Disclaimer: This post is not sponsored by any banks, financial institution, or travel agencies. Although I may get some bonus if you apply for the credit cards through the links in this post, I applied for these credit cards because I believe they provide a value to me, not because I wanted to earn bonus by baiting people applying for them through my referral link. I try my best to keep the content as accurate as possible, but always refer to the bank or other service providers for the most authoritative information.
- $450 annual fee ($75 for each additional user)
- $300 annual travel credit
- 1.5x points value for travel redemption
- 3 points per $1 earned on travel and restaurant purchases (4.5% reward value)
- Points can be transferred from Chase Freedom Unlimited, Chase Freedom
- 50,000 points signup bonus ($750 value)
- Global Entry ($100 value) or TSA Pre ($85 value) credit every 4 years
- No foreign transaction fee
Honestly, I regret not having applied for this card earlier than I did because I was terrified by the $450 annual fee and didn’t even give it a closer look. Yes, it has a whopping $450 annual fee, but given that it gives back $300 as travel credit annually, and even this $300 can earn you 4.5% rewards, so the effective annual fee is actually $450 – $300 * (1 + 0.045) = $135. And as of now, the signup bonus worths $750, about $500 more than most other no-annual-fee credit cards offer, it covers more than 3 years’ annual fee.
A good thing about Chase reward is that you get a clear breakdown on how each transaction earns reward as soon as it gets posted. It is much better than the system used by Discover which I’ll talk about later.
To justify the long-term $135 annual fee, you must earn back at least $135 reward annually. The dining reward is 4.5% in its value, about 2.5% more than the next best credit card (e.g. Citi Double Cash, Chase Amazon Reward, etc.) can offer. If you spend at least $5,400 ($135 / 0.025) in restaurants annually, or $104 weekly, the dining reward alone pays back the annual fee. You earn the dining rewards worldwide, and there’s no foreign transaction fee, making it easily the best card in restaurant when traveling abroad.
For travel, Chase counts more categories than you may think as travel and gives you 4.5% reward on these. Besides airfares and hotels, you can also get the travel reward on AirBnB, Lyft, Uber, UberEATS, parking, car rental (including agencies like Costco), toll bridges, etc.
Flights and hotels booked through their official websites and agencies (like Orbitz) also count, so you can earn Chase rewards, agencies rewards, and airline millage at the same time. If you travel a lot, you’ll get more rewards than $135 equivalent annual fee easily by paying airfares and hotels. One thing to keep in mind is that, the annual-fee-free Orbitz Reward Visa Card gives you 5% extra reward (which can only be used in Orbitz hotel booking) when you use this card to book flights or hotels on Orbitz website, which you should do (usually). So the reward through booking flights and hotels isn’t really where this card shines. Assume that you spend $5,000 per year on flights and hotels booked through Orbitz, you’ll get $25 more cashback by using Orbitz Reward card than by using this Sapphire Reserve card. If you don’t think the difference can justify getting another credit card, you should still book though agencies like Orbitz and use Sapphire Reserve card, because these websites usually gives you extra reward, while the Chase travel portal doesn’t.
However, Orbitz may not always be the place you want to book flights and hotels, because sometimes other agencies (like Costco Travel) may provide packages of better value, and some flights combination can only be booked through the airline official website. Under these situations, you still earn 4.5% reward by using the Sapphire Reserve card, while the Orbitz card is essentially useless.
The Chase travel portal isn’t very easy to access: you usually need to log in to your Chase account and then click Ultimate Rewards link first; even if you directly go to http://ultimaterewardspoints.chase.com, you still need to log in first and click several times in order to just start a search. Furthermore, the session times out after a few short minutes, and you need to login again after that.
The travel credit up to $300 annually is issued as soon as a travel transaction is posted. This is way better than some other credit cards that issues credits or cashback up to 3 billing cycles later.
Ultimate Rewards Transfer
If you combine this card with the Chase Freedom, which gives you 5% reward points on certain categories each quarter, you’ll earn 2.5% extra by transferring the points you earned through the Freedom card. Assume that you earn 15,000 reward points annually through the Freedom card (half of what you can earn maximum), you’ll get $75 extra value by owning the Sapphire Reserve card and transferring the points.
Also included in this card is Global Entry or TSA Pre credit every 4 years (up to $100 value). This is approximately $25 value yearly. The credit is issued almost immediately after the purchase is posted.
Another benefit from this card is free Priority Pass Select membership which gives you free airport lounges access for you and all the traveling companions (subject to each individual lounge’s policy).
Although I personally don’t benefit from it, an important benefit valued by may others is 1:1 point transfer to some airline and hotel loyalty programs, like United MileagePlus, Marriott Rewards, World of Hyatt, etc.
Shop Through Chase
Shop Through Chase is an extra way of earning points, similar to Ebates and Mr. Rebates. If you link to shopping sites through this portal and pay with the Chase card, you’ll earn extra points. This program is available in all Chase cards with Ultimate Rewards (e.g. Chase Freedom, Chase Freedom Unlimited). Since points worth 1.5x for Sapphire Reserve owners, it’s more noteworthy to check it out before shopping online next time. The points earned vary from one site to another, and changes over time. Just to give you a rough idea, as of now, you earn 4 points per $1 spent on Nike (6% reward value), 2 points on Sephora (3% reward value), 4 points on Macy’s (4.5% reward value). It is noteworthy that different Chase cards don’t always give the same amount of rewards, though. For example, as of now, Chase Freedom offers 6% reward on Macy’s, more than Sapphire Reserve card offers, but only the same 4% reward.
One thing worried me the most was that Chase would sell flights at a high price, making the points less valuable. This turned out not to be the case. Chase usually offers the same price other agencies (e.g. Orbitz) offer. You may not get the best value by redeeming towards hotels, as there’re almost always better price (after coupon, rewards, extras, etc.) on Orbitz.
$75 Fee for Each Additional Cardholders
It’s a bitter pill to swallow to pay $75 just to add an authorized user to your card. The additional cardholder hardly expands any benefit for your account. You still get the same $300 travel credit per year, same amount of rewards per dollar spent, and it even doesn’t honor you one more complimentary Global Entry or TSA Pre enrollment. If you and your additional-cardholder-to-be live in the same place physically, and you usually dine out together, there’s little reason to pay for the fee to get an extra card. It makes sense to add an authorized user only when the other user absolutely needs another physical card, and the lesser of you earn at least $75 rewards per year.
As of now, you get 10,000 bonus points ($150 value) for each friend referred by you who ends up applying for the card through your referral link, up to 50,000 annually. This bonus is more than most credit card company offers (if any). Considering the value of this card, it won’t be very hard to persuade your friends to apply for it. You’ll get your entire annual fee covered by just getting one referral bonus.
Compared to Sapphire Preferred
Although the Chase Sapphire Preferred appears to have a lower annual fee ($95, waived for the first year), it gives much less benefit than the Sapphire Reserve card. Firstly, each point worth only 1.25 cents; and, you earn only 2 points per dollar spent on travel and dining, making it much slower earning rewards. It is almost always the case that either the Sapphire Preferred card can’t justify the $95 annual fee compared to other annual-fee-free cards, or provides less value than the Sapphire Reserve card. There’s almost no reason to get the Sapphire Preferred card.
You apply for this card in order to get extra rewards, not just for compensating its annual fee. Fortunately, the card rewards you much more than the next best cards even after the annual fee reduction. If you also value its other benefits, like airport lounge access and exclusive luxury hotels extras, then this card is even more rewarding. This is just an example of spending and your actual spending may be vastly different, but it should be effortless to earn considerable reward unless you seldom dine out or travel.
- 5% cashback in certain categories each quarter, up to 75,000 points in cashback
- Cashback rewards transferrable to Sapphire Reserve (worths 1.5x)
- $150 signup bonus
Although this card works best if you own the Sapphire Reserve as well, this Freedom card worth applying for by itself.
Quarterly 5% Cashback
Chase Freedom cardholders earn 5% cashback on certain categories, and the categories change every 3 months. You can earn up to $1,500 in purchase in the quarter’s bonus categories. For example, here’re the categories in recent quarters:
- Q1 2016: Gas stations and local commuter transportation
- Q2 2016: Grocery stores and wholesale clubs
- Q3 2016: Restaurants and wholesale clubs
- Q4 2016: Department stores, wholesale clubs, and drug stores
- Q1 2017: Gas stations and local commuter transportation
- Q2 2017: Grocery stores and drug stores
- Q3 2017: Restaurants and movie theaters
- Q4 2017: Walmart and department stores
- Q1 2018: Gas stations, Internet / cable / phone services, mobile wallets (e.g. Apple Pay).
Only the first $1500 gives you the 5% reward. The reward worths 7.5% when you transfer the points to the Sapphire Reserve card. Assume that you would have used Freedom Unlimited otherwise, you’re getting maximum of $1500 * (7.5% – 2.25%) = $78.75 additional bonus quarterly by using this card.
The bonus categories are not rotative, but it can be expected to be just permutations of the past categories. Each quarter’s categories don’t provide benefit equally. For example, for most people it’s almost impossible to spend anywhere close to $1,500 on gas and local commuter transportation quarterly (especially when considering that there’re much better ways to get cheaper gas – see below under American Express Blue Cash Preferred), but for Internet service fees, you can make a one-time payment of $1,500 and forget about it for the quarter. You may be able to spend $1,500 in restaurants in a quarter, but considering that you’re getting 4.5% reward from Sapphire Reserve card anyway, you’ll get only $45 (in contradict to $78.75) additional reward value. So, theoretically you can earn up to $300 (or $450 if you have the Sapphire Reserve card), but in reality you can hardly maximize the reward.
Just like the Sapphire Reserve card, the rewards earned in each transaction is shown clearly in the webpage as soon as the transaction is posted. In addition, it gives you an almost real-time tracking on how much reward you’ve earned out of the total possible.
Shop Through Chase
As mentioned above, you’ll earn extra points when shopping on certain online stores when linked through the Shop Through Chase portal. Chase Freedom portal usually gives you same or more cashback, so remember to check this portal first when you shop online.
- 1.5% cashback on everything
- Cashback rewards transferrable to Sapphire Reserve
- $150 signup bonus
This card is simple: 1.5% cashback on everything. When used with Sapphire Reserve, it’s 2.25% on every purchase. However, the Citi Double Cash offers 2% cashback on every purchase. Is it worth “upgrading” to this card if you already have the Citi Double Cash? Well, one small reason for getting this card while you already have the Citi Double Cash is that as of now, Visa is the only accepted credit card at Costco in-store. So, if you shop at Costco a lot, this card is a nice addition. Apart from that, considering that either of these two cards is going to be the default card for everything other than certain categories, the amount spent is expected to be very high, and even a small percentage of it will be considerable. Assume that you’ll spend $30,000 in “other” category, the cashback difference will be $30,000 * 0.0025 = $75.
Applying for the Chase Trio
If you decide to apply for all the three cards above, consider applying for them together. There’re credible rumors saying that applying for multiple Chase credit cards within 30 days only hits your credit report once. However, it is also said that applying for multiple Chase cards within a short period of time increases the risk of not being approved immediately or even being rejected. I recommend applying for the Chase Sapphire Reserve first, then Chase Freedom Unlimited (unless you own the Citi Double Cash), finally Chase Freedom.
- 5% cashback at Amazon.com with Prime membership (3% otherwise)
- $70 signup bonus with Prime membership ($50 otherwise)
If you are a loyal Amazon.com customer and always have the Prime membership, it’s a no-brainer to apply for this card. It’s very generous to issue this much rewards on the everything store. (To compare, Costco with limited product selection offers only 2% rewards and only if you pay $60 extra almost exclusively for it, and is issued once per year.) All purchases though Amazon.com count, including the products sold by third party sellers. In addition, you may not have realized, but the following categories also fall into Amazon purchases:
- AmazonFresh (including Fresh Pickup, which is available to non-Fresh members, but only available in Seattle): earn 5% cashback on fresh produce and meat.
- Amazon Restaurants: earn 5% on restaurant delivery. Currently it’s free delivery over $40, so you can earn even more cashback than paying the restaurants directly, and enjoy food being delivered to you.
- Audible books: earn 5% if you buy the audio books through Amazon website (but not Audible website).
- Home & Business Services: earn 5% on house cleaning, repair, assembly, remodel, and more.
- PrimeNow: enjoy 1- or 2-hour delivery while earning 5% cashback. It has a limited selection of fresh produce and meat, and local supermarket and drug stores.
- Treasure Truck: yes, it’s only available in certain cities, and carries about only one product every week, but that’s still a benefit anyway.
- Amazon Go: the checkout-free convenience store. There’s only one store in Seattle, but is open to public already.
- 2% cashback on everything
If you don’t buy the idea of using Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Freedom Unlimited together, the alternation is no brainer: you get 1% on all purchases and 1% on all payments. Since you’ll pay your purchases anyway, that is equivalent to 2% on everything. That’s all about this card. It’s plain simple.
As of now, this card doesn’t offer any signup bonus. Actually, I’ve never seen this card ever offering signup bonus. A typical signup bonus from other cards is $150, and it takes $7500 in spending to earn $150 cashback, or $15,000 in spending to earn $150 extra cashback compared to regular 1% cards. Partly because of this, I still recommend the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Freedom Unlimited combination, because the signup bonus from both covers at least the first 6 year’s annual fee, let alone the extra reward you’d earn.
- $95 annual fee
- 6% cashback on grocery stores
- 3% cashback on gas stations and department stores
- Amex Offers
- $250 signup bonus
For some reason, this card isn’t available to apply for if you straightly go to American Express website. It is available through referral and upgrade from American Express Blue Cash Everyday card only.
Cashback on Grocery Stores
Cashback on grocery shoppings is usually the major (if not the only) reason for most people using this card. Whether you’d benefit from this card highly depends on your grocery shopping pattern. If you shop groceries mostly at wholesale clubs like Costco or superstores like Target, then this card is not for you; if your favorite grocery stores don’t accept American Express cards (e.g. most Chinese supermarkets), then you can also stop reading; otherwise, if you shop mostly at QFC, Trader Joes, etc., then you can maximize the benefit.
QFC, Safeway, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and H-Mart are examples of stores categorized as grocery stores by Amex. Walmart and Target aren’t – which is understandable. Whether a store is categorized as grocery store is pretty intuitive and unsurprising to most people.
There’s a annual fee-free version of this card (American Express Blue Cash Everyday), which gives you 3% cashback on grocery stores. So you’ll have to spend at least $3,167 on groceries in order to compensate the annual fee, or $61 every week. However, there’s a cap of $6,000 in purchases for the 6% cashback, so the maximum net earning you can get from the card through grocery shoppings is $360 – $95 = $265. Compared to the maximum earnings from the Everyday card ($180), you’ll earn maximum of $85 extra by using the Preferred card. Not so impressive, but it’s still earnings. If you can spend that much money in groceries stores anyway, there’s no reason not to get this card.
As mentioned above, one big downside of this card is the acceptance of American Express cards. Many grocery stores simply don’t accept Amex cards. So make sure to check your favorite stores before applying for this card.
I don’t recommend any one paying gas using credit cards (unless at wholesale clubs), even if it comes with rewards. You can save more than 3% by simply paying by cash instead of credit cards, because many gas stations give $0.05 to $0.10 discount per gallon if you pay by cash. Furthermore, if you pay by cash cards, you’ll get the same price as paying by cash, plus the cash cards usually are sold at 6%~8% off on eBay, plus you earn reward on credit cards, eBay bucks, rewards on Ebates, etc. Just think about it.
Only select department stores can earn you the 3% cashback. Fortunately, most major department stores are included, such as Macy’s, Nordstrom (including Rack), J.C. Penny, etc. A full list can be found here. Honestly, I almost never shop at department stores. But for people who do, it’s a nice addition to earn extra 0.75% or 1% compared to using Chase Freedom Unlimited or Citi Double Cash.
American Express makes it very opaque to
Amex provides tens of extra discount on certain merchants. The availability changes over time and there’s usually a cap for each offer. In most of the time, there’s no single offer I feel attractive. Just take a few current offers as examples:
- 15% off at Starbucks, up to $5 (stacking Starbucks gift cards saves you much more than that)
- $10-$20 off at TurboTax (much better deals can be found at Amazon easily)
- Spend $500 or more and get $100 back at The James New York – NoMad (and offers from lots of other stores never heard of)
There were good offers in the past, though. For example, in 2015, I saved $150 by spending $500 at Target. However, good offers are rarely seen since two years ago.
The offers aren’t available to you automatically. To take advantage of it, you’ll have to log in to your Amex account, choose an offer, and then add to your card. Then you’ll be able to use it. If there’re more than one cardholders, the offer can only be added to one of them, and once it is added, only that cardholder can take advantage of it.
The discount is issued in the form of statement credit almost instantly after the transaction happens. That’s even before the transaction is posted. This is the fastest type of crediting I’ve seem among all credit card rewards.
Amex Offers is a nice addition to the cashback, but it shouldn’t be the main reason you apply for this card.
- 5% extra rewards on Orbitz bookings
- 2% rewards on everything else
- Rewards can only redeemed in hotel bookings through Orbitz
- No foreign transaction fee
Orbitz Flight and Hotel Bookings
Orbitz Rewards program, which is free to join by any one, gives you rewards on flights and hotels booked through Orbitz. This credit card gives you 5% extra on top of that. The amounts of rewards are:
- 1% on flights, 6% total with the credit card.
- 3% on hotels booked through website, 8% total with the credit card.
- 5% on hotels booked through the mobile app, 10% total with the credit card.
Orbitz often offer extra promo codes on hotel booking, which makes the final price cheaper than Chase travel portal. It is always recommended to book flights and hotels through Orbitz instead of Chase, whether using the Orbitz Rewards Visa Card or Chase Sapphire Card, unless you’re spending your Chase reward points.
2% Rewards on Everything Else
One of the mostly promoted benefit is Orbitz Rewards Dining: you’ll earn extra rewards by using this card in certain restaurants. They advertise that the cardholders earn 7% on select restaurants. However, there’re two important catches: 1. You as an Orbitz Rewards member and the Visa cardholder don’t earn the rewards automatically. You have to register on https://www.orbitzrewardsdining.com explicitly even if you already have an Orbitz account. 2. You can add up to 5 arbitrary credit card that you plan to use in the restaurants – it doesn’t have to be the Orbitz Rewards Visa Card. Don’t take too seriously on this program – not only because most of the participating restaurants are never heard of, but also because they even have some complicated black-out days for each restaurants (e.g. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are not eligible for the extra rewards).
This card automatically entitles you as Gold Status in the Orbitz Rewards program. Normally you have to stay at least 4 nights per calendar year to archive this status. There’s not really much benefit of this status, but it saves you 4 nights to reach the Platinum status (so you need 8 nights instead of 12), giving you a free TSA Pre enrollment and reimbursement of up to 2 checked bags or $50 per year. Not too much, but good enough for a free loyalty program.
Rewards Expiration and Redemption
Orbitz rewards do expire. Rewards earned through its loyalty program expire one year after they’re earned, and the ones earned through the credit card expire 12 months after the last time you use the card. As long as you don’t leave the card unused for longer than 12 months, these rewards won’t ever expire. Rewards expiration usually shouldn’t be a problem as long as you can consume them faster than generating them.
When you use the rewards, the ones expire first will automatically be redeemed. It can only be used in hotels booking, which is considered to be a major limitation. However, as discussed above, the Chase Ultimate Rewards are almost only good for flights either, which isn’t much better. Each person may have their own opinion on which one being more valuable based on their travel mode, but I personally think Orbitz rewards is a little bit more valuable, because I’ll book flights and hotels more than the rewards I earned anyway, so the rewards are roughly as valuable as cash. Besides, I’d use Orbitz to book flights and hotels to earn rewards on Orbitz loyalty program, which I can also do when using Orbitz rewards, but I have to use Chase travel portal to book flights in order to use Chase rewards. The difference isn’t significant enough though.
- 5% cashback in certain categories each quarter, up to $75 in cashback
- Discover Deals gives you extra cashback on certain merchants
- Cashback worths more when being redeemed to certain gift cards
- Doubled cashback for the first year
Quarterly 5% Cashback
This is pretty similar to Chase Freedom: for each quarter, you earn 5% cashback by using this card in certain categories, and the cap is $1,500 in purchase or $75 in cashback. The category selection is slightly different from Chase Freedom. Here’re the categories from the near future and past:
- Q4 2018: Amazon.com & Wholesale Clubs
- Q3 2018: Restaurants
- Q2 2018: Grocery Stores
- Q1 2018: Gas Stations & Wholesale Clubs
- Q4 2017: Amazon.com & Target
- Q3 2017: Restaurants
- Q2 2017: Home Improvement Stores & Wholesale Clubs
- Q1 2017: Gas Stations, Ground Transportation & Wholesale Clubs
- Q4 2016: Department Stores, Amazon.com, Sam’s Club
- Q3 2016: Home Improvement Stores & Amazon.com
- Q2 2016: Restaurants, Movies
- Q1 2016: Gas Stations, Ground Transportation
The categories overlap with the benefits from other cards a lot, so it doesn’t provide as much value as it appears to be. For example, if you already have Chase Sapphire Reserve card, you’re already getting 4.5% reward on restaurants, so you’re only getting 0.5% more when restaurants is the category for Discover, or $7.5 max in a whole quarter. That’s not impressive at all. For Amazon.com and Target, they both provides store cards that give 5% cashback on all purchases, so if you already have these cards, you’ll not get a single penny extra cashback by using Discover.
If you think the quarterly 5% isn’t attractive enough, the Discover Deals may actually give you more cashback. Deal availability changes over time, but there’re always valuable deals. For example, as of now, here’re some examples out of the 138 total available deals:
- 5% cashback at Microsoft Store Online
- 20% off one regularly priced small appliance at BestBuy.com
- 5% cashback at Abt.com
- $5 off $50 or more at Target.com
- 5% cashback at Groupon
It’s always worth checking Shop Through Chase (if you have Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Freedom, or Chase Freedom Unlimited), Ebates, and Mr. Rebates and compare which gives you the most cashback. Ebates and Mr. Rebates gives you cashback on top of credit card, while Shop Through Chase and Discover Deals is the total cashback you’ll get. The deals are not stackable across different programs.
Discover cashback tracking is almost the worst amongst all (maybe next to Amex’s). You:
- don’t know if a transaction earns extra cashback even after it is posted;
- don’t know how much quarterly cashback out of $75 you have already earned;
- don’t know if your purchase through Discover Deals earned you extra cash back;
- You can guess by looking into the statement one or two months later, but that only gives you a number saying that “you’ve earned this much through Discover Deals”, but doesn’t tell exactly which transaction contributed.
This section in your monthly statement is the only place telling you the amount of cashback earned. You’ll have to guess which transaction earned you extra cashback and which didn’t.
Gift Cards Redemption
Discover is the only credit card company I’ve seen by far to offer discount on redeeming reward towards gift cards. The discount, again, varies from one merchant to another and changes over time, but the minimal extra value you’ll get for each gift card is $5. As of now, there’re 100 different types of gift cards available, among which some of the most valuable ones are:
- Banana Republic, Gap, Old Navy: $20 gets you $25 (20% off)
- Buffalo Wild Wings, Chipotle, Dominos, IHOP, Red Lobster, Starbucks: $45 gets you $50 (10% off)
- Groupon: $45 gets you $50 (10% off)
- Macy’s: $45 gets you $50 (10% off)
- Nike: $40 gets you $50 (20% off)
Some of them offers better value than Discover Deals. Besides, this is stackable with Ebates or Mr. Rebates. The only thing to make sure is to have enough cashback balance, so make sure not to redeem them as statement credit.