Chase Sapphire Showdown: Reserve Beats Preferred, Mostly

For frequent travelers, the Reserve is the clear winner despite its hefty annual fee. But the Preferred is better for lower spenders who don't need a boatload of perks.

Claire TsosieJun 22, 2021
Save for your next vacation sooner with this account hack
Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This may influence which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money.

For frequent travelers, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® packs in plenty of value with its high rewards rate, top-notch benefits and sign-up bonus, even with its annual fee of $550.

But is it actually a more cost-effective choice than its much more affordable sister card, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, which comes with an annual fee of just $95?

We found that it is — at least for frequent travelers who can take advantage of the card's benefits and spend heavily on travel and dining.

The Sapphire cards, side by side

Here's how the cards stack up on the basics:

Check out NerdWallet’s tool to pre-qualify for Chase credit cards.

Why the Chase Sapphire Reserve® wins

$300 annual travel credit

Chase automatically applies this credit to any travel purchases you make with your card — including airlines, hotels, timeshares, campground fees and ferries, among other categories — effectively canceling out a large portion of its annual fee.

Strong ongoing rewards

For those who spend heavily on travel and dining, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® has an edge on the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, thanks to its superior rewards rates and redemption values.

Both cards offer rewards with plenty of versatility, allowing you to transfer points to some airlines and hotels — such as British Airways, United and Hyatt — at a 1:1 ratio. But if you book travel through Chase, you'll get 1.5 cents per point on the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, compared with 1.25 cents per point on the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve®'s superior rewards rate and redemption value, coupled with its $300 annual travel credit, give it much greater earning potential and long-term value.

Lounge access and other top-tier benefits

With the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, you get Priority Pass Select access to more than 1,000 airport lounges worldwide. That means you can relax in a comfy armchair before your flight and take advantage of free snacks and drinks.

Among other benefits, the card also offers up to $100 reimbursement every four years for the application fee for Global Entry or TSA Precheck, which can let you sail through customs or security lines on your next trip. The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card lacks these benefits.

It's also offering Lyft and DoorDash perks for a limited time. Through March 2022, you'll earn 10 points per dollar spent on Lyft on the Chase Sapphire Reserve® and one complimentary year of Lyft Pink, which gets you up to a 15% discount on Lyft rides, among other perks. You'll also get a $60 DoorDash credit for 2020 and 2021 and at least one year of DashPass, which gets you waived delivery fees on DoorDash orders of $12 or more (although service fees and other fees still apply). If you use these services, these benefits might sweeten the deal for you. (The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is also offering more modest Lyft and DoorDash perks for a limited time.)

Why you might want the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card instead

Adding authorized users won't cost anything

The Chase Sapphire Reserve® charges a $75 annual fee for each authorized user you add to the account. This isn’t unusual for luxury cards, but it changes the math if you’re looking to share the account with one or more people.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, which doesn’t charge for adding authorized users, might be a better deal in this case.

Lower annual fee

If you don't plan on using most of the benefits on the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, it simply isn't worth its $550 annual fee — despite its superior ongoing rewards. In this case, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card could be an excellent option, especially because it has the same 1:1 transfer partners as the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, a stronger sign-up bonus and a much lower annual fee.

Likewise, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is also a superior choice if you tend to spend more modestly or are unsure of which benefits you might be able to use. If you don't know whether you'll spend $60 with DoorDash or visit Priority Pass lounges regularly, for example, paying a lower annual fee of $95 for the card without these perks could be a more cost-effective choice.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve® isn’t your average luxury card

If you're keen on keeping your cards' annual fees in the double digits, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card may be a better choice for you. But if you travel frequently, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® more than justifies its $550 fee.

Get more smart money moves – straight to your inbox
Sign up and we’ll send you Nerdy articles about the money topics that matter most to you along with other ways to help you get more from your money.