Chase Sapphire Reserve vs. AmEx Platinum: Which premium credit card is best for booking flights
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- The Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Platinum Card® from American Express are two of the most rewarding premium credit cards.
- Both offer bonus reward points when you purchase flights, though they earn points differently, and both come with different benefits.
- One easy tie-breaker: If you're purchasing third-party travel insurance, you're probably better off using the Platinum Card for your flights.
Premium credit and charge cards come with high annual fees, but it's easy to make up for them by taking advantage of the benefits the cards offer and the rewards they earn.
At least, that's definitely the case with two of the most popular premium cards: the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the American Express Platinum, both of which offer a ton of perks and benefits for travelers, as well as big rewards on spending.
The Sapphire Reserve earns bonus points on all dining and travel, while the AmEx Platinum earns extra on airfare booked with the airline. With that overlap, which is the better card to use for buying flights?
The Sapphire Reserve earns 3x points per dollar spent on all travel and dining purchases. The Platinum Card, though, earns 5x points per dollar spent on airfare purchased directly from the airline, and prepaid hotels booked through the AmEx Travel website.
If you're deciding between the two cards and you tend to book a lot of flights directly, or if you have both cards and can't decide which to use to buy a flight, that means the AmEx Platinum is the best option since it earns an extra two points per dollar, right? Well, not necessarily.
It's tricky to compare American Express' Membership Rewards (MR) points to Chase's Ultimate Rewards (UR) points, because the most valuable way to use both types is to transfer them to airline frequent flyer or hotel loyalty partners.
In many cases, frequent flyer "award" tickets aren't connected to the ticket's cash price. Let's say a round-trip award ticket costs 30,000 points. The value of those points depend on the cash price for the ticket you can get with them, and that cash price can rise and fall. Depending on the airline and flights, either MR or UR points could be worth more, and it might be the other way around the next time.
Putting aside transfers, though, the most valuable way to use points is to purchase "paid" travel with them - using MR points in the AmEx Travel website, and UR points through Chase's travel portal. In this scenario, AmEx MR points are worth 1¢ each toward tickets or hotels. Chase UR points are worth the same amount, but Chase gives a 50% bonus to Sapphire Reserve cardholders, so each UR point is worth 1.5¢ for anyone with that card.
If you plan to use the points you earn to purchase travel later on, then, 5x MR points per dollar spent on your flight this time translates to 5¢ per dollar, while 3x UR points, each worth 1.5¢, is worth 4.5¢. Using that fixed value as a basis, the American Express Platinum Card would be the better choice.
Unfortunately, if you book most of your flights through online travel agencies, or a travel portal that your office uses, rather than directly with the airline, the Platinum Card will only earn 1x point per dollar. Along those lines, if you're deciding between which of the two cards to open and you also spend a lot on trains, non-prepaid hotels, taxis, or rental cars, the Sapphire Reserve would be the better choice.
The Platinum Card has better airfare rewards, but the Sapphire Reserve has better protections
While the rewards on airfare are better with the Platinum Card, the Sapphire Reserve comes with mostly better travel protections when you use it to buy airfare. Keeping that in mind, you'll have to decide whether the better rewards from the Platinum Card outweigh the protections offered by the Sapphire Reserve.
Chase's premium card comes with trip and baggage delay insurance. When you're traveling and you're delayed for at least six hours, or overnight, you're covered for up to $500 of incidentals per person traveling with you whose ticket was purchased with the card. That covers things like hotel accommodations, meals, toiletries, and a change of clothing - really, anything that can be considered a "reasonable" expense.
Similarly, if your baggage is delayed, things like clothing and toiletries are covered up to a certain amount until your bag is delivered.
The AmEx Platinum doesn't offer similar coverage for common travel issues, although it does offer benefits that you're (hopefully) much less likely to need, like accidental death/dismemberment travel insurance. It also covers luggage loss or damage, although this doesn't include baggage delays.
More points, or more protections?
If you're deciding which of the two cards to open, and you book a lot of airfare directly with airlines, then you'll need to consider which is more valuable to you: the AmEx Platinum's higher rate of rewards earning, or the Chase Sapphire Reserve's trip delay coverage. Of course, there are plenty of other differences between the two cards that you should weigh.
If you have both already, and aren't sure which to use to pay for tickets, it might be worth thinking about the likelihood that you'll need the trip delay coverage.
For instance, if you're flying trans-Atlantic on a budget carrier like Norwegian Air Shuttle, which operates on thin margins and doesn't have many spare aircraft standing by - meaning that delays tend to be longer - you might want to go with the Sapphire Reserve. The same would be true if you're flying routes with lots of connections.
Alternatively, if you're buying a lot of tickets between New York and Los Angeles, a route which has ton of flights each day, it might be worth going for more points. Similarly, if you're buying a more expensive flight, the extra points from the Platinum Card might be more compelling.
It's also worth considering whether not you'll purchase third-party travel insurance for your trip, to cover a broader set of contingencies. Third-party plans from providers like Allianz often offer delay coverage, so you won't need to worry about what your credit card covers.
Just keep in mind that this comparison only relates to purchasing airfare. The Sapphire Reserve earns more on dining and other types of travel, so that could change the equation - make sure to read up on the differences between the two cards if you don't have either of them yet.
Click here to learn more about the Chase Sapphire Reserve from Insider Picks' partner: The Points Guy.
Click here to learn more about the Platinum Card from American Express from Insider Picks' partner: The Points Guy.
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