by Mac Candee
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Posted: Wednesday, September 30, 2020

As an expert in travel rewards credit card travel hacking with almost 10 years of experience, I want to share something many of you have asked me about. And that is - which credit card is best to use when traveling? Of course, this is a very subjective question, which largely depends on your own situation, lifestyle and preferences. That’s why I will be making a series of blog posts on the topic, starting with the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card. I’m doing a deep dive into different options available on the market, analyzing their benefits, as well as critically assessing which one is best suited for which lifestyle.

Disclaimer: For you to "win" the points game, you MUST always pay your credit cards in full and not carry a balance!

Before we get into the topic any further, I want to give a general advise anyone who has an interest in travel credit card hacking. It is very important that if you’re carrying a balance and acquiring interest, you must pay those off in full first. Your number one goal is to always be debt free, after which you can focus on the travel rewards points. If you’re paying interest, it’s going to be between 18%-30%, which can easily get out of hand. This will completely negate the value you receive from getting points from traveling, because you’ll lose all that money in interest. As a rule of thumb, always pay off your credit cards at the end of the month. That’s why it’s really crucial to be responsible, and never spend more than you can pay back, and clear all debt before going further.

Why am I writing this post?

A quick disclaimer - I am not sponsored or endorsed by this company. Everything I’m saying in this blog post is my own personal opinion and experience. I realize this card might not be for everyone, so I’m taking a very critical approach while writing this, as to give you all the information you need in a useful way. I’m not getting any money from writing this, I’m just sharing my positive experience, because this card has saved me so much money with my current lifestyle. My motivation in writing this blog post is to tell you what the benefits are and how this has positively impacted my life, so you can make your own educated decision. If you have even somewhat of a similar lifestyle to me, then this credit card can benefit you as well.

Now, let’s get on to the Chase Sapphire Credit Card. After trying many different options out there, I have to say, this one has been the most worth it. Trying all the benefits, comparing that to the annual fee, I have come to the conclusion that the Chase Sapphire reserve is the best on the market, for my particular spending habits. Depending on your lifestyle however, the best one for you might differ. For me, this is the most worth it option out there, because before the pandemic I spent a big part of my disposable income on travelling, as well as going out with friends. These were the two main things I was investing my money in. This card is great for people with a similar lifestyle and expenses, because they will see the most benefit from it. I honestly feel like this covers a lot of people, because who doesn’t like to travel and hang out with friends?

Why do I say that you might ask? Well, it’s all in the benefits.

First off, you get three times the amount of points on travel and dining purcahses when using the Chase Sapphire Reserve card in comparison to others. This is to say that when you spend your money in those two categories (dining and travel) you can quickly build up your points and earn rewards. Just using my credit card for my daily spending has done wonders in giving me the opportunity to turn those points into free travel later throughout the year.

Benefits: Sign up Bonus $750 when redeemed in the Travel Portal (50,000 points)

The sign up bonus is one of the most lucrative aspects of a credit card. It will give you the biggest amount of points, which you can then spend at will. This can be a great way for you to make the most out of your travel, save on trips and experiences, while having fun adventures.

Make sure that the minimum sign up amount - which is what you have to spend in the first few months after signing up - makes sense for you. If you’re not going to be spending $4000 in your next three months after signing up, then it’s better to wait until you have a large purchase coming up. If that’s still not something that you have planned in the future, then you can see if your friends or family have a large purchase planned, and open up the card at the same time. You can then make it for them through the credit card, and they can pay you back either in cash or through Venmo.

But I want to reiterate how important it is - no matter how you’re going to play it out - that you make sure to hit that minimum sign up spending amount, so that you can get your bonus, because that’s usually the most lucrative point in opening a new credit card.


Initial Sign up Bonus

I’m going to be honest here and tell you that the initial $1500 (it’s $750 now) sign up bonus was the main reason I opened this credit card. The annual fee at that time was $450, so that made me a bit hesitant at first. And for good reason - that’s a lot of money to spend on having a credit card. But since I’m talking about it, you can probably guess that there is something that outweighs these costs. Don’t dismiss this just based on the yearly fee alone, since I’m going to tell you all about the benefits this card offers, and why they can totally outweigh this fee.

Airport lounge access & Priority Pass

Once I opened up the card, I got access to one of its benefits, which was the priority pass. At this time I was still working in my corporate job, which meant I was travelling a lot for work. Aside from that, I was using my weekends to also explore the world and enjoy myself. This meant for me, that I was sometimes in airports up to four times per week, plus any layovers. As you can imagine, spending so much time in an airport meant that I would have to spend quite a bit of time there, also sometimes get a meal, because it would take some time before I could get on the plane. And now with this card, I had access to the lounge. Most airports that I’ve been to, which was around 50 different airports just in that first year, all had lounges, and some of them even had restaurant credits using the credit card. To put that simply, this card got me into a nice comfortable space I could relax, with free food and beverages. To add to that sometimes with the restaurants inside, I got $20-$30 in credit just by swiping my card, and a guest I would bring with me would also have this benefit. This was for no other reason besides that I paid my yearly fee.

This made me really think about my spending when I’m waiting for departure, and I realized that most times I would spend $25 and up on just food there. The card was not only allowing me a more comfortable experience, but it was saving me a lot of money, since I was traveling a lot and there were many times when I was forced to get my meals there. This made me realize that every week I was saving upwards of $100, even more if I was bringing someone with me.

This was definitely a perk that made me appreciate the card that much more. It totally changed my travel experience from a nuisance at the airport, to an enjoyable time. I couldn’t really imagine being able to relax at the lounge before, and now I was doing it pretty much every singe time I had to go somewhere. I could get there early, have a beer, some snacks and just enjoy my time before departure.

This was something that really made me value the benefits that this card provided. Just by doing the math and realizing how much money it saved me while traveling, I already knew it was worth it for me. But of course, not everyone has the intense flight schedule I used to have. That’s why I’m going to talk a bit about the other benefits.

Global Entry or TSA Pre✓® Fee Credit

Another very convenient reward was global entry and TSA pre-check reimbursement. If you don’t know what that is, in most USA airports there are faster lines, where you don’t have to take off your shoes, you don’t have to go in the larger metal detector or X-Ray scanner, you can leave your laptop in the bag as well as your liquids. You can basically just toss your baggage through the conveyor belt, because they’ve already vetted you as a safer traveler. Another bonus is that when you leave the USA and then return, you have a special expedited line that gets you back into the country much quicker with less questioning, usually from the customs' agent, because you’ve already had that background check, that interview with the transportation security administration in the past to make sure that you’re safer. That was another $95-$99 that this saved me in reimbursements. As soon as I swiped my card, I got a credit back for that, which was another huge saving.

Travel Purchase Reimbursement

You also get $300 back every single year for anything that is categorized as a travel purchase. Train tickets, plane tickets, hotels, taxis, ubers, lyfts - all these travel related costs would get reimbursed. I usually get them back right away with the start of the new year, so that right there is negating a big part of the annual fee. As you can tell, the annual fee’s value gets chopped down very quickly.

What are the benefits now?

The chase Sapphire Reserve has changed since I opened up the card. Something that can be a big cause for doubt is the new annual fee - which is $550. Even for me, that’s a bit much. But at the same time, if we take each benefit and look at it from the top down

3x points on travel worldwide - What this means is that for every dollar you spend for a travel purchase, you’re getting three cents. For every $10 you spend, you’re getting 30 cents, and so on. If you spend a $1000 on travel, you get $30 cash back, or you can redeem it in the Chase Sapphire Reserve travel portal, where it’s worth 1.5 times that. Now those $30 you could have gotten as cash back are worth $45 towards hotels, car rentals, vacation packages. Their travel portal has really impressive rewards options, and they are competitive - usually the same price you will find searching on Google. It’s a great way to maximize your points even more. If you look at it like that, you’re getting 4.5 cents for every dollar you spend. That’s on travel, as well as dining - and best of all, it’s worldwide. That’s a huge saver on its own. I would say I get hundreds of dollars a year just on these categories alone, in terms of points towards travel. This helps me reach my goal of seeing the world, because now I can fly and explore more through those benefits.

$300 annual credit - Something I touched on previously, and it is still a part of the Chase Sapphire reserve card benefits. This is something you get back every single year when you’re using the card. If you subtract that from the annual fee, it will leave you with a fee that’s $250, which is not bad at all, and we’re still not through all the benefits. One thing to note is there are so many types of transactions that count as travel related, I encourage you to read the fine print, but I have gotten reimbursements for hotels, taxis, uber, trains, flights, etc.

Complimentary priority pass. - Another thing I already mentioned that they still have, and it’s a great benefit. Even if you only travel once a month, this is a great option to make use of, because if your airport has a lounge, you can pretty much skip the food costs related to waiting for the airplane, since most lounges have free snacks and beverages. From my experiences, I can say that their snacks can easily equate a full meal, and that’s something you get for free while waiting comfortably at the airport. They have small sandwiches, a wide variety of beverages, and it’s generally been awesome.

You can do the math for yourself here. Say you go to the airport only once per month, and it saves you the cost of two drinks and a meal. Multiply this by 12 months, and you will see that this is a huge savings just by itself.

Complimentary Doordash pass subscription - This is a new addition to their benefits. It’s also very useful, because you can get your orders with reduced service fee and a free delivery. This is from thousands of restaurants. You also earn up to $120 in statement credits. So if you sign up for the card this year, you will get $60 back, and then another $60 in 2021. I personally don’t use Doordash that much, but the pass is great if you just want to grab a meal, and you also get statement credits. If you think about this as well, it knocks the annual fee down even more.

10x points on Lyft rides - What this means, is that for every $1 you spend on Lyft, you’re getting back 10 cents in travel points. You can redeem those points in the travel portal as well, and they will be worth 1.5 times more. If you use ride-sharing apps frequently, this can be a definite game changer for you, because you can build up so many points just from this alone. They also give you a complementary one year of Pink Lyft membership, which is worth $199. This gives you 15% off car rides, as well as priority airport pickups, a more flexible cancellation policy as well as other savings opportunities.

Here is an example of how these benefits weigh against the annual fee.

Keep in mind that these are assumed spending and travel habits so it may not necessarily be the same numbers you would have.




Final Thoughts

These are some main benefits. If you live in a big city where you have to commute more often, if you order food here and there, if you dine out, if you travel the world, if you go to airports frequently, you’re really going to make the most out of this card. You have to definitely consider what the benefits are and if they fit your lifestyle, because if they do, then you’re going to make even more out of your money that you normally spend. For me, this has given me thousands of dollars per year in savings, just by adding all those benefits together. These aren’t even all the benefits, you also get things like auto rental, collision damage waiver, trip cancellation and interruption insurance, travel and emergency assistant services, they extend your warranty on some products, as well as service protection. You can learn more about these here.

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