The Best Credit Card for Travel Rewards

The Best Credit Card for Travel Rewards

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A few months ago, Chase had the universe of credit card nerds (yes, that exists) going crazy over the release of its newest card, the Chase Sapphire Reserve. You can think of this as an upgrade to the Chase Sapphire Preferred (a must-have card until this new release). Y'all, the Reserve has all of the credit card nerds energized for a reason. In my opinion, it is the best travel rewards card on the market.

A quick caveat: I don't recommend the Chase Sapphire Reserve to a credit card beginner. If you are just starting to build up your credit score, I recommend a card with no fee and good cash back opportunities like the Chase Freedom. This was my first credit card, and I still use it today! If you are an experienced and responsible credit card user who follows these rules and can benefit from redeeming points for travel, read on!

Benefits of the Chase Sapphire Reserve

While the Reserve's $450 annual fee seems tough to swallow, you make it back quickly through the following:

  • $300 annual travel credit. Chase automatically credits your statement any time you spend money on travel, up to $300 per year. This includes hotels, airfare, cruises, taxis, trains, rental cars, and even Uber and Airbnb! Most of us will use this pretty quickly. The way I see it, this brings the fee down to $150. Pro tip: This travel credit operates on a calendar year basis. So if you plan on getting the Reserve, do it before the end of the year. That way, you'll get $300 before December 31 and another $300 after January 1. If you're having trouble spending $300 on travel before the credit expires, buy airline gift cards!
  • 50,000 point sign-up bonus (after spending $4,000 in 3 months). These points are worth a minimum of $750 if you use them to book travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. However, they can be worth over $1,000 if you transfer them to partners like Southwest, United, British Airways, Hyatt, Marriott, Ritz Carlton, and more. Even at the bottom end of the value range, this bonus covers 1.5 years of annual fees.
  • High redemption rates when booking travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. When you book travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal, you can earn super favorable redemption rates. For example, I could redeem 50,000 Reserve points for a $750 flight. If I just wanted cash back, I would only get $500. Another pro tip: If you have a Chase Freedom card, you can transfer those points to the Reserve and earn the higher redemption.
  • 3x points on travel and dining. Let's say I spend $10,000 a year on travel and dining. I would earn 30,000 points with the Reserve, which converts to at least $450.
  • $100 Global Entry fee credit. I already talked about the miracle that is Global Entry during our trip to Mexico. Y'all, this is a no-brainer, especially if you have the credit. It qualifies you for TSA Pre-Check and an expedited customs process if you're traveling internationally. You can create an account and start the application process here.

The Reserve also offers some less quantifiable perks. These include access to a network of Priority Pass airport lounges, rental car insurance, trip cancellation and delay coverage, access to a concierge who can help you with hard-to-get reservations and tickets, and more. The Points Guy is my favorite credit card blogger, and he has a great post on everything to know about Chase Sapphire Reserve perks here.

Chase Sapphire Reserve
Chase Freedom | The Best Credit Card for Beginners

Chase Sapphire Reserve vs. Other Premium Travel Cards

The Chase Sapphire Reserve competes against other cards in the premium travel rewards card category. Most notably, the American Express Platinum Card (which I used to book our Mexico vacation) and the Citi Prestige card. These two have to step up their games to compete with the Reserve. In fact, the American Express Platinum card already took the first punch in boosting its return on hotels and airfare booked through AmEx from 1x to 5x. This is very compelling, but the Reserve still offers 3x on ALL travel booked through ANY source, and also on dining, where the Platinum only offers 1x. I also like that I can transfer points to Southwest and United with Chase (I cannot with Amex). The Points Guy has a more comprehensive comparison of the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Amex Platinum here.

Chase Sapphire Reserve | The Best Credit Cards for Travelers
American Express Platinum Card | The Best Credit Cards for Travelers
Citi Prestige Card

The Bottom Line

The Chase Sapphire Reserve offers great value for someone who is a responsible credit card user, has a solid credit score, and travels a fair amount. People are really excited about this card, and for good reason. In fact, the card was so popular that Chase ran out of metal cards and had to start issuing plastic!

If I could only have two cards in my wallet, I would choose the Chase Freedom and the Chase Sapphire Reserve. I would use the Freedom for its 5% cash back categories (these alternate quarterly between groceries, gas, department stores, wholesale clubs, restaurants, and more) and the Reserve for everything else. I would then transfer my Freedom points to the Reserve to take advantage of the higher redemption on that platform.

The bottom line is that even with a steep annual fee, the Reserve is a valuable credit card to add to your wallet. I'd love to hear your thoughts! Do any of you have the Reserve? What else is in your wallet?

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