Doing the Math: Sapphire Reserve vs Sapphire Preferred

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Looking for an exact dollar figure to help you decide if you should get the Chase Sapphire Reserve® or Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card? You’ve come to the right post!

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Today we’re breaking down exactly how much you need to spend each year on travel and dining before it makes sense to get the Sapphire Reserve over the Sapphire Preferred. First, we’ll give you the numbers; then we’ll break each scenario down piece by piece.

If you redeem Ultimate Rewards directly through the Chase Travel Portal, or value them at 2¢ per point, and spend:

If you add one Authorized User and spend:

To get to these numbers we’ve made some underlying assumptions.

  • You spend at least $300 per year on travel – The simple fact is, if you don’t spend $300 per year on travel, then neither of the Sapphire cards are for you. The benefits of both cards are focused almost entirely on travel including the bonus categories, transfer partners, travel protection perks, and the Sapphire Reserve travel credit and lounge access benefits.
  • You use another rewards card for everyday spend – We've based our calculations on pulling out your Sapphire card only for travel and dining spend. There are cards that'll earn you more rewards for non-bonus spend than the Sapphire cards, including the no annual fee Chase Freedom Unlimited® which also earns Ultimate Rewards, even though it is marketed as a cash back card. How to combine Ultimate Rewards from multiple Chase cards.
  • You’ll hold the card you get for the long term – The annual fee on the Sapphire Preferred is $95, whereas you’ll pay the $450 yearly fee on the Sapphire Reserve starting with year one. We’re assuming you’ll hold the card for the long term and the figures reflect the year-over-year return on spend when you pay the associated annual fees.
  • The only benefit we’ve factored in is the $300 travel credit – While the Sapphire Reserve packs premium perks like a Priority Pass lounge membership and Global Entry Credit, we’ve only factored in the $300 travel credit as it’s the only perk you can place a reliable dollar figure on. Our comparison looks at the value of return on dollars spent only.

The Effective Annual Fee Difference is $55

Provided you spend at least $300 per year on travel, the practical difference in annual fee is only $55. (Sapphire Reserve – $450 vs. Sapphire Preferred – $95).

If You Redeem Points Through the Chase Travel Portal

The two Sapphire cards have different fees for authorized users, different earning rates on bonus spend, and different redemption values through the Chase Travel Portal, so we’ve put together a table reflecting all the figures with which we need to factor.

Spend on Travel & DiningSapphire Preferred
2X points @ 1.25¢
Sapphire Reserve
3X points @ 1.5¢
Difference in the value of points earned

† $2,750 is the breakeven point without an authorized user
†† $6,500 is the breakeven point with one authorized user

If You Transfer Points to Travel Partners

As you can transfer Ultimate Rewards from both the Sapphire Reserve and the Sapphire Preferred to the same transfer partners at the same ratio, the potential value you can achieve from this strategy becomes a moot point. Why? If the cent per point value of the transfer/redemption is the same for both cards, then we only need to know the difference in the earning rates.

The only difference is the one additional point the Sapphire Reserve earns on travel and dining, as they both earn one point per dollar on non-bonus spend. In this case, we’ll give Ultimate Rewards an arbitrary value of 2¢ per point, and focus the calculation on how much you need to spend on travel and dining to make up the $55 difference in annual fees.

The higher the value you place on Ultimate Rewards, the less you need to spend on travel and dining to make up the $55 difference in annual fees. An easy way to work it out is to divide the difference in annual fee by the value you place on Ultimate Rewards.

For example, if you value Ultimate Rewards at $0.02 per point: $55 / $0.02 = $2,750

$165 – $110 = $55

If you value Ultimate Rewards at a higher or lower value than 2¢, divide the difference in annual fees by that number. If you value Ultimate Rewards at 3¢, the equation would be $55 / $0.03 = $1,833.33 to break even with the Sapphire Reserve.

Final Thoughts

Whether you transfer points to travel partners or redeem through the Chase Travel Portal, the breakeven point will sit between $2,000 and $3,000 unless you only redeem for ultra-high-value luxury redemptions such as first-class international flights. Before you decide to get the Sapphire Reserve or the Sapphire Preferred, run the numbers based on how much you spend in the travel and dining category to determine which card is best for you. If you spend more than $230 per month, the likely scenario is you’ll be better off getting the Sapphire Reserve, and that’s without factoring in perks like lounge access, global entry fee credit, and superior travel protection!

Doing the Math: Sapphire Reserve vs Sapphire Preferred
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  • The Reserve is always the best choice. Thanks for the analysis.

  • Am looking at this, seems like I have some calculations to do!

  • Nice breakdown. I had done it on the back of a napkin before, but this is much clearer. 😉

  • Thanks for the overview!

  • deerseason says:

    Last year we loved the CSR since we did a lot of traveling and really made use of the priority pass and precheck. This year we got it again via my wife and haven’t used it much at all (this reminds me that we need to get my wife PreCheck). It’ll still be worth it in the end, but sometimes I wish for the simplicity of having gotten the CSP this time around. We will definitely not be renewing it next year.

  • Thank you for the details, I have never calculated the details, however I believe I am way ahead with the CSR.

  • There’s no doubt that for me. the Sapphire Reserve is the best deal. Although I do use airline miles for travel, I much prefer using my UR through the travel portal. The flexibility of any flight I want to take and the ability to earn points and achieve status has been very helpful in my travels, especially during irregular operations.

  • This is a debate I have over and over in my head. I’ll be honest – even after this analysis, I’m still not sure which card is best. My head says preferred, but my heart says reserve.

  • thank you for the excellent analysis

  • Agree that this is a terrific analysis that will make me plot out where I stand between the two.

  • So if I have the AmEx Platinum, would the Reserve be overkill since a lot of the perks are equal. In which case, is my Platinum and the CSP the better mixed cocktail?

  • Jacqueline parsons says:

    IMO the Reserve is the better deal.

  • Not sure how you can just throw away the lounge access benefit and completely missed all the other added benefits of the CSR like the better car insurance coverage, trip delay insurance, trip cancellation insurance, the better redemption of chase points on other Chase cards when paired with the CSR etc. This is a travel/points web site, how can you assume people reading it get zero additional benefits the CSR offers? All of these benefits are easily worth the extra 55 per year annual fee to anyone that travels on a plane, cruise, books a non refundable hotel or rents a car even once a year which you assume they do to get the 300 credit. Its that simple. Very flawed analysis with unnecessary math calculations solely on when you break even just on a 1/4 penny point earning redemption rate.

    • It was simple to throw away the extra benefits — they’re not easily quantifiable. What if you don’t care about lounge access or you only fly business class and have lounge access for free? What if you have insurance that covers you?

      Focusing just on the numbers and the spend makes it easily quantifiable. If you get value out of the other benefits it is subjective — we can’t say exactly what lounge access is worth, nor can we say what insurance is worth. While you say it is easily worth the extra $55, and I personally agree, we wanted to analyze just the numbers and only the numbers.

  • Beppoello81 says:

    Thanks for the great overview.

  • Hugely helpful! I am a newbie to travel awards and have SO much to learn! I think the Reserve May be best fit for me.

  • Hugely helpful! Newbie here 😀

  • Charlotte says:

    Thanks for this great breakdown! I have been debating which to go for for several months now and am still a little undecided. As with a lot of the rewards cards the value can be in how you personally use the card, so doing calculations based on the “minimums” you did in this post is a nice baseline to see a cards worth, even if you never take advantage of any of the other benefits. It gives a nice starting point for an individual (me!) to work from when deciding which card will be best!

  • Unfortunately I am over 5/24 and can’t get the Reserve. Is it worth it to try to product change my Preferred to a Reserve? I definitely would love my Ultimate Rewards for Hyatt and United points transfers. I already have an old InK Bold.

  • CSR all the way!

  • Thanks for the breakdown! This is very helpful!

  • Wow, the quantitative analysis! Thanks a million!

  • great overview!

  • I’m in the market for one and this analysis helped a lot. Thanks. I’ll likely go with the least costly one.

  • I’d like to see these two cards compared to the JP Morgan Reserve card

  • charles j says:

    Thank you. It looks like a lot of work went into this analysis.

  • Lillian Dikovitsky says:

    Great to know this info. I only have the Chase Reserve of the non hotel cards but I’m at 5/24 so have to wait a bit.

  • Thanks for the info on the transfer points with sapphire preferred.

  • Throwing away benefits because you can’t put a fixed value on it down to the pennies may steer people to the wrong card. Clearly there is value to anyone that travels (insurance on one ticket alone or 2 days of car rental is worth that) of the CSR benefits for the 55 extra fee so it doensn’t just come down to total spend which is the main point of the article.

  • Very nice by-the-numbers comparison. Travel and dining are our two largest spend categories, so the Reserve is definitely the one for us.

  • This makes me feel better about keeping the Reserve, it’s just the best fit or me. Thanks for the great break down!

  • I definitely appreciate you wanting to keep things simple and quantifiable. But it’s important to highlight the potential value of certain CSR card perks. I often forget, for example, that with the associated Priority Pass, I can bring TWO guests into a lounge for free. Given most lounges have free booze and food, this can help offset that $55 very quickly!

  • Thanks so much for doing the math- that is really helpful.

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