Should You Pay for Flights With Amex Platinum or Chase Sapphire Reserve?

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The Platinum Card by American Express earns 5 points per dollar on “flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel.”

That’s huge value. I see each Amex point as worth 1.8 cents so I treat this like a 9% rebate on airfare.

Chase Sapphire Reserve earns 3 points per dollar on all travel and dining, and this includes airfare. I value each Chase point at 1.9 cents, so I treat this as a 5.7% rebate on airfare.

So which card do I use for airfare? It actually depends. The American Express points rebate is greater, but the Chase Sapphire Reserve travel protections are better.

It offers Trip Delay coverage — American Express does not include this when you use their card to buy a ticket. If you buy your airfare with the Sapphire Reserve you’re covered up to $500 for trips delayed over 6 hours or overnight (due to equipment failure, weather, strike).

Waiting Out Snow at the Westin DFW

I love this benefit because instead of arguing with the airline over whether they’ll provide you with a hotel room (they usually won’t for a weather delay or cancellation) or a room that you’re willing to sleep in (you usually don’t get a full service Marriott or Westin) you just get the room you need and deal with the card company’s coverage to reimburse the bill. Save receipts for hotel, for meals, and even transportation back and forth between the airport and the hotel.

The question is, when is this coverage worth giving up the 2 extra points you’d earn with the Platinum Card by American Express? That depends how much the coverage is worth to you, and that in turn may depend on your likelihood of needing it.

American Airlines Airbus A321T at New York JFK

A morning non-stop between Miami and Charlotte in the spring creates little condition likely to need the benefit, I’m more inclined to go for the extra points.

An evening departure is more likely to be affected by delays from earlier in the day, crew is more likely to time out in the event of a delay, and I’m less likely to be accommodated on another flight the same day and wind up having to spend the night.

Connecting flights increase the likelihood of a problem (each flight could have one), short connections even more so, and connections – say – through Chicago in winter time.

But all else equal when are the points worth more than the coverage? I wouldn’t spend more than $15 for trip delay coverage on a given trip, so I’m not going to want to give up points worth $20 for that coverage either.

On a $500 ticket if I pay with Chase Sapphire Reserve I get a $28.50 rebate (based on my valuation of points) while if I pay with the American Express Platinum I get a $45 rebate. So I’m giving up $16.50. A ticketing costing $500 (or more) goes on the Platinum card.

However I buy a lot of tickets that are less expensive, those go on the Sapphire Reserve. I’m effectively buying trip delay coverage (and better delayed baggage coverage, too, but I very rarely ever check a bag) with the points-earning foregone.

My own conclusion is I use Chase Sapphire Reserve for less expensive tickets, and the Platinum Card by American Express for more expensive tickets. And my break point is around $500.

Chase Sapphire Reserve
Platinum Card by American Express

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, 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 »

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  1. I’ve also moved all my airfare to the Citi Prestige since the trip delay kicks in with a 3-hour delay. Chase Sapphire only kicks in after 6 hours.

  2. @ymx, @JL100: For delays between 3 and 6 hours (where, I presume, a hotel is not involved) what benefits do you get from the delayed trip insurance?

  3. Gary,
    I think it’s important to note that The CSR is the best card to use for expensive tours and trips because the trip cancellation / interruption covers up to 4 immediate family members up to $ 10,000 . That could be up to $ 20,000 if you and your wife are traveling and get sick.

  4. Is there a card that covers having to buy walk up airfare on another carrier when the airline refuses to put you on oal?

  5. @LarryinNYC good point, I guess there could be situations where you choose to change flights or hotel with a 3 hour delay without waiting six hours, and without needing to stay overnight, but agree that is probably unlikely. Maybe a meal for a family with a four hour delay would be worth $100 or so in a restaurant, have to defer to others’ experience.

  6. Just do not see why both Gary and Lucky ignore Citi Prestige in this comparison while apparently the protection offered by the CP is better than CSR. Is the Chase UR so much more valuable than Citi TYP that even considering the better trip delay protection of CP, Gary and Lucky still ignore CP?

  7. The great thing about Citi Prestige (possibly CSR too?) is that only a portion of your travel expenses need to be paid with the card for the protections to kick in. So I always use my Citi Prestige on award ticket fees/taxes, and will use Plat for cash tickets.

  8. I had the same reaction – how can you write this article and not mention the Citi Prestige card, given the delay protection at 3 hours? This makes a big difference, I have had some very nice dinners courtesy of Citi for delays of more than 3 hours but less than 6.

    So, here’s a question, not an accusation – does Chase pay a larger commission to View from the Wing than Citi? if you go to all 4 credit card offers listed are from Chase. However, in fairness, the Chase cards seem to have sign up bonuses for the consumer that are lacking with the Citi cards.

  9. for you Citi Prestige fans: do its protections apply when you use your ThankYou points to cover 100% of the ticket (thru Citi’s own booking portal)?

  10. I’m kind of shocked Amex hasn’t added this to the Platinum yet.

    My philosophy is generally that I’ll pay for my personal travel using the Sapphire Reserve, and use the Amex Platinum for business travel – since my company would pay for any accommodations involving major delays.

  11. But what about travel insurance? It is better with CSR, no? Shouldn’t that factor into the choice as well? On trips where I want insurance, I pay with CSR over Amex so I don’t have to buy insurance separately.

  12. I totally agree about the Prestige benefits. However, for the sole purpose of points for transfer, I may be tempted to go with Amex. Amex and SPG have the highest use in transfers than any other cards. For me that is a very large consideration…..using the least points for the best flights. Also, since Chase never offers transfer bonuses the way Amex does, I lean in that direction, and you can’t use a bonus if you don’t have the points!!

  13. Do you get travel protection from Chase Sapphire Reserve when you buy your air ticket using rewards points?

  14. @lucky – With as much as you travel, why would you not have an annual travel insurance policy which covers you for such things (in addition to essentials such as medical and repatriation) on all of your trips?

  15. @AI Citi Prestige has MARGINALLY better terms on trip delay than Sapphire Reserve, but 3x Citi points are worth less than 3x Chase, I would not consider putting air on it over the Reserve card at this point. I’ve also had mixed experience with actual Prestige trip delay claims, I did get a check from them finally along with a letter denying my claim, hah!

  16. Is the following a scenario that could work? Buy the ticket with Amex for the points, and then purchase a better seat with the CSR? Would I then have the CSR insurance coverage as well? I am new to all of this and very much appreciate the info you more experienced travellers take the time to share. I don’t think I travel enough to make a yearly policy worthwhile so I rely on the cc coverages.

  17. Citi is more likely than Chase to decline Trip Delay claims for non-sense reasons (like reasons that are nowhere be found in Trip Delay explanations of benefits). Essentially with Citi, you should be ready to fight for your claim if you need to. I would stay away from Citi.

  18. Another thing to bear in mind is that Amex Platinum can find lower airfares than may otherwise be available plus Amex points can be rebated when using the Amex business card for airfares. The rebate is now 35% although some may still be grandfathered at 50% fir a while.

  19. Well not for everyone, I have an annual travel insurance policy (that had paid for itself many times over), so I don’t deal with the credit card ones. I try to put all airfare on Amex Plat, except some small tickets that go on the airline card for minimum (not best way, but all things considered with my spending habits, it isn’t much loss.)

  20. Here’s my problem. a) Chase CSR for some protections has a “round trip from your primary residence” and I don’t even know how that is defined. I almost always book one ways, and often to and from different locations. b) Do you actually get claims paid? I have a $400 claim in for 5 months and get nothing but the runaround, constantly asking me for things that they already got, then I wait a month and they ask for something else they already got. Their strategy definitely seems to be to get you to give up. And when you complain to Chase they say “we have nothing to do with it.” As if it is not an important part of their offering, that they should care about! So I am quickly souring on the CSR.

  21. @Lucus. Where do you buy annual travel insurance? I have been thinking that is a good idea for a number of years. When I do a google search, I have always given up.

  22. LarryInNYC: I suppose If the delay is during the day – and doesn’t impact a good night’s sleep – than the difference of the trip delay insurance kicking in at 3 hours (CP) or 6 hours (CSR) is negligable, although it would cover some nice meals. However if the flight is scheduled to depart at 10 pm and is rescheduled for after 1am – would you want to be able to have the option of a hotel stay? That’s where the CP shines. I’ve already used this benefit on a single delay last winter and recouped the full $500 max for hotel, dining, transportation.

  23. FlyerFun, I’ve been buying it from Allianz. We pay $76 for the Classic plan for two of us, 2-3 weeks in Europe. But they have a variety of plans. For other reasons we almost never do anything pre-paid; we book refundable hotels, and tickets with miles. So we just pick a $500 insured trip cost because it’s the same price as $0 trip cost, but would alo reimburse us for redeposit fees to cancel the frequent flyer tickets, plus $25k medical, $500k emergency medical transport, a bunch of trip delay and cancellation stuff. I’ve never had a claim so I can’t attest to how well they pay.

  24. Gary. I always find your posts helpful and you are very transparent upfront which I like (I’m a bit biased as 2 years ago your firm helped me with trips overseas). MY question has to do with AX. How do you value them with the discount? Based on converting to miles? I have the AX and would/have not used them for over $500 but will if I understand how the conversion works. BTW like you similar bad experience submitting documentation on an illness from a Doctor and Prestige denied. Wears you out on their requirements.

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