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If you want a rewards credit card, Chase Sapphire Preferred is worth considering. However, the card is not right for everyone.
Here are the highlights:
- A great sign-up bonus of 50,000 points if you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
- No annual fee during the first year. There is an annual fee of $95 in subsequent years.
- Earn 2 points for every $1 spent on travel and dining. If you spend a lot of money on travel and dining, this is a great way to boost your earnings.
- If you redeem your points for travel using the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, your points are worth 25% more. For example, that 50,000 point sign-up bonus could be worth $625 of travel purchases.
- You can also transfer your points to leading airlines (like United and Southwest) or hotels (like Marriott or Hyatt) on a 1:1 basis.
The most value goes to people who spend a lot of their money on travel or dining and want to redeem their points for travel. If you are a foodie and traveler looking to get free trips faster, this card is a great tool to earn free travel fast. Depending upon how much you spend on travel, you might even want to consider the Chase Sapphire Reserve instead. The Reserve was just recently introduced and is Chase’s most exclusive card yet. You get a 100,000 point sign-up bonus (instead of 50,000 points). You earn 3 points for every $1 spent on dining and travel (instead of 2 points). But you have a $450 annual fee (instead of $95), and it is not waived during the first year.
The least value goes to people who spend very little or no money on travel or dining and want to redeem for cash back or gift cards. Spending on all other categories (outside of travel and dining) only earns 1 point per $1 spent. And every 100 points is worth $1 of cash back. That means you would only be earning 1% cash back, which is a very low rate. Using our guide to the best cash back credit cards, you should be able to earn at least 2% on your spending.
How to Earn Points
You can earn 2 points on every dollar spent on travel (from cabs to airplane tickets) and dining. In order to get 2 points, the merchant needs to be classified as a “restaurant” or “travel.”
Dining is a relatively simple classification. All restaurants should classify as dining. Many bars (even those that don’t serve food) can be classified as “dining.” And even most popular food delivery services are categorized as dining (although there have been some reports of GrubHub not always earning 2x points). Here is the exact definition from the Chase website:
- Merchants in the restaurants category are merchants whose primary business is sit-down or eat-in dining, including fast food restaurants as well as fine dining establishments. Please note that some merchants that sell food and drinks located within larger merchants such as sports stadiums, hotels and casinos, theme parks, grocery and department stores will not be included in this category unless the merchant has set up such purchases to be classified in a restaurant category.
The “travel” category is actually a lot broader than you might imagine. Paying for airplane tickets and hotel stays definitely counts as travel. But Airbnb, New York taxis, and even highway tolls will also count as travel. Here is the exact definition from Chase:
- Merchants in the travel category include airlines, hotels, motels, timeshares, car rental agencies, cruise lines, travel agencies, discount travel sites, campgrounds and operators of passenger trains, buses, taxis, limousines, ferries, toll bridges and highways, and parking lots and garages. Please note that some merchants that provide transportation and travel-related services are not included in this category; for example, real estate agents, in-flight goods and services, on-board cruise line goods and services, sightseeing activities, excursions, tourist attractions, merchants within hotels and airports, and merchants that rent vehicles for the purpose of hauling. In addition, the purchasing of points or miles does not qualify in this category.
You will earn 1 point per $1 spent on all other spending with your Chase Sapphire Preferred card.
There is no maximum to the number of points that you can earn.
How Much Are the Points Worth?
When you earn points with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, you are earning “Ultimate Rewards” points. There are a number of ways that these points can be used. How valuable each point is depends on how you choose to use it.
Here’s a summary:
- When you redeem points for cash, a statement credit, or a gift card: every 100 points earned = $1
- When you redeem points for travel using Chase’s Ultimate Rewards travel portal: every 100 points = $1.25
- When you transfer points to travel partners: It depends upon the award that you are able to get in the program. For example, you could get a round-trip ticket to Europe on United Airlines for as few as 115,000 miles round trip or as many as 300,000 miles. You just have to shop on the United Airlines website to see how many miles they are charging for the flight. Unfortunately, the number of miles is determined by the airline and is at their discretion.
Who the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card Doesn’t Work For
If your objective is to earn cash back on all your purchases, Chase Sapphire Preferred is not the best option for you.
Why? Every 100 points you earn is only worth $1. That means you will get a 2% return on restaurant and travel spending, and only 1% return on everything else. You can do a lot better with a cash back credit card like the Citi Double Cash, which offers 2% cashback on all purchases.
Redeeming Points for Travel Rewards
As a Sapphire cardholder, you can book travel using the Ultimate Rewards travel portal. You can book flights, hotels, car rentals, and other activities using the portal. The travel portal is like your own online travel agency:
To pay for the travel, you can use Ultimate Reward points, your Chase card, or both. Your Ultimate Rewards points carry even more value when you book using the portal. You only need 80 points to cover $1 of travel expense. For example, if an airfare is $500, you would only need 40,000 points to pay for the ticket. If you only had 30,000 points, you could apply those toward the balance and use cash or your credit card to cover the rest. The 30,000 points would deduct $375 from the purchase price, and you could pay for the remaining $125 out of pocket.
Booking travel through the portal really boosts the value of your credit card. That means you are actually earning:
- 2.5% on every $1 you spend on restaurants and travel
- 1.25% on every $1 you spend on everything else — and you can boost this by using Chase Freedom Unlimited (see below)
Transfer to Travel Partners You have the opportunity to earn the best possible return when you transfer your points to a travel partner. Ultimate Rewards has an amazing coalition of travel partners where you can transfer your points 1:1. These include: =
- Airlines: United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and a number of foreign carriers (including British Airways, Air France, Korean Air, Singapore Airlines, and Virgin Atlantic)
- Hotels: Hyatt, IHG, Marriott, and Ritz-Carlton
The value of your points when transferred depends upon how you redeem them. You will get some of the best returns (and the most fun) when you can you nab a coveted “saver” travel award through one of Chase’s partner airlines. Most airlines have different tiers of fares that are reserved for people who are booking using miles or points. “Saver” awards are often the most deeply discounted and that’s when you get the most bang for your buck when it comes to redeeming points.
For example, we recently looked up a trip to London from Newark on the United Airlines website for a four-day weekend in April. Using our award points, we found a round-trip “saver” award fare for just 115,000 points for business class flight. That same flight cost nearly $5,000 in cash.
If you use those 115,000 points to book travel on the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, it is worth $1,725. And if you want to convert those points into cash deposited into your bank account, it would be worth $1,150.
With some advance planning, you can get the biggest returns on your Chase points by transferring your points to Chase airline partners and finding deals on international business class flights. But you have to plan in advance and have a flexible travel schedule if you want to get the best business class redemption opportunities.
Remember: You can transfer points from Ultimate Rewards to your existing frequent flier accounts. If you have 40,000 miles in your United Airlines account already and need more miles for an award, you can easily (and instantly) top up your existing account by transferring at a 1:1 ratio.
Boost Your Earning with Chase Freedom Unlimited
One of the weaknesses of the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card is that you only earn 1 point on all of your spending outside of the restaurant and travel categories. Fortunately, there is a way to boost your earnings.
Chase recently introduced the Chase Freedom Unlimited credit card. With this credit card, you earn 1.50 Ultimate Rewards points for every $1 you spend. The good news is that you can combine those Ultimate Rewards points with your Chase Sapphire Reserve Ultimate Reward points. Even better: There is no annual fee on the Chase Freedom Unlimited credit card.
To get the best value, use:
- Chase Freedom Unlimited for all purchases except dining and travel, and
- Chase Sapphire Preferred for all dining and travel purchases, and
- Use your points to redeem for travel on the Ultimate Rewards portal or get a great deal redeeming frequent flier miles with one of the travel partners
If you do that, you will be earning at least:
- 2.5% on dining and travel (using Chase Sapphire Preferred), and
- 1.875% on everything else (using Chase Freedom Unlimited)
The returns could be even higher if you transferred your points to a travel partner and snagged a great reward ticket.
What Are the Fees and Charges Associated with the Card?
Here are some of the key fees and charges that come with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card:
- Annual Fee: $0 Introductory fee for the first year. After that, $95
- Foreign Transaction Fee: None
- Late Fee: Up to $15 if the balance is less than $100; up to $27 if the balance is $100 to less than $250; up to $37 if the balance is $250 or more
Having no foreign transaction fee is an excellent benefit, especially if you are a frequent traveler. There are still cards out there charging a hefty 3% on all foreign purchases.
Figuring out whether or not to pay the annual fee does take a little extra work. Remember that you can easily earn 2% cash back with the Citi Double Cash credit card, which has no annual fee. That is the baseline return. If you spend $2,000 a month, you could earn $480 a year in cash back. Can you beat that return?
If you are a foodie and world traveler, and you spend all $2,000 a month in the dining and travel categories, you can be much better off with Chase. If you use your card to redeem for travel or transfer to partners, you should be able to earn at least a 2.5% return. That means $20,000 of spend in the dining and travel categories would get you $600 of value before the annual fee. After the annual fee of $95, you would get $505 of value during the ongoing years — which is a better deal than the flat 2% card. And there is a reason the Chase Sapphire Preferred card is such a great option for travelers: you can get even better returns when you use your miles strategically, and the more you spend in dining and travel categories (above $20,000 a year), the better the card.
This card is not ideal for people who:
- Do not spend a lot of money in travel and dining categories
- Do not want to redeem their points for travel (would rather have the cash)
Other Card Benefits
In addition to earning points, there are a number of other benefits that come associated with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. You can tell that this card is targeted toward the traveler because some of the richest (and, in our opinion, best) benefits are travel related. Make sure you understand them because if you are a regular traveler, you will likely have the opportunity to take advantage of them.
Car Rental Insurance
With this card, you get a primary auto rental collision damage waiver benefit. If you decline the auto rental company’s collision insurance and charge the entire rental cost to your card, you can receive coverage that provides reimbursement for up to the actual cash value of the vehicle for theft and collision damage for most rental cars in the U.S. and abroad. Having primary coverage is a big deal — it means you don’t have to submit a claim to your own auto insurance company first (which could result in higher insurance rates after a claim).
The insurance provided on the credit card only deals with collision. You need to have a strategy in place for other risks. Auto insurers typically sell four types of policies. They are:
- Collision (Loss Damage Waiver): Your Sapphire card can replace this.
- Liability: If you damage someone else’s property or person, you could be held liable (and the amount of the liability could be significant). You should check to see if your existing auto insurance provides liability coverage on your rental. If it doesn’t, or if you don’t have an auto insurance policy, consider buying that protection at the counter.
- Personal Effects: This policy protects any items that are damaged while in the rental car. Depending upon your situation, you might not need this coverage.
- Personal Accident Insurance: This is typically a health care policy that is not necessary if you have sufficient coverage from your existing health insurance.
If you are renting a car overseas, be sure to check with your credit card before traveling to make sure you are covered in that country.
Remember when airlines used to provide you with a free hotel room if you got stuck somewhere overnight? Not any longer. Thankfully, Chase Sapphire Preferred steps in to the rescue.
If your common carrier travel is delayed more than 12 hours or requires an overnight stay, you and your family are covered for unreimbursed expenses, such as meals and lodging, up to $500 per ticket.
You can get reimbursed for essential purchases like toiletries and clothing for baggage delays over six hours by passenger carrier up to $100 a day for five days.
If your trip is canceled or cut short by sickness, severe weather, and other covered situations, you can be reimbursed up to $10,000 per trip for your prepaid, nonrefundable travel expenses, including passenger fares, tours, and hotels.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred card also offers purchase protection, price protection, return protection, and extended warranty protection benefits.
How to Get Approved
As you can tell from the details of the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, it comes rich with rewards and benefits. And it targets people with excellent or good credit.
If you have a low credit score (below 650) or you have missed a lot of payments historically, you will likely be rejected.
People with the best chance of being approved have scores well above 700.
If you have a bad credit score and are looking for a credit card, you can review our guide here.
An Example of Who Gets the Most from the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
Here is a profile of an ideal Chase Sapphire Preferred customer:
Mary lives in New York City. She doesn’t have a car (because she uses the subway), and she spends a ton of money eating out and traveling. She has a good job and a good credit score but would love to travel even more.
This card is ideal for Mary because:
- So much of her spending is on dining and travel, which earns at the highest level.
- She wants to earn free travel, and the redemption opportunities are richest when redeemed for travel.
- She doesn’t have primary auto insurance (because she doesn’t have a car) so the primary auto rental benefit is ideal.
- She has excellent credit.
If that sounds like you, Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great addition to your wallet or purse.
An Example of Who Gets the Least from the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
Here is a profile of someone who might be better off with a different card:
John is a father of three. He spends a lot of money on groceries (to feed his growing family) and gas (to drive to all of his children’s events). He just doesn’t have the money to eat out, and hopes to do some traveling later in life — once he funds three college educations.
There are other options that would be much better for John. Because none of his spending would be in dining or travel, he would only be earning 1 point for every $1 spent. Because he would not be redeeming his points for travel, he would likely be earning only 1% on his spending. John would be better with a cash back credit card that better rewarded his spending patterns.
Should I Consider the Chase Sapphire Reserve Instead?
In the last year, Chase also introduced the incredibly popular Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card. Here are the key differences between Sapphire Preferred and Sapphire Reserve:
- There is an annual fee of $450. It is not waived during the first year. However, you can receive up to $300 in statement credits annually as reimbursement for travel purchases such as airfare and hotels charged to your card.
- You earn 3 points on travel and dining, instead of 2.
- When you redeem for travel on the Chase travel portal, you get 50% more value (compared to only 25% more value for Sapphire Preferred).
- Just like the Sapphire Preferred, you earn 1 point for every $1 spent in all other categories (excluding dining and travel).
For spending in travel and dining that is redeemed on the Chase travel portal, you get incredible value. Every $1 spent on travel and dining is worth 3 points. And 3 points redeemed for travel on the Chase travel portal would be worth 4.5 cents. That means you could get an incredible 4.5% of value on the Reserve compared to 2.5% on Preferred.
When you decide between the two cards ask yourself the following question:
- Do you spend at least $300 a year on travel? If yes, answer the next question. If no, the Reserve card might not be for you.
- If you spend at least $300 on travel and more than $3,750 a year in travel and dining combined — you will be better off with the Reserve card.