Sapphire Reserve remains king of the Ultimate Rewards wallet

45


On Monday Chase rocked the rewards world with news of a brand new card, Chase Freedom Flex, and the additional of powerful new bonus categories for the Chase Freedom Unlimited card.  Coming September 15th, the Freedom Flex will be very similar to the current Freedom card, but it will be a Mastercard instead of Visa and it adds 3X dining and drugstores, and 5X travel booked through Chase.  Also on September 15th, the 1.5X everywhere Freedom Unlimited card gains the same category bonuses: 3X dining and drugstores, and 5X travel booked through Chase.  Click here for complete details.

In response to these changes, Nick argued that Chase’s $550 Sapphire Reserve card has lost its place in the ideal Ultimate Rewards wallet.  The Sapphire Reserve card offers 3X for travel and dining.  In Nick’s ideal wallet he would earn 3X for travel with the $95 Ink Business Preferred and 3X for dining with the new, fee-free, Freedom Flex card.  He conceded that you’d lose some valuable perks by giving up the Sapphire Reserve card, but argued that $550 in savings more than makes up for that loss.  I disagree.

As an aside, Nick also suggested that the Freedom Unlimited card is an optional addition to the ideal Ultimate Rewards wallet.  I disagree with that too.  In my ideal Ultimate Rewards wallet, the Freedom Unlimited’s 1.5X everywhere is the anchor for all un-bonused spend.  Nick says that you can do better by earning 3X buying Visa gift cards at drugstores with the Freedom Flex card, and then use those cards to pay for things that wouldn’t otherwise qualify for a bonus category.  That’s technically true (but a big hassle), but you can do the same with the Freedom Unlimited.  To me, the additional bonus categories of the Freedom Unlimited have cemented its place in this wallet.  With that card in place, the addition of the Freedom or Freedom Flex is just additional opportunity to earn 5X in their rotating categories on up to $1500 spend per quarter.  That’s a very nice perk, but not one that I consider essential in the ideal Ultimate Rewards wallet.

Greg’s Ultimate Ultimate Rewards Wallet

For those committed to earning Ultimate Rewards points, here’s what I think is the ultimate combo:

  • Chase Sapphire Reserve: 3X travel & dining; $300 Annual Travel Credit; Points worth 1.5 cents each towards travel; Best in class travel protections; Priority Pass Select lounge access; $60 annual DoorDash credit in 2020 & 2021; Free DashPass for up to 2 years upon activation; No foreign transaction fees.
  • Chase Freedom Unlimited (starting 9/15): 3X drugstores & dining; 5X travel booked through Chase; 1.5X everywhere else.
  • Chase Ink Business Cash: 5X office supplies and 5X cellular/landline/cable (on up to $25,000 in total purchases in 5x categories annually) ⚬ 2X gas and restaurants

Plus this optional add-on:

  • Chase Freedom or Chase Freedom Flex: 5X in rotating categories on up to $1,500 spend per quarter.  The Freedom Flex adds 3X drugstores & dining and 5X travel booked through Chase, but these categories are equally offered by the Freedom Unlimited card (starting 9/15).

Justifying $550 vs $95

Nick’s ideal Ultimate Rewards wallet contains the $95 per year Ink Business Preferred, and the fee-free Freedom Flex, Ink Business Cash, and (optionally) Freedom Unlimited.  Once you add in our optional cards, our wallets look identical except for one key difference: I chose the $550 Sapphire Reserve over the $95 Ink Business Preferred.  Both cards offer critical capabilities: 3X for all travel; the ability to transfer points to airline and hotel partners; and no foreign transaction fees.

On the surface, it looks like Nick’s wallet is $455 per year cheaper.  And that’s true, but it’s important to consider the Sapphire Reserve card’s annual rebates: $300 travel + $60 DoorDash.  There are multiple reasons why you shouldn’t give full value to these credits, but I won’t go into those now.  Instead, let’s just agree for the sake of argument to conservatively value these rebates at 85% of face value: $360 x 85% = $306.  The net cost, then, for the Sapphire Reserve is $550 – $306 = $244.  After considering the rebates, Nick’s wallet is still cheaper, but by a smaller amount: $244 – $95 = $149.  The question then is whether the Sapphire Reserve card’s advantages over the Ink Business Preferred are worth $149 or more per year.

The Sapphire Reserve card’s primary advantages over the Ink Business Preferred are as follows:

  • Best in class travel protections (the Ink card’s protections are similar to the lesser $95 Sapphire Preferred. Also, the Ink card’s primary auto rental coverage is for business travel only).
  • Priority Pass Select lounge access
  • Points worth 1.5 cents each towards travel or Pay Yourself Back (vs the Ink Business Preferred where points are worth 1.25 cents each towards travel).

The first two items may be hard to give much weight to right now while most of us aren’t traveling, but they are valuable during normal times…

Thanks to the Sapphire Reserve card’s travel protections, I know people who have been reimbursed thousands of dollars.  For example, our own Stephen Pepper wrote about his successful rental car claim for $2,797.07.  And my mom was reimbursed over six thousand dollars for a non-refundable tour that she had to cancel due to a temporary health issue (to be fair: she had to fight for this reimbursement, but she did get it in the end).

The value of Priority Pass depends heavily on your travel patterns.  Many airports now have restaurants where meals are reimbursed by Priority Pass.  If you frequent one of these airports, then the Priority Pass card has obvious real value.  The value of access to Priority Pass lounge access is similarly dependent upon your travel pattern.  Many airports, especially in the United States, don’t have any Priority Pass lounges.  But if you frequent ones that do, you can easily get a lot of value.

Both of the above perks (travel protections and Priority Pass) are valuable only if you don’t have other cards that match or exceed these perks.  That’s true, but consider that the thought exercise here is to determine the ideal Ultimate Rewards wallet.  The idea is that you can have a great wallet with no other cards at all.  Therefore, for the purpose of this post, it makes sense to assume that there are no other options in play for credit card travel protections and Priority Pass membership.

During normal travel years, I don’t think it would be unreasonable for some to say that it’s worth paying $149 more for great travel protections plus Priority Pass.  This year, that’s a tough sell.  But Chase had made the Sapphire Reserve $100 cheaper this year for those renewing (see this post for details).  So, this year, for those renewing their Sapphire Reserve, if we assign no value to travel protections and Priority Pass, we need to find $49 in extra value from the Sapphire Reserve vs the Ink Business Preferred.

1.5 vs 1.25 redemption value

It all comes down to this.  For those who exclusively transfer Ultimate Rewards points to airline and hotel partners there’s no difference in the value of points whether you hold the Sapphire Reserve card or the Ink Business Preferred.  Both allow point transfers.  The difference is when you use points to pay for travel through Chase or when using Chase’s Pay Yourself Back feature.  Pay Yourself Back is not yet available for the Ink Business Preferred, but that’s rumored to be coming soon.  Either way, Chase lets you redeem points with the Sapphire Reserve card for 1.5 cents each or with the Ink Business Preferred for 1.25 cents each.

60K Points Per Year

Those who redeem 60K points per year or more by paying for travel or through Pay Yourself Back will come out ahead with the Sapphire Reserve even if we give no weight at all to the travel protections or Priority Pass benefits.  Here’s the breakdown:

  • Value of 60,000 points redeemed at 1.5 cents each: $900
  • Value of 60,000 points redeemed at 1.25 cents each: $750
  • Difference: $150

To get to this year’s $49 difference between the Sapphire Reserve renewal and the Ink Business Preferred, we only have to redeem 20,000 points:

  • Value of 20,000 points redeemed at 1.5 cents each: $300
  • Value of 20,000 points redeemed at 1.25 cents each: $250
  • Difference: $50

Overall, this year for renewals we only have to redeem 20,000 points at 1.5 cents in order to justify the Sapphire Reserve over the Ink Business Preferred.  And, in future years (if/when the Sapphire Reserve’s renewal fee goes back to $550), we’ll have to redeem 60,000 points per year to justify the Sapphire Reserve.

With people earning more points than ever before thanks to the drugstore 3X category, I think that it is reasonable to assume that most people will redeem 60,000 points or more each year.  If you believe that you’ll redeem fewer points in most years, and if you don’t highly value Priority Pass or best in class travel protections, then Nick’s ideal wallet makes sense for you.  My guess is that most people, though, will find better value with my proposed wallet.

Granted, Nick’s argument was contingent on “those primarily interested in transfer partners.”  That was his way of avoiding the extra value that the Sapphire Reserve offers over the Ink Business Preferred for these types of redemptions. And it’s true that it’s often possible to get better than 1.5 cents value by transferring to partners.

But consider too that Nick recently argued that cashing out Chase points at 1.5 cents via Pay Yourself Back was the rational thing to do: Is it now irrational to hold Ultimate Rewards points? (on Nick’s mind).  Also consider that many of us are stuck with many miles and hotel points that we transferred before COVID-19.  For us, cashing out excess Ultimate Rewards points is even more rational than usual.

Player two considerations

Sapphire Reserve Couple

One issue that we used to have with the Sapphire Reserve is that Chase charges an additional fee for authorized users.  So, a couple would have to pay $550 plus $75 for the authorized user card.  And if the couple often travels separately from one another, that’s still true.  Both then would need a good travel card in their wallet.  If you usually travel together, though, you can share a single card for travel purchases.  And, if you sometimes dine out separately, you can now each get 3X for dining without adding an authorized user card.  That’s because the new Freedom Flex and the enhanced Freedom Unlimited cards offer 3X for dining.  One person can use the Sapphire Reserve to pay for dining and the other can use the Freedom Flex or Freedom Unlimited.  Due to foreign transaction fees, I wouldn’t use those cards outside of the United States, but within the US it’s a workable solution.

Conclusion

This year, with the $450 renewal fee, you would only have to redeem 20,000 points at 1.5 cents per point to make the Sapphire Reserve a keeper for your wallet when compared to the Ink Business Preferred.  In future years, assuming the card’s renewal fee goes back to $550, you’ll have to redeem 60,000 points at 1.5 cents if you don’t highly value the card’s other features.  My bet is that most people, but certainly not all, will find that they get enough value from the Sapphire Reserve to justify its expense over the Ink Business Preferred.

How about you?  Which ideal Ultimate Rewards wallet fits your circumstances best?

0 0 vote
Post Rating

Email subscription form header
Please enter all required fields Click to hide
Correct invalid entries Click to hide
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

45 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Ben

Nice analysis, but I am with Nick (besides the fact that I do not wee when I’ll be under 5/24).
The flaw here is that it assumes CSR is your only card.

  1. I hold Ritz which has the same level of insurance and I can easily justify its $550 AF with $300 uniform air incidental and Free night of 50k.
  2. I have Priority Pass on my AMEX Platinum, Ritz, and Hilton Aspire. I have too many PP so it ads no value.
WR2

I’ll vote for Nick’s wallet. 1.5x pyb might be attractive now, but cashback does not kindle joy: F/J and fancy hotels do. PP can easily be obtained on some other card you got a SUB for, so zero value there. Slightly better travel protections are a marginal win, and not worth paying $150 for. CIP also has cell protection and some unique bonus categories.

If I had to keep a premium card, no way I keep CSR. However, my strategy is to upgrade/downgrade to double dip travel credit. It requires proactive transfers before downgrading, but no big deal, most of my UR go to Hyatt anyway.

Ed S

ALL of this…at least for those of us who (nearly) exclusively center our monthly spending on an Ultimate Rewards strategy.

It’s not particularly difficult to earn 60K a year when one’s multi-card strategy earns an average of better than 3.5 PPD; that’s about $17,150 spend per year or $1,430 per month on groceries/dining, gas/parking & transportation, utilities, telecom, clothing, entertainment, personal/health care, etc. I do all of that as a single person; I can only imagine how much easier it would be with a Player Two and/or kiddos and pets that typically come with additional annual spend.

Jeremy

I have always preferred the Freedom to the Freedom Unlimited, because it’s pretty easy to have a 2%+ card for un-bonused spend. I personally use Blue Business Plus, but there’s no reason someone couldn’t use BoA TR/PR or Citi Double Cash.

Miles Ahead

Greg, The $149 delta between UR earning card options, in my use case (and many others, I’d wager), is looking me walking out my door, going to the street and tossing it down the sewer. Th problem here is that nothing for that for my $149 I get nothing that is best in class so why pay it?
examples–
1) priority pass, available on many other cards and if it is lounge access I value, the Amex plat is king not CSR
2) if it’s cash return I value and not transferable point currencies then why pay $149 premium when I could be using plenty of no or low fee cashback cards (Discover It 3% first yr, 5% rotating categories, even the BofA Prem travel at 2.62% and 3.5% for travel, etc. and also if you look it at that way then when not add back in the $95 fee for Preferred Ink of Sapphire, since youre using cash? Since I never have too many points to find great value with travel transfer partners, there is zero value in using UR this way– if when I want to accumulate cash, I can do so cheaply without having to pay an excessive fee for the privilege of doing so. CSR is no king here.
3) travel Insurance– are you saying in the instances you sited that if you had CSP or other cards offering travel insurance protection, that you would not have been able to file the claim? I’d like to point out too that now Amex Plat offers a nice travel insurance option and while “round trip” purchase is required, their definition of round trip means that you just need to book your entire journey on their card. No issue for me, since I earn 5x MR vs. 3X UR. CSR maybe king here, but really what is the incremental value over other choices?
4) My main issue with CSR is please tell me how this is not a sock drawer card for what is now a $550 annual fee? In no regular earning categories is it best in class aside from riding Lyft; there are better point earning options elsewhere. CSR is no king here..

If I am going to pay for a premium card I expect it to be the best at something useful to me rather than at something that provides little incremental value (at least to me).

Alex

Your inability to construct coherent sentences is right on-brand with your inability to not see the CSR’s value.

Miles Ahead

Thanks for your thoughtful and well-written response. I think the key is “UR ideal wallet”. But my main point is that none of this exists in a vacuum and there are other cc options and alternatives, which again for me, I find better or indifferent in all the cases you provided.
If the goal is simply and only to accumulate UR, then I have no opinion different from yours and thanks again for presenting it! But I for one, would never put all my eggs in one mega bank’s basket, so to speak. As we know they can always change the rules when it suits them.

Bob

Great analysis, Greg. I take your points, but I already have downgraded the Reserve to a 2nd Freedom card and use the Ink Preferred as my premium anchor Chase card. My main objective has been to reduce my total AF paid and I can’t justify the Reserve’s AF even at the current rate. I also hold a Chase Freedom Unlimited card. My question – I will go under 5/24 next month for the first time in years and am targeting a Freedom Flex card. I use the rotating quarterly bonus category on my existing Freedom cards to MS Chase points. My 4-year clock on the Reserve approval does not expire until April 2021. What do you suggest in terms of product changes or other Chase applications? I already hold Chase United, Hyatt, and IHG cards, as well as the Ink Cash and Freedom Unlimited Biz cards. I am thinking about the SW cards, but probably will target the Biz version to hold open the 5/24 slots coming open next month. I guess a play also would be the regular SW card to line up spend for the companion pass later this year, but in the COVID-19 era that probably will be a play producing less value. Your thoughts?

Bob

Forgot to mention that I also hold the Ritz Carlton and Marriott Bonvoy Biz cards. The RC PP far outweigh what the Reserve offers, so I kept the RC over the Reserve.

TravelOn

I believe the US Bank Altitude Reserve also carries very similar travel insurance coverage as CSR. Also, it provides priority pass, offers a better 1.5 travel redemption offer and best of all, it offers 3 x on mobile payments which all drug stores and many grocery stores allow. Not losing any benefits and no need to carry multiple cards to get bonus spend. Also, has a lower annual fee than the CSR.

Last edited 1 year ago by TravelOn
TravelOn

Thanks. I will check out. Love your site.

Alex

Yeah, but it’s much more difficult to acquire (at least for me, been denied like 3 times for it, haha) and USB is horribly MS unfriendly, and also not known for offering generous spending bonuses. CSR with the recent 5x groceries and gas + 10x streaming? Chase killing everyone in the generosity department right now.

Pam

I haven’t gotten the AR card since it doesn’t include dining and more than 4 PPs, which for me are a huge part of travel (CSR includes dining and unltd PP). 3x mobile payments is a unique and great benefit but even with the lesser fee doesn’t measure up to the CSR as a standalone card and still too expensive to complement it.

TravelOn

Just a heads up, when traveling in europe almost all restaurants have mobile payment option.

Pam

Yes & why (I believe I read) Greg got the card. But sinde I can use my 3x CSR intl at restaurants with no fee…

Cov

The fine print in the altitude reserve benefits guide indicates that the coverage provided is much stricter than that offered by Chase. Namely, trip delay coverage does not apply to weather-related delays, the trip cancellation/interruption coverage amount is much lower, and IIRC, the trip cancellation/interruption coverage may not apply to things like lodging and tours, only common carrier fares.

Ram

Hi Greg, I have my CSP AF due this October and planning to upgrade to CSR for the benefits ($84 every visit – PP restaurants at both CLE and FLL for a family of 4 for a planned Christmas trip, $60 Doordash credit that we can use in 2020 , Spend as much as we can on Groceries until end of 2020 to offset the $300 travel credit).

When I ask for the upgrade, will be asked to pay reduced AF of $450 or normal $550 ?

Jason

I upgraded in late may and my CSR fee just posted at $550

Joel

Why all the excitement about 3X at drug stores? Is it just because of buying GCs? I guess that’s worthwhile if you are 100% committed to Chase but using the AMEX Gold for 4X at grocery stores is likely a better option for many. For me personally, I don’t need to make a special stop at the drug store and I also get 2X or 4X fuel points from my local Kroger.

Nick Reyes

No cap and MS-friendlier are why.

Nick Reyes

That said, things could change on either of those fronts.

Alex

Not everyone has a grocery store that sells $500’s like kroger. But I’m ultimately with you that I don’t find MSing at 3x worth my while. But, there’s plenty of people out there MSing 1.5x and 2x via Simon, so I’m also not surprised that 3x drug stores has people excited. It has to be 5x at minimum (or 4x + fuel perks like you mentioned with the amex gold) for me to be doing MOs.

Joel

Ah – MS. I’ve never bothered. I have very little use for Visa/MC GCs for spend and have no interest in jumping through the hoops to churn and cash them out continually.

Tanc

Don’t forget 10x Lyft and the complimentary Lyft Pink Membership for the CSR!

Julian

I carry exactly Greg’s setup in my wallet. All Amazon purchases go on my ink cash via gift cards from office stores, and most other purchases go on the freedom unlimited. I redeem about 500k UR points through the portal a year (cash airfare and hotels that don’t have points programs like FS), so the difference in Sapphire Reserve redemption value alone provides thousands of dollars in value for me.

Buzz

It maybe come down to how much you travel. I travel a LOT for work/pleasure and having the travel protections and car rental protections are huge. Thankfully, I’ve never had to use them but someday. . .

eddie

Confession: I’ve always ignored the benefits of travel protection, and never put any weight on that benefit. However, after a recent trip to Japan that needed to be cut short due to Covid, I changed my mind. A card offering top travel protection/insurance is important!

Much of my trip was booked with points, but many of the quaint boutique hotels were paid with my Sapphire Reserve. The claim process wasn’t too bad – just send your itinerary, confirmation that the hotel won’t refund you, and in my case, a doctors note. I was reimbursed $1500. I was sad to cut my trip short, but not losing any money made it easier to accept and just plan for a future trip.

Bottomline: Don’t discount the travel protection from the Sapphire Reserve. It only takes one incident to realize how important it is. Also for future trips, it gives you peace of mind.

Pam

Am 100% with you, Greg. And looking even at its competition, no other issuer but Chase offers a 1.5 redemption value on its travel portal. The Sapphire Reserve remains the top card for people who travel & want/use the best tools available to pay for it.

Pam

(main competition being AMEX, Citi, & Capital One)

Dr Mark Edwards

I’m all about the Sapphire Reserve. I had a medical emergency in Argentina during a trip last year. I had booked only a portion of the trip (ticket on Latam from Córdoba to Buenos Aires) using Sapphire Reserve points, and was reimbursed $1900 for my medical procedure in BA. It was quick and easy, receiving the approval for my claim around 21 days after submission. The Sapphire Reserve is now my “go to” for all travel related expenses.

Last edited 1 year ago by Dr Mark Edwards
LTMagnum

For me, one of the most compelling reasons for holding on to the Sapphire Reserve is the Priority Pass. I already have that with the AMEX Plat, but that membership does not allow me to use the restaurants whereas membership through Chase does. Also, the $300 in travel gets used up pretty quickly so actual fee goes down to $150 which puts it within range of the others in your article.

Jules

I believe the effective fee will go up to $250 starting next year for current cardholders and is $250 for any new applicants.

Anand

i’m with you, Greg. i rely on the travel protections of the sapphire reserve and have used them a few times. the savings from those protections alone has paid for 5 years worth of annual fees for the CSR.

Matthew

I tried convincing a friend to redeem just 5k for groceries given he won’t be traveling for some time. No go even tho he’s struggling. He was even emotional about it. Point hoarding is huge and I think the banks count on it. Probably partly why blogs like TPG keep getting paid big to advertise extreme value that most don’t realize.

I do think you both have a point. Chase is offering huge value and both thought experiments show the level of customization anyone can do. I personally don’t have a Reserve but a Ritz instead. I’m glad Chase is committed to continuing the pay yourself back feature, but I hope they don’t take away or modify point transferring. Both of your wallets rely on Chase still allowing us to continue to combine points. My guess is few customers as a whole even use this feature in practice, so we are probably safe, especially given Citi and Amex offer similar options.

Matthew

I agree, but I guess the psychology with him is that sign up bonuses may become increasingly harder like with 5/24, and he’s scared of MS, so there’s a fear of running out of points. It’s hard for me to understand, especially since a small amount like 5k or 20k like you mention can help, and then it seems like you’re getting direct benefit for carrying the card this year.

I have convinced him to downgrade given he’s not traveling and also not realizing at least 1.5 cpp. Thanks for putting your post together to set hard numbers – I am sure it helps many other people see things more clearly.

Jules

Interesting analysis, but I have to agree with Nick that that the ideal wallet earns 3X for travel with the $95 Ink Business Preferred and 3X for dining with the fee-free Freedom Flex card (as well as 5X on grocery for the first year). With respect to the Priority Pass membership, many readers will also hold another premium card with this benefit and DoorDash/DashPass has limited value in my opinion.

Tami

I agree that there are circumstances where the CSR makes sense, but I am not sure your 60K UR redemption threshold works. For people in the community, the alternative to redeeming at 1.5cpp is rarely redeeming at 1.25cpp .I’d consider redeeming URs at 1.5cpp, but I’ll never redeem them at 1.25cpp. The opportunity loss is simply too great. I’d imagine that’s the case for many. If you’re going to redeem at 1.25cpp, you might be better off with a non-UR strategy to begin with (this is very spending-specific, of course). A more realistic comparison is PYB vs transferring.

So how much do you need to use the 1.5cpp PYB/portal to make the CSR worth it? I don’t think that’s easy to calculate, as you often simply can’t justify PYB over transferring in simple financial terms. That’s going to make any threshold very multi-factorial. It’s a very personal valuation of convenience/pattern of usage/need for cash etc (unless you’re investing that money).

Last edited 1 year ago by Tami