Which is Better: Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve?

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Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
Chase Sapphire Reserve

There’s a huge debate amongst my readers, every time I talk about the Chase Sapphire Reserve someone will argue that the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is clearly the better card (usually pointing out the slightly better signup bonus and the lower fee).

But if I cover the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card — highlighting the lower fee and suggesting it’s the best card for getting started in this hobby — readers will rightly point out just how valuable the Chase Sapphire Reserve is.

Both are right and at the same time both can be wrong, because each card is more appropriate for different people.

Here’s the basic comparison between the two cards:

Points from both cards transfer to:

  • Airlines: United, British Airways, Singapore Airlines, Air France KLM, Southwest Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, Iberia, Aer Lingus
  • Hotels: Hyatt, IHG, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton


Singapore Airlines Suites

Here’s Where Sapphire Preferred is Better

The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card has a lower annual fee and a better signup bonus. The signup bonuses between the two cards are both 50,000 points after $4000 spend within 3 months, but the Sapphire Preferred also lets you earn an additional 5000 points for adding a no annual fee authorized user.

Chase Sapphire Preferred may also be easier to get approved for. It’s a Visa Signature, while Sapphire Reserve is a Visa Infinite which may require the issuer’s willingness to give you a higher credit line.

Here’s Where Sapphire Reserve is Better

To compare the two products you have to start with the fee. Sapphire Reserve is better in most ways, the question is whether it’s worth the $450 fee.

Right off the bat you get a $300 travel credit. That’s almost as good as cash (lowering your net expense) because almost any travel counts. Buy an airline ticket. Pay for a hotel room. Take Uber. It all credits automatically.

For me I just need, then, to get $55 more value out of Sapphire Reserve ($150 the first year) to say it’s better.

Sapphire Reserve earns 3 points per dollar on travel and dining. That’s huge for someone more than $250 each month on travel and dining. $250 per month is $3000 per year. Since I value Chase points at 1.9 cents apiece 3000 points are worth $57 to me.

I’m fortunate to put a lot of travel on my personal credit cards, but any amount over $250 a month covers the difference in annual fee after year one even if you value lounge access, Global Entry reimbursement, etc. at zero.

Even if you wouldn’t ever spend $399 for an unlimited Priority Pass (that doesn’t even come with free guest access) you can make the case that it’s worth an extra $55 if:

  1. You don’t already have a Priority Pass select card
  2. You’ll use it at least a couple of times a year

If you use your points to buy paid travel through the Ultimate Rewards portal, the Sapphire Reserve gives you 1.5 cents per point in value versus 1.25 cents apiece for Sapphire Preferred. Redeeming 22,000 points a year through the Chase portal at an extra 1/4 cent value apiece covers the $55 value gap.

Which Card is Better… For You?

I think every frequent flyer should have one of these cards, but not both. If you have a no annual fee Freedom Unlimited cad which earns 1.5 points per dollar on all spend, you can move those points to either Sapphire Reserve or Preferred and then those points become eligible for transfer to airlines and hotels. Same is true for the no annual fee Ink Cash small business card which earns 5 points per dollar on office supplies, cable and satellite television, and mobile phone service.

  • If your primary interest is the signup bonus, Sapphire Preferred is better.
  • If your primary interest is using the card to move points from other cards to miles, Sapphire Preferred is better.
  • If you’re just getting started in miles and points, Sapphire Preferred is a much lower risk way to do it. It’s easier to convince someone to take the plunge on the less expensive card than a $450 annual fee card no matter how compelling the higher fee card is. You often need to see, touch, and feel how much leverage you can get from your points before you’re really sold.

  • If you value the airport lounge access from Chase Sapphire Reserve’s lounge access, then the Sapphire Reserve clearly makes sense.
  • Even if you don’t value any of Sapphire Reserve’s benefits, if you spend much on travel and dining the extra point (3 points per dollar) can more than cover the difference in annual fee and Sapphire Reserve is better.
  • If you redeem 22,000 or more points per year for paid travel instead of transferring points to airlines or hotels then Sapphire Reserve delivers greater value.

When arguing that one card is inherently better than the other, people usually argue that it’s better for someone like them. A card can provide 3 kinds of value — a signup bonus, value for ongoing spend, and benefits. Sapphire Preferred has the better bonus (and lower cost) while Sapphire Reserve delivers better value for ongoing spend and better benefits. So it depends on how much value you will get out of each.

Boil it all down and I think that the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is best for beginners at miles and points, and Chase Sapphire Reserve is a card for those committed to the hobby or for road warriors and those who spend a lot on travel and dining.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
Chase Sapphire Reserve

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »

Editorial note: any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer. Comments made in response to this post are not provided or commissioned nor have they been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any bank. It is not the responsibility of any advertiser to ensure that questions are answered, either. Terms and limitations apply to all offers.

Comments

  1. You do not mention the extra costs for an authorized user. This more than doubles the annual out of pocket expense of the sapphire. Still could be the right card, but important to consider.

  2. A few reasons Reserve is better for me. I travel for work only 4-5 times a year, 4 nights per trip. So I’m far from a road warrior.

    –$300 travel credits = $300 from Chase and $300 in reimbursements from my employer. This more than pays the $55 annual fee difference between CSR and CSP
    –Triple points on dining and travel – don’t forget that you get 3x points for the $300 in travel credits as well
    –National Car Executive status, I use this all the time, have driven a lot of nice cars!
    –Silvercar 30% off, I’ve only used a couple of times since they’re not where I typically fly

    Priority Pass isn’t that valuable to me since they have poor options where I travel. But it’s nice to have for leisure trips, just in case. And unlimited guests is very nice. I suppose it’s worth a few dollars per time to me since I typically visit a The Club location to grab a bottle of water.

    Overall I come out ahead of the $450 annual fee, even before any lounge visits. Really where I struggle is justifying my Plat AMEX…

  3. I’m interested in the comment, “If your primary interest is using the card to move points from other cards to miles, Sapphire Preferred is better.”

    Wouldn’t it be better still to use the Sapphire Reserve, since you would get even MORE value out of your points?

  4. Gary, why all of sudden the multiple posts from your comrades on this very issue? Is it the New Year?

    Just curious

  5. To Hunter: if you transfer points from other cards (eg Unlimited or Ink) and plan on converting the points to miles there is no difference in the cards.

  6. It’s not even debatable, except for:
    (1) somebody who is only in it for signup bonuses with as little cash out as possible
    (2) somebody who doesn’t charge much dining or travel (in which case just get a 2% cash back card)

    The CSR comes with far more benefits including Trip Evacuation Insurance (which is very expensive on a per trip or annual basis) and a whole host of other perks that CSP does not cover.

    Of course the best card (which should be mentioned in any comparison) is the JPM-R card which includes the unpublished United Club membership for the same price. And would not be difficult for some of your more well-heeled readers to get.

  7. “If I hard pulled for Reserve or Preferred, Which Card is Better?”

    “It would be extremely situational…”

    “You’re a points guy”

    “…For You”

  8. The conspiracy theory on this one is that Gary gets paid affiliate fees for the Preferred (or maybe higher affiliate fees for it), that is why he is constantly pushing the Preferred. Unless you put very little spend on your card (or virtually never travel and/or eat out), the Reserve is SO OBVIOUSLY the better choice.

  9. I guess I’m flummoxed because I assume the vast majority of your readers are, like me, so far over 5/24 that this is all hypothetical anyway.

    I’d love, love a reserve card, but have been assured that even if I accept their invitation to become a Private Client, no exception will be made. So for me, this is just a painful reminder of what I’m missing.

  10. Unlimited Priority Select lounges for me and guests and the Trip Evacuation Insurance more than makes up the fee difference. As soon as I get my credit score up 50 or so points, I’ll apply for the Reserve.

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