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American Express Gold Card vs Chase Sapphire Reserve: Which is the best for your needs?

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The American Express® Gold Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve® are two premium rewards credit cards that rank on our lists for the best travel, rewards and dining cards. Both cards offer first-in-class rewards programs, generous annual statement credits, travel protections and high annual fees — $250 (see rates and fees) and $450, respectively.

With either card, you can earn over an estimated $2,500 in rewards after five years. (Calculated using a sample annual spending budget of $21,852, provided by location intelligence firm Esri.)

Below, CNBC Select reviews both cards, so you can choose the one that provides the most benefit for your spending habits.

Overview

American Express® Gold Card vs Chase Sapphire Reserve®

American Express® Gold Card Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Annual fee$250$450
Variable APRSee rates and fees18.99% to 25.99%
Intro APRNoneNone
RewardsEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points when you dine at restaurants worldwide and shop at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year in purchases, then it drops to 1X), 3X points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com, 1X points on all other purchasesEarn 3X points on travel and dining at restaurants,1X points on all other purchases
Welcome bonusEarn 35,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases within the first 3 months from account openingEarn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
Credits$100 annual airline fee credit; $120 annual dining credit ($10 a month) at Grubhub, Seamless and other participating restaurants$300 annual travel credit; up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry/TSA PreCheck every 4 years

Annual fee

The Chase Sapphire Reserve® charges a $450 annual fee compared to the American Express® Gold Card's $250.

The $200 difference may sway you to choose the American Express® Gold Card, but if you take advantage of all the benefits offered by the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, such as the $300 annual travel credit and Priority Pass lounge access, you can offset the costs. If you're not taking full advantage of the benefits, you need to spend approximately $20,000 a year to earn enough rewards to break even on the $450 annual fee.

Similarly, the American Express® Gold Card has annual statement credits totaling $220, which can effectively reduce the annual fee from $250 to $30. But if you don't take full advantage of the benefits, you need to spend approximately $11,000 a year to earn enough rewards to break even on the $250 annual fee.

Winner: American Express® Gold Card, since the annual fee is $250 versus the Chase Sapphire Reserve®'s $450 annual fee.

Rewards

Both cards have rewards geared toward travel and dining. The Chase Sapphire Reserve® offers 3X points on dining and travel (immediately after earning your $300 travel credit) and 1X points on all other purchases. The American Express® Gold Card offers 4X Membership Rewards® points when you dine at restaurants worldwide and shop at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year in purchases, then 1X), 3X points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com, 1X points on all other purchases.

CNBC Select worked with the location intelligence firm Esri, who provided us with a sample annual spending budget of $21,852. We used this sample budget to break down how much money you could earn (less than annual fee) if you optimized using each card over the course of five years. Calculations also assume you full take advantage of annual statement credits.

The budget includes six main categories: groceries ($5,019), gas ($2,394), dining out ($3,365), travel ($2,154), utilities ($4,959) and general purchases ($3,961).

We found you could earn an estimated $2,631 with the American Express® Gold Card versus $2,567 with the Chase Sapphire Reserve®.

While the five-year estimates we've included are derived from a budget similar to the average American's spending, you may earn a higher or lower return depending on your consumer habits.

Winner: American Express® Gold Card, since you earn more $64 in rewards over the course of five years.

Redemption

Rewards earned with both cards can be redeemed in similar ways, such as travel, gift cards and merchandise. But the Chase Sapphire Reserve® offers a unique bonus: If you redeem points for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards® portal, they're worth 50% more.

For example, 50,000 points are worth $500. But if you pay for your hotel through the rewards portal, the value of your points increases 50% to $750.

The American Express® Gold Card doesn't offer a bonus redemption on points.

Both cards also allow you to transfer points to participating airline and hotel partners, such as JetBlue and Marriott.

The amount of points or miles needed to redeem for rewards varies based on the redemption you choose. For example, 1 point is worth $0.015 toward travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards® (such as airfare and hotels) with the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, but 1 point can be worth a penny when redeemed for gift card.

With the American Express® Gold Card, 1 point is worth a penny for flights booked through American Express Travel, but 1 point is only worth $0.006 when redeemed for statement credits.

Winner: Chase Sapphire Reserve®, since travel redemptions made via Chase Ultimate Rewards® receive 50% more value.

Welcome bonus

The Chase Sapphire Reserve® offers a bigger welcome bonus with the same spending requirement as the American Express® Gold Card: Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening, which is worth up to $750 in travel via Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

The American Express® Gold Card offers 35,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases within the first three months from account opening. This can be worth $350 toward airfare when booked through American Express Travel.

Winner: Chase Sapphire Reserve®, since the welcome bonus can be worth $400 more.

Added perks

Both cards offer many of the same travel-related perks, but also a variety of other unique benefits. 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
  • Auto rental collision damage waiver
  • Baggage delay insurance
  • Travel and emergency assistance services

American Express® Gold Card holders enjoy these added perks:

  • Amex Offers, where you can earn statement credits or bonus Membership Rewards® points at select retailers
  • Free 2-day shipping on eligible items at over 100 online stores with ShopRunner (one-time enrollment required)
  • Entertainment access to exclusive presales and premium seating at concerts, plays, sporting events and more
  • Up to $100 to cover airline fees (such as seat upgrades and baggage fees with participating airlines)
  • Up to $120 to cover restaurant charges ($10 per month) at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth's Chris Steak House, Boxed and participating Shake Shack locations
  • Up to $100 in hotel credits when you book rooms through The Hotel Collection with American Express Travel
  • Travel discounts and amenities for those who enroll with The Travel Collection by Travel Leaders Group at no extra cost

Chase 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
  • Trip cancellation/interruption insurance
  • Trip delay reimbursement
  • Travel accident insurance
  • Roadside assistance
  • Return protection
  • Emergency evacuation and transportation
  • 24/7 direct access to customer service specialists

Winner: Tie. Both cards offer over a dozen perks, so the winner depends on what benefits you want.

Bottom line

The American Express® Gold Card and the Chase Sapphire Reserve® are two top-rate rewards cards that can provide numerous benefits for frequent travelers and foodies. Depending on how you spend your money and the type of perks you're looking for, one of these cards may be a better fit than the other.

If you're looking for luxury travel benefits, such as lounge access and an annual $300 travel credit, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® is the better option. Plus, you can take advantage of the card's added 50% value for points redeemed for travel via Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

If you spend more money on dining out and grocery shopping, the American Express® Gold Card provides a rewards program geared toward those purchases with 4X Membership Rewards® points at restaurants worldwide and U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year in purchases, then 1X). And you receive up to $120 to cover restaurant charges ($10 per month) at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory and other participating restaurants.

While both of these cards are good options for travelers, there are alternative options that may be a better fit for your needs. Check out CNBC Select's round up of the best credit cards for travel, dining out and restaurants and grocery shopping. If those categories aren't part of your major expenses, you might want to consider our lists of the best cash-back credit cards and best rewards credit cards.

For rates and fees of the American Express® Gold Card, click here.

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.