My start to learning about saving money on travel happened by chance. I was in the travel section at the library and happened to come across Nomadic Matt’s How to Travel the World on $50 a Day. He went into using credit cards to get points and miles near the beginning of the book, and I basically skipped over that part, thinking that I didn’t want to mess with my credit by unnecessarily opening credit cards.
It took a couple of years, but I ended up being convinced and we opened the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which I now love. We opened it when the card was brand new, so the sign-up bonus was a very high 100,000 points for spending $4,000 within the first three months. Sadly, it’s now only 50,000 so the Chase Sapphire Preferred, with its lower annual fee and 60,000 point sign-up bonus, may actually make more sense for you. More details on the Preferred and what we’ve gotten for free with our Reserve later.
One-hundred thousand is a crazy amount of points, and we figured out that we could probably pay for two round-trip flights to Europe with just the sign-up bonus, especially if we flew out of Toronto, which cuts costs approximately in half versus leaving out of Cleveland. Toronto is a 6 hour drive away and Cleveland is 1, but I’ve spent enough time on layovers in Toronto to have driven home more quickly than flying to Cleveland and then driving home, so this is usually our plan for international flights.
The annual fee is $450, and I thought paying an annual fee would be a total waste of money, but the CSR automatically credits you with the first $300 you spend on travel in a year, and they’re fairly generous about what they allow, basically bringing down the annual fee to $150. Right now, we’ve had the card for about two and a half years, so we’ve paid the annual fee twice, but it has been during three calendar years, so we’ve been given the travel credit three times, therefore having spent $900 and having gotten $900 back in credit. Below, I’ll also list out the benefits we’ve gotten from the CSR, which shows that it’s definitely been worth it for us.
Chase Sapphire Reserve vs. Chase Sapphire Preferred
The Chase Sapphire Preferred is similar, but with less perks and a lower annual fee. The Reserve gives you 3x points on travel and dining, but the Preferred will give you 2x. They both come with travel insurance, which we’ve used on non-refundable flights, and they have car rental coverage.The Reserve will also give you some extras like crediting you back the fee for either Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, plus a Priority Pass lounge card. (Priority Pass lounges are found in most major airports and have restaurant credit in a lot of others. This has saved us from buying dinner in airports a few times.) With the Reserve, each point is worth 1.5 cents when spent on the Chase Portal (rather than transferring it), and with the Preferred, it’s 1.25. Check out The Points Guy’s comparison of the two cards. There are tons of articles on the TPG site, and it’s where I did a lot of my research before opening the card.
Here are some examples of what you can get with the Preferred’s sign up bonus. You’ll get 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 in your first 3 months, so you’ll also get 4,000+ points from that, depending on what you use the card to buy (since travel and dining give you 2x points):
- Cleveland – Orlando: 4 roundtrip tickets
- Cleveland – San Francisco: 2 roundtrip tickets
- Cleveland – London: 1 roundtrip ticket
If you still need to be convinced that credit cards are worth it in travel, here’s a breakdown of what we’ve spent and saved with our Chase Sapphire Reserve.
|annual fee x 2||$900|
|interest (NEVER pay interest!!!)||$0|
In all, we’ve spent $900 on this card over two years. So, is it worth it? Check out the next table to see that it definitely is!
|Bonuses and Perks|
|$300 automatic travel credit x 3 calendar years||$900|
|Round trip tickets paid with points:|
|Toronto – London / Edinburgh – Toronto||$903|
|Toronto – London / Madrid – Toronto||$982|
|Toronto – Rome / Venice – Toronto||$834|
|Toronto – Rome / London – Toronto||$977|
|Hotels paid with points:|
|Cheshire Hotel, London – 4 nights||$425|
|Doubletree, York – 1 night||$167|
|Meals eaten in Priority Pass lounges rather than buying dinner at an airport restaurant (low estimate at $50 saving per meal for two):|
|Cleveland – Priority Pass restaurant||$50|
|Toronto (4 people)||$100|
|trip cancellation insurance reimbursement|
|2 tickets to FL||$200|
Like I said before, do your own research before opening a card. See what’s best for you. This one has worked out great for us, but with different opening offers now, if I had to suggest just one card to you, I’d recommend the Chase Sapphire Preferred to start with.
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