Should I ditch my Sapphire Reserve?

Last week, news broke about Citi’s upcoming changes to their ultra-premium Prestige credit card: starting next year they’ll add 5X rewards for dining & airfare and limit 4th Night Free to 2 uses per year.  In response, and even though I’m excited about these changes, I listed the reasons why I don’t think that the Citi Prestige has toppled the Sapphire Reserve.  That post was written with an “average” traveler in mind.  I believe that most frequent travelers will continue to do very well with the Sapphire Reserve and its fellow Ultimate Rewards cards.  With those cards Chase makes it very easy to earn lots of points and to redeem them for great value.

But, what about a non-average traveler?  Some of the techniques involved in earning the most points from Citi go beyond what I think of as “average”.  Examples include: regularly seeking retention offers; obtaining an AT&T Access More card through multiple product changes (change first to the AT&T Access card and then to the More); finding manufactured spending options that offer 3X; etc.  And the same goes for redeeming points for great value: combining 4th night free with Premier 1.25 redemption; redeeming sweet-spot awards with foreign airline partners; capitalizing on Citi transfer bonuses; etc.  All of these things make the Citi ThankYou program extremely valuable for those willing and knowledgeable enough to go the extra mile.

What about me?  Given the upcoming Citi Prestige changes, should I keep or ditch my Sapphire Reserve card?

Background

I’ve kept my Prestige card the last few years because it easily pays for itself.  Back when Citi Gold checking was for mere mortals (they now seem to require $200K in investments), I apparently locked in a $350 annual fee.  After the card’s $250 travel reimbursement, my net cost is only $100.  And, since I tend to use the 4th Night Free hotel benefit once or twice every year, keeping the card easily results in a profit.

I also recently signed up for the $95 Premier card when it was offering a 60K bonus (you can find up-to-date bonus info here).  The Premier card offers a 20% discount on travel point redemptions (1.25 cents per point value).  By pooling my Premier and Prestige accounts, I can now combine the 4th Night Free benefit and the Premier 20% point discount if I’m willing to book my stay online.  When booking a 4 night stay, this combination results in a 40% point discount vs. paying 1 point per cent.  That’s like getting 1.67 cents per point value (see this post for details or this post if you want to argue about the 1.67 value).  Also see: Complete Guide to Citi Prestige 4th Night Free.

Dining 5X: Citi Prestige for the win

Currently I’m using my Amex Gold card to get 4X for dining within the US, and I’ll use the Sapphire Reserve for 3X dining elsewhere.  When the Prestige card adds 5X categories in January 2019, I’ll switch to the Prestige card for all dining. The one possible exception is when dining at a hotel restaurant: you never know if it will code as dining or lodging.

Travel 5X or 3X and travel insurance

Travel spend gets more complicated.  The Prestige card will offer 5X for airfare and “most travel agencies”.  For all other travel expenses, I have multiple options to earn 3X rewards:

I listed the above cards roughly in the order in which I prefer their points: Chase Ultimate Rewards > US Bank points > Thank You points > CNB points.

In general, I want to use the card that offers the best rewards and the best travel protections.  Let’s look at various types of travel I tend to spend money on…

Flights

Both Citi Prestige and Sapphire Reserve offer very good trip protections (see: Ultra-Premium Credit Card Travel Insurance).  The Sapphire Reserve is better for trip cancellation and interruption since it covers you fully even if you only pay for part of the trip with the card.  The Sapphire Reserve also has better trip delay protection since Citi doesn’t count delays caused by missed connections.  And Chase throws in emergency medical and dental coverage, up to $2,500 per trip.

None of the other cards on my 3X travel list above provide anywhere near the same coverage as the Sapphire Reserve or Citi Prestige.

Car Rentals

Both my Altitude Reserve and my CNB card offer primary collision coverage and 3X earnings.  If I were to drop the Sapphire Reserve, I’d switch to the Altitude Reserve for car rentals.  The Ink Business Preferred also offers primary coverage but only when renting “primarily for business purposes.”

Hotels

I don’t usually prepay for hotels, so trip cancellation/interruption coverage isn’t much of an issue.  If I were to drop the Sapphire Reserve, I’d probably start using my Altitude Reserve at hotels (or maybe the Citi Premier if I needed more ThankYou points).

Uber / Lyft

I already use my Altitude Reserve card for Uber and Lyft rides.  The Altitude gives me 3X points and I can instantly redeem previously earned points at 1.5 cents per point value via Real Time Mobile Rewards.  I can have my cake and eat it too.  That is, I can earn my 3X points and use them too (at 1.5 cents per point value).

Decision Time

I’ll keep my Sapphire Reserve at least until January 2019.  At that point, the question will be whether to downgrade it to a no-fee Freedom card before the next annual fee comes due (it would then become my fourth Freedom card!).

Given all of the above considerations, here is the value I’d continue to get from the Sapphire Reserve if I were to keep it:

  • Annual $300 travel credits
  • Trip protection peace of mind
  • Simplicity: One card to use for all travel
  • Ability to redeem Ultimate Rewards points for 1.5 cents each towards travel

Is it worth it just for those things?  The $300 travel credit offers obvious value.  The rest are less obvious.  It’s hard to attach a value to the trip protection peace of mind, especially when the alternatives come very close.  And while simplicity is great for most people, I don’t much mind picking and choosing different cards for different purposes.  And, finally, the ability to redeem points for 1.5 cents each can be extremely valuable.  In practice, though, I rarely use it.  But, I do like knowing it’s there, just in case.  If I did my math right, I’d have to redeem 60K points per year this way to break even:

  • Annual Fee: $450
  • Travel Credit: -$300
  • 60K points redeemed at 1.5 cents value (vs. 1.25): -$150

I thought that writing this post would clarify the decision for me, but it hasn’t.  I honestly haven’t yet decided whether to keep or downgrade the card, but I’m leaning towards downgrading it.

What do you think?  Should I keep or cancel my Sapphire Reserve?

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.

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Chaz
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Chaz

You have many alternatives, so perhaps it’s worthwile to downgrade. Only true perk is the trip cancellation and rental car insurance. If you’ve never used either it might make sense to downgrade.

Are you going to write a post about Citi Thank You Points?

From my research it appears TYP don’t transfer fast for awards, which essentially takes a lot of value out of accruing them compared to MR and even UR. I’m not convinced it’s a currency worth accruing yet. Certainly something to consider when comparing Citi Prestige to Chase Sapphire Reserve and even Amex Gold, particularly on the dining category.

JohnB
Guest
JohnB

My transfers to Cathay and Virgin were both instant.

Rob
Guest
Rob

LOL — that point you make about liking to know the 1.5x option is there if you need it, but rarely using it, really strikes home to a conversation I have had with myself many times. My wife and I travel with our 10 year old multiple times a year and I always worry that I won’t be able to find 3 premium cabin award seats on the same flight to wherever we may be going. The 1.5 cents per point option on the CSR helps me relax a little about that, knowing that if I can only find 2 seats on points, I can always pay the cash value with UR points if I need to.

docntx
Guest
docntx

Guess it is the old “Apples to Persimmons” comparison. After the $300 travel credit, $150 won’t break the bank, plus getting Chase cards can be a pain, Citi tends to have “meh” transfer partners, and we will only be able to use points as 1 cent on travel.
We ultimately love the points/miles we need now. 🙂

Mark
Guest
Mark

What if you get the opportunity to earn and redeem another 60k UR during the year? At a quarter point benefit, that would be another $150 in value.

I would say it’s pretty likely that Chase will at least tempt you (new cars offer or terrific 5X opportunities on old chase cards) once more near the end of the year.

John
Guest
John

Partner transfers, in my view, are ordinarily the best use of points and take the value well over 1.5 or 1.67 to 2 or more. I ignore the other potential uses of points. If you really disprefer the Citi partners, that pretty much settles it for me. But for what it’s worth, they both have Flying Blue, which is my favorite partner. So that didn’t help much did it? If you spend a lot on dining, that could be worth maybe a thousand dollars or so in favor of Citi as I value reasonably transferable points.

Ed. C
Guest
Ed. C

Reading this made me realize how much of an amateur I am at the points game! I only have the CSR, CFU, Ink Cash, Freedom and Barclay Aviator Silver card to figure out what spending to put where!

Stvr
Guest
Stvr

The thing is, a chase point is worth less than a citi point thanks to the 30% transfer bonuses. If you want to get back to Necker Island, a Citi 3x category is really 4x with transfer bonuses. Chase can’t really come close to that.

Mark
Guest
Mark

This very much depends on *if* you need to use that specific transfer partner *during* the transfer bonus window (which isn’t infinite). So…nice to have but hardly a gamechanger. I don’t think many people can sit around and wait on a redemption just in case citi decides to have another transfer bonus.

Yuri
Guest
Yuri

But you can easily earn a lot of 5x points with Ink Cash and Freedom.

AlexL
Guest
AlexL

If I were in your shoes, I will downgrade the card since you have so many other options available.

Jags
Guest
Jags

I’m dumping the card January 2019 after I get my $300 reimbursement.

The only thing I’m getting out of the card is 1.5cpp redemptions which I don’t use and 3x dining on international food. AMEX Gold is now domestic dining, and travel is currently going on the Premier while I work on my $4k SUB and likely for the next 12 months. I’ve found I’ve been using tons of AMEX hotel offers instead of booking with CSR so it just hasn’t been getting used much except for EZ Pass refills and rental cars. If I don’t get a good Citi retention offer I’ll upgrade one of my Ink Cash cards to an Ink Preferred for 3x UR travel for a $95 AF a year from now.

I’m pretty much over Chase at this point as I’ve exhausted all of my UR points and I’ll never qualify for another Chase bonus because I have no intention of falling below 5/24.

Brett W
Guest
Brett W

I asked this last week on the Facebook group and I’ll be honest, I still don’t know. My fee is due in November so I need to decide soon. I too have Amex Plat/ Gold along with Chase Ink Preferred. I also have some flexibility to go pick up a few of the cards you outlined.

Weird thought, but I drive a lot for work and since I have a very old car, I have taken to renting cars via SilverCar ( I know i could do better in price with other companies but since it’s reimbursed I’ll go with the Audi!). This may be the one perk that gets me to keep the Reserve as it gets a VInfinite discount with Silvercar and so I save a lot when I get my mileage reimbursed. Strange, I know.

Marc Elliott Levy
Guest
Marc Elliott Levy

I think the CNB or Altitude might give you that same benefit

Debit
Guest
Debit

We need more people to cancel their CSR and tell chase how much they hate it.

So they will raise the sign on bonus.

FlyingNinja
Guest
FlyingNinja

Since you have the Ritz card, you could use it for partial pay travel to get the travel insurance benefit and therefore having the CSR is redundant

Some dude
Guest
Some dude

Don’t forget that the Citi Prestige also has Citi Rewind, a benefit I’ve heavily used this past year to the tune of several hundred $$ saved.

WrightHI
Guest
WrightHI

I’m going through some of the same thought process, but with the refreshed Amex Gold. I don’t MS, so I’m just spreading around regular spend. I’ve always figured that I generated more than enough extra points through Freedom 5x quarters to cover the Sapphire annual fee (CSP, then CSR when it came out). Now, with Amex offering only one less point year-round than Freedom grocery, restaurant, and department store categories (since department store gift cards can be bought at grocery stores), and limited value for me with other bonuses, I need to sharpen my pencil a bit more. I’ll pay the CSR annual fee this month, and I’ll probably let it run through next year to see how Chase does with their new offers and whether Amex can come up with Marriott and/or Hilton transfer bonuses to compete with Chase Hyatt transfers, but Sapphire is no longer a no-brainer.

Mark
Guest
Mark

So one giant thing that I haven’t seen mentioned (if i missed it sorry!) is that the AmEx gold is not proving to be very consistent with restaurant coding. My first cycle I had nearly $400 of restaurant charges that did NOT code as 4x (but 1x) on my brand new Gold card.

If I’m not going to get consistent 4x on restaurant spend with AmEx that takes it out of the running and leaves me to decide between Citi and Chase… I tend to value UR more than TYP because of the transfer partners Hyatt in particular is a huge win for Chase in this debate imo, I find Chase’s set of airline partners on the whole better for me but this very much depends on where you live and where you are trying to go so YMMV. So this is honestly a tough decision. I’ve also utilized trip delay insurance not once but twice in the past year with Chase saving me the annual fee just from that.

Brett
Guest
Brett

I was already not sure whether to get the Preferred or Reserve but now after reading this I’m really not sure if I should get either…Ideas?

Stucktrader
Guest
Stucktrader

just get the Preferred for the 50K bonus. $95 already pays for itself going that route.

Mark
Guest
Mark

I would lean towards the Reserve if you are debating. Remember you get a $300 credit so you only need to find $450 – $300 – $95 = $55 worth of extra value out of the reserve to make it worth it. If you decide it’s not worth it after a year downgrade it to a CSP or Freedom.

However you know your spending habits better than me… you’ll have to run the math on it for yourself.

Also nothing is stopping you from getting the CSR now and Prestige in January if you don’t have either… then decide later which to keep, enjoy the singup bonuses now.

FreeIsGood
Guest
FreeIsGood

Another way to look at justifying the extra $55 for the CSR is the 3x on restaurants and travel over 2x with the CSP. $55/.015 = $3667 of spend on travel/dining.

That said I’m considering ditching the CSR and Amex Plat… in January after collecting both annual travel credits. Then get prorated AF refunds and downgrade.

Reasons I might keep the CSR – I do use United, Southwest and Hyatt points transfers a lot. I don’t use any AMEX MR transfer partners.

wise2u
Guest
wise2u

another CSR perk, priority pass (don’t have other card so don’t know if they have it too) we used it for $60 food credit in MIA yesterday….I guess a main consideration is how many UR points you have and how often you use the 1.5 ppm booking engine

Max
Guest
Max

I’m confused as to why you’d have to redeem 60k points to break even. Isn’t that way more than breaking even?

AlexL
Guest
AlexL

Greg is comparing to have 1.5 cents per point value with Sapphire Reserve and 1.25 cents per point value with CIP/CSP. And Greg claimed that extra 0.25 cent per point will be enough to justify to keep the reserve if he redeem 60K points a year. But Greg, should you factor in the AF for the CIP/CSP? I think you just need to cover the difference of $55.

Yuri
Guest
Yuri

Why do you value Altitude points higher than TYPs? I think TYPs are a bit better than 1.5c each.

Chucks
Guest
Chucks

Where are you realistically and consistently getting over 1.5cpp with TYP? JetBlue is my best redemption there and I’d peg it at 1.4cpp. I’d generally take a consistent 1.5 cpp on any flight.

Yuri
Guest
Yuri

Flying Blue, Avianca and Turkish. Didn’t try Cathay or others yet.

Yuri
Guest
Yuri

Since CSR is the only transfer card in my family (well my wife has CSP, but that’s temporary), then using 1.5cpp on UR portal vs the next transfer option of $95 AF, you will have to spend 22000 points per year to break even the $55 difference. I spend way more than that on UR portal per year. So I will keep it. And will also use it for other travel (except for whatever Prestige has 5x). Yes, there is an Altitude Reserve, which is also 1.5cpp like CSR, and with primary CDW in US, but travel category is more limited, and I just prefer to cash the points at 1.5cpp, and not use it against travel.

NinjaX
Guest
NinjaX

greg. i give you clarity. dont be a quitter. keep it for science.

Sam Palmer
Guest
Sam Palmer

I think there’s a Club Membership quality of the CSR. Remember, once you get rid of it, you lose your club membership for at least 48 months. Our annual fee is months away so we’ll wait and see how Chase answers. They have to answer somehow. RIght? RIGHT???

Chucks
Guest
Chucks

I wouldn’t pay $450 unless I was VERY CERTAIN the card’s returns would SUBSTANTIALLY EXCEED that fee. The value proposition CAN’T be “oh well over the next year I get $300 in travel credits and then MAYBE another $150 sorta kinda maybe breakeven”. Because things change all the time in the churning world, as does your life. And $450 spent now really should return more than $450 over the course of the year considering inflation/opportunity cost (maybe $500+). The value proposition has got to be “it’s totally worth the annual fee, and in addition should generate hundreds, if not a thousand+ in excess value”.

And I don’t see that kind of value proposition for the CSR anymore for most people in most circumstances. Unless you can magically reduce the AF somehow…

Liz
Guest
Liz

Keeping the Reserve for the insurance. We cruise twice a year so more than pays for the difference.

Marc
Guest
Marc

I’m doing that by default, too, but I’m wondering if there really isn’t a batter credit card out there for insurance. There HAS to be! Maybe it’s one that is bad at rewards and good at insurance? I have no idea, it just seems incredible that that is what keeps us holding on. It’s not insignificant, but if you had told me when I signed up for CSR that insurance was the biggest reason I’d hold onto it two years later, I’d have raised an eyebrow.

Josh
Guest
Josh

I’m guessing the numbers become a little different if you don’t otherwise plan on keeping a $95 chase card (ink plus, ink pref, csp), right? I have an Amex Plat, Ritz, and the CSR as well but not the CNB or Citi Prestige, so for me it seems like a keeper for your mentioned reasons (trip delay insurance, 1.5x, etc).

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