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TravelCalculating break-even points on the Chase Sapphire Reserve

Calculating break-even points on the Chase Sapphire Reserve


The Chase Sapphire Reserve® is undoubtedly one of the best travel rewards cards, but deciding whether it makes financial sense to add it to or keep it in your wallet can be difficult. After all, the Chase Sapphire Reserve’s benefits provide different value to each cardholder.

In this article, I’ll consider several scenarios that may help you decide whether the Chase Sapphire Reserve is a good choice for you. First, I’ll compare the Chase Sapphire Reserve to the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, a similar card with slightly less-rewarding bonus categories and a significantly lower annual fee. Second, I’ll compare the Chase Sapphire Reserve to the Citi Double Cash® Card (see rates and fees), a card that earns up to 2% cash back on all purchases (1% when you buy and 1% as you pay) and doesn’t charge an annual fee.

Let’s get started.

Assumptions for this analysis

This analysis only considers the return you’d get through spending. As such, it doesn’t consider the value offered by other perks, such as lounge access and travel protections. Assuming you’ll get value from these benefits, your break-even point will be even lower than what’s calculated in this guide.

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Additionally, I won’t be using the published $550 annual fee on the Chase Sapphire Reserve. As you probably know, this card offers a $300 annual travel credit automatically applied to eligible purchases. So, my analysis will consider the Chase Sapphire Reserve’s effective annual fee to be $250 out of pocket. Likewise, I’ll consider the Chase Sapphire Preferred’s effective annual fee of $45 since it offers a $50 annual hotel credit for hotel accommodation purchases made through Chase Travel℠.

I’ll assume the purchases you make with your card are 50% dining at restaurants, 10% Chase Travel airline ticket purchases, 10% Chase Travel hotel accommodation and car rental purchases and 30% other travel purchases. However, I’ll assume you would have booked through another method besides Chase Travel for Citi Double Cash calculations. And for the Chase Sapphire Reserve, I’ll assume your travel credit applies to travel you didn’t book through Chase Travel.

Finally, I won’t include limited-time benefits in this analysis.

Related: Is the Chase Sapphire Reserve worth the annual fee?

Sapphire Reserve vs. Sapphire Preferred

To compare the Chase Sapphire Reserve to the Chase Sapphire Preferred, you can calculate a break-even point between the two cards. I’ll use the following numbers for the effective annual fees:

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  • Chase Sapphire Reserve: $250 ($550 minus the $300 travel credit)
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred: $45 ($95 minus the $50 Chase Travel hotel credit)

This leaves a difference of $205.

You also have to consider the bonus points. With the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you’ll earn 10 points per dollar spent on Chase Travel hotel accommodation and car rental purchases, 5 points per dollar spent on Chase Travel airline ticket purchases, 3 points per dollar spent on other travel purchases (excluding purchases covered by the $300 travel credit) and 3 points per dollar spent on dining purchases at restaurants.

Meanwhile, the Chase Sapphire Preferred awards 5 points per dollar spent on Chase Travel purchases (excluding purchases covered by the $50 hotel credit), 3 points per dollar spent on dining purchases at restaurants and 2 points per dollar spent on other travel purchases.

THE POINTS GUY

The calculations below are from TPG and not provided by the issuer. But in short, the value of points we would earn with each card, given the spending breakdown defined above minus each card’s effective annual fee, should be equal.

Related: 5 things to do once you get your Chase Sapphire Reserve

If you use TPG’s valuations

The calculations in this section assume you get 2.05 cents per point of value from your Chase Ultimate Rewards points by transferring them to airline or hotel partners. If you use TPG’s valuation of Chase Ultimate Rewards points at 2.05 cents per point, you’ll find the break-even point in annual spending is $13,312.50.

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Here’s a look at how the points earned and the value of the points earned would compare for the two cards given a year of spending according to our assumptions:

Purchase type Spending amount Points earned Value of points earned
Dining at restaurants $6,656.25 19,969 $409
Chase Travel $2,662.50 (half on hotels and car rentals and half on flights for Sapphire Reserve) Sapphire Reserve: 19,969

Sapphire Preferred: 13,063

Sapphire Reserve: $409

Sapphire Preferred: $268

Other travel $3,993.75 Sapphire Reserve: 11,081

Sapphire Preferred: 7,988

Sapphire Reserve: $227

Sapphire Preferred: $164

Total $13,312 Sapphire Reserve: 51,019

Sapphire Preferred: 41,020

Sapphire Reserve: $1,046

Sapphire Preferred: $841

At this spending level, earning 9,999 more Ultimate Rewards points on the Chase Sapphire Reserve will cover the additional $205 annual fee. As a reminder for those checking my math at home, you don’t earn points on the amount covered by the Chase Sapphire Reserve’s $300 travel credit and the Chase Sapphire Preferred’s $50 Chase Travel hotel credit.

Verdict: Based on these assumptions, if you spend at least $13,312.50 per year with your card, you’re better off with the Chase Sapphire Reserve regarding award earnings. This equates to an average of $1,109 or more in spending per month.

If you book through Chase Travel

You’ll get a slightly different break-even point if you redeem your points by booking travel through the Chase Travel portal. After all, Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders can redeem for travel booked through the portal at a rate of 1.5 cents per point, whereas Chase Sapphire Preferred cardholders can only redeem at a rate of 1.25 cents per point.

Here’s a look at how the points earned and the value of the points earned would compare for the two cards given a year of spending according to our assumptions:

Purchase type Spending amount Points earned Value of points earned
Dining at restaurants $5,452.53 16,358 Sapphire Reserve: $245

Sapphire Preferred: $204

Chase Travel $2,181.01 (half on hotels and car rentals and half on flights for Sapphire Reserve) Sapphire Reserve: 16,358

Sapphire Preferred: 10,655

Sapphire Reserve: $245

Sapphire Preferred: $133

Other travel $3,271.52 Sapphire Reserve: 8,915

Sapphire Preferred: 6,543

Sapphire Reserve: $134

Sapphire Preferred: $82

Total $10,905.06 Sapphire Reserve: 41,631

Sapphire Preferred: 33,556

Sapphire Reserve: $624

Sapphire Preferred: $419

Verdict: Based on these assumptions, if you spend at least $10,905.06 on eligible purchases in a year and plan to redeem your points by booking travel through the Chase Travel portal, you’re better off going with the Sapphire Reserve. This breaks out to just $909 per month.

Related: Chase Sapphire Preferred vs. Sapphire Reserve: Should you go mid-tier or premium?

Sapphire Reserve vs. Citi Double Cash

Next, I’ll consider the difference between the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Citi Double Cash® Card. The Citi Double Cash Card has no annual fee (see rates and fees) but earns up to 2% cash back on all purchases: 1% when you buy and 1% when you pay your bill.

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If you use TPG’s valuations

If you use TPG’s valuation of Chase Ultimate Rewards points at 2.05 cents per point for the Reserve and solve for spend, you’ll find the break-even point in annual spending is $4,477.90.

Here’s a look at how the points earned and the value of the points earned would compare for the two cards given a year of spending according to my assumptions:

Purchase type Spending amount Rewards earned Value of rewards earned
Dining at restaurants $2,238.95 Sapphire Reserve: 6,717 points

Citi Double Cash: $44.78

Sapphire Reserve: $137.70

Citi Double Cash: $44.78

Chase Travel Sapphire Reserve (half on hotels and car rentals and half on flights): $895.58

Citi Double Cash: N/A

Sapphire Reserve: 6,717 points

Citi Double Cash: N/A

Sapphire Reserve: $137.70

Citi Double Cash: N/A

Other travel Sapphire Reserve: $1,343.37

Citi Double Cash: $2,238.95

Sapphire Reserve: 3,130 points

Citi Double Cash: $44.78

Sapphire Reserve: $64.16

Citi Double Cash: $44.78

Total $4,477.90 Sapphire Reserve: 16,564 points

Citi Double Cash: $89.56

Sapphire Reserve: $339.56

Citi Double Cash: $89.56

Verdict: Based on these assumptions, if you spend at least $4,477.90 a year with your card, you’re better off with the Chase Sapphire Reserve regarding award earnings. This breaks out to an average of $373 or more in eligible monthly spending.

Related: How to maximize earning with the Chase Sapphire Reserve

If you book through Chase Travel

Now, let’s assume you want to redeem Chase points toward travel booked through Chase Travel and get 1.5 cents per point. Given our assumptions, the break-even point in annual spending is $6,844.16.

Here’s a look at how the points earned and the value of the points earned would compare for the two cards given a year of spending according to our assumptions:

Purchase type Spending amount Rewards earned Value of rewards earned
Dining at restaurants $3,422.08 Sapphire Reserve: 10,266 points

Citi Double Cash: $68.44

Sapphire Reserve: $153.99

Citi Double Cash: $68.44

Chase Travel Sapphire Reserve (half on hotels and car rentals and half on flights): $1,368.83

Citi Double Cash: N/A

Sapphire Reserve: 10,266 points

Citi Double Cash: N/A

Sapphire Reserve: $153.99

Citi Double Cash: N/A

Other travel Sapphire Reserve: $2,053.25

Citi Double Cash: $3,422.08

Sapphire Reserve: 5,260 points

Citi Double Cash: $68.44

Sapphire Reserve: $78.90

Citi Double Cash: $68.44

Total $6,844.16 Sapphire Reserve: 25,792 points

Citi Double Cash: $136.88

Sapphire Reserve: $386.88

Citi Double Cash: $136.88

Verdict: Given the above assumptions, if you spend at least $6,844.16 in a year with your card, you’re better off with the Chase Sapphire Reserve in terms of the value of the rewards you earn.

Related: 6 lesser-known Chase Sapphire Reserve travel and shopping benefits

Considering your situation

Of course, it’s likely that none of the above scenarios perfectly fits your situation. Plus, some of the Chase Sapphire Reserve’s perks would likely provide value to you.

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So, you may want to calculate your own break-even point for the Chase Sapphire Reserve. To do so, you’ll need to consider:

  • How much do you value the Sapphire Reserve’s incremental benefits?
  • What cards would you use for travel, dining and everyday spending if you didn’t use the Sapphire Reserve?

You can use these factors to calculate your own break-even point. You’ll likely find that yours is even lower than many of the scenarios I described in this article.

And, of course, if you’d be a new Sapphire Reserve cardholder, you may also want to consider the value of the Sapphire Reserve’s current sign-up bonus.

Related: What credit score do you need for the Chase Sapphire Reserve card?

Bottom line

As you can see, the Chase Sapphire Reserve can make sense for many readers. The Chase Sapphire Reserve can be incredibly rewarding — especially when you factor in the 75,000-point sign-up bonus after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening — but it isn’t the best option for everyone. So, do the math to ensure the card is worth getting or keeping in your wallet.

For more details, check out our full reviews of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Citi Double Cash.


Apply here: Chase Sapphire Reserve with 75,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening


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