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The Platinum Card® from American Express and the Chase Sapphire Reserve® are two of the most sought-after premium travel rewards cards, both offering a full suite of travel perks and benefits, and commanding high annual fees – $550 for the Chase Sapphire Reserve® and $550 for the Amex Platinum . While both cards offer top-tier perks and benefits, some fundamental differences set them apart that could play a significant role in helping you decide which card is best for you.
New Cardmember Welcome Bonus
- Sapphire Reserve – Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
- Amex Platinum – Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
Neither card is offering the high bonuses witnessed at their peak, but the bonuses on both cards comfortably eclipse the value of the annual fee, covering the out-of-pocket expense for the first year and allowing you to determine if they provide enough value to warrant holding for the long term. The Sapphire Reserve earns Ultimate Rewards points, and the Amex Platinum earns Membership Rewards points. Both valuable, flexible rewards currencies you can transfer to a variety of airline and hotel partners, in addition to redeeming for fixed-values via their respective travel portals.
Unfortunately, both cards are subject to strict approval guidelines.
Like all Amex cards, the Amex Platinum is subject to a once-per-lifetime welcome bonus policy, so if you’ve had the card in the past, you will not be eligible to receive the bonus a second time around.
“Welcome offer not available to applicants who have or have had this Card. We may also consider the number of American Express Cards you have opened and closed as well as other factors in making a decision on your welcome offer eligibility.”
The Sapphire Reserve, on the other hand, allows you to receive the bonus more than once subject to the following conditions:
“The product is not available to either (i) current cardmembers of any Sapphire credit card, or (ii) previous cardmembers of any Sapphire credit card who received a new cardmember bonus within the last 48 months. If you are an existing Sapphire customer and would like this product, please call the number on the back of your card to see if you are eligible for a product change. You will not receive the new cardmember bonus if you change products.”
The Sapphire Reserve also falls under Chase’s 5/24 guidelines. If you’ve opened five or more personal (and some business) cards in the previous 24 months, you will not be approved for the Sapphire Reserve.
Each card holds its own in the welcome bonus category, with little difference in the value of the welcome bonuses, and both cards subject to a strict approvals process.
Earning Potential & Bonus Categories
- Sapphire Reserve – 3X points on travel and dining
- Amex Platinum – 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel. 5X Membership Rewards points on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com.
Looking in from outside the award travel universe, you’d expect rewards cards carrying the highest annual fees to earn the most points on everyday spend, but it’s just not the case. Both cards earn just one point per dollar on non-bonus spending. Bonus categories are restricted to travel and dining on the Sapphire Reserve, and select airline and hotel expenses on the Amex Platinum.
There is a much higher earning potential when these cards are paired with no or low annual fee cards from the same rewards family, which typically earn a higher number of points per dollar spent on everyday purchases than their premium counterparts. High earning card combinations for each rewards program include:
- Sapphire Reserve – Paired with the Chase Freedom Flex℠, Chase Freedom Unlimited®, and Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card
- Amex Platinum – Paired with The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express, The Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express, and The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express
Due to Chase’s broad definitions in the travel and dining categories, most cardholders will find it easier to leverage the Sapphire Reserve bonus categories than those attached to the Amex Platinum, unless you spend an awful lot on flights and hotels. We also give the Sapphire Reserve a slight edge in this category because it offers a higher base redemption value of 1.5¢ per point through the Chase Travel Portal.
- Sapphire Reserve – Priority Pass™ Select Membership
- Amex Platinum – The Centurion® Lounge network, Delta Sky Club®, Priority Pass™ Select Membership, Airspace Lounges, and Lufthansa Business and Senator Lounges in Terminal 2 of Munich Airport
One of the primary motivations in applying for the Amex Platinum is the lounge access perks. Cardholders gain access to Centurion lounges located at 8 of the major domestic hubs (with more on the way), Delta SkyClub (when flying Delta), Airspace lounges at JFK, Cleveland, and San Diego, receive a Priority Pass™ Select Membership allowing you and up to 2 guests lounge access, and can now access Lufthansa Business and Senator Lounges in Terminal 2 of Munich Airport when flying Lufthansa, Swiss, or Austrian.
The Sapphire Reserve only provides Priority Pass lounge access.
The Amex Platinum walks away with the top spot in the lounge access category. Centurion lounges are typically a cut above those in the Priority Pass network, and combined with the Airspace lounges and Delta SkyClub; you get much better coverage with Amex Platinum lounge perks. If you primarily fly domestic, it’s unlikely you’ll get a whole lot of value from the Priority Pass membership on either card as the network doesn’t have a significant footprint here in the US. The exception being new Priority Pass locations that include restaurants!
The Sapphire Reserve offers the best travel credit of any rewards card we’ve reviewed. The definitions of what is accepted as travel purchases include everything from airline tickets to road tolls and parking fees; the credit is applied automatically when Chase detects a purchase coding as travel from the merchant. Due to the flexible nature of the travel credit, provided you spend at least $300 per year on travel expenses the out of pocket expense for holding the Sapphire Reserve drops to $150 per year.
The Amex Platinum provides a $200 airline incidentals credit and a $200 annual Uber credit. The Amex airline credit is much more restrictive than the travel credit on the Sapphire Reserve, and can only be applied to items such as baggage or change fees, and cardmembers can only claim items charged to one pre-selected airline. The Uber credit is even more cumbersome, being dished out in monthly $15 credits that don't roll over if unused, with a $35 credit applied each December. The Uber credits aren’t valid for use outside the US, but they can be applied to Uber Eats orders. For cardholders that don’t use Uber on a regular basis, this benefit holds limited value.
The Sapphire Reserve is a clear winner in the airline/travel credit category. Chase provides an industry-leading travel credit that is as flexible as it is generous, and any traveler in the award travel scene will maximize this credit year after year, without the need for any fancy strategies or purchases. As both cards provide a Global Entry/TSA Pre✓® credit every 4 years, we don’t factor it into the ‘which is best’ equation.
Rewards Program Redemption Value
- Sapphire Reserve – Ultimate Rewards features 13 hotel and airline transfer partners, and you can redeem points for 1.5¢ each through the Chase Travel Portal
- Amex Platinum – Membership Rewards features 19 hotel and airline transfer partners, and you can redeem points for 1¢ each for flights through Amex Travel, less for hotels
This category comes down to your location, the airlines and alliances you fly, and your preferred hotel brand. If you live in a United hub and primarily stay at Hyatt properties, Ultimate Rewards makes much more sense as both programs are 1:1 transfer partners. If your goal is to leverage the fabulous stopover and open-jaw policies of Asia Miles for multi-city awards up the pointy end of the plane, collecting Membership Rewards is a much better option.
Membership Rewards may feature more transfer partners, but on the whole, we find the Ultimate Rewards travel partners hold more value. In this case, your travel goals dictate the value of transfer partners, and which program will best suit your needs.
The other thing to factor in here is the redemption value of points through the respective travel portals. If you hold the Sapphire Reserve, you can redeem Ultimate Rewards points for 1.5¢ per point through the Chase Travel Portal, which can provide top-tier value when booking cheap economy or mistake fares, non-chain hotels, or even car rentals. Membership Rewards don’t offer near the same value for Amex Platinum cardholders when redeeming for fixed-value. You’ll only receive 1¢ per point when redeeming flights through AmericanExpressTravel.com, and even less when redeeming for hotels, rental cars, or excursions.
For the redemption value of rewards, redeeming Ultimate Rewards as a Sapphire Reserve cardholder provides a consistently higher value, particularly for those without the experience or specialized knowledge required to maximize transfer partners.
- Sapphire Reserve – Avis Preferred®, National Car Rental® Emerald Club Executive
- Amex Platinum – Hilton Honors Gold, Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite, Avis Preferred®, Hertz Gold Plus Rewards®, National Car Rental® Emerald Club Executive
And as a bonus, you’ll receive elite status perks at a wide range of hotels not affiliated with the above programs via American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts. While only valid for paid stays, the list includes some of the worlds top luxury brands.
Getting treated to a touch of luxury is where the differences between the two cards become more pronounced. Much like the lounge access touched on above, the Amex Platinum offers some fantastic elite status benefits, providing tangible value for cardmembers that don’t already carry elite status courtesy of organic stays.
Travel and purchase protection's are the unsung heroes of the credit card world. Hidden gems such as trip and baggage delay coverage, primary auto rental CDW/LDW, and price/purchase protection can often net cardholder’s greater monetary returns than the rewards earned over a cards lifetime. Both cards provide a full-suite of secondary perks too long to list here in full, but highlights include:
- Trip Cancellation/Interruption
- Primary Auto Rental CDW
- Baggage Delay Insurance
- Trip Delay
- Lost Luggage
- Travel & Emergency Insurance
- Travel Accident Insurance
- Emergency Evacuation
- Emergency Medical & Dental
- Purchase Protection
- Extended Warranty
- Purchase Protection
- Return Protection
- Extended Warranty
- Trip Delay
- Trip Cancellation/Interruption
- Cruise privileges
- Staples Center LA Centurion Suite
- Brooklyn Center NY Centurion Suite
- Baggage insurance
- Complimentary medical evacuation assistance
- Lost passport assistance
We'd highly recommend studying these benefits in detail. You may not think much of them at first, but there is significant potential value if you ever need to use them.
Trying to decide which card is best for you boils down to a few simple questions. What do you value more? Travel rewards, high redemption value, and excellent travel protection perks? Or luxury benefits and elite status?
As an Amex Platinum cardholder, you’re essentially buying a suite of elite status perks and fantastic lounge access, with a host of other benefits and credits thrown in to sweeten the deal. If you swing toward the Sapphire Reserve, you more than likely value the ability to earn plenty of rewards and a high redemption value, and some of the more luxury perks are less of a concern. It’s not a question of which card is better; it’s a question of what perks and benefits you’re willing to pay for, and which card is going to provide them.
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