Chase Sapphire Reserve Credit Card Review: Great Travel Rewards

Before diving into this detailed Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card review, I want to explain a bit about my life as a traveler. As someone who has traveled to over 60 countries and visited 40 of America's great states, I'm a travel fanatic. I've been a travel fanatic ever since I was born in Manila, Philippines to U.S. Foreign Service officer parents.

I can't wait to start traveling aggressively again once the travel restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic are over!

From age 0 – 13, I lived in Manila, Kobe, Lusaka, Kuala Lumpur, and Taipei. Then I traveled abroad for college to multiple cities in China. Then I decided to join the International Equities department at Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse from 1999 – 2012. It was a blast!

Since retiring in 2012, I've decided countless hours writing about the best international and domestic travel tips. And one of the best travel tips out there is getting a travel rewards credit card such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve card.

Why Own A Travel Credit Card?

Travel credit cards provide good travel rewards, 0% foreign transaction fees, and other protections like trip delays or cancellations to help you travel with confidence.

We've all been through flight delays. The worst is when your flight is delayed longer than the flight itself! Ugh. I've had that happen a number of times when flying from San Francisco, where I'm based, to Los Angeles, Seattle, and Portland.

But even worse is a flight cancellation that leaves you stranded at an airport. I had that happen on my way back from Mallorca, Spain. I got stuck at the Frankfurt, Germany airport after sitting on the plane for four hours. Lufthansa then told us we had to de-board, queue up to get on a bus, and then queue up to check into a random hotel.

With a great travel credit card, your card will pick up the hotel tab and some will even provide credit for food, if the airlines does not cover the costs.

The best credit cards for international travel also have great benefits such as primary car rental insurance to cover the cost of accidents or theft abroad. You can also enjoy VIP status at dozens of hotels in countries all around the world, even if you are not a regular patron of the hotel chain.

When it comes to international travel, you don't want to hop on a plane without a fantastic credit card that specializes in international travel and international rewards.

Chase Sapphire Reserve Credit Card: Great Travel Rewards

Chase Sapphire Reserve Overview

The Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card was named “Best Premium Travel Credit Card” a couple years ago by MONEY Magazine and it's no wonder. If you love to travel, then this card is the one for you.

Here are some of the main perks of the Chase Sapphire Reserve card that has allowed me to travel with comfort, style, and ease.

  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That equates to $750 in travel rewards when you book in the Chase Ultimate Rewards® portal.
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year. This is free money that knocks down the fee just for having the card.
  • $550 Annual Fee. Expensive, but the Annual Travel Credit helps cover this cost

3X Points Rack Up Fast

One of the best benefits of the Chase Sapphire Reserve card is that you earn an incredible 3x points on travel and dining. You will quickly rack up thousands of miles to get great benefits on the Chase Ultimate Rewards program.

You can easily use your ultimate rewards points to book flights and hotels for upcoming trips. Accumulate enough points, and you can start traveling for free.

Every year, I earn roughly 100,000 rewards points from my credit cards. As a result, I get two free round-trip flights to Hawaii for my wife and I. Gosh it feels great to get free money and benefits.

Once we're in Hawaii, we obviously make a portion of the trip a business meeting and charge all business expenses accordingly on our Chase Ink Preferred Business credit card to earn even more points. If you're going to have an annual business directors meeting, you might as well make it in a place that is awesome!

If You Can Make It In Hawaii You Can Make It Anywhere

The Sapphire Reserve is similar to Chase’s popular Sapphire Preferred. But the Sapphire Reserve offers new cardholders up to 50,000 bonus points and more ways to redeem rewards points.

I know that the $550 annual fee is higher than the average card with annual fees. However, each year you can get up to a $300 travel credit reimbursement for travel expenses charged to your card.

This makes your effective annual fee only $250. Then you get the tremendous bonus points, access to airline and hotel partners, and exception rewards.

Why Is The Chase Sapphire Rewards Card So Great?

For those of you who love to travel and live the good life, the main reason why the Chase Sapphire rewards card is so great is due to the 3X points you earn on travel and dining expenses through the year. The 3X rewards points are not limited to the U.S. either, but worldwide.

Below is a snapshot of the rewards points multipliers for all your spending.

Chase Sapphire Rewards Points Multipliers

Ever year, I take my family on a least one domestic trip and at least one international trip. Our budget for travel ranges between $20,000 – $30,000 a year on average.

One trip, we went to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for our friends wedding, then went to South Korea, Taiwan, and then Cambodia. We spent $17,000 on the trip alone and charged it all on our travel rewards credit card.

The $17,000 Asian adventure trip earned us a cool 51,000 in Chase ultimate rewards points to use for a free domestic trip. The points add up quick!

If you have never been to Angkor Wat, Cambodia, you must definitely add the place on your bucket list. The temples and fortresses are next level amazing. Check out one of the ancient trees growing from one of the ruins below.

Chase Sapphire Reserve Credit Card: Great Travel Rewards

Chase Sapphire Reserve Sign-up Bonuses

When you sign up for the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card, you get 50,000 points after spending just $4,000 in the first three months.

50,000 points equals a handsome $750 in travel rewards credit in the Chase Ultimate Rewards® portal. You can redeem points for rentals, cruises, hotels, airfare and more.

As a frequent traveler, the Chase Sapphire Reserve will allow you access to travel lounges, and allow you to be eligible for upgrades and other bonuses whenever available.

Yes, the $550 annual fee is a lot. But the bonus rewards and overall awards alone are worth at least $1,200, if not more, the more you use your card. Remember, you automatically get $300 a year of travel credit.

Let's look at this $300 annual travel credit a little closer.

Chase Sapphire Reserve $300 Annual Travel Credit

With Chase Sapphire Reserve, you get $300 travel credit each year, meaning you will be reimbursed for $300-worth of travel purchases charged to your card every account anniversary.

Your $300 worth of travel credit can be applied to the following items:

  • Flights
  • Hotel
  • Timeshares
  • Car Rental Agencies
  • Cruise Lines
  • Discount Travel Sites
  • Travel Agencies
  • Train Operators
  • Buses
  • Taxis (including Lyft and Uber)
  • Ferries
  • Parking Lots
  • Garages

In other words, any fee you can expect to pay when traveling, the $300 travel credit is applicable.

Once you subtract the $300 travel credit from the $550 annual fee, the annual fee is really only $250, which is a deal given all the other benefits the Chase Sapphire Reserve card provides.

Enjoy Your Points Like A Travel Pro

The Chase Sapphire Reserve card points are valued at 1.5 cents per Ultimate Rewards point when you redeem your points for travel on the Chase travel portal. That's right. Your points aren't worth the typical 1 cent per point, but a healthy 50% more!

The best way to maximize your points is to redeem them for flights and hotels or Airbnb stays. The next way to maximize your points is to redeem them for your favorite electronic device. Finally, the easiest way to redeem your points is with cash for maximum flexibility.

Just note that cash redemption only provides the standard 1 point = 1 cent rate. Therefore, if you want better value, you should use your points for airlines and hotels instead, given you get 50% more value for your points.

Redeem Points With Transfer Partners

Chase partners up with many popular airlines, meaning you can use your points for travel with these companies:

  • United Mileage Plus
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards
  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
  • JetBlue
  • Air France Flying Blue (includes Delta and Alaska)
  • British Airways Avios (includes American Airlines)
  • Aer Lingus Avios (includes American Airlines)
  • Iberia Avios (includes American Airlines)
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer

Chase also has many cool hotel partners, like:

  • Marriott Bonvoy
  • IHG Rewards
  • World of Hyatt

The Chase transfer partners basically cover you for everything you could ask for. I used my Chase card to book two flights to Paris to enjoy the French Open in May. The French Open is the best major tennis tournament because the weather is amazing, the action is non-stop, and Paris has some of the best food in the world.

Financial Samurai at the French Open
Watching John Isner beat Kyle Edmund up close

After watching the French Open, my wife and I decided to take a train to Prague and go on the Hapsburg trail down to Budapest.

Financial Samurai visiting Budapest 2016
At Budapest during sunset

Chase Sapphire Reserve Extras

In addition to a great introductory offer and fantastic 3X points on all travel and dining expenses, you get even more benefits with the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card.

Car Rental Insurance Coverage

If you love to go on road trips, you get primary car rental insurance coverage included. This means you get insurance coverage that kicks in before your personal insurance plan is used, in the event you get in an accident or the car is stolen.

This is very important because if you ever have to use your auto insurance, you'll end up jacking up your car insurance premiums. Therefore, having primary car rental insurance could potentially save you thousands in extra auto insurance premium costs since each claim lasts on your record for years.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card also provides up to $75,000 in damage and theft coverage to a rental. This peace of mind is great, especially if you are driving and parking in historically more theft-prone cities like Rio de Janeiro where I almost got my iPhone stolen.

TSA Precheck & Global Entry

Just like many other great credit cards on the market, the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card will reimburse you for your TSA PreCheck and Global Entry application fee, when you charge it to the card, meaning you can receive up to $100 as reimbursement.

Global Entry also includes PreCheck, making it even easier to skip those ever increasingly long lines. Is it just me, or have you noticed security check-in lines get longer and longer over the years?

If you're unlucky, sometimes you have to wait in the security check-in line for 30 minutes to an hour! Make sure you have your phone charged so you can easily kill some time during rush hour.

Below is a picture of a massively long line to just check in. Then you've got to queue up to get into security. If you value your time like I do, having the TSA PreCheck and Global Entry is worth way more than the $100 reimbursement.

TSA Precheck & Global Entry

Visa Infinite Perks

Sapphire Reserve is a Visa Infinite credit card, meaning you’ll also get some benefits such as trip cancellation reimbursement, concierge service, lost luggage reimbursement, and delay coverage.

Travel is exciting, but there are so many variables that can make traveling less enjoyable. The Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card and Visa's Infinite perks will help smooth out the bumps.

Priority Lounge Access

With Sapphire Reserve, you get access to more than 1,200 airport lounges across over 500 cities in the world with the Priority Pass Select membership.

When you're traveling internationally, it's nice to be able to relax in a private lounge to do some work, get some quiet time, eat some free food and drink, use a less-used restroom, and sometimes take a shower where available.

Some VIP lounge access includes the Alaska Airlines Lounge in New York, Oman Air Lounge in Bangkok, and SATS Premier Lounge in Singapore.

No Foreign Transaction Fees

No foreign transactions fees is a must, and a minimum for all great travel reward credit cards. Don't use a credit card with foreign transaction fees because they can easily add up.

Chase Sapphire Reserve Travel Protection

Travelers know that no matter how much we plan ahead, random, unavoidable things pop up all the time. With the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, you get the follow travel protection benefits:

Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance

Trip cancellation and interruption insurance allows you to get reimbursed up to $10,000 per person or $20,000 per trip for pre-paid, non-refundable expenses like hotels, fares, and hotels. Those are some huge numbers that should allow you to travel to the most exotic places with pace of mind.

Lost Luggage Reimbursement. 

The lost luggage reimbursement means that if your carrier loses or damages your luggage, you’re covered up to $3,000 per passenger. I remember checking in a bag as a middle-schooler and having my new Air Jordan 6s stolen and replace with old smelly shoes. I was so sad because I saved an entire summer for these shoes. Luckily I was reimbursed.

Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver

You can get a reimbursement of up to $75,000 for theft and collision damage for rental cars in the US and abroad.

Trip Delay Reimbursement

If your trip is delayed for more than 6 hours – or if you need to find somewhere to stay overnight – you are covered for expenses like meals and lodging, up to $500 per ticket.

Emergency Evacuation & Transportation

Finally, the card also covers you in a case of an emergency evacuation if you become sick or injured, up to $100,000. With healthcare insurance so expensive nowadays, this benefit provides terrific peace of mind.

Purchase Coverage

This is my favorite protection benefit. With purchase coverage, you’re covered for new purchases for 120 days against theft or damage up to $10,000 per claim and a maximum of $50,000 a year.

You could get a reimbursement for products that store won’t take back within 90 days of purchase (up to $500 per item, $1,000 per year). You could get an extension of US manufacturers’ warranty by a year.

With so much travel protection, you can rest easy focusing on your vacation or business trip, and not on random things that can and do go wrong on occasion.

Are You The Right Fit For The Chase Sapphire Rewards Card?

With such a long and detailed review of the Chase Sapphire Rewards card, I'm clearly a fan. But I'm also a financially independent man who has been traveling all his life.

Here are some points to think about that make the Chase Sapphire Rewards card a perfect travel companion:

  • You regularly travel for pleasure or work at least a three times a year
  • International travel is something you love and want travel protection benefits
  • Your income is at least $70,000 a year and you do not have debt problems
  • Making regular contributions to your 401(k) and IRA is a priority you have to save for your retirement
  • You appreciate diversity, culture, art, fine cuisine, and all sorts of events
  • On average, you spend at least $1,000 a month on your credit card to justify the $550 annual fee after the first year.

Try Chase Sapphire Reserve Today

If at least three of these variables fit you, then I definitely think you will enjoy owning and using the Chase Sapphire Rewards credit card.

Responsible credit card use is great for the convenience and rewards. To help keep easier track of your credit card balances, cash flow, bank accounts, and more sign up for a free account with Personal Capital. Their free and secure online software lets you monitor all of your accounts in one place.

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About the Author: Sam worked in investment banking for 13 years at GS and CS. He received his undergraduate degree in Economics from The College of William & Mary and got his MBA from UC Berkeley. In 2012, Sam was able to retire at the age of 34 largely due to his investments that now generate roughly $250,000 a year in passive income. He spends most of his time playing tennis and taking care of his family. Financial Samurai was started in 2009 and is one of the most trusted personal finance sites on the web with over 1.5 million pageviews a month.