in the last 24 months.

freqflyer
Guest
freqflyer

Don’t forget that the new Reserve card does charge $50 for each AU. So if you have a spouse or other family members with an AU the extra cost over the CSP. This may not be a slam dunk that some are making it out to be depending on travel and spend patterns.

Lantean
Guest
Lantean

I just got approved in brach (the banker said I was pre-approved). I am way over 5/24… more like 24/24… haha.
$23k credit line as well… very generous.

the best part – it was only soft pull since I was pre-approved. yay!

Jim
Guest
Jim

Hi Greg Mr FM, wife applied with your links just like me and she also applied for the citi no fee Hilton. It has been 2 years since my last MS. Used to be regular mser. Used to be easy with a trip to cvs Walmart and target and easy to liquidate too but now all those methods are dead unless I pay my mortgage with 3%fee to meet her spend req? I have a child and always busy with him and ms I heated is very tough these days? I myself didn’t apply because I am afraid to not able to meet any new spend req. I need your suggestions and ideas to meet $10k spend req in 90 days. Thanks

JW
Guest
JW

I’m CPC and way over 5/24, was able to get the CSP in branch earlier this year without problem. Today went to the branch for CSR but didn’t receive instant decision, wonder what’s the reason. I also plan to apply for the Southwest and UA card, should I pull the trigger today altogether or wait for the CSR first?

JW
Guest
JW

Where can you check for pro-approval online or it has to be in branch?

Buckaroo
Guest
Buckaroo

I was planning on signing up for the CSP this month until I heard about this. I closed my last CSP over two years ago. Should I signup for the CSP and then 6-12 months from now, the CSR? It seems that would be easier than CSR, then CSP.

Thanks

Lrdx
Guest
Lrdx

I’d think you do not get points after the $300 statement credit, so one “loses” 9 points ~ $13.5 – thus the annual fee after the statement credits is $163.5

jim
Guest
jim

@Greg, Am I able to make payment to my wife on plastiq when i receive my card? So when she gets the check, she can deposit it in the bank account to pay my card bill. We live in same address though. The reason I ask is because I don’t want to prepay thousands in mortgage payment at once as we don’t have a lot of money in bank to pay those in 30 days.
Thanks

Viking9990
Guest
Viking9990

Hi Greg – are there any news about the guest policy reg. the Priority Pass attached to The Chase Reseve Card? Are you allowed 2 free guests and the same perk for the AU – just like the Citi Prestige Card?
Thanks

Winston
Guest
Winston

I think the effective annual fee is $141 instead of $150, because you will also earn 900 UR points from the $300 travel spending.

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[…] The BEST travel rewards card – Everything you need to know about Chase’s new Sapphire Reserve premium card. […]

Ed
Guest
Ed

Greg, I currently use only the Citi-Prestige card because of their American Airlines perks like access to Admirals Lounge & added points value for AA flights. Since they announced dropping (or reducing) these advantages, I’ve been looking for a replacement card and am leaning towards the Citi Executive World Elite card which includes an Admirals Club membership. Do you see any reason I should consider the Chase Reserve card instead? My company travels exclusively on AA and I need to have Admirals Club lounge access.

Jill anderson
Guest
Jill anderson

Greg, I have the Ink Plus and Chase Freedom if I downgrade the Ink Plus to Ink Cash will I still have ability to transfer points from Chase Freedom to Ink Cash?

ES
Guest
ES

Very helpful summary and analysis, Greg. Thanks.

I have a question re: strategy for getting my husband the CSRes. I was pre-approved, applied in branch, and got it although over 5/24. He was not pre-approved and hasn’t applied yet. He is over 5/24. The CSP was his first card when we started in this game – we had a long credit history and many cards but CSP was the first once we began in The so-called Hobby. We downgraded to the free Sapphire version after the first year because we both by then had Ink Bolds. The Sapphire card with its $15K CL has been permanently sock-drawered and the card is used nearly never.

Should he close the Sapphire card before applying for a CSRes? Or PC it to a Freedom Unlimited? Or leave it alone to have access to perhaps moving the CL during a recon for a CSRes? Or will it just come down to 5/24 regardless?

He currently has a small biz checking acct at Chase which sees little action – it was opened a few months ago to get a $500 bonus – but our other Chase savings and checking accts, while joint, are attached to my SSN, which probably explains why I was pre-approved and he wasn’t. We are not interested in CPC but do have a great relationship with a banker who in the past pushed a special and successful recon as if we were CPC.

Any thoughts on how to position him to get a pre-approval would be most welcome! Thanks! Happy weekend!

trackback

[…] My pick for the single best all-around travel rewards card is the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card.  No other single card offers as good of a combination of rewards (3X travel & dining; 1.5 cents per point travel value) and perks (lounge access, primary car rental coverage, etc.).  Plus, cardholders can add other cards to their wallet to earn more Ultimate Rewards points with no additional annual fees: Chase Freedom Unlimited (1.5X everywhere); Chase Freedom (rotating 5X categories); Chase Ink Cash (5X office supply purchases, phone, TV, and internet).  For more, see: The BEST travel rewards card. […]

jason
Guest
jason

why don’t you mention the bank of america travel rewards with 2.625% on everything? yeah it doesn’t offer all features but no AF.

Is the CSR 1.5x all spend too like the freedom unlimited? i guess it doesn’t matter if you can transfer points from and ink and freedom to reserve for 1.5x right?

trackback

[…] See also: The BEST travel rewards card. […]

trackback

[…] When Chase introduced their Sapphire Reserve card last summer, I was thrilled with the suite of Ultimate Rewards cards I had cobbled together: Sapphire Reserve for 3X travel and dining; Ink Plus for 5X office supply, cell phone, and internet; two Freedom cards for rotating 5X categories; and the Freedom Unlimited for 1.5X everywhere else.  See: The BEST travel rewards card. […]

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[…] the recent post “The BEST travel rewards card,” I argued without proof that the best travel rewards card was a combination of cards that […]