Two Weeks with the Chase Sapphire Reserve


We had been considering applying for the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card for a while when Chase announced their newest card, the Chase Sapphire Reserve, towards the end of the summer. While the card charges a hefty annual fee, we were immediately interested because of all the benefits.

Yes, the Sapphire Reserve has an annual fee of $450, plus $75 for each additional card. Yes, that is a lot of money! Something we have never even considered paying for a credit card in the past. So, yes, the benefits must be amazing to be worth spending that much money.

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Basics of the Chase Sapphire Reserve

The most obvious benefit to offset most of the annual fee is $300 in credit on travel expenses each calendar year.

There is also a credit for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry (worth about $100). That is not something that we would generally spend the money on, but it is a nice perk, so we will probably take advantage of it.

Another major benefit of the card is that it earns Ultimate Rewards Points, which can be transferred at a one-to-one basis to 11 different airlines and hotels. Ultimate Rewards can also be redeemed at 1.5 cents per point through the Chase Ultimate Rewards Portal. With the card you earn three points per dollar on all travel and dining purchases, which equates to approximately 6.3% cash back (according to valuations by The Points Guy), and one point per dollar on all other expenses.

In addition, the sign-up bonus is 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points (after you spend $4,000 in the first three months), which is worth approximately $2,100! That sign-up bonus has since been reduced to 50,000 points but it is still a significant amount.

Downtown Savannah
For our first outing with the Chase Sapphire Reserve, we went to Savannah.

Another great benefit is that you get free Priority Pass Select lounge access, granting access to more than 900 airport lounges across the world. There are many other travel benefits such as no foreign transaction fees, primary car rental insurance, roadside assistance, trip insurance, baggage delay insurance, lost luggage insurance and travel accident insurance. Extended warranty and price protection are also included.

There are other perks as well – these are just the highlights! Check out this article by The Points Guy for even more information on this card!

Another great article by The Points Guy is this one in which he calculated that you can “break even” on the annual fee of the Chase Sapphire Reserve by spending as little as $200 on travel and/or dining expenses each month. We don’t even have to work to meet this threshold!

Application & Delivery

Because the card has a minimum credit line of $10,000, the requirements for approval are fairly high. While we both have excellent credit, we decided to go into our local Chase bank to apply for this card, just so that we could talk through any potential issues.

Thankfully, there were no problems and we received instant approval. We were in and out in no more than 15 minutes. Honestly, it might have taken us longer than that to fill out everything online!

That was on a Monday. We received our cards first thing on Thursday morning, just as we were headed out for our trip to Savannah… Talk about perfect timing!

3x points earned on our first dining purchase
Our first dining charge using the Chick-Fil-A One app. 3x Ultimate Rewards points earned!

Our first purchase was lunch at Chick-Fil-A (using the app) while we were on the road. Once the transaction posted, a quick look at our account on the Chase app confirmed we did in fact receive 3x points for the dining purchase! I absolutely LOVE this feature of the app and how easy it is to use.

What will count as travel?

One frustrating part of the card is that it is sometimes difficult to know exactly what will count as travel. The Chase Rewards FAQs has been a great tool but still left us with some questions. We know that purchases with airlines, hotels, campgrounds, car rentals and cruise lines (among other merchants) will count towards travel. It also states that some purchases that are NOT counted as travel are in-flight purchases, on-board cruise spending, sightseeing activities and tourist attractions, among others.

To make sure we earned our travel credit this calendar year, and to give ourselves the opportunity to earn more Hilton Honors points, we decided that our next Around the Corner trip would be to Greenville, S.C. and that we would pay cash for the hotel. We carefully picked out a good hotel, costing about $150 each night, knowing that we would get the travel credit, essentially making that a free weekend stay.

Florence skyline at dusk
We used our Chase Sapphire Reserve Card extensively on our trip to Italy.

The following week, we got confirmation that we will be attending a school-sponsored trip to Italy as chaperones! We will be traveling with several other teachers on an EF Tours trip to Venice, Rome and Florence over Spring Break in April 2017. As chaperones, students cover the cost of the trip, but we did want to purchase the trip insurance.

Thus, the question “Will this count as travel?” Since the trip insurance costs about $150 each, we figured that maybe we could use those purchases to earn our travel credit and instead of going to Greenville, we could take the camper out one more time before it gets too cold. We started planning for a camping trip just in case we changed our plans, thus this article about organizing your camping reservations.

So, we paid the trip insurance for one of us. We waited to see how it posted to find out if we earned 3x points. We knew that if we earned the extra points, that means it would count towards getting the $300 travel credit. Alas, after two or three days of waiting, the transaction posted with NO extra points. Bummer.

A charge that was not counted as travel
Sadly, we did not earn 3x points on this purchase that we thought might be in the travel category. There are some exclusions.

But, we also needed to book our excursions for our Thanksgiving cruise. We booked those, of course paying with the Chase Sapphire Reserve. Again, we had to wait to see if it would count. The question was which of those cruise categories would it fall under? It technically is a sight-seeing activity and could even be considered onboard spending. We wondered if they really differentiate one Royal Caribbean charge from another?

Again, a wait of two or three days for the transaction to post. This time…success!

Grant riding on the ATV
We got 3 points on the dollar to ride on ATVs in Antigua!

Travel Credit

There are two amazing aspects of the travel credit. First, you get it each calendar year, meaning you can earn $600 in your first year with the card! Second, the credit is automatic.

We knew the credit would just show up automatically. We wouldn’t have to apply for it or do anything extra to get it. Yay! We were expecting, however, to have to wait until the end of the billing cycle to actually get it. NOPE!

Instant travel credit
The wait is over! The travel credit posted instantly as soon as the transaction posted!

As soon as the transaction posted for Royal Caribbean, we had the 3x Ultimate Rewards points AND the $300 travel credit.

How that affected our travel decisions

At this point, it was the middle of the week and we still weren’t really sure what we were going to do for our travel weekend. Admittedly, there were several factors that helped us make our decision, not just whether we earned the travel credit.

Hurricane Matthew was a big factor in our decision as well. We didn’t expect Greenville to really get it with any effects, and from what I can see, it didn’t. That said, we knew that there would be other folks who were evacuated from the coast who would actually need that hotel room. And we didn’t feel comfortable being on vacation when others that close were worrying about losing their homes, cars and even lives. Thus, we canceled the hotel in Greenville.

We figured we could still make the camping trip, but again wondered it would be too close to those evacuating. At just a couple days out, it might be difficult to get a reservation in Western North Carolina at this time of year.

We knew we had already earned our travel credit. We already spent a lot of money on both excursions for the cruise and trip insurance for our trip to Italy. So, we decided to cut back on the big weekend away. This week was brutal at work.  So, we knew that a relaxing weekend at home would be much more enjoyable. We do love to travel, but sometimes it is stressful!

Ultimately, we decided that we would take a day trip next weekend to Cloudland Canyon, a Georgia State Park that is about two hours away. We know that we will find some amazing view and good hiking. Hopefully, there will be some amazing Fall colors as well.

Cloudland Canyon in northeast Georgia
Cloudland Canyon in northeast Georgia

We have a couple of busy weekends coming up. I have a couple of close but out-of-town, conferences that will disrupt our work-week schedule. A day trip next weekend should be the perfect way to escape without spending too much money or being too stressful!

Final Thoughts on the Chase Sapphire Reserve

While there have been a few frustrating moments wondering what will count towards travel, we absolutely LOVE this card…and we haven’t even gotten a statement yet! We have already earned $300 in credit, which will help to offset the annual fee. We have already earned a lot of Ultimate Rewards points. Those points will pay for a future trip or two.

The card itself is very nice. It contains metal, which just makes it feel and sound (when you tap it on the table) like a nice, fancy card! We really are not “luxury” people most of the time. That said, there is something about the way this card feels. It definitely make us feel like luxury travelers every time we use it.

We look forward to experiencing the other benefits and really learning how to make this card work for us!

Travel Resources
What do you use to find a flight?

We use Skyscanner to find deals on flights. Skyscanner has a great interface and compares tons of airlines for the best pricing and routing. That said, it does not always have every airline and some airlines will have better deals on their website. Still, Skyscanner is a great place to start.
Click here to search for a flight.

What do you use to find a hotel?

We typically stay at Hilton properties, so we use the Hilton website. You can find good Hilton Honors discounts or AAA discounts for a hotel there. We make great use of our free night certificates from our Hilton Honors American Express.
Click here to book a Hilton property.

If there are no Hilton properties available, we use TripAdvisor to read reviews and book the hotel. We find we can get the best price that way.
Click here to search for a hotel.

We recently partnered with Stay22 to add interactive maps to each of our destination posts. This will allow you to see a plethora of hotels and vacation rentals all in one responsive map of the area.

What if I need more space than I can get at a hotel?

We use Vrbo for the times when we have rented a cabin for a weekend getaway, like this cabin in Townsend, TN, or needed to rent a house for a large family vacation. We had a great experience with them in terms of refunding deposits when COVID hit and will continue to use them.
Click here to search for a vacation rental.

Who do you use for rental cars?

As a general rule, we book with Hertz for rental cars. We have had nothing but good experiences with them. Plus, we really like unlimited mileage and not worrying about crossing state lines. We have even rented from Hertz overseas in both Slovenia and Croatia.
Click here to book a rental car.

How about booking a cruise?

We have found some amazing prices booking a cruise through Cruise Direct. We have saved a lot of money on our cruises compared to what we found elsewhere, making a last-minute Bahamas cruise even cheaper.
Click here to book a cruise.

What if I want to rent an RV?

We highly recommend Outdoorsy for RV rentals. We rented a camper van for a week to visit Rocky Mountain National Park for the elk rut and Custer State Park for the Buffalo Round-Up and had a blast. The program was easy to use and we really enjoyed the freedom of having a camper van for that trip.
Click here to rent an RV.

What do you use for booking tours?

We don’t often book tours. Typically, we like to do stuff on our own. That said, there are some experiences you just can’t have any other way. So, when we do want to book a tour, we always check Viatour first.
Click here to book a tour.

Do you use anything to get discounts on the road?

We make extensive use of both Good Sam and AAA on the road. Good Sam is normally regarded as a discount card for RVers at campgrounds and Camping World but anyone can use the 5 cents off a gallon at the pump at both Pilot and Flying J.
Click here to get a Good Sam membership.

We have had AAA as long as we have been married and it has more than paid for itself in discounts at hotels, aside from the peace of mind of having roadside assistance. Add in paper maps and the ability to get an international driver’s license and it is more than worth it for any traveler out there.
Click here to get a AAA membership.

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