For some people, paying an annual fee for a credit card is an assault on their sensibilities.
For others, it's simply pre-paying for benefits you know you want.
If you're in the second camp, and I suspect you are since you're reading an article comparing two of the most expensive travel credit cards designed for regular people (I'm not talking about the AMEX Black or other cards for the uber-wealthy), this post will outline the key differences between the two kings of the court.
When it comes to premium travel reward cards, there are two that have separated themselves from the rest.
Each has a large annual fee but you get a bountiful list of perks and credits that easily make up for the annual fee – if you use them.
(it's worth noting that the Platinum Card from American Express is not a typical credit card, it allows you to carry a balance for certain charges but not all)
The Platinum Card at a Glance
The Platinum Card from American Express is a premier travel credit card that is chock full of perks many travelers would love. It includes a $200 airline travel credit with a single airline, $200 in Uber ride credits spread throughout the year, as well as a $100 Saks Fifth Avenue credit. You earn 10X points on eligible purchases at U.S. gas stations and supermarkets (on up to $15,000 in purchases) during the first 6 months of membership, also 5X Membership Rewards on prepaid hotel and flights through amextravel.com and 1X on everything else.
You get access to The American Express Global Lounge Collection which includes 1,200 airport lounges in 130 countries. This includes The Centurion Lounges, International American Express Lounges, as well as Delta Sky Club and Priority Pass Select. The card also reimburses you a $100 statement credit for Global Entry or $85 credit for TSA PreCheck once every four years (Global Entry) or 4.5 years (TSA PreCheck) – essentially getting you Global Entry or TSA PreCheck for free.
The card gives you Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status and Hilton Honors Gold Status automatically.
When you book a stay of two or more nights in a Fine Hotel & Resorts property, you get daily breakfast for two, complimentary room upgrade when available, and a property amenity valued at $100. When you book a stay of two nights or more with The Hotel Collection then you get a $100 hotel credit and room upgrade if available.
Finally, it offers a welcome bonus of 75,000 Membership Rewards after you spend $5,000 in purchases within your first six months.
There is a $550 annual fee.
Chase Sapphire Reserve at a Glance
The Chase Sapphire Reserve offers 3X points on travel and dining purchases and 1x everywhere else. It comes with a $300 travel credit that applies to all travel; you don't have to specify an airline ahead of time.
You get complimentary Priority Pass Select membership which includes 1,000+ airport lounges. It also offers a credit on Global Entry or TSA PreCheck once every four years. Simply pay the application fee with the card and Chase will issue a statement credit for the fee.
This card also increases the value of your points in the Chase Ultimate Rewards program by 50%. This means your points go further when you book travel through the Chase portal.
It offers a bonus of 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first three months.
There is a $550 annual fee.
Let's see how they compare in a variety of categories:
The reward structures on spending on each is very straightforward and similar.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve gives you 3x points on travel and dining and 1x points on everything else.
The Platinum Card from American Express gives you 5X Membership Rewards on flights booked directly with an airline or through American Express Travel. You also earn 5X on prepaid hotels booked through amextravel.com. You earn 1X on everything else.
Winner: The Platinum Card from American Express has a slight edge in this category because you earn 5X on flights and travel booked through American Express Travel. The Chase Sapphire Reservee only gives 3X on travel, but it includes dining, which the Platinum Card only offers 1X.
Welcome Bonus – 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points vs. 75,000 Membership Rewards
When it comes to the Welcome Bonus, The Platinum Card from American Express offers a 75,000 Membership Rewards whereas the Chase Sapphire Reserve offers 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points.
For The Platinum Card, you can earn the Welcome Bonus after you spend after you spend $5,000 in purchases within your first six months.
For the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you can earn the Welcome Bonus after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first three months.
We value both at around 1¢ each. You can get more value out of Chase Ultimate Rewards points if you book travel through the travel portal (1.5¢ per point), but a penny per point is the floor for its value.
This means that the cash value of each bonus is (we see very little difference in the spending requirements):
- Platinum Card from American Express – $600
- Chase Sapphire Reserve – $500
Winner: Platinum Card from American Express has a slight edge in this category. If you intend to use the Chase Ultimate Rewards points only on travel and only through the portal, the bonus is actually worth $750 and puts Chase Sapphire Reserve ahead.
Cards with travel credits are amazing. It's like your annual fee is just pre-paying these credits.
For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve has a $300 annual travel credit. When you make a travel purchase, Chase will automatically apply a statement credit for the same amount until you reach $300. You can keep track of these credits on the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. The $300 travel credit is the only credit for the Chase Sapphire Reserve card.
With the credits, the Chase Sapphire Reserve's effective annual fee is only $150.
The Platinum Card has two “travel” credits and one “shopping” credit:
- $200 Airline Fee Credit – You pick an airline and you get reimbursed for all fees (such as baggage) at that airline
- $200 Uber credits – $15 each month January – November, $20 in December. Plus VIP status.
- $100 Saks Fifth Avenue credit
With the credits, the Platinum Card's effective annual fee is only $50.
Winner: Toss-up because of how the travel credit is structured. The Platinum Card from American Express has more credit in total, but you have to specify one airline for the $200 airline fee credit and the $200 in Uber credits is only available on Uber. The Chase Sapphire Reserve is certainly more flexible because it's $300 on all travel.
Airport Lounge Access
American Express runs its network of lounges, known as The Centurion Lounges, which includes eight locations in the United States and one in China (Hong Kong). They also operate other lounges, which don't get the Centurion branding, sprinkled throughout the world. The Platinum Card gets you entry to all those lounges PLUS Delta Sky Club.
Both cards are part of the Priority Pass program, which has over 1,200 lounges worldwide.
With both Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards, you can transfer points to different airlines' loyalty programs. You simply link your reward program to your card's program and transfer points at the published rate.
American Express Travel Partners & Conversion Rates
These are the rates as of 11/5/2019, published here.
- Aer Lingus: 1000 MR = 1000 Avios
- AeroMexico: 1000 MR = 1600 Premier Points
- Aeroplan: 1000 MR = 1000 Aeroplan Miles
- Air France KLM: 1000 MR = 1000 Flying Blue Award Miles
- Alitalia: 1000 MR = 1000 Alitalia Miles
- All Nippon Airways: 1000 MR = 1000 ANA Mileage Club Miles
- Asia Miles: 1000 MR = 1000 Asia Miles
- Avianca LifeMiles: 1000 MR = 1000 LifeMiles
- British Airways: 1000 MR = 1000 Avios
- Delta Air Lines: 1000 MR = 1000 Miles
- El Al Israel Airlines: 1000 MR = 20 Matmid Points
- Emirates: 1000 MR = 1000 Skywards Miles
- Etihad Airways: 1000 MR = 1000 Etihad Guest Miles
- Hawaiian Airlines: 1000 MR = 1000 Hawaiian Miles
- Iberia Plus: 1000 MR = 1000 Avios
- Jetblue Airways: 250 MR = 200 TrueBlue points
- Qantas Loyalty: 500 MR = 500 Qantas Points
- Singapore Airlines: 1000 MR = 1000 KrisFlyer Miles
- Virgin Atlantic Airways: 1000 MR = 1000 Flying Club Miles
- Choice Privileges: 1000 MR = 1000 Choice Privileges
- Hilton Honors: 1000 MR = 2000 Hilton Honors Points
- Marriott Bonvoy: 1000 MR = 1000 Marriott Bonvoy Points
Chase Travel Partners & Conversion Rates
Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer on a 1 to 1 basis with all of their partners, which include:
- Aer Lingus
- British Airways
- Air France KLM
- Iberia Plus
- Jetblue Airways
- Singapore Airlines
- Southwest Airlines
- United Airlines
- Virgin Atlantic Airways
- IHG Rewards Club
- Marriott Bonvoy
- World of Hyatt
Winner: American Express has a long list of transfer partners, but Chase has some airlines that American Express doesn't like Southwest Airlines and United Airlines. The nod goes to American Express for the sheer number of partners, but that all depends on the airlines you tend to fly with. If you're like me and you fly Southwest practically exclusively, Chase offers better value.
Which Card is Better?
If you tally up the categories, the Platinum Card from American Express wins out on most of them (but many it's just a slight edge)… but is it the best? That depends on your needs.
The Platinum Card from American Express has travel credits that are slightly more restrictive since you have to specify an airline. The Uber credits are doled out monthly and only useful if you use Uber. The Chase Sapphire Reserve's travel credit is $300 – boom – no hassles in picking an airline.
Don't overlook the value of the Chase Ultimate Rewards points though. When used on the platform to pay for travel, you get 50% more value. If you only use it for that (and not for statement credits or gift cards), that extra 50% would tilt the scales towards Chase Sapphire Reserve for many of the above categories.
- Upgraded status: You get Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status and Hilton Honors Gold Status automatically.
- Bonuses at American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts
- Centurion Lounge access
This is the type of thing that you know if it matters to you. If you stay at a lot of Marriott properties, having Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status means you get: 25% bonus points on stays, enhanced room upgrades, 2 PM late checkout, in-room internet, and a few other nice perks. Hilton Gold is one step from their top tier (Diamond) and offers: late checkout, bottles of water, room upgrades, free breakfast, and other nice perks.
Finally, Chase recently added a DoorDash perk of zero delivery fees as well as 10X total points on Lyft rides.
Both cards are great (hence their price tag); but, ultimately, the choice of which is best is up to you.