Scoring travel rewards towards our next vacation sounds great, but are the supposedly great benefits really worth the steep annual fees? Premium travel credit cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, American Express Platinum, and the Capital One Venture X cards come with heftier fees yet grander sounding benefits than others. Each has pros and cons, but they all tout equally flashy annual benefits. Before getting swept away in the idea of the grand sign-up bonus, let’s dive into the nitty gritty, honest details of finding out if these heavyweight travel cards are suitable for the average traveler.
Too many travel pros talk about “travel hacking” and “rewards stacking,” but we want to highlight straightforward trade-offs for the average traveler who takes one or two big vacations and maybe a few weekend trips each year. Even as full-time travelers, we sometimes get overwhelmed by the jargon and loopholes credit card companies offer. In order to not overwhelm vacationers with cryptic lingo of points vs. miles vs. bonuses, we’re diving into the handful of actually valuable benefits of major travel credit cards that don’t cost you money to use them.
Let’s take a closer look at the popular Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card and see if this travel credit card is worth its weight in points! Here are the realistic card benefits from the Chase Sapphire Reserve that you’ll actually use as the average traveler:
A Quick Note On Credit Responsibility:
- Before we begin, we want to be clear that premium cards have higher credit score requirements than other travel credit cards. You’ll need an excellent credit score to qualify for them. Additionally, the only responsible way to use these travel credit cards to make the most of points and miles is to only put what you can immediately pay off that month on the card. If you ever carry a balance, the high APR will zero out any benefits the card may offer.
- For example, while getting “10x the points” for a $1,000 hotel stay booked through the travel portal sounds like a great deal, that $150 worth of points doesn’t carry as much weight when your 29% APR (average) on that $1,000 stay adds $290 to your overall bill if it’s not paid off that same month. So now, that $150 “reward” actually sets you back about $140 in interest fees if you don’t pay off your bill in the same month.
- Remember – only “travel hack” what you already have in your budget!
- And let’s be clear – we have absolutely no sponsorship or affiliation with any credit card company or business which promotes them. All and any opinions expressed are our own, and we are using all of the information for this blog from our own look at our Chase Ultimate Rewards account to convey the costs and benefits.
Chase Sapphire Reserve Annual Fee
Yikes – this premium travel credit has a pretty steep annual fee of $550. Even more shockingly, this isn’t even the highest fee for a premium card! That 1st place spotlight goes to the American Express Platinum card at a whopping $695 a year. So why is this annual fee so high? Because its benefits are truly better and cover more than its less expensive counterparts.
Benefits That “Pay Down” the Annual Fee
Significant Sign-up bonus
And we can’t forget about the most significant benefit – the Reserve offers a pretty sweet initial bonus. As of 2023, the sign-up bonus is 60,000 points, worth $900 in travel expenses, when redeemed through Chase’s travel portal. To earn this bonus, you must spend $4,000 in the first three months of opening your account. That might sound like a lot, but if you can use your credit card for everyday expenses like groceries and gas, you could quickly meet that spending requirement.
If you are traveling at all this year, you can use the Chase Sapphire Reserve’s $300 travel credit. This credit can be used for travel-related expenses, including flights, hotels, and rental cars. This credit doesn’t have to be used through the Chase Travel Portal and doesn’t have to be reported. This is actually one of the more simplistic credits offered. Once Chase sees an airline, train, or hotel fee on your card, you’ll be reimbursed up to $300 on your next bill.
TSA PreCheck or Global Entry
Another card benefit is a $100 credit towards Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. Your life is about to be changed if you don’t already have TSA PreCheck. This perk lets you skip to the shorter security line at the airport, keep your shoes and belt on, and leave your laptop and liquids in your bag when going through security. The anti-hassle is worth it! If you plan to travel internationally, get Global Entry. However, if the majority of your travel is domestic, TSA PreCheck might be the quicker and easier way to go. Both programs get you access to TSA PreCheck. These programs cost $100, so the reimbursement from Chase covers the cost of a travel must-have.
Airport Lounge access
Everyone loves an airport lounge. They’re like the secret bonus world of airports. Why sit amongst the hundreds of people at the gate for hours when you could snack on treats and sip on complimentary chardonnay while waiting for your plane to arrive? However, lounge benefits vary greatly and depend on the number of times you fly and the airports you fly into and out of. The more you fly, the more bang for your buck you’ll get in not having to buy mediocre $14 airport sandwiches or $5 soft drinks. Instead, you’ll get light meals, snacks, soft drinks, and alcoholic beverages in each lounge. Oh – and much nicer bathrooms, seating options, and free wifi! On average, we’d say airport lounges offer at least $100 value of savings on food and drinks at airports.
The quick and easy math
- $550 annual fee – $300 travel credit – $100 TSA credit – $100 lounge benefits – $900 worth of sign-up bonus points = $850 value, even after the expense of the annual fee.
Perks That Require Spending
“Ten times the points, three times the points, double your points” – what does it all really mean, and does that justify the annual fee? While being rewarded for your regular spending adds to valuable travel benefits, we wouldn’t say it justifies the annual fee. If you’re already utilizing the card well and getting the benefits mentioned above, then points multipliers are an added bonus that can eventually add up to free flights or hotel stays. Chase Ultimate Rewards points are worth 2 cents per point, making 20,000 points worth a $400 flight when booked through the Chase Travel Portal.
Chase’s offers on points per dollar for different spending categories:
- 10X Lyft Rides – rides from Lyft anywhere in the world. This means your $30 ride from the airport gets you 300 reward points.
- 10x Hotels and Car Rentals through Chase Travel – Hotels and rental cars booked directly using the Chase Travel Portal. This means your $500 rental car gets you 5,000 reward points.
- 5x Flights through Chase Travel – Flights booked directly using the Chase Travel Portal. This means your $500 flight gets you 2,500 reward points.
- 3x Travel – flights, hotels, rental cars, etc., booked anywhere else. This means your $500 flight gets you 1,500 reward points.
- 3x Dining – from fast food to fine dining and everything in between. This means your $20 dinner gets you 60 reward points.
- 1x Everything Else – gas, groceries, bills, shopping, etc. This means your $300 vet bill gets you 300 reward points.
Benefits That May or May Not Be Useful
Many premium travel credit cards boast dozens and dozens of benefits. Still, not all of them are as useful to every traveler. While we always hope trip plans go perfectly, having coverage outside traditional travel insurance adds value to this already impressive card. And if you’re a big fan of popular online subscription services, the Reserve might save you some extra cash on your regular spending.
Bill Credit, Points Multipliers, and Complimentary Memberships
Chase offers various complimentary memberships, bonus points, and bill credits to services such as Peloton, DoorDash, Caviar, InstaCart, Lyft, and GoPuff. Benefits range from $150 towards annual membership to 10x the points to $5 monthly credit. If you already use these services, then consider this a cost-saver! But we wouldn’t recommend signing up and paying for these services if you don’t already use them, as it simply adds to your spending.
Ah, the thing we all hate to pay for but love to have if we need it. When you use your card to pay for travel expenses like flights and hotels, you’ll be covered for things like trip cancellation, trip interruption, and baggage delay without charging extra fees for your trip. This can be a massive relief if something unexpected happens while you’re on the road.
Trip Cancellations, Interruptions, and Delays
Suppose your trip is canceled or cut short by sickness, severe weather, and other covered situations. In that case, you can be reimbursed up to $10,000 per person and $20,000 per trip for your pre-paid, non-refundable travel expenses, including passenger fares, tours, and hotels. This saved us hundreds when our flight to Madrid which we booked on our Chase Sapphire Reserve was canceled by the airline after a mid-flight disaster. (We shared that scary moment on YouTube!) We would have lost several non-refundable charges from booked tours, hotels, and train tickets, but this trip coverage got hundreds back for us.
If your trip is delayed by more than 6 hours or requires an overnight stay, Trip Delay Reimbursement covers you and your family for unreimbursed reasonable additional expenses incurred for meals, lodging, toiletries, medication, and other personal use items, up to $500 per ticket.
Baggage Loss or Delay Insurance
Baggage Delay Insurance reimburses you for essential purchases like toiletries and clothing for baggage delays over 6 hours by passenger carriers up to $100 a day for 5 days. So if you land in Paris, yet your baggage does not arrive for at least six hours, you can shop for what you need to replace your excellent packing skills. Additionally, if your baggage is sadly gone entirely, the Lost Luggage Reimbursement covers up to $3,000 per passenger.
The Chase Reserve card offers at least a dozen other benefits, including hotel perks at luxury properties like late check-out, concierge service, emergency medical and dental benefits, travel assistance, upgrades in rental car options, and purchase protection for lost, stolen, or damaged items. Some card users will benefit more from this than others, but if you sign up for the card, some of these benefits might help you as you travel. These alone aren’t often worth signing up for but can add to the card’s value.