If you’re not obsessed with your credit card’s travel perks, chances are you’re not carrying the right plastic.
In August, Chase raised eyebrows (and sent travelers scrambling for applications) by launching what many are calling the best travel reward credit card ever. The Sapphire Reserve has a hefty $450 annual fee but offers such top-shelf benefits as an annual $300 travel statement credit, access to more than 600 airport lounges through Priority Pass Select, and a Global Entry application-fee reimbursement worth $100. It also comes with a 100,000-point sign-up bonus (provided you spend $4,000 in the first three months). The bonus alone is worth $1,500 in flights.
The move cements Chase’s ambitions to be the top player in the world of travel reward cards. But the Sapphire Reserve has tough competition, thanks to compelling offerings and advancements at both American Express and Citibank.
On the surface, all three cards—the Citi Prestige, the enhanced American Express Platinum, and the new Sapphire Reserve—have comparable advantages. All carry a $450 annual fee. None of them partners with specific airlines or hotel companies (a criterion that may rule out all three, if you’re a brand loyalist). Together, they’re the crème de la crème of nonbranded travel reward cards.
There are, however, significant variations among the specific perks that each card offers. So as long as you can decide which amenities you’d like to prioritize, we can help you find the right choice for you.
Travel spending credits are like free money: They help offset an annual fee but come with specific usage rules. For all three cards, the credits must be used within the calendar year and can’t be rolled over.
The Platinum Card from American Express: Each year, Platinum cardholders get $200 to spend with the single airline of their choice. The credit can’t be applied to airfare, but it covers incidentals such as baggage fees, in-flight food, or lounge access.
Citi Prestige: The Citi Prestige’s $250 credit is automatically applied to the purchases made directly with any airline, including both airfare and incidental fees.
Chase Sapphire Reserve: With $300 of credits per calendar year, this card bests the competition. The credit can be applied to any purchase Chase deems relevant to travel, retroactively refunding purchases made with airlines, hotels, rental car agencies, or even taxis, among other points of sale.
Winner: Chase Sapphire Reserve
If you want to get multiple points per dollar spent on travel, you can automatically rule out one card.
The Platinum Card from American Express: Nothing to look at here. The Amex Platinum card earns just one point per dollar on all purchases.
Citi Prestige: Earns three points per dollar on purchases from airlines, hotels, and travel agencies and two points per dollar on dining and entertainment (think concerts, sports events, movie theaters, amusement parks, and museums).
Chase Sapphire Reserve: For all travel and dining expenses, you’ll get three points per dollar spent. Chase is generous with its assessment of “travel expenses,” too: It includes buses, trains, taxis, tolls, parking garages, and even Uber rides.
Winner: Chase Sapphire Reserve
Airline and Hotel Transfer Partners
If you’re as strategic about using miles as you are about your investment portfolio, you know you can get more bang for your buck via currency exchange. The ability to exchange points for airline miles is among the most important to travel insiders—so don’t overlook this benefit.
The Platinum Card from American Express: Amex Membership Reward points can be transferred to 21 airline and hotel partners, including Air Canada, Air France/KLM, British Airways, Delta, Singapore, Virgin Atlantic, Hilton, and Starwood.
Citi Prestige: Prestige cardholders can transfer their ThankYou points to 13 airline and hotel partners, including Air France/KLM, Etihad, Qantas, and Hilton.
Chase Sapphire Reserve: This card may have only 11 partners, but it has the largest global footprint—especially with its hotel affiliates. The card’s Ultimate Reward points can be transferred to British Airways, Southwest, United, Hyatt, Intercontinental, and Marriot, among others.
Winner: We’ll call this a two-way tie between the Platinum Card and Sapphire Reserve.
Value of the Points Themselves
If you’d rather not worry about exchanging points for miles on partner airlines, prioritize this metric.
The Platinum Card from American Express: Amex Platinum cardholders typically get 1¢ per point on airline bookings and slightly less on hotel bookings.
Citi Prestige: For now, Citi Prestige cardholders can redeem their ThankYou points for 1.33¢ apiece on airline tickets, or 1.6¢ apiece on American Airlines tickets specifically, though both rates will be decreased to 1.25¢ apiece on July 23, 2017. Some cardholders find Citi’s travel portal difficult to use with unreliable flight availability, so this redemption method might not be for everyone.
Chase Sapphire Reserve: Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders can redeem their points at a rate of 1.5¢ on all travel purchases made through the Ultimate Reward portal, which includes most major airlines, hotel companies, car rental companies, and even local tours.