Oh my god, I’ve had the Chase Sapphire Reserve for a single day and I’m already sick of it.I don’t even have the fucking card yet and I’m already sick of it. So sick of it that I’m rescuing this blog from its 9-month hibernation to write a new post about it.
What’s my problem anyway? Well, it’s less about the card itself, and more about the absolute shitstorm in the points and miles community that surrounds it. Obviously, I was interested in the card. I even kept my Chase Sapphire Preferred open this year only because Doctor of Credit reported a rumor back in the spring that Chase might introduce a super-premium card, and I wanted to have something to upgrade from (since I assumed that I would be ineligible for the new card due to Chase’s “5/24” rule). I ended up getting lucky by being pre-selected by Chase, meaning I was able to open the card despite “being 23482/24.” Great news for me, since I was able to get the big sign-up bonus that Chase is offering, although I probably would have upgraded to the card anyway, for reasons that I’ll go into.
Part of my irritation is just general fatigue at the acronyms and linguistic shorthand that people use to talk about this stuff after reading about it for the past few weeks. To wit: “I’m waiting for more DPs before I use an HP to apply for the CSR, and plus an AU adds $75 to the AF so I don’t think I’ll PC my FU.” I’m going to be honest with you – despite fully immersing myself in the points/miles forum and blog ecosystem, I still read that sentence as, “I’m waiting for more double penetration before I use a Hewlett Packard to apply for the customer service representative, and plus a gold adds $75 to Air France, so I don’t think I’ll politically correct my fuck you.”
Going a level deeper, though, I don’t think this card is *that* good. I do plan to keep it long-term for myself, but that’s because it fits into my personal credit card strategy. (To elaborate: I don’t find as much value as some do in Citi’s rewards program. Its lack of a domestic transfer partner hurts it compared to Chase and Amex, and the partners aren’t as good overall. As a result, I’ve decided to get out of ThankYou rewards altogether and focus on Chase and Amex. With the Amex Everyday Preferred, I can earn 1.5x on everything, 3x on gas, and 4.5x on groceries. That leaves dining and travel, so the Sapphire Reserve’s strong earning here (3x on both) makes it a perfect fit. Now I can dump all my Citi cards and focus on these two as my main earning cards, supplemented by the Chase Freedom and Ink+ where appropriate.)
The blogging community has this weird collective boner over the fact that the Sapphire Reserve is a Visa Infinite card, although as a proud owner of a City National Bank Crystal card, my response is: “Sir, I know Visa Infinite, and you’re no Visa Infinite.” Okay, so it says Visa Infinite on it, but Chase neuters whatever benefits that implies by lopping off the best ones. I’m referring of course to the 12 free GoGo wireless passes per year, the $100 discount air benefit, and the Luxury Hotels portfolio. Without those, Visa Infinite is indistinguishable from the much more widely available Visa Signature – the purchase and travel protections are a little better, but certainly not enough to warrant the immediate coronation of the Sapphire Reserve as THE ULTIMATE TRAVEL REWARDS CARD.
Speaking of the Luxury Hotels portfolio, let’s talk about hotels, since all premium cards have some juice around hotels. A lot of bloggers are saying that the Chase Sapphire Reserve has access to Visa Infinite’s luxury hotels portfolio, although this isn’t true. It has access to *Chase’s* portfolio, just like the Sapphire Preferred and United MileagePlus Explorer (both $95 per year). Not really a point of differentiation for this card. In contrast, the Visa Infinite portfolio offers better benefits at a smaller number of properties, similar to (but not as good as) Amex’s Fine Hotels & Resorts program. Now, maybe you get access to better benefits within Chase’s portfolio with the Sapphire Reserve than you would with a less expensive card, but Chase hasn’t made this clear and needs to do a better job of pointing this out if true.
What about status? Chase has three super-premium cards that offer hotel status. The Ritz card gets you Gold status with $10,000 of spend, the United Club card gets you Hyatt Platinum status, and the Sapphire Reserve gets you… an easier (but not automatic) path to status with Relais & Chateaux, which is great because it’s giving people an opportunity TO LEARN WHAT THE FUCK RELAIS & CHATEAUX IS. (That’s one of the unique Visa Infinite benefits that Chase chose not to axe, by the way.) I guess what I’m wondering is why Chase wouldn’t try to compete more directly with Amex’s Platinum card (which gives Gold status with both Hilton and Starwood) by offering status with one of their hotel partners -especially since they offer status to hotel co-brand cardholders. And especially when they offer it with their other super-premium cards! As for Citi, they don’t offer any hotel status, although they offer the 4th night free benefit, which, even after the recent devaluation, is still one of the most insanely generous credit card perks I’ve ever seen. If I ever stayed in a hotel for four nights at a time, I’d keep the Prestige card forever.
And lounge access? Chase is offering Priority Pass select
with no free guests (supposedly), which puts it near the bottom in the category. Citi and City National both allow free guests, putting it in the same class as Citi and City National, all of which offer membership with free guests. Amex makes up for the fact that they don’t offer guest privileges by also offering Centurion Lounges and Delta SkyClub access when flying Delta. It may not be fair to compare Chase to City National, since the latter is very difficult to get (and their logo is a ladder, so I get credit for the pun). Still, it absolutely wipes the floor with the Sapphire Reserve, except of course for the rewards it earns. Originally, I thought the Sapphire Reserve didn’t offer guest privileges, which was a pretty big negative (you can see how pissy I was by reading the strikethrough section). It’s good news that they’ve clarified that they do allow lounge access, since they’re now on par with Citi and City National on this front.
The other mega-perk of the Sapphire Reserve is the $300 travel credit, which does sound awesome, assuming it’s as easy to recoup as Chase’s terms and conditions suggest it is. Effectively, it knocks the fee down to $150, or $55 more expensive than the Sapphire Preferred. Let’s not forget, though, that Citi offers $250 off airfare on the Prestige, and City National and Amex offer fee credits ($250 and $200, respectively) on their super-premium cards. Both are more restrictive (especially Amex), although I’ve managed to recoup all of these credits in ways I consider to be as good as cash the past two years, so I’m going to act like they’re the same except for the amount offered.
While the gross amount of Chase’s credit is a lot, and it explains a lot of why the Sapphire Reserve has bloggers in such a tizzy, the City National card’s $250 credit is *per card* (not per account), meaning that you can actually make money on the card every year by maxing the credit on each authorized user’s card (and City national doesn’t charge for authorized users, either). For me, this is even better than having guest access for Priority Pass (even though it has that too), since my wife can have her own Priority Pass membership through her authorized user card for $0 more per year.
A lot of the ink spilled on the Sapphire Reserve compares it to the Sapphire Preferred, asking WHICH CARD IS RIGHT FOR YOU? Instead of just comparing these two Chase cards, however, I think it’s more useful to compare the Sapphire Preferred with a wider range of super-premium cards. I mean, if you’re going to make the jump from a standard travel rewards card to a super-premium card, you should know what’s out there beyond the glowing blue walls of Chase. So, let’s compare. The City National card is an outlier, because it’s essentially fee-negative, meaning it nets out even cheaper than a no annual fee card. It’s also out-of-reach for most people, though, so it’s not exactly the no-brainer it would be if it were as easy to get as Citi/Chase/Amex cards. The Citi Prestige’s $250 airline credit is super easy to use, and it effectively knocks the fee down to $200 per year, or $105 more than the Sapphire Preferred. For that $105, you get lounge access with guest access and the 4th night free benefit, which, if you can use it, more than pays for the difference. The Amex $200 credit is even more restrictive, although it’s possible to redeem it for Amazon gift cards, which are as good as cash for me. That reduces the fee to $250 per year, or $155 more than the Sapphire Preferred. For that $155, you get access to Centurion Lounges and Delta SkyClubs in addition to Priority Pass, plus a whole slew of other benefits.
Of course, these comparisons are just of the benefits, and not the points earning and rewards, which are significant. The strength of the Ultimate Rewards program is one of the reasons that Chase doesn’t need to compete toe-to-toe on benefits. After all, that’s why I decided to get the card, and why I’m ditching my Citi Prestige despite all of its benefits. To give you a sense of how I value the Sapphire Reserve, I’m going to assume that I spend around $8000 a year on dining and around $7000 on travel (including both personal and work-related). That’s 15,000 extra points I’ll earn with the Sapphire Reserve vs the Sapphire Preferred for an extra $55, or $0.0037 per point. If Chase ever offered to sell Ultimate Rewards points for that cheap, can you imagine the headlines on Boarding Area? “BEST DEAL IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD! FUUUUUCK I CAN”T:DSLKfjDS:Da;afafDSfasdf02303” I kid, but I do think that’s a good deal. So yeah, I’ll keep the card open.
It’s also worth noting that Chase is the only one of the big three that offers the best earning rates on its most expensive card. The decision calculus to keep the Citi Prestige or Amex Platinum centers *only* on the benefits, since cheaper cards within their portfolios offer better earning rates. This presents you with the annoying decision of whether you value points more than benefits, or if you value both enough to carry two cards with significant annual fees. I definitely appreciate how Chase presents a clearer good/better/best hierarchy within its Ultimate Rewards card portfolio, since it enables the cut-and-dried calculus I just made.
Unfortunately, it will never be my only super-premium card, since the benefits I’d give up by getting rid of the City National and Amex Platinum cards are too much. (In fact, of the lounge visits I’ve done this year, probably 80% have been either to a Centurion Lounge or SkyClub, with only a few Priority Pass visits). The Sapphire Reserve doesn’t offer enough on its own to replace those cards, and that’s the root of my disappointment. I’m tired of reading about its amazing Visa Infinite benefits, or its luxury hotel program, or whatever other benefits people are talking about, because it really doesn’t stack up against Citi and Amex in this regard. Everyone’s talking about this card pushing Citi and Amex to innovate, and I don’t really see why they’d need to. If I were them, I’d breathe a huge sigh of relief that Chase didn’t upend the market by offering United Club access, or Hyatt Diamond status, or something that really would encourage people to dump their other cards. It has an amazing sign-up bonus and earns a lot of Ultimate Rewards points, which is where I see value. I’m excited about the fact that I’m not tempted by Citi’s card offerings because they have a lot of 3x categories that Chase doesn’t; I’m excited about the fact that I don’t have to figure out whether I should keep the Amex Premier Rewards Gold because it earns 3x on airfare and the Platinum doesn’t. The Sapphire Reserve is exactly what I need to trim my card collection and focus my earning in the two programs that work best for me. Everything else is just hyperbolic hyperventilation at the fact that Chase is offering a super-premium card at all, and, as I said at the beginning of this post, I’m already sick of it! Good thing I have a long vacation at a Relais & Chateaux planned so I can tune it all out.