September 30, 2022 12:33 am
September 30, 2022 12:33 am

Is the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card Still Worth it in 2022?

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The travel industry was upended in 2020. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, US airline passenger volume declined from over 78M passengers monthly to a low of 3M monthly. The latest data shows a consistent recovery despite variants, like the Delta variant, which increased case rates. With a travel recovery, does it make sense to consider high fee/high rewards cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve?

Credit: https://www.bts.gov/newsroom/september-2021-us-airline-traffic-data

The Contenders

When thinking about whether a rewards card is “worth it”, it’s not enough to consider whether the rewards value will exceed the cost of the annual fee. It’s not enough because the alternative to holding a high fee card isn’t to not hold any cards, but rather to hold a card with no annual fee. However, the credit card space is massive, and it isn’t worthwhile to compare each and every card on the market. Even limiting our analysis to other cards offered through Chase will result in too many cards to make a useful comparison. Instead, we’ll focus our comparison on the most likely substitutes. The two cards we’ll use for this comparison are the Freedom Unlimited and Sapphire Preferred. Each of these cards. I chose these because the rewards are widely applicable rather than some co-branded cards which require purchases of a particular hotel or airline to maximize benefits.

Freedom Unlimited

The Freedom Unlimited card could very well be a stand in for a basic no annual fee rewards card from just about any bank. The card offers 1.5% back in points on most purchases and 3% back for dining. While there is a 3% cash back benefit to pharmacy purchases, this category is too small relative to the rest of a typical household’s spending to break out separately from the general 1.5% category.

Sapphire Preferred

The little brother to the Sapphire Reserve, this card offers increased rewards with a comparatively small annual fee of $95. The card offers 2% back in points on travel purchases, 3% on dining, and 1% on everything else. Any points redeemed for travel using the Chase rewards portal are also worth 25% more.

Sapphire Reserve

Designed for a points maximizer, traveler, or high spender, the Sapphire Reserve carries a massive $550 annual fee. Two benefits which help offset this fee are the $300 annual travel credit and a $60 DoorDash credit. The travel credit is especially easy to use as purchases for gas, tolls, public transit, airport parking, flights, and more will count for the credit. The DoorDash one requires more intention but can be used to purchase a wide variety of delivery or takeout. For points, travel and dining give 3% back while other purchases give 1% back in points. Similar to the Sapphire Preferred, the reserve also rewards a user with an incentive to redeem points through the Chase portal. For the Reserve, the bonus award boost is 50%.

Side-by-Side Overview

Reward RateSapphire ReserveSapphire PreferredFreedom Unlimited
Travel3%2%1.5%
Dining3%3%3%
Other1%1%1.5%
Other Benefits
Bonus Reward %50%25%N/A
Annual Travel Credit$300N/AN/A
DoorDash Credit$60N/AN/A
Annual Fee$550$95$0

Assumptions

  • We’ll only use the annual travel credit and will include figures with and without the DoorDash credit. There are other benefits for the Sapphire Reserve card (airport lounge access, Lyft Pink membership, etc.) but the typical person is unlikely to use all these benefits and the value may vary widely for each person. In contrast the travel credit is hard not to use while the DoorDash credit takes effort but could be used by anyone and is easy to use
  • Cardholders of either Sapphire product will also hold or open a Freedom Unlimited line of credit to benefit from non-travel purchases. Points can be moved between cards, so a Sapphire Preferred/Reserve holder can open a Freedom Unlimited card and move the points while avoiding any additional annual fees. Non-travel purchases can then be earned at 1.5% and still have the bonus 25%/50% applied to earned points
  • The ratio of spending on Travel/Dining/Other will be 17/11/72. There’s not much guidance on the ratio of expenses in travel, dining, and other so I’ve used my family’s spending activity in the last year as an estimate
  • Suggested income will use 50/30/20 rule. This rule suggests that 50% of your income should go to essential expenses like rent and utilities, 20% should go towards savings, and 30% can be used for non-essential spending We’ll assume that the card will only be used to pay for spending in the non-essential category and determine the suggested income based on the 50/30/20 rule

The Case for Sapphire Reserve

Without running any numbers it’s clear the value of a card will depend on how much you spend and how much you travel. How much do you need to travel and how much do you need to spend? Is this realistic for the average household?

Example #1: The Typical Family

The typical family makes the median household income. the US Census found that the median household income in 2020 to be $67,521. Using this income, we can determine how much a typical family will spend in each category and how much in rewards that a family will earn.

CategorySpending
Travel$3,433
Dining$2,228
Other$14,584
Household Income: $67,521
Sapphire ReserveSapphire PreferredFreedom Unlimited
Reward Value$393$348$337
Value w/o DoorDash Credits$333

For the typical American family that is uninterested in playing the credit card rewards game there is little difference between each of the three cards. Any additional value beyond the basic points is likely to come from the use of non-points-based benefits such as airport lounge access, Lyft membership, DoorDash credits/membership, or other such benefits.

Example #2: High Earners

CategorySpending
Travel$6,887
Dining$4,456
Other$29,169
Household Income $135,042
Sapphire ReserveSapphire PreferredFreedom Unlimited
Reward Value$977$791$674
Value w/o DoorDash Credits$916

For a household which earns 2x the median income, the Sapphire Reserve card offers the highest rewards value. This is true regardless of whether the non-points benefits are included.

Example #3: Frequent Travelers

CategorySpending
Travel$6,887
Dining$2,228
Other$11,140
Household Income: $67,521 | Spending Ratio: 34/11/55
Sapphire ReserveSapphire PreferredFreedom Unlimited
Reward Value$471$370$337
Value w/o DoorDash Credits$410

For a household which travels twice as much as our original household and still makes the median income, the Sapphire Reserve comes out ahead of the other options.

Conclusion

If your household makes the median income of $67,521 and will either (1) Make use of some of the card benefits OR (2) travel frequently then the Sapphire Reserve card is definitely worth it. Even if you think your household might use the benefits but you do not use them, you will not be much worse off.

If you make significantly more than the median income ie. $135,052 then you are better off with the Sapphire Reserve than with either the Sapphire Preferred or Freedom Unlimited. This is true whether or not you intend to use any of the non-point-based benefits.

If you make less than the median household, you are best off using the Freedom Unlimited. This is true even when a household falls in the frequent traveler spending category.

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