The Best Travel Points Credit Card: American Express Platinum or Chase Sapphire Reserve?

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When it comes to earning travel points, the credit card you use can make a big difference. And while there are dozens of credit cards on the market, two stand head and shoulders above the rest — the American Express Platinum Card and the Chase Sapphire Reserve card. But which is the best travel credit card for you? We break it down.

The Background

The American Express Platinum Card pioneered the concept of the premium credit card when it launched in 1984, offering members loads of perks and points. Since its inception as an invite-only card, competitors have come and gone. But one notable competitor has stuck around: Chase, which introduced the Sapphire Reserve card in 2016.

Both cards come with a $550 annual fee, which on the surface may seem like a lot of money. But if used right, the fee may represent a tremendous amount of value, thanks to a wide range of benefits and generous point earnings. Keep reading to find out why.

best credit card travel American Express Platinum Chase Sapphire Reserve
American Express Platinum versus Chase Sapphire Reserve. (Photos courtesy of credit cards)

Signup Bonus and Point Earnings

The vast majority of credit cards today come with a signup offer of bonus points. You can typically expect a larger bonus with a high-annual-fee card than with a low- to mid-tier credit card.

Chase Sapphire Reserve: When the Chase Sapphire Reserve card launched in 2016 it came with an impressive signup bonus of 100k points. This has since been scaled back to a more modest signup bonus of 50k points when reaching the minimum spend requirement of $4,000 within the first three months of opening the account. Higher signup bonuses may be found through limited offers, so it pays to be on the lookout for a better deal before you commit.

In addition to the signup bonus, the Chase Sapphire Reserve card earns one point per dollar on general purchases. But the big value lies in travel and dining — the card earns three points per dollar (this is a travel rewards credit card, after all). The travel category includes flights, hotels, rental cars, toll roads, parking, taxis, ride sharing, public transport, and more. The dining category includes restaurants in the US and worldwide.

American Express Platinum Card: The Amex Platinum Card comes with a slightly higher signup bonus of 60K points after spending $5,000 on the card within the first three months. Even higher signup bonuses (upwards of 100k) may be offered through referrals, so it pays to reach out to friends, colleagues, or family if you’re applying for the Amex Platinum card.

Much like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Amex Platinum earns one point per dollar on general purchases. As far as bonus categories go, the Amex Platinum card offers five points per dollar on airfares purchased directly from the airline’s website or through American Express Travel. Additionally, you'll earn five points per dollar on prepaid hotels booked through Amex Travel, or two points per dollar if you chose to pay at the hotel. All other travel-related purchases earn the same amount of points as general purchases.

The Winner: We like the potential for more signup bonus points with the Amex Platinum Card, but the Chase Sapphire Reserve has the edge here. Three points per dollar on all travel-related spending and dining definitely trumps the Amex Platinum Card’s five points per dollar on American Express Travel airfare and prepaid hotels.

Travel and Lifestyle Benefits

Now let’s look at all the benefits you get with each card, from lounge access to hotel and rental car upgrade, and more. Depending on your area of interest, this might determine your personal winning card.

best credit card travel centurian lounge
The Centurion Lounge at Charlotte Douglas International Airport. (Photo courtesy of American Express)

Lounge Access

Lounge access is one of the most valuable benefits of these credit cards, and for a frequent traveler it will more than justify the $550 annual fee.

Chase Sapphire Reserve: When the Chase Sapphire Reserve card launched, it came with unlimited lounge access through Priority Pass, as it still does today. What was unique — it entitled the card holder to bring an unlimited number of guests. As you’d imagine, this led to some major overcrowding of the lounges, and the number of guests has since been reduced to two per card holder.

American Express Platinum Card: When it comes to lounge access, the Amex Platinum Card far outshines Chase Sapphire Reserve. It comes with unlimited lounge access through Priority Pass, which includes a network of over 1,000 lounges worldwide. Each cardholder is entitled to two guests. Besides that, Amex Platinum Card holders can make use of the Amex Centurion Lounge network, which currently consists of 11 lounges across the US and one in Hong Kong, as well as the international American Express Lounge network consisting of an additional 11 lounges throughout Mexico, India, Australia, and Argentina.

American Express also has partnerships with Delta Air Lines and Lufthansa. Platinum members are given access to Delta’s Sky Club lounges when traveling on a Delta Air Lines flight. The same applies for Platinum members traveling on Lufthansa — access is given to the business class lounge when traveling in economy class and to the Senator Lounge when traveling in business. Plus, Platinum cardholders also get access to other private spaces like the Escape Lounges, the Plaza Premium Lounge, and more.

The Winner: The lounge benefits are by far the biggest selling argument for the Amex Platinum card, making it a better choice for the frequent traveler.

 

best credit card travel rental car silvercar audi
The Chase Sapphire Reserve offers benefits with Silvercar by Audi. (Photo courtesy of Silvercar by Audi)

Hotel and Rental Car Upgrades

Upgrades on hotels and rental cars are what most consumers expect when applying for a premium travel rewards credit card like the American Express Platinum Card or the Chase Sapphire Reserve.

American Express Platinum Card: The Amex Platinum card comes with gold status for Hilton Honors and Marriott Bonvoy. Gold status at Hilton includes complimentary breakfast for two, early check-in/late check-out, a welcome amenity in the room, and free room upgrades. Gold status at Marriott comes with the same benefits — minus the free breakfast, which is reserved for higher tiers.

The Amex Platinum card also offers special benefits through American Express’s Fine Hotels and Resorts program. These benefits include room upgrades, complimentary breakfast for two, early check-in/late check-out, and a dining/spa credit that’s typically $100 and up, depending on the property.

As far as rental car benefits, the Amex Platinum offers Emerald Club Executive Elite status with National Car Rental, as well as special Avis and Hertz perks.

Chase Sapphire Reserve: The Chase Sapphire Reserve doesn’t offer elite status with any hotel programs. It does, however, partner with the Chase Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection, which largely offers the same benefits as Amex’s Fine Hotels & Resorts program.

With rental cars, Chase Sapphire Reserve offers Emerald Club Executive Elite status with National Car Rental. In addition, the Chase Sapphire Reserve offers special benefits and discounts with Silvercar by Audi, which has consistently been ranked as one of the best car rental companies in the US.

The Winner: While the Amex Platinum card offers more benefits at hotels — including elite status with Hilton and Marriott — the Chase Sapphire Reserve card has the edge here by offering rental car benefits and discounts on Silvercar. 

best credit card travel statement credit global entry
Both the American Express Platinum and the Chase Sapphire Reserve give a statement credit for Global Entry. (Photo courtesy of Global Entry)

Statement and Shopping Credits

Spending $550 per year on a credit card may seem like a lot of money on the surface. However, both the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Amex Platinum cards come with statement and shopping credits that — if used correctly — will offset the entire annual fee.

American Express Platinum Card: Let’s start with the Amex Platinum card, which comes with a $200 per year airline incidental fee credit. This includes baggage fees, change fees, seat reservations, as well as onboard services such as WiFi and meals/drinks. The card also comes with a $100 reimbursement for Global Entry or TSA Pre-Check.

As far as ride sharing benefits go, the Amex Platinum card comes with a $200 per year Uber credit, which is split up into $15 monthly increments (apart from December, which gets a $35 credit).

Lastly, the Amex Platinum card comes with a $100 statement credit at Saks Fifth Avenue, which is split up into two $50 increments, one for January to June and one for July to December.

Chase Sapphire Reserve: The Chase Sapphire Reserve doesn’t come with as many statement credits as the Amex Platinum, but in many ways, the credits with this card can be viewed as even more valuable — with the most notable one being the $300 per year travel credit. This credit can be used toward airfare, hotels, car rentals, tours booked through travel agencies, public transport, and more. Cardmembers can elect to use the entire credit at once or split it up in smaller increments. In addition to the $300 travel credit, the Chase Sapphire Reserve also comes with the same $100 Global Entry and TSA Pre-Check benefit as the Amex Platinum card.

What’s more, the Chase Sapphire Reserve card comes with a $60 credit with the food delivery service, DoorDash. As far as ride sharing benefits, the Chase Sapphire Reserve doesn’t offer any statement credits. Instead, cardholders earn 10 points per dollar on all Lyft rides as well as a free one-year subscription to Lyft Pink, which includes a 15% discount on all rides and priority airport pickups.

The Winner: We would consider this a tie. The Chase Sapphire Reserve offers a more useful travel credit, albeit at a smaller amount. The Amex Platinum, however, offers bigger statement credits in terms of the dollar amount, but the use of these credits is more limited.

Both cards offer varying degrees of travel protection. (Photo by Artur Tumasjan on Unsplash)

Travel Protection

Insurance and travel protection coverage is another big benefit of these cards.

American Express Platinum Card: As far as travel protection, the Amex Platinum card offers very limited coverage, offering secondary coverage on rental cars, no roadside assistance, no emergency medical and dental coverage, no trip interruption coverage, as well as no trip or baggage delay coverage. The card does offer coverage for lost, stolen, or damaged baggage. And it also offers up to $100,000 in emergency transportation/evacuation coverage.

Chase Sapphire Reserve: The Chase Sapphire Reserve, on the other hand, offers primary rental car coverage, as well as all of the above mentioned coverage: roadside assistance, emergency medical and dental coverage, trip interruption coverage, and trip and baggage delay coverage. Chase Sapphire Reserve also comes with coverage for lost/damaged baggage and evacuation coverage.

The Winner: The Chase Sapphire Reserve is the clear winner when it comes to travel protection.

The best credit card depends on how often you travel. (Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash)

And the Winner Is…

While they offer many of the same benefits, the Amex Platinum card comes out slightly ahead in terms of the travel benefits. For a frequent traveler, the lounge benefits add a tremendous amount of value, especially when you factor in the third-party lounges and the access to Amex’s own lounges, which are a cut above the standard US airline lounges. The hotel elite status also adds value, in particular, the gold status through Hilton Honors, which comes with free breakfast.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve comes in second place with travel-related benefits, as it only offers lounge access through Priority Pass, which has an inferior selection of lounges. And there’s no elite status at any hotels. It does, however, offer far better travel protection than the Amex Platinum.

But as an everyday card, the Chase Sapphire Reserve has a slight edge over the Amex Platinum with its three points per dollar on all travel-related purchases and dining at US and international restaurants, as well as its more useable $300 travel credit, which can be applied toward all travel-related expenses.

The Final Verdict: If you’re a frequent traveler, the Amex Platinum card is the better option. If you travel less frequently, the Chase Sapphire Reserve offers some additional benefits that can be used toward travel.

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