Citi Prestige vs Sapphire Reserve - Which Provides More Value?

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It wasn’t long ago that the Citi Prestige® Card was the standout product in the premium travel card market. The card featured a stellar list of perks and benefits that included access to Admirals Club lounges, a high fixed-value redemption rate of 1.66¢ per mile on AA flights, and the fourth night free on paid hotel bookings.

But recent devaluations, and the loss or watering down of many of the card’s best features has left cardholders wondering if it's worth holding for the long term. Today, we’re lining it up against crowd favorite, the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, to determine if the card still deserves a place at the top of the premium rewards card category.

delayed flight
The Citi Prestige® Card offers the best Trip Delay cover of any premium travel card.

Signup Bonus

  • Sapphire Reserve – Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
  • Prestige Card – Currently no signup bonus

The above bullets say it all really, it’s a no contest. The Sapphire Reserve offers up 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.. The Prestige Card does not currently offer any bonus. The Prestige Card has, in the recent past, offered up to 75,000 ThankYou Points for signing up to the card, however, it appears that Citi has given up competing for the premium rewards card crown on the signup front.

The welcome offer on the Sapphire Reserve is more than enough to cover the out of pocket expense for holding the card over the first year. The Sapphire Reserve also allows you to receive the bonus more than once, provided you stick within recently tightened application restrictions:

“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 falls under Chase’s 5/24 guidelines. If you were approved for five or more personal (and some business) cards in the previous 24 months, you stand little chance of an approval on the Sapphire Reserve.

Earning Potential & Bonus Categories

  • Sapphire Reserve – 3x points on travel and dining, 1 point on all other purchases
  • Prestige Card – 3x points on air travel, hotels, and travel agencies, 2x points on restaurants and entertainment, 1 point on everything else

While the Prestige Card provides a robust 3x bonus points on air, hotel, and travel agencies, Chase’s broad interpretation of the travel and dining categories means Sapphire Reserve cardholders can extract bonus points from more purchases, and in 90% of cases, build a more substantial balance of points over the same timeframe as their Citi counterparts. The only exception is the entertainment category, for which Citi awards 2x points on a wide range of purchases.

The other thing to factor into the equation is the ability to pair cards up for higher earning/redeeming ratios. The Sapphire Reserve counts a number of high earning stablemates within the Ultimate Rewards family, such as the Chase Freedom® and Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card, that allow you to pool points together for fantastic returns on almost every spending category, including business expenses. Unfortunately, outside of the 4th-night free benefit and lounge access, there is a strong argument that cardmembers would get more value out of the Citi Premier Card which features more lucrative bonus categories for a significantly lower annual fee.

Lounge Access

Both cards feature similar lounge access. The Prestige Card allows you to bring up to two guests or immediate family members (spouse, domestic partner, and children under 18 years of age) into the lounge, and additional guests cost $27 each. The Sapphire Reserve now features a similar cap – 2 guests or immediate family.

The Dnata Lounge located in Singapore's Changi International airport
The Dnata Lounge located in Singapore's Changi International airport is part of the global Priority Pass network of airport lounges

Before Citi stripped Admirals Club access from the Prestige Card, this category would have been no contest. As it stands now, for all intents and purposes, there is no difference between the lounge access policies on these cards.

Airline/Travel Credit

Unlike the airline incidentals credit offered on Amex cards, the airline credit on the Prestige Card covers airfare making it a much more useful benefit. Stack it up against Chase's $300 travel credit on the Sapphire Reserve, however, and Chase comes out the winner. Chase’s defines travel as everything from airline tickets to road tolls and parking fees, and the credit is automatically applied when Chase detects a purchase coding as travel from the merchant. The flexible nature of the travel credit effectively drops the out-of-pocket expense of holding the Sapphire Reserve to $150 per year if you spend at least $300 per year on travel.

Where the Prestige Card does have the Sapphire Reserve beat, is how the credit is allocated in the first year. Chase clamped down on cardmembers double dipping the travel credit in the first 12 months, by shifting the claim period from calendar year to cardmember year. Citi, on the other hand, still defines the claim period as once per calendar year, meaning you can claim the credit twice in the first 12 months. Provided you maximize the $250 credit each time, Citi is essentially paying you $50 for holding the Prestige Card the first year.

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
  • Prestige Card – ThankYou Rewards features 16 airline transfer partners, and you can redeem points for 1.25¢ each for flights booked through the ThankYou® Travel Center

At the risk of our comparison sounding like a one-sided affair, you have to give Ultimate Rewards full credits for redemption value.

ThankYou Rewards counts some fantastic international programs as transfer partners such as Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, and Asia Miles, but on the domestic front the only partner is JetBlue TrueBlue, and the transfer rate is a lousy 1,000:500. You can also redeem ThankYou Points for 1.25¢ per point for flights booked via the ThankYou® Travel Center. Following Citi’s breakup with Hilton, the Prestige Card currently lists no hotel transfer partners.

The Sapphire Reserve and Ultimate Rewards list both United MileagePlus and Southwest Rapid Rewards as 1:1 transfer partners, along with World of Hyatt and a host of other high-value programs. Ultimately, Chase’s travel partners offer more value, and the ability for Sapphire Reserve cardholders to redeem UR points at 1.5¢ per point through the Chase Travel Portal provides enormous value and genuine flexibility.

Hotel Benefits

Neither card offers elite hotel status of any substance, but the Prestige Card does provide an elite-like benefit, typically reserved for elite status members on award stays. Citi’s 4th Night Free, even in its slightly diluted new form, is one of the single most valuable benefits offered on any premium rewards card. Book a paid stay of four or more nights, and Citi calculates the average nightly rate, returning one night in the form of a statement credit at the end of your billing cycle. While only of tangible value for cardholders booking longer paid stays, provided you book a hotel with a room rate north of $200, between the 4th Night Free and the $250 annual airline credit, the annual fee is covered. You can also stack the 4th Night Free perk with other offers such as member-only rates and free night packages for extra savings.

The only hotel benefit offered on the Sapphire Reserve is access to the Visa Infinite Luxury Hotel Collection and Chase Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection which provide elite-like benefits on paid stays at hotels within the collections. You’ll get complimentary breakfast, a welcome gift, discounts, and potential upgrades, early check-in, or late check-out based on availability.

Ancillary Benefits

Both cards are at the top of the award travel leaderboard when it comes to ancillary benefits and travel protection. Highlights include:

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

  • 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

See the Sapphire Reserve Guide to Benefits for details.

Citi Prestige® Card

  • Trip Delay (the best on the market covering delays of just 3hrs)
  • Primary Auto Rental CDW (secondary cover on domestic rentals)
  • Trip Cancellation/Interruption
  • Medical Evacuation Insurance
  • Citi Price Rewind
  • Purchase Protection
  • Return Protection
  • Lost Baggage Protection
  • Baggage Delay Cover
  • Extended Warranty

See the Prestige Card Guide to Benefits for details.

Final Thoughts

In the battle for premium travel card supremacy, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® has the Prestige Card beat, no question. Citi’s 4th Night Free, $250 Airline Credit, and excellent Trip Delay coverage still provide a ton of value, but the card is a watered down version of what it once was. And with the lack of a signup bonus, it feels almost as if Citi has given up the fight for market share in the premium rewards card space. The Chase Sapphire Reserve® maintains its spot as the travel rewards card to beat, with an almost perfect blend of points earning capacity and luxury travel perks.

Citi Prestige vs Sapphire Reserve – Which Provides More Value?
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Comments

  • It’s really unfortunate Citi has given up on the premium travel card market.
    Hopefully Citi will make a return soon.

  • its unfortunate citi is not competing with a better product

  • Generally agree with the analysis. Too bad Citi has diluted many of its differentiating benefits.

  • Will someone else emerge in the premium space? Appears that there would be an opportunity here. Until then, Sapphire looks solid. Thanks for the comparison.

  • lorem ipsum says:

    If forced to choose just one, I agree that CSR is a better choice for most. However, if you take advantage of the 4th night free often enough so that your savings cover the annual fee, the Prestige makes a fine (and free) complementary card. For me, one or two uses of the 4th night free usually negates the annual fee. I had gotten the card because I knew I had an upcoming year with four hotel stays of at least four nights, saving me $750. Add the 40K TYP and two airfare credits in the first year, and it was a no-brainer. I also use Prestige on entertainment for 2x points and airfare for superior trip delay coverage, so I’m coming out ahead. We also have a CSR because we supplement it with the Freedom Unlimited for unbonused spend and Freedom for 5x categories, though we will drop it when the annual fee hits because we just picked up the Ink Preferred. We’ll probably try to get CSR again next year, 24 months after receiving the initial signup bonus.

  • Alice Chen says:

    I have never given much thought to Citi. Even though it can’t beat the CSR, it has its uses!

  • I agree, the Reserve is the better choice. I wish I hadn’t been over 5/24 when this card came out with the 100,000 bonus. I still love it though.

  • @lorem ipsum says: “However, if you take advantage of the 4th night free often enough so that your savings cover the annual fee, the Prestige makes a fine (and free) complementary card.”

    This does seem to be the key here.

  • Both of these are a bit more premier that I need, but good options for those who can use them.

  • fredinstl says:

    Sapphire is the clear winner. Glad I picked it. thanks for the summary

  • Why has Citi given up so much on their card? If they got back their sign up bonus at least they would be back on the table in my wallet.

  • CSR would be my choice but the value is in the eyes of the cardholder. It’s a personal choice.

  • Gez, this isn’t even close. As written, they have given up.

  • It really seems that Sapphire Reserved is the best bet.

  • I’ve had my Sapphire Reserve card since it launched and no other card has come close to matching the benefits (all things considered)…

  • i would pick the Chase card. I’ve had a bad experience with Citi and therefore, like Chase better. It’s just better that they have load the benefits on their side. I do wonder who else will try for the top spot next.

  • Citi 4th night free is a great benefit but yea overall the CSR wins.

  • Love the CSR but it would be great for them to have some serious competition. Not seeing it from anywhere… do we think other issuers are ever going to step up?

  • Waiting for a signup bonus to reappear, wont consider without it.

  • Thanks for the info! I’m pretty new to all of this and trying to figure out where to start besides just my AA card that I’ve had for years. Looks like Sapphire it is!

  • Shouldn’t the Citi executive card be compared to CSR?

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