Preferred versus Reserve: How to decide which Chase Sapphire credit card is right for you

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  • The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve® earn Ultimate Rewards points. 
  • While the Chase Sapphire Reserve® offers more perks, it has a much higher annual fee. 
  • The Preferred is a better option if you’re new to rewards cards, and it offers a bigger intro bonus.
  • Read Insider’s guide to the best Chase credit cards.

The two flavors of the Chase Sapphire card have helped catapult travel rewards into a mainstream obsession. The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is still one of the most-Googled cards despite debuting more than a decade ago, and the Chase Sapphire Reserve® was so popular that Chase ran out of metal cards when it launched in 2016.

While the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card has largely stayed the same in its 10-plus years of existence, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® has gotten more updates, adding 10x points on Lyft rides through March 2022, up to $60 in credits with DoorDash in 2021, and a year of complimentary Pink membership with Lyft.  Those perks come with a higher annual fee, however: $550 per year compared to$95 for the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.

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Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve sign-up bonuses

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card: Earn 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening, plus, earn a statement credit of up to $50 toward grocery store purchases in the first year of having the card
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve®: Earn 60,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening

Chase Ultimate Rewards points are some of the most valuable credit card rewards around, so having either the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or the Chase Sapphire Reserve® is a smart move, especially if you want to use points to travel. But while it used to be relatively easy to make a case for the Reserve’s higher fee, the pandemic travel downturn changes the equation a bit.

Let’s dig into the Chase Sapphire cards’ biggest differences to help make your choice easier.

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Chase Chase Sapphire Reserve®

The Chase Sapphire Reserve® also offers up to $60 in DoorDash credits in 2021. DoorDash is a food delivery service that operates in dozens of cities across the US and Canada. Both the Chase Sapphire Reserve® and Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card cardholders also get a year of DashPass membership, which waives delivery fees on orders of $15 or more (activation required by December 31, 2021).

Another benefit that’s available only with the Chase Sapphire Reserve® is a year of complimentary Lyft Pink membership, which gets you 15% off rides, priority airport pickups, and up to three free bike or scooter rides per month in select cities. Through March 2022, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® offers 10x points on Lyft rides — a great return on spending — while the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card offers 5x points. 

Redeeming points from the Chase Sapphire cards

Chase offers cardholders great options for redeeming points, including several that don’t involve travel. You can exchange them for cash back at 1 cent per point, or use them to purchase travel through the Chase Travel Portal — with a 25% bonus for Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card cardholders. Best of all, you can transfer points to Chase’s airline and hotel partners. 

With the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, you can redeem points the same way as with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card — with one difference. When using them to purchase travel through Chase, you’ll get a 50% bonus, instead of 25% with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.

Through April 30, 2021, Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve® cardholders can use points toward dining, grocery, home improvement store, and eligible charity purchases through Pay Yourself Back and get the same bonus value as when they redeem through the Chase Travel Portal.

The Pay Yourself Back option is an especially good way to use points during the coronavirus pandemic if you want to cut down on costs but aren’t ready to book travel.

Which Chase Sapphire card should you get?

Along with the perks, though, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® comes with a higher annual fee. While the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card costs only$95 a year, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® has an annual fee of $550. 

Chase Sapphire Reserve® cardholders receive up to $300 in statement credits toward travel purchases each cardholder year — effectively reducing the net annual cost to $250. However, because of the pandemic, the travel credit will also apply to grocery and gas purchases through December 31, 2021.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Chase Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

For argument’s sake, let’s assume you value your points at 1.5 cents each (that’s the value of points used to purchase travel through Chase or for paying yourself back for eligible purchases, with the 50% bonus if you hold the Sapphire Reserve). You would need to spend $11,233 on dining and travel each year to make up the $155 annual fee difference between the two cards.

That breaks down to $936 a month — and this calculation takes into account the points you wouldn’t earn on travel purchases covered by the $300 annual statement credit.

Here’s how this calculation breaks down:

  • Difference in annual fees between cards: $155
  • Value of Chase points not earned on the Reserve’s $300 travel credit: $13.50
  • Value of the additional Chase points earned with the Reserve: 1.5 cents apiece
  • Calculation: $155 + $13.50 / $0.015 = $11,233

If you value Chase points higher because you transfer them to partners like British Airways, Hyatt, and United to book higher-value redemptions, simply substitute your valuation of Chase points for $0.15 in this equation to find your breakeven point.

Insider values Chase Ultimate Rewards points as worth 1.8 cents apiece on average, due to the fact that you can often get a higher rate of return by transferring points to partners and booking award travel.

Of course, this will still require you to pay the $550 annual fee every 12 months. Even though you’ll get the travel credit applied to the first $300 of relevant spending each cardmember year, that can be a lot of money to pay upfront. Whether you want to front $550 is a personal decision, so make sure you weigh the cash outlay (and that the fee isn’t waived the first year) against the higher earning potential.

Moving on from points earning …

Will you use the Chase Sapphire Reserve’s benefits?

In exchange for a higher annual fee, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® added the following benefits:

  • Up to $60 in DoorDash credits in 2021
  • Complimentary one-year Lyft Pink membership
  • 10x points on Lyft rides through March 2022

If you already use Lyft and DoorDash frequently, these benefits could make the annual fee worth it.

But if you aren’t interested in ordering food delivery through DoorDash and you don’t use ride-hailing services like Lyft, these new perks won’t move the needle much — and you’ll still have to pay $550 a year. In that case, it really comes down to how much you spend on travel and dining, and how you value the extra Chase points you’ll earn with the Chase Sapphire Reserve®.

How do you value the Sapphire Preferred’s higher sign-up bonus?

Despite the higher annual fee, the welcome bonus on the Chase Sapphire Reserve® is actually lower than the bonus on the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. 

It could be worth earning the higher bonus with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, then converting it to the Chase Sapphire Reserve® after your first year — especially if you plan to do more traveling after the pandemic.

How do you value the trip delay insurance?

A lot of discussion around the Chase Sapphire Reserve® focuses on the points and more obvious perks, like lounge access, but personally, I think the trip delay insurance is one of the most valuable features. I live in New York, where delays are fairly frequent, whether because of mechanical issues, intense weather, or other problems. 

That’s why I like the extra layer of security added by the Chase Sapphire Reserve®. The card’s trip delay coverage becomes effective after just six hours, or if you end up stuck overnight. Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card coverage is also activated when there’s an overnight delay; if the delay is entirely during the day, the coverage takes effect after 12 hours.

If the trip delay insurance activating sooner is worth the higher annual fee, then you should consider the Chase Sapphire Reserve®. After a seven-hour delay last summer, I was able to submit a claim for a number of expenses including lunch, a phone backup battery, and even a pair of headphones I needed. However, any stay that incurs major expenses, like a hotel room and a change of clothes, would probably involve an overnight stay and therefore be covered by the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card insurance.

Will you use the airport lounge access?

The Chase Sapphire Reserve® includes a complimentary Priority Pass Select membership for as long as you have the card. Priority Pass is a network of more than 1,300 airport lounges around the world. A Select membership grants access to member lounges for you and up to two travel companions.

While amenities vary by lounge, most of them tend to offer private Wi-Fi, free hard and soft drinks, snacks, and comfortable seating. Some lounges also feature heartier food options, sometimes included or sometimes for an additional charge.

You can take a look at Priority Pass’s full network of lounges by clicking “Find a Lounge” on the upper-left corner of this page to gauge whether the membership will be useful for you. The network is more robust abroad as the number of US locations is relatively limited and they tend to be found in international terminals, so you may not always be able to access lounges before domestic trips. 

Several airports also have restaurants that are part of the Priority Pass network. At these restaurants — including the Grain Store at London’s Gatwick — you’ll get a certain amount credited on the bill for you and each guest. At the Grain Store, each guest is entitled to a £15 credit.

If you don’t think you’ll have much use for the Priority Pass membership, you might prefer the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and its lower annual fee.

Do you already have Global Entry/TSA PreCheck?

If you don’t have Global Entry and TSA PreCheck, you should really get it. With PreCheck, you can use special security lines at most US airports. In those lanes, you can keep your shoes, belt, and light jacket on, leave your laptop in your bag, and only go through a metal detector instead of a full-body scanner. The process is much quicker than regular security, and it’s much less uncomfortable.

With Global Entry, you can skip the immigration line when returning from the US and scan your passport at an unmanned kiosk instead. It prints a receipt you bring to the customs stop after baggage claim, and just like that, you’re good to go. 

Keep in mind there are plenty of other cards that offer reimbursement for the Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee, and some of them have much lower annual fees 

You can apply to either program, but Global Entry usually includes TSA PreCheck and the $100 application fee is only a bit more than the $85 you’d pay to just apply for PreCheck. Plus, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® offers a credit for either program. If you aren’t enrolled in one of these programs yet, you may want to consider the Chase Sapphire Reserve®. Otherwise, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card might be your best bet, unless you’re due to renew your membership soon.

Will you add any authorized users to your account?

If you’re looking to add authorized users, like a spouse or child, keep in mind that the Chase Sapphire Reserve® charges an annual fee of $75 to add anyone to your account. Each authorized user gets his or her own Priority Pass Select membership at least. There’s no fee to add an authorized user to your Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card account.

Bottom line

Ultimately, the two biggest things to consider when deciding between the cards is whether you’re willing to pay the higher annual fee for the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, and whether you spend enough on dining and travel (and the limited-time bonus categories added during the coronavirus pandemic) to make it worth that higher fee.

Beyond that, take a look at the difference in perks and see which is best for you.

Sarah Silbert is the senior reviews editor at Personal Finance Insider. She’s covered personal finance and credit card rewards for six years, and she’s a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF).

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