Chase Sapphire Reserve is a fantastic card. It comes with great benefits, such as trip interruption insurance, primary auto rental collision damage waiver, Global Entry fee reimbursement and the Priority Pass benefit. The $450 annual fee can be offset with a $300 annual travel credit.
The card created a lot of buzz when it first came out and when the sign up bonus was 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points. That offer has come and gone and with the popularity of the card and the cost of that original 100K sign-up, there’s very little chance that Chase is bringing it back. The current offer is 50,000 points, while the annual fee remains the same. Despite this, the card still has wonderful benefits as is definitely worth considering.
My husband and I each opened Sapphire Reserve cards when the product was first introduced, but we later decided that one card per family was enough for us. I downgraded mine to Chase Freedom – I love the rotating 5X categories. In the past, bonus categories included grocery stores, wholesale clubs, gas stations etc. – great opportunities to earn some extra Ultimate Rewards points on the things you already buy.
Chase Sapphire Reserve’s annual travel reimbursement is calculated based on the calendar year for cards issued prior to the end of May 2017. All purchases have to post before December statement closing day. For cards issued after that date, the travel reimbursement is for the membership year. The travel credit is automatically applied to each travel-related purchase, even in small increments.
Which Purchases Qualify for Travel Credit?
Unlike American Express, Chase has a very generous definition of travel categories:
Merchants in the travel category include airlines, hotels, motels, timeshares, campgrounds, car rental agencies, cruise lines, travel agencies, discount travel sites, and operators of passenger trains, buses, taxis, limousines, ferries, toll bridges and highways, and parking lots and garages.
Basically, what counts as a travel purchase and earns 3 points/dollar should also qualify for the $300 annual travel credit. To break it down a bit, Chase Sapphire Reserve travel reimbursement credit is very broadly defined. The credit is applied to most travel-related purchases:
- Airline gift cards purchased directly from the airline and various fees, including seat upgrade fees paid before the flight
- Hotels and AirBnB
- Online travel agencies (Orbitz, Expedia, Hotels.com, Priceline etc.)
- Costco Travel
- Rental Cars
- Resorts, including ski resorts and ski lift tickets purchased from resorts
What’s really great about Sapphire Reserve annual travel credit is the reimbursement of many transit and transportation purchases:
- Ride-share services, such as Uber and Lyft
- Tram and train tickets, including all-day tickets
- Select shuttle services
- Tolls, including EZ Pass
- Parking apps, such as SpotHero and ParkMobile
- Public parking garages in select cities
I really like traveling by train in Europe. The trains run on time, they are clean and comfortable, and I don’t have to deal with airport security. So I am really happy to see that train tickets are eligible for travel credits!
How to Maximize Travel Purchases
As you can see, there are lots of ways to redeem your Sapphire Reserve travel credits. One way to maximize your credit is to make your travel-related purchases from the right merchants.
Going skiing? Rent your equipment from a rental shop that’s part of the resort instead of renting skies from a shop in town. Need ski lessons? Check if the ski school is part of the ski resort. It’s always a good practice to compare resort prices for these services to the same services offered off the resort, in a nearby town or village, to make sure you aren’t overspending.
If the hotel or resort has a tours/excursions desk, the tours charged to the room should also trigger the travel credit. Often, hotels and free-standing travel agencies sell the same tours. Charging the tour or excursion to your hotel room should trigger the credit. If the price is the same, it makes sense to book the tour through the hotel.
I’ve seen reports that Disney tickets purchased from Undercovertourist.com are eligible for travel credit. Hotel restaurants not charged to the room have also been reimbursed.
Some frequent travelers reported that cruise excursions booked prior to the cruise starting date coded as travel purchases and therefore were eligible for travel credit. So if you are thinking about booking excursions, it might be a good idea to do so before the cruise.
What’s Not Eligible for Travel Credit
There are also lots of charges that don’t code as travel according to Chase, such as purchases made on board a cruise ship or vacation rental websites.
Please note that some merchants that provide transportation and travel-related services are not included in this category; for example, real estate agents, websites or owners that rent vacation properties, in-flight goods and services, on-board cruise line goods and services, sightseeing activities, tourist attractions, merchants within airports, and merchants that rent vehicles for the purpose of hauling. In addition, the purchasing of points or miles does not qualify in this category.
I’ve seen conflicting reports about popular vacation rental site, VRBO, coding as travel purchase. When looking for vacation property on VRBO, it’s always a good idea to check if the same property is available on AirBnB. Often, the same property is listed on both sites. Properties booked on AirBnB would qualify for travel credit, so that’s a good way to save on vacation rentals.
Increase the Value of Ultimate Rewards Points With Sapphire Reserve
Sapphire Reserve is just one of ultimate Ultimate Rewards earning cards. Other cards include:
- Chase Freedom
- Chase Freedom Unlimited
- Chase Sapphire Preferred
- Ink Business Cash
- Ink Business Unlimited
- Ink Business Preferred
Points earned with Freedom, Freedom Unlimited, Ink Business Cash and Ink Business Unlimited are earned as cashback and can’t be redeemed for travel unless they are transferred to one of the premium cards, i.e. cards that have an annual fee.
A great way to use Ultimate Rewards points is to use them to book travel through the Chase travel portal. You can book domestic flights, non-chain hotels, rental cards, tours and cruises. I’ve booked great non-chain hotels and used the points to purchase cheap domestic airfare through the portal a couple of times. In those cases, booking flights through the portal was cheaper than transferring Ultimate Rewards points to a partner airline (make sure you do that math).
If you have a few cards earning Ultimate Rewards points it makes sense to transfer them to Sapphire Reserve in order to get the biggest bang for your buck. Ultimate rewards points earned with Ink Business Preferred or Sapphire Preferred are worth only 1.25 cents when redeemed through the portal. If you transfer all your Ultimate Rewards points to Sapphire Reserve, the points are then worth 1.5 cents/point.
Ultimate Rewards points earned with the no fee cards turn from cash back into super valuable travel points you can use to book so many things! Every so often I transfer the points I earned with my Freedom card to my husband’s Sapphire Reserve.
It’s very easy to transfer points to another person in your household. Log into your Ultimate Rewards account and click on See All button on the right.
You’ll then see the option to combine all your points.
Here are a couple of things to keep in mind about Chase Sapphire Reserve. Purchases that qualify for travel credit don’t earn Ultimate Rewards points. If, for whatever reason, you aren’t traveling in a given year, don’t lose your credit. Buy an airline gift card directly from the airline or a hotels.com gift card to maximize savings.
Things are always shifting in the world of credit cards and travel rewards, so this list is by no means exhaustive. What’s working today, might not work tomorrow.
What unexpected travel-related charges were covered by your travel credit on Chase Sapphire Reserve?