How Can Chase Sapphire Reserve Have Become So Passé in Just Two Years?

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Information about the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card is neither provided nor reviewed by its issuer.

At the beginning of the year Chase revealed statistics about Sapphire Reserve cardholders. The average income is $180,000 and average credit score 785.

When the card launched two years ago it was definitely a hit among consumers. Since then though anecdotally it seems their approval standards tightened up. Readers with good credit and good income who aren’t locked out by 5/24 were getting declined.

They have to be losing money on the card. Indeed after revealing an initial $200 million accounting charge right out of the gate they took a $330 million charge over the summer.

To the extent they’re losing money it would make sense to limit approvals for the card, which is why I’ve said the best path for many people to get the product is to get a Sapphire Preferred Card which has just as attractive a signup bonus and a $0 annual fee the first year (then $95) — wait a year and ask to product change to Reserve. You can only get the bonus for one of the other anyway, so you aren’t giving up anything by choosing the Sapphire Preferred Card‘s bonus.

Since the card launched Chase has made some tweaks to the card to reduce their costs,

Here’s the thing, for all of the initial excitement around the card, in the two years since it launched it may have become passé. What are the key features of the card, and what’s unique about it today?

You can match and exceed Sapphire Reserve‘s earning. You can get Priority Pass access elsewhere. Indeed if you already have a Priority Pass from another card, another combination of products is likely better. In my own wallet right now that means:

To be sure these aren’t the only benefits of Sapphire Reserve, like Sapphire Preferred it comes with primary collision damage waiver when renting cars and some of the protections it comes with are stronger than alternatives (for instance American Express products don’t have trip delay coverage), though some are worse (The Platinum Card® from American Express is better for towing). The Platinum Card® from American Express is much better for airport lounge access, offering Plaza Premium, Airspace, and Escape lounges as well as their own Centurion lounges and Delta lounges if flying Delta same day.

Ultimately since changes to the Chase product have been modest what this speaks to is the arms race that it started and that the product has largely been without major updates in two years. Other cards and combination of cards have caught up and even surpassed. It’s tough for Chase to leap frog, though, because of the economic challenges of offering what they already offer!

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 »

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Comments

  1. Closed my csr. Had one dispute in 2 years that chase could not resolve in my favor since I was in and out of US during the dispute process and communication was broken. Around $300 so not huge. Seems like the personal factor that was one of the strong points of this card compared to Amex platinum is gone. A phone rep no longer picks up directly when you call, a simple issue of a dispute or insurance claim is outsourced and needs tons of paperwork etc. It seems like chase is reserving that service just for JP Morgan clients now.

  2. I know this post is probably meant to promote certain products, but let’s not forget that Sapphire Reserve is the ONLY card in the market that allows you to redeem points at a rate of 1.5 c/pt. Such a redemption opportunity is incredibly generous.

  3. ok, the Amex Platinum and Gold offer better reward earning at… 2x the annual fee. Oh and you’ll still need another credit card for hotels.

    And unlike the BS Uber and dining credits on Amex, the CSR travel credit is actually useful. The math for the Uber credits is hilariously bad- you have to ride Uber frequently enough that you can use it in instances it’s cheaper than Lyft.

    But the kicker is the CSR still offers travel protection. The Amex Platinum doesn’t offer crap.

  4. This is still my primary card. I try not to be paying for more than one priority pass at a time and, that said, I’d rather carry this card than the Ink Preferred (since the category bonuses on that card are also available on fee-free cards).

    Yes, the AMEX Gold is a strong competitor but I simply don’t have the bandwidth to ensure that I claim all the food and airline incidental credits, nor to remember if I’m meeting the fairly stringent requirements to earn 3x on travel. The Sapphire card is much, much easier to “optimize” — the $300 credit is automatic and all travel spend is covered.

  5. The CSR is still my primary card for 3x categories. I am still using my old Ink for 5x categories. I still use my Freedom for 5x quarterly categories. When I am not completing minimum spend on a new card or an annual spend bonus on another card, I’m also using the CFU for 1.5 points. I am raking in 10K UR per month.

    Losing Korean Air as a transfer partner was a big blow, but then again I never had the opportunity to use them for a flight.

  6. It’s not the only card in the market that allows 1.5 c/point redemptions. The US Bank Altitude Reserve has the same benefit with a lower annual fee ($400) and a higher travel credit ($325), along with 3x/points on travel, dining, and mobile wallet purchases (easy to rack up if you travel in Europe often) but with a less valuable Priority Pass membership (4 visits/year) and no transfer partners.

  7. “The math for the Uber credits is hilariously bad- you have to ride Uber frequently enough that you can use it in instances it’s cheaper than Lyft. ”

    The Uber credits can be used for Uber rides or Uber Eats. And no, it’s not a loophole, it’s stated in the T&C’s.

  8. I wanted to echo an accurate observation by @SJ: Chase is a royal pain to deal with for insurance claims. Though it offers primary auto coverage on the Sapphire Reserve and Preferred cards, that supposed advantage over most other cards is more than canceled by how difficult it is to actually use.

    For one thing, in the event of car damage Chase refers you to a third party insurance company. And more to the point, that company requires an endless stream of documentation that takes months and that’s clearly based on the notion of customers giving up. My wife just completed countless hours stretched over many months with this process, duplicating a similar experience that a friend had last year and that involved his contacting Chase’s corporate HQ (and even then, he still had to jump through many, many hoops).

    Now, both of these experiences were with the Chase Preferred rather than Reserve card, but I’m just about certain that the frustrating process is the same.

    Bottom line: Chase does not deliver on this supposed advantage of its credit cards. I hope you’ll take note of this when describing them in the future, Gary.

  9. @Danny: “let’s not forget that Sapphire Reserve is the ONLY card in the market that allows you to redeem points at a rate of 1.5 c/pt.”

    Not so. All cards that allow point convertibility have > 1c/point value.
    E.g. redeeming 100,000 Avios for a $6,000 cross-Atlantic r/t fare values the redemption of Avios at 6c/point.

  10. CSR remains my go-to card, because we also opened bank accounts with Chase, and we are now Chase Private Clients. This gives us immediate, personal attention to a lot of services we would receive otherwise. Amex doesn’t offer this.

  11. CSR, along with the freedom and freedom unlimited, remain my primary combo. While I have Amex plat, i’m probably going to return it. CSR is good for me as it allows the United points transfers. For me and where I live, that matters. Amex doesnt. I know I could transfer Amex or citi points to some other programs so that I could have almost the same redemption as United offers, but that requires more work than I’m willing to do. I miss the Korean Air participation in ultimate rewards (I had a fabulous redemption in F from SIN to IAD this past year), but overall for my needs CSR is superior to other options. at the end of the day, Ymmv

  12. Gary, I have been reading your (excellent) site for years but I think this is the first time I have felt compelled to comment.

    I must echo what SJ and Steve have written about the Customer Service aspect of the CSR.

    Right from the start I have had bad customer service from Chase. I had unauthorized charges on the card which took chase about 8 phone calls to fix. I tried to use the purchase protection for a $120 sweater that my husband shrank in the dryer. SIX MONTHS, and multiple emails and phone calls to an outsourced company to get this reimbursed. Finally, I was spoken to in such a rude way by Chase on the telephone that I submitted a complaint via the online message system. Two follow ups later and noone got back to me.

    In short, this is supposed to be a premium card, but it does not have the customer service. The 3x points had been keeping me hostage, but Amex has blown that out of the water. I alos eagerly await the new Citi card.

    CSR cannot hold a torch to Amex Platinum. It is a pleasure to pay my Amex membership fees by comparison.

    I will be closing my CSR account in the next couple of weeks, once I have spent my annual travel credit which kicks in on December 4. I am up for renewal in January so hoping I will avoid the annual fee.

  13. @L3, he said redeem, you said convert. Those are different things, and it does matter. Because the CSR allows you to get 1.5 cpp through its travel portal, which is managed by Expedia, you don’t have as many restrictions in trying to match to specific travel partners, or jumping through hoops to do so (like if you want Delta, but don’t have a direct transfer, going through Virgin Atlantic). You also are “buying” the ticket/hotel, not looking for an open award ticket.

    It’s not always the best deal to be sure, but you also left out that converting points relies on there being an award flight/hotel available that you want. This is also not always the case, especially with more strict award programs. In those cases, using the Chase portal and 1.5cpp is the best possible option, as it’s the only option aside from paying cash.

    No guarantee of course that Expedia/Chase portal will be the cheapest, but at least it’s an option.

  14. I think as airline partners devalue their programs the cards become less useful. As a delta hub “captive” I only liked the points for flying blue redemptions. Once that program was severely devalued for my needs I began looking for a way out of chase (at least for 24 months). The delta gold came out at a good time for me. And I almost exclusively use airbnb or homeaway rather than hotels.

  15. I saved over $8,000 this year using CSR for travel and trip cancellation insurance. AMEX offers nothing for me.

  16. Booking a huge trip, Chase points alone have, so far, saved me nearly $18k. AMEX points nearly $7k. Now, there’s certainly no way i’d spend that much to book this trip. But Chase is buying me a sweet vacation!

  17. [I know Gary knows this already but…] “The Platinum Card® from American Express earns 5 points per dollar on airfare”
    is really:
    • 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel
    [while the hotel benefit is:]
    • 5X Membership Rewards® points on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com

    – While I generally prefer to buy directly from the airlines, but this can’t/doesn’t always happen.
    – I’ve never booked flights or hotels through , so there hasn’t been any value to me there (yet).
    – Chase, on the other hand, offers 3x for “purchases in the travel category” after you hit the travel rebate amount.

    YMMV, but for me there’s a huge difference in my spend in the Amex travel bonus categories (i.e. flights directly from the airline), and my spend on “all travel” covered by Chase.

  18. Booking through Chase CSR gets 3x points for travel from the first $ spent. Booking hotels through AMEX travel eliminates your Hilton, Marriott points etc and generally gives higher rates and a limites booking window. I never book any travel though AMEX. I just transfer the AMEX Membership Reward points I get as a signup bonus to Singapore Air and cancel the card when the annual fee becomes due.

  19. “@L3, he said redeem, you said convert. Those are different things, and it does matter. Because the CSR allows you to get 1.5 cpp through its travel portal, which is managed by Expedia, you don’t have as many restrictions in trying to match to specific travel partners, or jumping through hoops to do so…
    Irrelevant, the points are worth more. A lot more. That’s the whole point about frequent flyer programs. Re-read (or read) the original thread.

    “This is also not always the case, especially with more strict award programs. In those cases, using the Chase portal and 1.5cpp is the best possible option, as it’s the only option aside from paying cash.”

    No. Use e.g. Capital One Venture points. They cost 0.5c. Chase points cost 1c. Much more expensive.

  20. Chase’s air partners keeps them competitive but their hotel transfer partners keeps them well ahead of the fray.

  21. I had 1 merchant dispute with CSR in ~ 18 months of having my card: less than $100 in a situation I was certain my card was not used by me. I spend 30-50k per month on the card but I review all of my statements. Chase gave me an 8+ week paper run around that led me to believe they hoped I would stop pursuing the dispute. The merchant never provided a signed charge slip. When I received a letter stating the dispute was closed for my lack of response (!) I called CSR and calmly explained I would cancel the card on the spot if they did not reverse the charge in my favor. To Chase’s credit their rep was able to fully resolve the issue for me in a few moments. I still use CSR as my primary but I am wary after this experience. Amex seems to take the default position of defending their cardholders…. I am surprised Chase is on the other side of the spectrum.

  22. The CSR 1.5 c is only good in theory. I have tried to use for international carriers such as Scandinavian and LOT- Chase prices were not only 20% higher but only offered the basic economy equivalent. It totally negates the 33% discount resulted from the 1.5c but also makes it more expensive as you could not redeem for the higher level coach fare that incl a checked bag. Buying checked bag separately is much more expensive than buy the higher fare. For those who dont travel often internationally, most international carriers limited the carryon bags not only in size but in weight – often is 7kg only. We just flew QF F back MEL-LAX and the agent wanted to check our rollers which weighed just over 10kg, because QF limit is 7kg…
    SK did spot checks at the gates to weigh people’s bags for example.
    The failure of UR portal to offer the fare options means no 1.5x redemption to us.
    I tried to price out a cruise this morning, the cruise dept rep found prices that, not surprisingly, 20% higher than the cruiseline’s own website.
    Last year I booked an indie lodging in South Africa in the famous whale watching locale that supposedly was CONFIRMED per whoever provider UR portal used – the owner of the lodging never replied my emails to assure the booking was confirmed, while I saw it was going out of inventory from other OTA sites.
    At the end it took me 4 calls and many hours to make the Connexion reps to verify with the provider who in turn confirmed that the booking was NEVER accepted by the owner. It took several more phone calls to get my UR pts back.
    My hats for you who have been able to use UR pts to book your trip and travel without incidence.
    I would not take the risk unless it is a very basic domestic trip. Even so, the risk of non-confirmed bookings / being walked at arrival seems to have occurred a lot. Just too unreliable.
    Therefore, the UR pt remains to be 1 penny per pt value to me at cash equivalent level. I get better value when it is transferred, NOT when using it to book travel.
    This morning’s attempt to price out a cruise is yet another proof that the UR travel portal is a scam.

  23. @L3,

    You completely avoided the main reason I said point conversion wasn’t always the best option, and that is that frequent flyer points don’t always translate to actual available seats. The airlines only allow a certain number of award seats, and some airlines are very limiting on this. We have been looking for flights to Denver for a wedding, and want to fly Delta because out of Detroit they offer non-stop and other perks we aren’t seeing with other options. I want premium economy because my wife and I are both tall, and may as well be comfortable.

    So far for premium economy, looking at Delta direct and Virgin Atlantic bookings, they either aren’t offering Prem Econ (through Virgin) or the cost from Delta is 99,000 FF points versus 78k Chase x 1.5.

    Prices will change as we get closer to when we have to lock it down, and those numbers may shift, but it’s a small example of how relying on award travel alone is a rookie mistake and where the 1.5x Chase CAN be beneficial. This isn’t me saying it is in 100% of cases, typically I believe that award points are a better value as long as what you need takes them. We have also looked at booking hotels with award points, and also run into instances that a room or date we want doesn’t allow award point redemption, but you know what they do take? Cash! Since Chase rewards redeemed on the Travel Portal are treated as cash for the booking, the only thing not available to you is what Expedia doesn’t offer.

    So 1.5x redemption on the travel portal IS NOT a better point value in all cases, but again he said redeem and in the world of direct point redemption to the largest number of available booking options, the CSR is the king.

    It’s cool though, you just misunderstood, nothing criminal about that.

  24. @Vulnox: I see why you like CSR where award seats/rooms are not available, but in every case where using the points as a “wallet” for non-award bookings gives you 1.5cpp the cost of each point was $1.

    My point was that although Capital One Venture points are worth 1c, they only cost 50c/point.

    So the terms-of-trade are better for the latter.

  25. Dropping Korean Airline as a partner has me seriously thinking about dropping the card. I currently use my AMEX Gold for the 4X Points dining and now find AMEX Points to be more valuable than Chase without Korean Airline.

  26. @L3, But isn’t that overlooking the strengths of being in the Chase ecosystem? For example, Capital One Venture costs 50c/point, I get you there, but that’s your ONLY avenue for point earning that I can see aside from 10x on “Thousands” of Hotels”. For dining or travel, the CSR costs only 33.3333333333… cents/point right? So if that is a decent portion of your spend, it shifts the equation a lot. Then factor in the rest of the Ecosystem and it changes even more. Just go around with a Chase Freedom Unlimited for your non-dining/travel spend, and you spend .75cents/point, right? Once you send that to the CSR, it can be redeemed at 1.5cpp through the travel portal, meaning you are getting a value of 2.25 cents per dollar spent. Beating the 2 cents per dollar you get from the Venture.

    You of course can complicate this further by adding the Chase Freedom and get 5 cents per dollar on rotating categories, which will usually include gas and groceries at certain points. And if you get real into it, go for something like the Ink Preferred can get 3 cents/dollar for your cell phone and internet monthly payments. We pay $268/mo for cell phones as I added parents and in-laws to our plan, so I get over 700 points every month just for regular phone spend.

    But even if you keep it simple and stick to just the CSR/CFU, it seems like you come out way ahead of the venture, averaging out the 3 cents/dollar on bonus categories and 1.5 cents per dollar on CFU charges, which translate to AT LEAST 2.25 cents/dollar and 4.5 cents/dollar when redeeming through the travel portal, not even counting what you may get if you do convert those to travel partners, just seems like no contest.

    But, I don’t know a lot about the Venture aside from what I see on their info page. I have been pretty much just locking into Chase/AMEX ecosystems because their cards and transfer partners have best lined up with our spending and where we can redeem points. Maybe the Venture has more to it than I am seeing. The Venture does have a lower AF, by far, than the CSR. So that definitely adds more complication to the equation. Assuming you will use the $300 travel credit from the CSR, and since we are talking travel redemption in general it seems you would, it still leaves a $150 gap for the first year since the AF is waived on the venture the first year. That’s 15,000 points in value you would need to get out of the CSR (or Chase ecosystem in general) in your first year to beat out a straight point redemption contest. Not super difficult if you hit the bonus categories heavily, but still worth being aware of.

  27. @Vulnox: Ignore favored category spend, that is not the margin. Introducing the CFU does change, and complicate, things (Incidentally, I think the CFU costs 0.66cpp, not 0.75cpp). In particular, that’s two of 5 dips in 24 months for someone moving to Chase with its attendant opportunity costs in signup bonuses, which are the quickest way to hit rewards.

  28. This card was initially attractive to the churning community because of the 100,000 signup bonus. After that was used, it’s on to the next one.

  29. @Gary: ” Centurion lounges ”
    Forget them. AMEX is overselling the Platinum Card causing crowding at Centurion lounges. They deal with it by denying entry to their paying members.

    Only AMEX sells Centurion space, so they are doing this deliberately.

  30. @L3

    I was at the Centurion Lounges at DFW and HKG twice in the last week during mid-day. No crowding at all to speak of and was easily able to get a table for myself and my wife.

  31. @L3 There wasn’t a policy in place when I went so all of the other anecdotes about “policies” being place at other Centurion lounges are just anecdotal.

  32. @Kevin: But facts are facts — even for those too lazy to check them.

    “https://thepointsguy.com/news/overcrowded-centurion-lounges-restricted-access-same-policy/”

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