I’m at a bit of a credit card crossroads. For the last several years, the Chase Sapphire Reserve has been my go-to, everyday spender. I spend way more than I should on dining, so the CSR’s 3 point per dollar earn on that category really works for me. However, the game is changing. American Express has moved even further upmarket with their Platinum card and Citi, if all rumors are true, is lining up to relaunch the Prestige card, and aiming it squarely at the Sapphire Reserve. So today, I’m going to try and line everything up, side-by-side, perk-by-perk and figure out what the best premium travel card of 2018 is. It’s going to be the Chase Sapphire Reserve vs the Amex Platinum vs the New Citi Prestige.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve
First up, the Chase Sapphire Reserve with a $450 annual fee. Headline features include a $300, broad category annual travel credit, a 50,000 point signup bonus worth $1,095 at current Points Reckoning valuations, $750 in travel directly through Chase or $500 in cash. Rounding out the big items is a Priority Pass Select membership, that is borderline useless on the domestic side but potentially fantastic on the international one, 3 points per dollar on travel and dining plus 1 point per dollar on everything else. Finally, we’ve got some other nuanced differences that we’ll get to in a bit.
The Amex Platinum
Next, is the American Express Platinum. Amex is charging $550 for this card. For this annual fee, one get’s $200 in Uber credits that were recently made harder to use, a $200 annual airline fee credit that can also be tricky, 5 Membership Rewards per dollar on airfare booked directly with an airline or via Amex Travel, 5 Membership Rewards per dollar on prepaid hotels booked directly through Amex and 1 point per dollar on everything else. Travel wise, we’ve got a best in class lounge program. Cardholders get access to American Express Centurion lounges, arguably the best in the country, access to Delta Skyclubs when flying that carrier and a Priority Pass Select membership. Finally, the current signup bonus is 60,000 points worth $1,356.
The Citi Prestige
Last on our list of three is the new Citi Prestige Card. Or, more accurately, what everyone thinks the new Citi Prestige will be based on rumors of varying reliability. Here, we’ve got a $495 annual fee. Worth noting, is that none of these are waived the first year, as is often the case with lower-tiered cards. The signup bonus is a big mystery. We’re expecting the card in January 2019, but exactly how it will come out of Citi’s womb is still anyone’s guess. Due to some historical precedent, I’m going to just ballpark it at 50,000 ThankYou points worth $930 at a valuation of 1.86¢ a piece. Many players in the game are hoping for 75,000 and praying for 100. If either of those turn out to be accurate, we’ll assign a value of 1,395 or $1,860.
On the earn side, Citi is allegedly going for the Sapphire Reserve’s jugular with 5 points per dollar on dining and air travel, 3 on hotels, 3 on cruises and 1 on everything else. For the moment, the 2 point per dollar bonus on the hard-to-define entertainment category will continue, though it’s rumored to be facing a deletion. On the reimbursement side of things, a $250 annual travel credit is going to be provided. Next up is the 4th night free benefit that just might be the most compelling reason to open a Citi Prestige card. The issuer will reimburse the cardholder for the cost of the 4th night after 3 consecutive paid hotel nights booked through Citi. At the moment it is unlimited. A lot of people out there have gleaned thousands of dollars in value from this perk alone. However, it is rumored that Citi is going to be capping this benefit at just 2 times per year. Though still potentially worth a ton, it’s a devaluation nonetheless.
Going a Little Deeper
Ok, so we’ve gone over the basics, now let’s get a little more detailed and put them side-by-side. Starting with some annual spend analysis. As I have done in the past, I’m going to use my own 2017 spending patterns and apply them to a hypothetical $20,000 run annually through the card. Also worth noting, is that not all bonus categories line up exactly with their cards earn rate. This is because we’re dealing with a mix of bonus and non-bonus categories.
Yearly Earning Potential
Kicking it off is the Chase Sapphire Reserve with a relatively easy to calculate $614.95.
Next up, we’ve got the Platinum Card from American Express. It’s only earning $532.00 from it’s limited bonus categories, but that’s not why most people hold it.
Finally, it’s the new Citi Prestige. Here, we’ve got a best-in-class earn of $650.63. Though ThankYou Points are worth about 25% less than Ultimate or Membership Rewards, you do get a lot more of them.
Next, let’s talk statement credits. The simplest to explain come from the Sapphire Reserve and the Citi Presitge. Chase will reimburse cardholders up to $300 annually for any charge that codes to travel. This is just fantastic. Airfare, hotels, Ubers, subways, it really covers a lot. At the very moment, Citi Limits their credit to airlines. However, rumor has it that this will be changing in January to a much broader travel one, like Chase offers.
Finally, we’ve got the Amex Platinum. It theoretically has the most lucrative statement credit scheme, but its also the biggest pain in the ass. Let’s start with Uber. American Express will reimburse the cardholder $15 monthly, plus a $20 bonus in December. This equals $200 annually. So that works out fine for someone like me who use the service frequently. But what about someone who doesn’t? You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who couldn’t come up with $300 a year to take care of that Chase credit, but there are plenty of people who never use Uber. For them, this credit is worthless. We’ve also got a $200 airline credit that Amex purposefully makes difficult to use. According to their terms of service, one can use this credit to offset things like baggage fees, in-flight purchases, etc. Basically, anything that’s not airfare. To further limit its usefulness, Amex makes you chose a single airline, and can only change this selection once per year.
Back in my video about the new Amex Gold, I had a whole slew of people gettin’ real hot under the collar about the fact that I failed to mention the other thing Amex airline credits can be used for, gift cards. Truth being told, when I made that video, I forgot about that option. Nevertheless, even though Amex specifically excludes gift cards from eligible purchases, real world data suggests that purchasing airline gift card directly from an airline will trigger the credit. Lastly, there’s the Saks Fifth Avenue credit. $100 per year. This is the toughest for me. I never shop at Saks. I buy most of my cloths from Amazon or Costco. However, like the airline credit, there appears to be some data points out there that claim, like the airline credit before it, a Saks gift card purchase will be reimbursed. I have yet to try it, and your mileage may vary, but it is an option.
Purchase Protection and Insurances
Next, I want to talk about various purchase protections and insurances, but a totally side by side of these benefits is likely an article unto itself. That said, I’m going to run over what I consider the important parts. First up, is rental car coverage. All offer collision damage waivers, negating one’s need to purchase it from the rental car company. However, only the Chase Sapphire Reserve offers primary coverage. This means it kicks in before your personal insurance, the others do not. Furthermore, only Chase and Amex will cover loss of use, which is basically the rental car company’s theoretical lost revenue due to the car being out of service. So, for rental car coverage, use your Chase Sapphire Reserve.
Trip interruption coverage, Citi gives you $5K per trip, which really isn’t enough, Chase goes up to 20 and Amex will do nothing. That last bit is really disappointing. Also along those lines, Chase will cover lost bags up to $3,000 person, Citi Prestige cardholders will enjoy the same and Amex only goes $2,000. Those sounds like decent limits, but when you consider many people travel with expensive camera gear, or SCUBA equipment, it’s cutting things pretty close.
The last ancillary benefit I wanted to spend time talking about is purchase protection. Starting with Chase, if an item is lost, stolen or damaged within 120 days of purchase, you will be reimbursed the cost up to $10,000 per claim and $50,000 per year. The American Express Gold Card matches these limits and terms exactly. Meanwhile, over in the Citiverse, we’ve got the same coverage, but it’s limited to just 90 days. Speaking from personal experience, my camera was stolen from a TPG event last year, and Chase stepped right in and covered it. The process was actually quite painless.
Though Citi has a lower price protection window, it does have one more feature the other two can’t touch. Price Rewind. If the Citi Prestige Cardholder finds a lower price within 60 days of purchase, the issuer will reimburse the cardholder up to $200 per item and $1,000 per year. There is even an automated tool to help manage purchases. I think this benefit is just outstanding, and a bit overlooked. It’s so valuable in fact, that I’m going to actually break it out separately during the net value summary part of this video.
Now there are very few things in this life that I love to hate more than Priority Pass. Whether it’s being turned away from an Alaska Lounge due to capacity constraints, or told I couldn’t enter The Club at PHX because it closes at 3:30 PM, I’m just generally over the program, at least as it pertains to the United States. Overseas I’ve had better luck. Unfortunately, this sad network is all Sapphire Reserve and Citi Prestige customers have to work with. On the opposite end of this spectrum is a shining glimmer of hope, the Amex Platinum, with it’s far and away better Global Lounge Collection. Included in this gem, we’ve got the fantastic American Express Centurion lounges, the crappy Priority Pass network, Delta Skyclubs, provided one is flying Delta, Escape Lounges and Airspace ones. If there is one benefit that Amex is the undisputed leader of, it’s airport lounge access.
For me personally, I’m based in Seattle, and totally spoiled for choice. We’ve got an Amex lounge, two Delta Skyclubs and two Priority Pass lounges. It’s kinda like an Amex cardholder’s playground. There’s more lounges available to the Platinum cardholder at Seatac than there are regular terminal bathrooms.
All three have Global Entry and/or TSA Precheck credits, though I think for most people one is enough. Total benefit overlap here.
The final thing I want to talk about before summing everything up is Citi’s exclusive 4th night free benefit. If one pays for a three-night hotel stay, and books through Citi, they will reimburse you the cost of the fourth. Back in the day, people used to work it so the 4th night was the most expensive. However, Citi now takes an average. As it currently stands, this benefit is unlimited. But, come September 2019, it will be capped at twice per year. Though this counts as a massive devaluation to the perk, it’s still hugely valuable.
Summing it all UP
Starting with those intro bonuses, we’ve got $1,095, $1,356 and $930. Next up is year one earn on spend from the spreadsheet a couple minutes ago. 614, 532 and 650. Annual credits are on deck. It’s easy to assign full value to both the Sapphire Reserve in the amount of $300 and $250 to the Citi Prestige. However, due to the difficulty in actually redeeming Amex’s, I’m discounting it down to $400. Remember, it was $200 for Uber, $200 for airline incidentals and $100 at Saks.
As I’ve don’t in the past, I’m going straight across the board with $100 for misc. insurances. I calculate the value of a Priority Pass Select membership at $150. Thus, that value goes to the Sapphire Reserve and NEW Citi Prestige. Here’s the math, a very conservative 5 lounge visits a year, each with a guest, and a value of $15 per entry. In prior videos, I went $10, but I’ve had a bit of a change of heart, plus inflation. However, over on the Amex side of things, I’m going $300 for the value of their Global Lounge Collection, I think it’s that much better.
For a Citi Prestige only benefit, I’m assigning a value of $500 to the 4th night free. The math is pretty obvious here, 2 free nights at $250 each.
Global Entry and Precheck get $100 across the board.
Finally, we’ve got another Citi Exclusive, Price Rewind. I personally could easily glean $200 in cash back out of this benefit. Heck, just two weeks ago I bough a new GoPro that promptly began selling for $50 cheaper. I think most could find at least this much value here as well.
The very last think we’re going to drop in are the annual fees. $450 for the Sapphire Reserve, $550 for the Amex Platinum and $495 for the new Citi Prestige. Netted all out and we’ve got 1909, 2238 and 2385.
So here we are, again left with another case study that follows a recent theme. The dethroning of the Chase Sapphire Reserve. I’ve talked before about how much I love Ultimate Rewards, they remain my favorite award currency. But, unless you’re in a very weird situation, there is really no way to make the numbers work in favor of the Sapphire Reserve. If all rumors surrounding the new Citi Prestige are accurate, it will replace the Sapphire Reserve in my wallet. As for the old man in the Premium credit card market, the Amex Platinum, I’ll likely keep it. It’s effective annual fee is $150, and to me, that’s a small price to pay for access to the Global Lounge Collection.