Is Chase Sapphire Preferred the best flexible travel rewards card?

After holding a number of rewards credit cards affiliated with a specific program, I signed up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card that allows you to transfer points to a number of partners for travel rewards. I also scored a high sign-up bonus and liked the fact that there is no foreign-exchange fee. Read on to see, who is the best candidate for this card!

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The Chase Sapphire Preferred is one of the most frequently reviewed and recommended travel rewards cards among bloggers. Here is a summary of the key features:

  • Chase Sapphire Pref TableSign-up bonus of 40,000 points, worth about $680, after spending $4,000 in three months – that’s a good bonus, but a pretty high minimum spend
  • Earn Points for Spend
    You earn 2 points per US$ spent on travel and 1p/$ on everything else – that’s a good earn rate of 1.7-3.4ct/$; other cards offer 2ct/$ on everything or higher earn rates on specific categories
  • Spend Points on Travel Bookings
    You can use your Ultimate Reward (UR) points to make travel bookings through Chase and pay at a rate of 1.25ct/point – it’s a 25% bonus compared to many other cards, but not as good as the 1.33ct/pt – 1.66ct/pt Citi ThankYou points offer
  • Transfer Points to Partners
    Best feature of the card: You can transfer the UR points to a number of hotel and airline partners, like United, Virgin Atlantic, Singapore Airlines or Hyatt. It’s the best use of UR points!
  • Primary rental car insurance – while many cards offer insurance, it usually is secondary, so your own insurance comes first! This simplifies issues with rental cars and allows you to turn down the expensive insurance offered by all rental car companies
  • Visa Signature benefits
  • $95 annual fee (waived first year), no foreign exchange fee, EMV chip

The Sapphire Preferred card gets the basics for a travel card right: There is no foreign exchange fee and it has at least an EMV chip – any card without these features can’t really call itself a travel card!
The sign-up bonus of 40,000 points will get you a free ticket or several free hotel nights, but there are better sign-up offers from other cards, like Citibank Prestige. It also comes with a high minimum spend of $4,000 over three months, so make sure that works for you before signing up!
SQ FBedThe best feature that makes the Chase Sapphire Preferred card so popular is the ability to transfer points to travel partners. The list includes the airlines United Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, Korean Air, British Airways and Southwest Airlines, as well as the hotel chains Hyatt, IHG, Marriott and Ritz-Carlton. That’s a very good list of partners, giving you access to all three big airline alliances and a premium carrier like Singapore Airlines. The best uses are Singapore Airlines and Hyatt, giving you the most value for your points. For me personally, the list of partners of Citibank Prestige is more attractive with more premium carriers – I typically use my points for aspirational first or business class tickets on top airlines.
You can also book travel directly through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, redeeming your points at a rate of 1.25ct/pt. That’s convenient and best utilized for cheap economy tickets, non-chain hotels or rental cars, but the value is likely to be less per point than a transfer to the partners for an aspirational booking!
A very good and often overlooked feature is the primary rental car insurance, allowing you to decline the expensive insurance offered by the rental car companies. Different from most other cards, the Sapphire Preferred provides primary insurance, not secondary insurance, requiring you to first utilize your own car insurance!
The Sapphire Preferred has an annual fee of $95 (waived in the first year), so you need to spend at least $5,588 per year to earn enough points to make up for the annual fee. There is no annual bonus with the card, so you need to spend a lot to make this card work for you!
The Chase customer service is good, but not great. I’d rate it higher than Capital One, but behind Citibank and American Express. I had a number of issues with the card being blocked for international purchases from reputable vendors, never a pleasant thing to deal with while traveling abroad!

Bottomline, if you want to earn a flexible points currency that you can transfer to different partners, rather than earning points with one specific partner, and are a big spender, the Chase Sapphire is a strong option. Make it A good sign-up bonus and good earn rates, combined with the transfer options are a strong package. It works best, if you are flexible with your travel plans and want to redeem for aspirational, international travel in premium airline cabins and stays at high-end hotels.
If you don’t like the list of partners or want better customer service, check out the competing offers from American Express or Citibank.
If you are more likely to redeem for US domestic economy tickets or are not flexible with your travel dates, a card with a higher earn rate and redemption for any available seat or room might be a better fit, like the Barclays’ Arrival Card or CapitalOne Venture card.
If you don’t want to deal with different cards or the complexity of category specific earn rates and redemption processes, a Citibank Cashback card with a flat 2% cashback for everything might be easier for you!
Personally, I still hold the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, but it has been replaced by the Citibank Prestige because of the better earn rate, better perks and better customer service!

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