The Chase Sapphire Reserve® launched in 2016 and quickly became one of the top travel credit cards you could have in your wallet. At the time, I was a credit cards writer at a fintech company and covered the card’s inaugural 100,000-point sign-up bonus, its luxury benefits and easy-to-use travel credit that made it much less expensive than it looked.

But there was one big problem: I couldn’t apply for it. Just a year earlier, Chase began declining applications for its flagship credit cards if the person applying had opened five or more new credit card accounts in the previous 24 months. I’ve always thought this unofficial 5/24 rule has been fair as it stops serial credit card “churners” from opening new accounts with the bank just to get the bonus and then canceling them.

But because I’ve opened and kept so many credit cards over the years, it wasn’t until 2021 that I was eligible to apply for the Sapphire Reserve. Here’s why it was worth the wait.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve Is Cheap for a Premium Credit Card

Like other premium travel credit cards, the Chase Sapphire Reserve charges a steep annual fee — though it first carried a $450 fee, it’s since jumped to $550.

But what sets the card apart from similar cards, such as the Platinum Card® from American Express, is the $300 annual travel credit. Of course, Amex also offers travel-related credits on its premium card, but they can be difficult to use unless you have the right travel habits.

In contrast, the Sapphire Reserve’s travel credit works on just about any travel-related expense. Even casual travelers will find it easy to max out the benefit every year. If spending at least $300 per year on travel is something you do anyway, that cuts the effective yearly cost of the card to $250.

The Rewards Program Is Unparalleled

There are very few points and miles experts who would place another rewards program ahead of Chase Ultimate Rewards in terms of flexibility and value. Chase isn’t the only bank that has transfer partners, and it doesn’t even have the most.

But with other premium cards from Amex and Citi, for instance, you have to transfer your points to a partner airline or hotel brand to have any hopes of getting more than 1 cent per point in value. In contrast, the Sapphire Reserve offers an impressive 1.5 cents per point if you use them to book travel through Chase.

Of course, you can get more than that with certain transfer partners and the right itinerary. But that typically requires a lot of research, and if you don’t have the time, savvy or desire for that, the Sapphire Reserve still makes maximizing your points easy.

What’s more, if you have other cards that earn Ultimate Rewards, you can transfer points earned with those cards to your Reserve account. For example, I have the Chase Freedom FlexSM,  which gives me 5 points per dollar on rotating categories and travel booked through Chase. If I transfer those points to my Reserve account and use them to book travel, the effective rate is 7.5%, which you’ll be hard-pressed to find elsewhere.

The Perks Make it the Perfect Travel Companion

When it comes to airport lounge access, my favorite card is the Platinum Card from Amex. In addition to the Priority Pass lounge network, you’ll also gain access to The Centurion Lounge, Delta Sky Club, Escape lounges and more.

But one thing Sapphire Reserve cardholders get that Platinum cardholders don’t is the restaurant benefit through Priority Pass. At select airports, cardholders can get a credit — usually $28 — for themselves and one guest at designated restaurants. That’s up to $56 in free food, which can provide a better value than some airport lounges.

The card’s trip protection benefits also make buying supplemental travel insurance almost unnecessary. For starters, the rental car insurance is primary, which means you don’t need to file a claim with your personal insurance company first — most cards offer secondary coverage, which may just cover your personal policy’s deductible.

There’s also just the sheer volume of travel insurance benefits, including:

  • Trip cancellation and interruption insurance
  • Trip delay reimbursement
  • Baggage delay insurance
  • Lost luggage reimbursement
  • Travel accident insurance
  • Emergency evacuation and transportation
  • Emergency medical and dental benefit
  • Roadside assistance
  • Travel and emergency assistance

While other premium travel cards come close, I’m not aware of any other card that offers all of these.

The Bottom Line

The Chase Sapphire Reserve is hard to beat if you’re a frequent traveler, and it could even be worth considering for casual travelers who can use the perks enough to make up for the annual fee. And while I don’t think the card’s rewards rates are the best — 3 points on travel and dining and 1 point on everything else — the redemption value and flexibility still make it worth my while.