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Why Chase Sapphire Reserve Tops AmEx Platinum for Most Travelers

Oct. 20, 2016
Credit Cards, Rewards Credit Cards, Travel Credit Cards
That's So Metal: Why Chase Sapphire Reserve Tops AmEx Platinum for Most Travelers
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To justify annual fees in the hundreds of dollars, premium credit cards have to deliver a lot of value. Traditionally, that value has come mostly in the form of cardholder perks — like those that made The Platinum Card® from American Express the standard-bearer in the high-end card market.

Chase shook things up in 2016 when it came out with the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, which offers both premium perks for carrying the card and generous rewards for using it. If any credit card can be said to have gone viral, it’s this one. As a result, many people who had never even considered such cards are giving them a look. And many who already have one — including The Platinum Card® from American Express — are mulling over their options.

In the Nerds’ opinion, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® is the superior choice for most travelers, although not all. Come with us as we dig into the details, and decide for yourself.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve®

The Chase Sapphire Reserve® wasn’t messing around. When the card first launched, the sign-up bonus alone was high enough to wipe out the annual fee for the first three years. Even after Chase reduced the bonus in January 2017, the bonus still pays the fee for the first year and change. Beyond the bonus, the rewards rate is high enough and the perks robust enough to keep most cardholders loyal. The details:

  • Sign-up bonus: Earn 50K bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards® .
  • Annual fee of $450.
  • A rewards rate of 3 points per $1 spent on travel and dining, and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.
  • Points worth 1.5 cents each when redeemed for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
  • Up to $300 a year in credit to reimburse you for travel expenditures.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • The ongoing APR is 18.49% - 25.49% Variable APR

» MORE: Read our full review of the Chase Sapphire Reserve®

The Platinum Card® from American Express

The Platinum Card® from American Express has been around for decades, and its simplicity is part of its appeal. Historically, it has had a rather mundane rewards rate; its value was concentrated in its perks. But in the face of the challenge from the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, AmEx has substantially boosted rewards on airfare. Details:

  • Welcome bonus: Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months. Terms Apply..
  • Annual fee of $550.
  • A rewards rate of 5 points per $1 spent on airfare and hotels booked directly with airlines or via American Express Travel; 2 points per $1 on other qualifying travel booked through AmEx; and 1 point per dollar on everything else.
  • Membership Rewards points are worth 0.5 to 1 cent each, depending on how you redeem them.
  • Up to $200 annual credit for reimbursement of airline fees.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • No interest. This is a charge card, meaning your balance is due in full each month.

» MORE: Read our full review of The Platinum Card® from American Express

Perks: What kind of traveler are you?

American Express has a long track record of providing extra travel perks for cardholders, and The Platinum Card® from American Express is very much in that tradition. You’ll get:

  • A $200 airline fee credit. General travel cards like The Platinum Card® from American Express lack many of the benefits of a co-branded airline credit card. Co-branded cards are more likely to give you free checked bags, discounts on in-flight purchases or priority boarding privileges. The Platinum Card® from American Express doesn’t quite make up for all that, but wiping out $200 worth of airline incidental fees helps a lot. However, this credit applies to charges on only one airline, which you choose. Also, it does not cover airfare.
  • Automatic Gold status in Hilton Honors and Gold Elite status in Marriott Bonvoy. Elite status in these hotel programs entitles you to bonus points on each stay, plus other perks like free Wi-Fi. If you stay at Hilton or Marriott hotels occasionally but not often enough to earn status on your own, this is an attractive benefit.
  • Airport lounge access. This includes American Express’s own Centurion Lounges, as well as Delta Sky Clubs and Airspace Lounges. You also get complimentary membership in Priority Pass Select, which grants access to more than 900 airport lounges worldwide.
  • Reimbursement for trusted traveler programs. You’ll get a credit once every five years for the application fee for Global Entry ($100) or TSA PreCheck ($85).
  • Travel insurance. Coverage includes trip cancellation, medical emergencies, lost or stolen baggage, and rental car damage and liability.

Meanwhile, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® is one of the first cards offered in the U.S. on the Visa Infinite platform. Combined with the benefits offered by Chase, the Infinite platform juices up the benefits of this card quite a bit.

  • A $300 travel credit. You can charge airline tickets, hotel stays and other travel-related purchases to your card as usual, and Chase will apply your credit automatically. Not only is this credit larger than what’s offered on The Platinum Card® from American Express, but it’s also considerably more flexible.
  • Airport lounge access. The card comes with Priority Pass Select membership.
  • Reimbursement for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. Cardholders get up to $100 in credit for the application fee once every four years.
  • Easy points transfers. Chase Ultimate Rewards points can be transferred on a 1:1 basis to several airline and hotel loyalty programs. (See the list here.)
  • Travel insurance, purchase protection and extended warranties. Travel insurance coverage is comparable to what you’d get with The Platinum Card® from American Express, but you also get extra protection for the things you buy with the card.

» MORE: Battle intensifies for high-end credit card market

How’s your credit score?

Neither of these cards is appropriate for someone with poor credit. But there is a difference in the credit score ranges that will be accepted by each card.

If you have excellent credit: Your credit should be firmly in the excellent range (above 720) before you even think about applying for the Chase Sapphire Reserve®. Also, if you’ve opened more than five credit cards in the past 24 months, Chase may reject your application.

If your credit is good to excellent: The Platinum Card® from American Express is available to a wider range of applicants than the Chase Sapphire Reserve®. Your credit needs only to be good, not fabulous, to have a reasonable chance of approval. NerdWallet offers readers a chance to get pre-qualified for American Express cards, which may entitle you to a better welcome offer.

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Why the Chase Sapphire Reserve® wins for most people

It’s not hard to see that the Chase Sapphire Reserve® can deliver more value than The Platinum Card® from American Express. The welcome offer has a higher value than that of The Platinum Card® from American Express because when you’re redeeming for travel, Chase Ultimate Rewards points are worth more than American Express Membership Rewards points. The ongoing rewards rate of Chase Sapphire Reserve® is much more attractive, partly because the highest rewards rate on The Platinum Card® from American Express applies so narrowly and partly because the AmEx doesn’t offer a rewards boost for restaurant meals. Most people eat at restaurants more often than they buy airline tickets, so the higher rewards rate on dining is a valuable feature.

The Platinum Card® from American Express is still a solid card. We appreciate that people who don’t have super high credit scores can qualify, and the partnership between American Express and the Hilton and Starwood hotels could be very useful for frequent business travelers. And since AmEx has more than doubled the rewards rate on airfare, we suspect some longtime cardholders will think twice before decamping for the Chase Sapphire Reserve®.

But if your credit score is high enough, you spend a lot on dining, and hotel elite status isn’t a big draw, do yourself a favor and go for the higher overall value available with the Chase Sapphire Reserve®.

» MORE: The best travel credit cards

Virginia C. McGuire is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @vcmcguire.