Time for Chase to Up Its Game: Sapphire Reserve Has Become Passé

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Last year Chase revealed statistics about Sapphire Reserve cardholders. The average income is $180,000 and average credit score 785.

When the card launched three years ago it was definitely a hit among consumers. Since then though anecdotally it seems their approval standards tightened up. Readers with good credit and good income who aren’t locked out by 5/24 were getting declined.

They have to be losing money on the card. Indeed after revealing an initial $200 million accounting charge right out of the gate they took a $330 million charge last summer.

To the extent they’re losing money it would make sense to limit approvals for the card, which is why I’ve said the best path for many people to get the product is to get a Sapphire Preferred Card which has just as better initial bonus — wait a year and ask to product change. You can only get the bonus for one of the other anyway, so you aren’t giving up anything by choosing the Sapphire Preferred Card‘s bonus.

Since the card launched Chase has made some tweaks to the card to reduce their costs,

Here’s the thing, for all of the initial excitement around the card, in the two years since it launched it may have become passé. What are the key features of the card, and what’s unique about it today?

  • Triple points on travel and dining. The Platinum Card® from American Express earns 5 points per dollar on airfare. American Express® Gold Card offers 4 points per dollar on restaurant worldwide spend and on the first $25,000 each year at US supermarkets.

    Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card gives you the same 3 points per dollar on travel, and has a bigger initial bonus (80,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening) while coming with a lower ($95) annual fee.

  • Priority pass for airport lounge access. You can get this from Citi Prestige and while the The Platinum Card® from American Express Priority Pass no longer includes airport restaurants it comes with access to Delta lounges (when flying Delta same day), Airspace lounges, Escape lounges, and Plaza Premium lounges. Several other cards have Priority Pass too.

You can match and exceed Sapphire Reserve‘s earning. You can get Priority Pass access elsewhere. Indeed if you already have a Priority Pass from another card, another combination of products is likely better. My own view is:

To be sure these aren’t the only benefits of Sapphire Reserve, like Sapphire Preferred it comes with primary collision damage waiver when renting cars and some of the protections it comes with are stronger than alternatives (for instance American Express products don’t have trip delay coverage), though some are worse (The Platinum Card® from American Express is better for towing). And as I say the Platinum Card® from American Express is much better for airport lounge access.

Ultimately since changes to the Chase product have been modest what this speaks to is the arms race that it started and that the product has largely been without major updates in three years. Other cards and combination of cards have caught up and even surpassed. It’s tough for Chase to leap frog, though, because of the economic challenges of offering what they already offer!

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I disagree. As AMEX and Citi have cut back/killed their benefits, the CSR becomes even more compelling. It has the highest base value for points, arguably better transfer partners, is the only one to offer travel insurance (which is huge, 2 MR or TY pts/$ aren’t Worth giving up insurance), highest value and easiest to use travel credit, competitive lounge access (especially if you don’t fly Delta often or live somewhere with a Centurion lounge), and lowest annual fee. I’m worried with this compelling package, Chase will see fit to dial back benefits even more.

  2. Good analysis. But as I and others have posted here several times before, the Chase so-called primary collision damage waiver for any of its cards is often worthless. You have to jump through numerous hoops, dealing not with Chase but its affiliated insurance company, to even start the process. Then that company keeps requesting wave after wave and month after month of documentation. And Chase says the process is not its problem or responsibility.

    The whole strategy is clearly to get folks to give up on claims. Classic bait and switch.

    Perhaps it works out ok for some folks sometimes. But often it doesn’t. If you’re going to mention this supposed feature of Chase cards from now on, you really should mention how problematic it is.

  3. The article makes some good points, but really gives short shrift to the ecosystem benefits. Every point I rack up on Freedom, Freedom Unlimited and Ink Cash are worth an extra 20% in the travel portal. And a lot of those points are earned at 5 per $ spent. I realize the travel portal is less sexy than premium travel, but 1.5 cents per point is (at least not yet) subject to the whims of airline devaluations.

  4. @Steve – what you are complaining about is the process of dealing with ANY insurance company.

    I’ve had to file 2 claims each with Citi and Chase’s insurance providers over the years and 2 times i had to email back and forth a few times and two times it was straight forward (same success for citi and chase).

  5. Insurance, insurance, insurance. I just booked about $2,000 in airfare (for about 7 different flights) and another $1,000 in hotels. I used the Chase card exclusively because of the travel (most importantly – delay) insurance. It was a no-brainer for me to use this card given those coverages, even if it was less points than using the Amex Platinum. Also the primary rental car coverage is great for someone like me who doesn’t have a car and thus doesn’t have auto insurance, so this card provides the protection I need without having to pay for the car rental insurance. Of course your mileage may vary, but for me this absolutely makes the card the best out there.

  6. “$300 annual travel credit is tied to cardmember year rather than calendar year, so you cannot get it twice in the first annual fee year any longer.”

    Yes you can.

  7. Given that they are losing money, I’d think it unlikely that they’d add even more perks. And I’m good with that. My Chase Sapphire is also primary (except for airfares where I don’t bundle a car that I will use as I want the Chase primary coverage, hoops notwithstanding) when I use Amex Plat. But I am happy enough with the current CSR benefits that I’d rather have them stick around than try to offer even more and lose more money, resulting in more drastic cuts later.


  8. BEWARE: I find the Chase travel portal(Expedia) that supposedly provides a 20% discount on rates is in fact overstating prices compared to what I can find outside of Chase/Expedia. They also advertise base rates w/o taxes, fee and misc local taxes on international bookings which overstates their competativness. I use Freedom and UR points for SWA points to get the best value for the point.

  9. My CSR still has a place in my wallet, mostly because Amex acceptance abroad still is hit or miss (or, as is especially the case overseas, incurs additional processing fees to accept it) but also because the CSR dining and travel categories are SO expansive. With Amex, I feel like half the time I use my card expecting a bonus category, it doesn’t come through… Using the Amex Gold at a cafe? 50-50 shot it doesn’t code as a restaurant. A pizzeria down the street with a full bar and table service? Nope, Amex says it codes as a bar. Restaurant within an airport? Forget about it. The CSR never has issues and clearly codes.

  10. I too find the benefits appealing enough to keep the card. I dumped AmEx Platinum a couple of years ago and have no regrets.

    Chase primary CDW paid an $11,000 claim just over a year ago. Not my fault and required some paperwork submission but as stated above, that is true with any insurance company.

  11. CSR offers something that Amex doesn’t – a broad travel category that includes Uber/Lyft/taxis, rail, Airbnb, OTAs, etc. That alone makes it worth keeping (most consumers aren’t applying for business cards). Chase Freedom Unlimited is also a strong companion card. Amex Gold/Platinum are also good cards. All of these cards are worth holding.

  12. You forgot to mention that the Chase portal has turned into complete BS. Only a fraction of what’s available on Expedia will be available via the portal, and even then often at higher prices. Chase has turned the CSR into a massive scam.

  13. It launched 3 years ago, in 2016, not 2 years ago as you incorrectly state. Do some research and stop being so lazy.

  14. Claims about the demise of the CSR in this post are poorly reasoned and bogus. More than three years after its seismic launch spooked the competition into upping their game, the CSR remains the card to beat, .

    Thanks to the CSR, we saw AMEX and Citi begin offering somewhat more competitive benefits. However, none of their offerings has overtaken the CSR due to how broadly it defines ‘travel’ and ‘dining’, and how *stable* its benefits have remained. What we have seen, instead, has been AMEX and Citi introducing and pulling benefits pêle-mêle in search of a formula that would achieve the ‘magic’ that the CSR achieved on launch and has yet to relinquish.

    Please look @TJ’s comment for additional sound reasons for why claims about the CSR becoming ‘passé’ are both premature and outright bogus. With just the trio of the CSR (3x on dining and travel), the Ink Business Cash (5x on phone, internet connection bills) and the Chase Freedom Unlimited (1.5x on everything else), I am sitting of the largest stash of transferable points currency that I have ever amassed. In the meantime, I canceled my last Citi card and almost never use AMEX cards except for the industry-leading AMEX Hilton Honors Aspire card, because I have the perfect trifecta, led by the CSR. Earning points in any other points currency, with the associated ‘currency dilution’ (i.e., to have points in too many denominations and not enough in any one denomination to be able to afford a decent or even an ‘aspirational’ redemption), does not seem like a sound strategy to me.

    The CSR made the CSP obsolete.

    The CSR, if you don’t got it, get it. It’s the one card you get and you keep using again and again, if you play the game with a ‘full deck.’ 😉


  15. Keep in mind that CSR also includes medical evacuation insurance. Amex Plat does too but it doesn’t provide coverage for trip cancelation, baggage delays, etc. Citi Prestige is totally gutted with all trip coverage, auto coverage gone and the 4 night benefit deeply devalued. I’m cancelling my Prestige, keeping my CSR and will keep my Amex Plat for now since they gave me 20K membership rewards for re-upping.

  16. If we’re comparing CSR to AMEX Plat then it’s clearly CSR in the lead. And let’s face it, CSR has miles of room to grow and add perks while AMEX has been slashing like crazy. And, for the benefits, I’ll gladly choose a $450 AF vs $550 (0r $595).

    AMEX Plat also did absolutely nothing to get me to keep the card 2 months ago, no offer of any kind. One more strike against AMEX, in my case at least.

  17. Don’t forget to factor in the MR tax charges for transferring points to partners, that cuts into the value…

  18. @Gary
    Your suggested 4-card replacement for the CSR is absolutely UNAFFORDABLE. If I were to take the same amount of spending that I put on the CSR and spread it across your 4 recommended replacement cards, my total earnings might increase a bit, but the annual fees increase a lot. No way would I do it.

  19. Charlie is 100% correct. Chase offers everything in 1 package. As Paul notes Amex does not include trip evacuation coverage which is critical for some of the exotic places that Gary and others like to visit (not to mention Mexico). This coverage is expensive if bought separately. Also no reason to favor Chase Ink over CSR for hotels where the ROI is equivalent.
    To do a fair evaluation you should compare the real annual fee ($150 for Chase after travel credits) with others (i.e. $95 for CSP). I think you get a lot more for the extra $55/year.
    As for priority pass I have 3 cards that provide it – Amex is the worst now, Chase is okay, CNB Crystal is the best (with no limits on guests). But a lot of these lounges are pathetic so it’s not a huge value – particularly for those of us who like to cut it close with Clear and Precheck.

  20. I’m all in favor of more points multiplier increases to match the Amex Plat.

    I am not in favor of an $100/yr increase to my AF to do so (like the Amex Plat)

  21. Need to look at the programs – where you want to travel or frequent flier/hotel programs you use often. Also where you spend – I’ll take the Amex Everyday Preferred card for the 1.5x on normal spend and nice bonuses on gas/grocery spend. Citi may offer some higher points per category but their travel parents are subpar in comparison AND their IT is worse and it can take days for points to transfer and with Amex/Chase those same partners are instant.

    See what 2-3 card combo gives you the best earning power and weigh the transfer partners – but it will come down to Amex vs Chase for 90% of people.

    Oh and with collision insurance and those extras, if I can score free round trip business class flights and 10 free nights of hotels for a trip, I’ll pay a few bucks for collision coverage up front with the rental agency and call it a day.

  22. Arguments made in the article are cherry picked.

    The nerfing of Priority Pass to limit the guest count applies to all cards offering Priority Pass. So that’s irrelevant.

    CSR gives you 4.5% back if redeemed through the Chase Travel Portal (which gives you equivalent booking rates). No other card gives a blanket 4.5% on all Dining and all Travel, both.

    Plus the primary insurance which none of the other premium cards offer.

    As for them removing the double $300 travel redemption in Year 1, or getting points on the redemption itself, those were simply known exploits that they fixed.

    CSR remains as fantastic a deal as ever.

  23. @Steve – completely agree about Chase so-called insurance. The hoops they made me jump through for a $100 purchase protection claim was the reason I closed my account.

    @Evan – Amex claims are a breeze. I can’t speak to car rental insurance, but Purchase protection claims are usually paid out within 24 hours of completing the very quick and easy online form.

  24. Hrm. Other than losing KE as a partner, I’m honestly not sure why CSR has to up its game when all the other cards have either been wacking benefit after benefit or introducing “enhancements” so obviously designed for breakage it’s laughable (looking at you, amex).

  25. I know this article was meant to stir the pot a little, but comparing Amex (Platinum and Gold) cards’ higher bonus points on travel and/or dining to the CSR conveniently ignores the restrictive travel credits that Amex offers versus the CSR’s easy-to-use $300 credit, and the CSR’s lower ($450) annual fee compared to the Platinum’s sky-high $550 annual fee.

    The biggest refutation of this article and argument is circled in red right at the top. The CSR’s 90%+ renewal rate clearly speaks to cardholders’ satisfaction with the value that they receive for their $450.

  26. Worst thing about Chase is their idiotic 5/24 policy. I don’t understand why Amex has a no-fee BB+ with 2x capped at $50K, but not a personal version that offers 2x. I’d much prefer a steady 2x MR everywhere card – charge a $95 AF or something. Then could put some real spend on the card while Amex would do ok. Target it towards us in the hobby.

  27. @Steve and those who feel the eClaims are worthless, I dont know how you file your claim – may be you have not prepared for the required documents?

    Our experience in getting eClaims to handle our 1300 Euro claim on a Budget rental made at Sicily was settled VERY QUICKLY – 100% amount on the Budget’s repair cost invoice was paid, without a single request on doc above what we had submitted at the time of filing the claim.

    We only received ONE email which was the Claim Approval email together with options to get reimbursement, in 7 Calendar Days from the day the claim was filed. Money is ACHed to our bank within 24 hours we submitted bank information per the instruction in the Claim Approval email.

    The ONLY contacts we made with eClaims were 2 phone calls – e Claims adjuster never asked for any more document. In fact we dont even ever know the adjuster’s name.

    1st call was when the site errored out when we submitted the claim together with needed documents online. We called and the front line rep told us to take off all attachments and just submit the claim itself to obtain a claim number first. When we did so, the site told us duplicate claim – meaning the submission was successfully generated a claim number. He then instructed us to call back in 24 to 48 hours to see whether the attachments had made it to the server. If not, then use an email address to submit the document attachments.

    2nd call was to check if eClaims had received all attachments because online it showed documents were received. It did.

    The next thing we knew, was the Claim Approval email, 7 calendar days from the initial filing.

    Worth to note – our documents are above and beyond than the minimum requirements – Budget’s Repair Cost Invoice is excellent – 3 pictures and a very clear, itemized invoice with everything listed, together with the airport surcharge and VAT, Chase policy does not cover airport surcharge on repair, BTW. But the adjuster approved the FULL Amount billed by Budget – so we actually were “overreimbursed”.

    At the time of initial filing, we submitted the Final RA, Budget’s Repair Cost Invoice with their 3 pictures, our own pictures on the scratches, due to mis-stated color of the car on the RA we also submitted a picture of the car key indicated the license and the color of the car (Black versus on the RA it said White), CSR Activity Screen Capture showing the Budget charge on the Rental, which matched with the final amount on the RA, incl the Repair Cost Invoice.

    If your documents are incomplete, then surely you would be asked to submit what is needed. That we have not ever received a single call / email on additional document when the claim was approved and settled in a week, speaks volume to us that how the claim is settled, a lot of it DEPENDS ON THE CARDHOLDER. If you do not do your own part to make sure everything is in order, then of course the adjuster would keep asking you to submit the needed documents before s/he can work on your claim.

  28. One more thing on the CDW coverage – Chase coverage is Worldwide. AMEX excludes Australia, New Zealand, Italy, 3 very important countries for many travelers, not to mention other less popular countries /destination.

    While basic CDW in Italy is mandatory by laws, the excess can be quite high – in our Sicily rental the excess is 1000 euro + airport surcharge + VAT on both the excess AND the airport surcharge!
    Chase covers the Excess.

  29. I don’t understand how you say Amex is better for lounge acc9 Amex doesn’t give you the full priority pass lounge access with restaurants. Sure the give you the overcrowding in Centurion lounges.

  30. @RCB if you don’t have regular car insurance then you don’t need primary rental coverage since any secondary coverage would become primary automatically. Primary coverage is only useful for those who DO have regular car insurance so they don’t have to file a claim with them when a problem arises (and raise your premiums when you do).

  31. @omar from my understanding, the insurance doesn’t have liability, only property damage so you would need liability insurance so therefore no coverage. will still need to get liability coverage

  32. @Greg not just Centurion lounges but also Delta lounges and:
    Escape lounges
    Airspace lounges
    Plaza Premium lounges

    many of which aren’t part of Priority Pass.

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