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Chase Sapphire Reserve® vs Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card: Which is best for you?

Source: Chase

Chase is a leader in travel rewards cards, and its Sapphire cards have become cult favorites for frequent travelers. In fact, when it launched the Chase Sapphire Reserve® in 2016, there was so much demand, despite the $450 annual fee, that Chase ran out of the metal required to make the card.

In addition to the Sapphire Reserve, there is a more affordable option: the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. These two popular travel cards have very similar names but very different rewards programs.

Frequent travelers who are looking for access to luxury perks, such as lounge access and travel credits, will see more value in the Reserve versus the Preferred. However, the Preferred may be a better choice for consumers who don't want to fork over $450 a year for a credit card.

If you're in the market for a travel card and have good or excellent credit — a 670 or higher FICO Score, according to Experian — you have the best chances of qualifying for one of the Chase Sapphire cards and enjoying the cards' great travel perks.

Below, CNBC Select breaks down what sets these two cards apart, so you can choose the one that provides the most benefit for your spending habits.

Benefits Chase Sapphire Preferred Chase Sapphire Reserve
Annual fee$95 $450
APR17.74% to 24.74% variable 18.74% to 25.74% variable 
Rewards2X points on travel and dining at restaurants, 1X points on all other purchases3X points on travel (after earning your $300 travel credit) and dining at restaurants, 1X points on all other purchases
Welcome bonus60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening — worth up to $750 in travel50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening — worth up to $750 in travel
Ultimate Rewards bonus25%50%
CreditsNone$300 annual travel credit; up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry/TSA PreCheck every 4 years
Lounge accessNonePriority Pass™ Select

Annual fee

The two Chase Sapphire cards have very different annual fees, so it's important to do the math and see which card makes the most financial sense for your lifestyle.

While your jaw may drop at the $450 annual fee for the Sapphire Reserve, you can effectively recoup the fee if you utilize all the added card benefits. Just by accounting for the $300 annual travel credit, the fee is already reduced to a more manageable $150.

Then there's the Priority Pass Select membership, which can be valued at $99 to $429, depending on membership level. The membership level you receive with the Sapphire Reserve is closer to the $429 Prestige tier.

Sapphire Reserve cardholders can also take advantage of the Global Entry/TSA PreCheck credit of up to $100 every four years, which lowers the cost of the card even more.

You don't get any of these credits with a Sapphire Preferred card, but the $95 annual fee is pretty standard among the best travel rewards cards.

Winner: It's a toss-up. The Chase Sapphire Preferred has a lower $95 annual fee, but if you use all the benefits from the Sapphire Reserve, you'd wind up with a lower effective annual fee.

Rewards

Both cards offer the same bonus categories — worldwide travel and worldwide dining — but the points value varies by card. With the Sapphire Reserve you earn 3X points on dining and travel (immediately after earning your $300 travel credit), while the Sapphire Preferred gives you 2X points in those categories. With both cards you earn 1X points on all other purchases.

CNBC Select used a sample spending budget based on the latest data available from the location intelligence firm Esri to break down how much money you would earn using each card over the course of five years, after the cost of the annual fee.

For the average consumer, you could earn up to $2,567 in rewards using the Chase Sapphire Reserve® over a five-year period. With the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card you could earn up $1,986.

Winner: The Chase Sapphire Reserve® offers 3X points on dining and travel purchases after you earn a $300 travel credit, which gives you more rewards over the course of five years, even with the high annual fee.

Redemption

Both cards allow you to redeem rewards in a variety of ways, from statement credit to gift cards to travel. However, travel redemptions come with a unique perk: If you redeem points for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards® portal, they're worth 25% more for Sapphire Preferred cardholders and 50% more for Sapphire Reserve cardholders.

For example, 50,000 bonus points are worth $500. But if you buy your plane ticket with your Sapphire Preferred card through the rewards portal, the value of your points increases 25% to $625. And it jumps to $750 for Sapphire Reserve cardholders, thanks to the 50% bonus.

Winner: The Sapphire Reserve is the winner, offering double the value on points redeemed for travel.

Welcome bonus

Currently, the Sapphire Preferred and Sapphire Reserve offer welcome bonuses that require you to spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening to earn extra points. While the spending requirements are the same, the earning potential is not.

When you meet the spending requirements for the Sapphire Preferred you'll earn 60,000 bonus points, while you'll only earn 50,000 bonus points using the Sapphire Reserve. However, both bonuses equal $750 when redeemed for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards® portal.

Winner: The Sapphire Preferred offers 10,000 more bonus points for the same amount of spending as the Sapphire Reserve, making the Preferred the winner.

Added perks

Both cards come with a bunch of added protections and discounts, but differ in a few significant offerings. Here's a breakdown of the perks offered by both cards:

Consumers with either card can benefit from:

  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Purchase protection
  • Extended warranty protection
  • Trip cancellation/interruption insurance
  • Auto rental collision damage waiver
  • Baggage delay insurance
  • Trip delay reimbursement
  • Travel and emergency assistance services

Sapphire Reserve cardholders enjoy these added perks:

  • $300 annual travel credit
  • Global Entry/TSA PreCheck fee credit of up to $100 every four years
  • Priority Pass™ Select lounge access at 1,000+ VIP lounges in over 500 cities worldwide
  • Special benefits at The Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection, such as complimentary room upgrades, early check-in and late check-out
  • Lost luggage reimbursement
  • Return protection
  • Emergency evacuation and transportation
  • 24/7 direct access to customer service specialists

Winner: Sapphire Reserve with over a dozen cardholder perks and annual credits that help lower the cost of owning the card.

Bottom line

At the end of the day, choosing the right Chase Sapphire card depends on individual preferences such as how you spend your money and how you plan to use the card.

If you're traveling often and want access to more high-end perks (and are willing to pay for them), the Sapphire Reserve may be a better option with its premium lounge access, Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credit and $300 annual travel credit — all of which help to effectively reduce the overall cost of the card's $450 annual fee.

However, if you don't travel enough to get the most bang for your buck with the Sapphire Reserve, the lower-cost Sapphire Preferred is a solid choice. It may not have the premium perks, but it offers a competitive 25% bonus on travel reward redemptions, a suite of travel and purchase protections and a competitive welcome bonus — all for a more reasonable $95 annual fee.

While these cards are both good options for frequent travelers, there are alternative options available that may be a better fit. If you're looking for a card that offers more flexibility for how you can redeem points, check out CNBC Select's round up of the best cash-back credit cards.


Information about the Chase Sapphire Reserve® card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the CNBC Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.