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It seems like every airline, hotel chain and credit card issuer is issuing its own premium credit card, enticing customers with luxury travel perks paired with hefty annual fees. Many of these cards offer solid value, especially if you’re loyal to the underlying brand, but there are two undeniable titans of the premium credit card market.
I’m talking, of course, about The Platinum Card® from American Express and the Chase Sapphire Reserve. The former built the market for premium rewards cards years ago; the latter is responsible for growing their mass appeal.
Ever since the Sapphire Reserve launched in August 2016, competition between these two cards has been fierce. Today we’re going to take a look at how they stack up against each other and whether you should consider adding one — or both — to your wallet.
Limited time coronavirus benefits
Despite being one of the fastest growing segments of the credit card market, premium cards have been hit especially hard by the slowdown in travel caused by COVID-19. Most premium credit cards are built on the idea that customers can spend $450+ on annual fees and recoup that value over the course of the year through luxury travel benefits.
If people aren’t traveling, that becomes much harder to do. As such, we’ve seen many card issuers add limited time benefits to address the way people’s spending patterns are changing during this extended lockdown.
The two biggest concerns for most premium cardholders have been relief for sky-high annual fees and frustration with travel benefits going unused. Chase has addressed these concerns by offering a one-time $100 annual fee credit to customers who renew their card between April 1, 2020 and July 1, 2020, as well as adding some limited time bonus categories.
Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders can earn 5x points on up to $500 in combined purchases at DoorDash and Tock through May 31, 2020, as well as 5x points on up to $1,500 in grocery purchases in May and June.
The $100 credit is a small slice of the Sapphire Reserve’s $550 annual fee and doesn’t address the frustration from cardholders who are struggling to use their $300 annual travel credit this year. Meanwhile the 5x bonus categories are very nice, as they represent a 10% return based on TPG’s valuations.
Instead of offering bonus points, the Amex Platinum is focussing more on putting cash back in your wallet by offering up to $520 in statement credits through the end of the year. This breaks down as follows:
- Up to $160 in statement credits on select U.S. streaming services (up to $20 per month) from May through Dec. 2020
- Up to $160 in statement credits on select wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers (up to $20 per month) from May through Dec. 2020
- Up to $200 in statement credits toward prepaid Amex Travel purchases made between Aug. 2020 and Dec. 2021 (only for cardholders who renew their card between April 1 and Dec. 31, 2020)
What’s interesting is that while many customers will find these credit rewarding, they don’t do much to incentivize new spending on a card that’s primarily useful for travel purchases.
Winner:I’ll leave this category as a tie, depending on whether you value cash back in your wallet or bonus points more right now. Amex gets a slight edge though because the $200 Amex Travel statement credit applies to a much larger range of cardholders than the $100 credit on the Sapphire Reserve.
Welcome bonus and eligibility
Source: The Points Guy
When considering a new credit card, especially one with a $550 annual fee (see rates and fees), the first thing most people look at is the welcome offer to see how much of that annual fee they can start recouping immediately.
The Amex Platinum is currently offering new applicants 60,000 Membership Rewards points after they spend $5,000 in purchases in the first three months, although it’s worth checking to see if you’re targeted for a higher offer through the CardMatch tool. And, if you’re approved between Dec. 1, 2019, and May 31, 2020, the period to make eligible purchases to earn your welcome bonus will be extended for an additional three months.
TPG values Membership Rewards points at two cents each, making the public 60,000-point bonus worth $1,200. Since Amex only allows you to earn the bonus on each of its credit cards once per lifetime, it can be tempting to hold off on applying for the Amex Platinum in hopes that you may be targeted through CardMatch for a higher bonus at some point in the future. After all, if you apply now with the 60,000-point offer, you’ll never be able to get a higher targeted bonus in the future.
One possible workaround would be to apply for a different version of the Amex Platinum, such as The Business Platinum Card® from American Express, so you can access many of the perks now while hoping for a higher targeted offer.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve is a much simpler story. It launched with a 100,000-point sign-up bonus, but that deal only lasted a few months amid stronger-than-expected demand for the card. Since then, the Reserve has offered a consistent welcome bonus of 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after cardmembers spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.
Winner: The Amex Platinum takes leads on this first category, but not by a whole lot.
Long after your welcome bonus has been earned and spent, you want a card that will help you rack up valuable transferable points quickly. Both of these cards get that done, but in very different ways. The best option depends on which other Chase or Amex cards you currently have in your wallet, and how the bonus categories on those other cards overlap with the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Amex Platinum. Here are the bonus categories for these two cards:
The Amex Platinum used to take the lead with its 5x points on flights when booked directly with the airline or through American Express Travel (though admittedly that category is fairly restrictive), but Chase has leapfrogged to the top of the charts with a new 10x bonus category for all Lyft rides in the U.S. — a 20% return in that category, based on TPG’s valuations.
The Amex Platinum continues to win on most airfare purchases — especially now that the card offer trip delay protection and trip cancellation/interruption insurance — but the Chase Sapphire Reserve pulls ahead for dozens of other travel expenses including most hotels, ride sharing, parking fees, tolls, tours and more. It also has an equally broad 3x dining bonus category that the Platinum can’t match.
Winner: Chase Sapphire Reserve, thanks to an unparalleled 10x bonus category for Lyft rides and higher points per dollar spent in a broader range of travel, plus dining.
Source: The Points Guy
With Chase Ultimate Rewards and Amex Membership Rewards tied at two cents apiece in TPG’s valuations, it’s up to you to look at the different transfer partners and decide which ones suit your needs best.
Let’s start with the Chase Sapphire Reserve. In addition to 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners, Sapphire Reserve customers get a 50% bonus when redeeming points for travel directly through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. This gives you an absolute minimum redemption value of 1.5 cents per point and means you can book a seat on any flight that’s for sale even if there isn’t award space available. Better yet, these bookings are treated like cash tickets, meaning you’ll earn redeemable and elite miles on them, further increasing your value.
That said, you’ll often get a better value by transferring your points to the loyalty programs of airlines and hotels instead. All partner transfers occur at a 1:1 ratio and most of them are nearly instant. Ultimate Rewards has a real edge for hotel bookings because of its partnership with Hyatt, where free nights start as low as 5,000 points per night.
On the airline side of things, popular redemption options include United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Air France-KLM, although the last three also partner with Amex Membership Rewards.
Amex Membership Rewards has a whopping 22 transfer partners, but not all of them are worth your attention. Some of them have transfer ratios below 1:1, longer transfer times (which means you risk watching your award space disappear) and some simply don’t have reasonably priced redemption options.
Some of the best are ANA Mileage Club, Aeroplan (Air Canada) and Avianca LifeMiles, each of which offers attractively priced options for booking Star Alliance award tickets. Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, Etihad Guest and Delta SkyMiles are also popular transfer options. Also, don’t forget about the partners that are shared between Amex and Chase, including Singapore, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Air France-KLM.
The personal version of the Amex Platinum doesn’t offer any sort of bonus or rebate for using your points to pay for flights through the Amex Travel portal, but The Business Platinum Card® from American Express and the American Express® Business Gold Card offer 35% (up to 500,000 points per calendar year) and 25% rebates (up to 250,000 points per calendar year), respectively.
In determining which card is right for you, an important difference to note is that the Amex Platinum earns Amex Membership Rewards points, which can be transferred to 22 transfer partners, while the Chase Sapphire Reserve earns Chase Ultimate Rewards points which can be transferred to 13 transfer partners. However, the number of partners themselves should not be the only factor at play here.
Winner: Chase Sapphire Reserve with its 50% bonus for travel booked in Ultimate Rewards and a 1:1 transfer ratio for all 13 of its airline and hotel partners.
Perks and benefits
The Chase Sapphire Reserve and Amex Platinum are two of the most valuable rewards cards on the market, but they’re also two of the most expensive. Now with identical annual fees of $550 a year (see rates and fees), these two cards take the cake as the most expensive publicly-available personal credit cards (ignoring invite-only options such as the Amex Centurion card).
So what do you get in exchange for that upfront cost? Let’s take a look, though this is by no means an exhaustive list of each card’s benefits. The table below lists the most popular and most valuable benefits:
- Up to $200 airline incidental fee credit
- Up to $200 Uber credit ($15 each month, with a $20 bonus in December)
- Up to $100 Saks Fifth Avenue statement credit ($50 every six months)
- $300 travel credit
- $60 in DoorDash statement credits each for 2020 and 2021
- One year of complimentary DoorDash delivery with a DashPass membership
- Lyft Pink status, which includes a 15% discount on all rides, free bike and scooter rentals each month (including Citi Bike in New York), priority airport pickups, more flexibility when it comes to ride cancellations and more (a $19.99 per month value).
- Lounge access
- Access to the American Express Global Lounge Collection which includes Centurion Lounges, Priority Pass (excluding restaurants), Delta Sky Clubs when flying Delta and more
Priority Pass Select membership (including restaurants)
- Travel insurance
- Secondary car rental insurance
- Trip delay insurance
- Trip cancellation/interruption insurance
- Primary car rental insurance
- Baggage delay insurance
- Trip delay insurance
- Trip cancellation/interruption insurance
- Emergency medical and dental benefit
This is by far the trickiest part of the comparison, with a lot of different pieces to unpack. It’s also the one where your own personal preferences might sway you the most to one card or another. With matching $550 annual fees (see rates and fees), the math gets a bit easier, though the ways in which you recoup that value still differs heavily between the two cards.
Let’s start with the Chase Sapphire Reserve. It still has an edge over Amex when it comes to the $300 annual travel credit. Not only is it a higher amount than the up to $200 airline fee credit that comes with the Amex Platinum, but it’s much less restricted, meaning it will automatically apply to a broad range of travel purchases. You can’t use the $200 Amex airline credit for airfare — only for select fees such as seat assignment or checked bags.
When it comes to ride-sharing, some people see the up to $200 annual Uber credit (broken into $15 a month with a $20 bonus in December) that comes with the Amex Platinum card as a like-cash credit. However, not everyone uses a ride-sharing service once a month, which means the 10x bonus points on Lyft rides might be a more valuable option. Additionally, frequent travelers are sure to love the priority airport pickups that come with Lyft Pink status. I can’t tell you how many frigid nights I spent at Chicago O’Hare (ORD) waiting 10+ minutes for an Uber pickup, wishing I had a benefit like this available to me.
While Chase appears to be matching the Amex Platinum tit for tat in many ways (annual fee, ride-share benefits, etc.), the DoorDash perk is an interesting deviation. Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders will get at least one year of unlimited complimentary delivery through DoorDash DashPass, as well as up to $60 in DoorDash statement credits each year for 2020 and 2021. The Amex Platinum doesn’t offer any similar food delivery benefits, but the mid-range American Express® Gold Card offers a $10 monthly dining credit that includes Grubhub and Seamless and other participating restaurants (up to $120 credit).
Source: The Points Guy
Chase doesn’t currently offer any mid-range card to directly compete with the Amex Gold, so it’s possible this change is trying to create a one-stop shop to woo over Amex customers who might have previously held both the Gold and Platinum.
On the flip side, if you live in a smaller city or never order in food, you might find this credit to be entirely useless. The same can be said of the up to $100 Amex Platinum Saks Fifth Avenue credit. If you already shopped at Saks — great; otherwise you might not see this as a real value-add relative to the annual fee.
The Amex Platinum is widely considered to be the most comprehensive card when it comes to airport lounge access for good reason. Although the Priority Pass Select membership that comes with this card no longer allows you to access participating restaurants (you can with a Chase-issued Priority Pass membership), the access to Amex’s growing collection of Centurion Lounges and Delta SkyClubs when flying Delta should be enough to make up for that. Another area where Amex excels is by offering Gold elite status with both Marriott and Hilton to Platinum cardholders. Chase offers no equivalent benefit.
Chase has historically been the leader when it comes to travel insurance, with a multitude of different policies and generous terms. Amex has partially closed the gap, adding a new suite of travel insurance benefits to the Amex Platinum card for eligible purchases made on or after Jan. 1, 2020.
Winner: Amex Platinum, with its airline and Uber credits, expanded airport lounge access and elite status with Marriott and Hilton, along with new travel protections.
Source: The Points Guy
The Chase Sapphire Reserve and Amex Platinum are two of the most popular premium rewards cards on the market, but they offer slightly different value propositions. Between hotel elite status and Centurion Lounge access, the Amex Platinum is better suited to those looking to enjoy a more luxurious travel lifestyle. Especially if you frequently purchase airfare that would qualify for the 5x bonus points, this card deserves a spot in your wallet.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve, by comparison, is a premium card that’s simple enough for beginners and pros alike. The $300 annual travel credit will be automatically applied to a wide range of purchases. And, your 3x travel (excluding $300 travel credit) and dining bonus categories are wide enough that you won’t be scratching your head trying to decide if you’re swiping the right card.
The Lyft and DoorDash benefits will help put even more points and cash back in your wallet each year, though they may be of limited value if you don’t regularly use these services already. Some people may even find that there’s enough room for both cards in their wallet. If you’re able to take advantage of all the annual statement credits and luxury perks, these cards actually complement each other well.
For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum, click here.
Additional reporting by Katie Genter.
Featured photo by Josh Gribben/The Points Guy.
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