If you’re like me, as soon as I heard about the $450 annual fee with the Chase Sapphire Reserve (CSR) travel credit card, my reaction was “oh hell nah“. But then I eased up and started researching the benefits of the card and slowly realized that the fee is well worth all the perks (as you will see below).
One of the main reasons I can travel so much is because I use travel reward credit cards to build points to get free plane tickets. Any plane ticket over $600 I don’t pay for. I use points to get free flights.
I’ve been taking advantage of this for the past few years and I seriously think it’s one of the biggest secrets as to how to travel more. That and NOT spending money on dumb shit. But to each their own…
If you’re new to the whole travel reward credit card thing, don’t worry, I’ll try to break it down easily so that you can actually understand it.
Note: This post is in NO way sponsored and I have absolutely no affiliation with Chase. I’m just sharing my honest review in hopes of helping others to travel more with travel reward credit cards. It’s one of the main reasons why I can travel so much).
Update: I wrote the draft of this post a few weeks ago, and now they opened up a referral bonus for the Chase Sapphire Reserve, woohoo!!
So What is a Travel Rewards Credit Card?
A travel reward credit card is basically a credit card that is linked to a rewards program. You spend money, you get points towards travel. It’s as simple as that.
For example: you buy a plane ticket for $500, you get 3 points per dollar with the Chase Sapphire Reserve. Therefore, you get 1500 points for buying that plane ticket. These points can be used to buy plane tickets, hotel rooms, and many other cool things. (I honestly don’t think it’s worth it to use points for hotels or other things, and I only use my points for flights).
Here’s an idea of what a certain amount of points will give you for flights:
For 60,000 points, you can take a roundtrip flight from the USA to Europe. For 40,000 points, you can take a roundtrip flight from the East Coast to Ecuador or Peru. For 80,000 points, you can fly from the USA to South Africa.
But let’s get to what you really want to know:
Why the Chase Sapphire Reserve is So Worth the $450 Annual Fee
Actually, the first year, it’s really only $50, and then it’s basically $150 per year thereafter. Wait, what? Let me explain by highlighting all the card’s benefits and you’ll see wtf I’m talking about. I’m not crazy, I swear.
$300 Travel Credit Per Year
Once you spend $300 worth of travel purchases, this gets reimbursed to you immediately. This brings that $450 annual fee down to $150 right off the bat.
What counts as travel? flights (not just directly from airlines but any travel search website, i.e. Skyscanner, Expedia, etc.), taxis, toll roads, parking lots, ferries, Uber, Lyft, car rental agencies, hotels, Airbnb, etc.
No Foreign Transaction Fees
The Chase Sapphire Reserve has NO foreign transaction fees so I can use it when I travel overseas as well to earn points. Just make sure to alert Chase of your travels beforehand so they don’t freeze your account for suspicious spending!
$100 Global Entry or TSA Pre Check Credit
(note: you must pay the application fee with your Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card)
I finally caved in and got my Global Entry (GE) and let me tell you I’m kicking myself for not getting it sooner! I avoided it for so long because I heard it’s hard to get an appointment. While this is true, I found a center near me that accepts walk-ins.
The whole appointment took 10-15 minutes and it was the easiest thing ever! They asked me if I’ve ever been convicted of a crime and if I have ever violated immigration laws…and that’s it! Oh yeah, they proceeded to tell me all about their dogs.
What I did was google “Global Entry walk-in appointments in Washington, D.C.” and I found a place. So try that in your area! I went to the Washington, DC Enrollment Center.
To make things easier, I found this great resource for the walk-in centres that allow same day appointments here.
So with the $300 cash back for the travel credit plus the $100 in Global Entry/TSA Precheck, that equals your $50 the first year charge. After that, you’l be essentially be paying $150 ($450-$300 travel credit). BAM. Not bad for ALL the awesome perks and points you get!
*Note: TSA Precheck is included with Global Entry so definitely go for the Global Entry! (unless you do not travel outside the USA at all). There is no “upgrade” option, so if you get TSA Precheck and decide later you want GE, you will have to reapply and go for the interview all over again for the GE (and pay the $100 app fee). Boo.
Priority Pass Airport Lounge Access
I must say this is the most underrated perk of this card! So basically you get free VIP access to over 1000+ airport lounges around the world. In these lounges you can find food, snacks, alcohol, wifi, TVs, comfy sleep areas, and even showers in some.
First, download the Priority Pass App to your phone, then it’s super easy to search for a lounge. It has all the info about the lounges and tells you where exactly in the airport it is.
However, I’ve learned that not all lounges are created equal, I’ve noticed the international ones are way better than the domestic ones. My favorite is the Turkish Airlines lounge in Washington Dulles Airport (IAD). They serve full on gourmet food like lamb, chicken skewers, falafel, rice, and hummus. I now get to the airport an hour early so I can go to the lounge and stuff my face with yummy food before my flight. And oh yes, I definitely have a few glasses of wine as well to ease my flying jitters. #morewineplease #freewine
I just got back from South America and on my connection home, I stopped in Lima and went to the VIP Club Lounge and Business Center. There was a “quiet room” inside the lounge where they had 10 super comfy leather recline chairs. I pulled an all nighter so when I saw this I was in heaven. I had a 4 hour layover so I took a much needed nap. Then I had a quick brekkie and coffee (they even had lactose free milk!) and was on my way.
Having access to airport lounges is awesome!! If only for the free wine alone (and the good wifi)!♥
3 Points for Every Dollar Spend on Travel & Dining (& 1 point for everything else)
Every time you use your card to buy something travel related or eat out at a restaurant/fast food, you get 3 times the points!! For example, I recently spent $500 for my Peru/Bolivia plane tickets and I got 1,500 points for this purchase. Yay!
So what do all these points mean?
Well, you can either use the Chase portal to search for flights, or you can transfer these points to the participating airlines/hotel partners. These partners include: British Airways, Flying Blue Air France KLM, Korean Air Skypass, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards, United MileagePlus, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, IHG Rewards Club, Marriott Rewards, The Ritz-Carlton Rewards, World of Hyatt. The points transfer at a ratio of 1:1.
For example, if you have 50,000 Chase points, you can transfer them to United Mileage Plus and have 50,000 United points. United is part of Star Alliance, as are 28 other airlines such as Lufthansa, Croatia Airlines, Air Canada, etc.
So even if you hate United (which I kinda do), I personally think they have the best point system and it’s the easiest to get free tickets. You go to United.com and search for award flights, and all the partner airlines will pop up, so most the time, I hardly ever even fly United.
Here is an example flight from Washington, DC to Split, Croatia. A one-way ticket will cost 30k points plus taxes.
To Get the 50K Point Sign-Up Bonus, You Must Meet Spending Requirements
I jumped on a debut promotion where I got 100,000 miles when I signed up for the Chase Sapphire Reserve. Now that promotion is gone and the bonus is 50,000, which is still pretty awesome though.
In order to get this bonus, you must spend $4,000 in the first 3 months of receiving your card. That equals about $1,333 per month. That’s easy to spend in the US, especially because you can use the card to purchase things you would already be buying anyway like groceries, gas, and even some bills. Most companies these days will let you pay your bills with a credit card so make sure to check with them. If you can try to pay your rent with the CSR, even better!
If you think you may have trouble meeting spending requirements, ask your friends to give you cash when you go out to eat and put the bill on your card. Or, ask you parents if they need to make a big purchase and offer to put it on your card for some cash. There are many ways around it!
Will Opening a New Card Hurt my Credit Score?
Meh. Temporarily it will drop slightly, but not by much. So unless you’re about to apply for a huge loan for a car or house, it will not affect you that much at all in the long run.
However, having a credit card open will build your credit. Just make sure you pay your card off in FULL each month to avoid the high interest rates. Making purchases and then making payments WILL build your credit. Having credit cards can be a good thing if you’re smart about it.
Other Awesome Perks of the Chase Sapphire Reserve
Car rental collision damage waiver(CDW), trip delay and cancellation, baggage delay, emergency medical and dental, road side assistance. Just please note that only services purchased with the CSR will be covered (so if you rent a car on another credit card, you will not receive the car rental insurance benefits..duh).
Important note: the emergency medical and dental is only up to $2,500, which is EXTREMELY low. I would recommend you still purchasing a travel insurance that covers medical insurance at a higher rate. This $2,500 isn’t going to get you crap in some countries!
I use World Nomads and I love them (and no I don’t get paid to say that)! They have awesome coverage (especially medical) and they have been easy to work with.
Shit happens when you travel and I have already made 2 claims with them in the past year and got fully reimbursed (once for a hospital trip in Croatia and another for a stolen camera lens in Colombia). Oh, and since I have had an unlucky year, my phone was just stolen in Bolivia so I’m about to make my 3rd claim of the year.
Like I said, shit happens when you travel! Make sure to have some travel insurance before your next trip (as most US health insurance plans will NOT cover you overseas…unless you have a super badass policy with an enormous monthly premium).
If you’re interesting in coverage and prices, you can get an easy quote below. I just signed up for their affiliate program (because I think they are great), so I just need to disclose that I may receive a small commission if you purchase insurance through my link, at no extra cost to you. Yay!
Do You Pass the 5/24 Rule?
Chase abides by the 5/24 rule, which basically means that if you’ve opened up 5 new credit cards in the past 24 months, you unfortunately will not be eligible for this card.
But I Already Have the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Love It
Yes, this was me too. I loved my Preferred and used it for everything. But with the Reserve, the 3 points per dollar for travel and dining purchases, (instead of 2 points with the Preferred) was the deal breaker for me!
I didn’t want to pay the annual fee for both cards, so I called Chase and downgraded my Preferred to the Chase Freedom Unlimited with no annual fee. With the Freedom Unlimited, you get 1.5 points per dollar on all purchases so if my purchase doesn’t fall in the travel or dining category, I use this card to get 1.5 points instead of 1 point.
If you can’t commit to the $450 annual fee with the CSR, the Chase Freedom Unlimited is a great option as there is NO annual fee! Sign up here.
How I’ve Used My Miles to Travel for Free
Like I mentioned above, any flight over $600 I get for free basically. Most my long-haul continent to continent flights are bought with miles, not money. I try to be smart and save the miles for the most expensive flights. I have yet to use miles within the USA because I don’t think it’s worth it.
Last year I transferred my Chase miles to United Mileage Plus and flew to Cape Town, South Africa from Split, Croatia for 30,000 miles each way (60k total). Even with the free flights you do have to pay taxes, which are usually less than $100 and sometimes as little as $5 one way.
Earlier this year, I flew to The Galapagos in Ecuador from Washington, D.C. for 20,000 miles each way (40k total). If interested, you can read about how I did 1 week in the Galapagos for only $994, including flights!
I often fly from Washington, DC to Split, Croatia for 60,000 points roundtrip on Lufthansa (found through the United system).
I really want to go back to Africa and New Zealand, which are really far away, so I’m saving my miles for those trips! I have about 140,000 points saved so far (and counting).
Now You Can Get Extra Points for Referring Others (up to 50,000 points)!
So I got lucky on this one and now the Chase Sapphire Reserve has a referral bonus they just opened up in the last week! If you sign up using my link HERE. I get 10,000 points! And once you get your card, you can get the bonus too if your friends sign up! They limit it to 5 referrals so you can get up to 50,000 points just to refer a friend. Hell, I refer friends either way because I love this card and it allows for more free travel!
If you haven’t been able to tell from this post, the Chase Sapphire Reserve is so fu*king worth it. It really has been a game changer and allows me to afford to travel more.
I’ve had a few travel reward credit cards, and the Chase Sapphire Reserve gives the best benefits in my opinion. It’s completely worth the $450 annual fee and I think every avid traveler should have this card!
If you enjoyed this, please PIN it for later ♥
Have I convinced you to sign up for the Chase Sapphire Reserve? Do you Have any Other Travel Reward Credit Cards You Really Love?
I’ve never heard of this before! Useful post and great to learn more about it!
I have the Reserve too and I absolutely love it. I couldn’t agree with you more! The points and perks are amazing and we have been loving the lounges.
I never thought I would get to an airport early just to chill in the lounge hahaha
Great points (hah!) about using credit cards for travel rewards. I use a Jetblue card for now and have flown to Mexico and San Francisco from Boston for free so far. Both times en route to other countries – Belize and New Zealand, respectively. I used the free flights to get to an airport with more reasonable prices to my destination country, which I thought was pretty smart! I’m still racking up points, but recently I’ve been looking into other cards.
I’m curious about the fees on this card. I see where you are coming from with the two credits ($300 + $100) reducing the cost of the annual fee, but you’re still spending that money to get those credits in the first place, right? You spend $300 on travel and get that $300 back with the same $450 annual fee, no? Does the annual fee count towards your points accrual by any chance? That would be a guaranteed annual 1350 points!
You are spending the $300, yes. But you’re spending it on stuff you would already be purchasing (travel). So if you’re a traveler, spending $300 is super easy! So you spend $450 on the annual fee and get $300 back, equaling $150. The annual fee does not count against the spending limit of $4000 in 3 months, nor does it get you points. So all those perks for $150 a year ($50 the first year if you utilize the Global Entry) is SO worth it! 🙂
Agree this is the best card and the airport lounge access is the most underrated perk! Due to a medical condition, I have to get to airports stupid early and being able to hang in the lounge makes it so much more relaxing and less expensive. Love it!
It is really relaxing! What airport lounge do you usually go to? Looking for recommendations 🙂