- Alyssa Powell/Business Insider
- The Chase Sapphire Reserve offers generous rewards on dining, but a slate of newcomers have been trying to take its place as the best card for dining.
- Last fall, the American Express® Gold Card was refreshed with new benefits, including an even better rewards earning rate at restaurants.
- There are a lot of similarities between the two cards, but also some important differences. Here’s what you need to know to decide which is right for you.
When it launched in 2016, the Chase Sapphire Reserve was the king of dining rewards. With 3 points for every dollar spent on dining – which was defined broadly enough to include everything from restaurants to cafés and bars – it was the obvious go-to to maximize points anytime you ate out.
Nearly three years later, the rewards landscape has become more crowded than ever, and the Sapphire Reserve, or “CSR,” has some heavy-hitting competition. American Express refreshed its Premier Rewards Gold card, rebranding it the American Express Gold Card.
The two cards bear a lot of similarities: They have hefty annual fees but a handful of benefits and credits to offset it, they earn bonus points on dining, and they both have a handful of valuable ways to redeem points. But there are also a handful of differences, some of which are pretty significant. There’s also the Citi Prestige card, which offers an incredible 5x points on dining, but Citi’s rewards program is trickier to navigate to get top value.
Chase Sapphire Reserve vs Amex Gold: the biggest differnces
The Sapphire Reserve has a higher annual fee than the Amex Gold ($450 vs $250), but perhaps the biggest difference to consider up top is that they earn different rewards currencies. With the Sapphire Reserve, you’ll earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points, while with the Amex Gold you’ll earn Amex Membership Rewards points. Travel website The Points Guy values the two points currencies equally: at 2 cents per point. However, the two programs have different airline and hotel transfer partners, so you’ll want to investigate which points are the most useful to you.
Both cards earn bonus rewards on select spending categories, and some of them overlap. For example, with the Amex Gold, you’ll earn 4x points at restaurants, while you’ll earn 3x points on dining with the Sapphire Reserve. The Amex Gold also offers 4x points at US supermarkets (on the first $25,000 spent each year; then 1x), and supermarkets aren’t included in the Sapphire Reserve’s dining category.
Another difference between the Sapphire Reserve and Amex Gold is the type of statement credits you’ll get each year as a cardholder. On the Sapphire Reserve, you’ll get an annual $300 travel credit that automatically applies to eligible purchases, while the Amex Gold offers an airline incidental fee credit and up to $10 in statement credits toward eligible dining purchases each month.
Keep in mind that we’re focusing on the rewards and perks that make these cards great options, not things like interest rates and late fees, which can far outweigh the value of any rewards.
When you’re working to earn credit card rewards, it’s important to practice financial discipline, like paying your balances off in full each month, making payments on time, and not spending more than you can afford to pay back. Basically, treat your credit card like a debit card.
Click here to learn more about the Chase Sapphire Reserve from Business Insider’s partner The Points Guy.
Click here to learn more about the American Express Gold Card from Business Insider’s partner The Points Guy.
The annual fees — and the credits that offset them
However, both cards offer a few annual statement credits on purchases that – if you would have made those purchases anyway – significantly offset the fees.
The Sapphire Reserve comes with a straightforward and easy-to-use $300 travel credit. The first $300 you spend on travel-related purchases every cardmember year is credited back to your account. The “travel” category is expansive, including everything from subways, taxis, parking, and tolls to airfare and hotels.
When you subtract that credit from the annual fee, the Sapphire Reserve only costs $150 per year.
The Amex Gold has two different statement credits.
The first is up to $120 each year in dining credits, broken into monthly $10 portions. These credits only apply to a few participating chain restaurants – specifically Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, and some Shake Shack locations – but they also apply to popular food ordering services GrubHub and Seamless. The credits apply automatically to any qualifying purchase.
The Amex Gold also offers up to $100 in airline fee credits each calendar year. Every January, you pick one airline for that credit to apply toward. While the credit doesn’t cover tickets, it covers incidental fees like checked bags, seat assignments on basic economy tickets, change fees, and more. Sometimes you can even be reimbursed for airline gift cards that you can apply toward tickets, even though this is an unpublished benefit – do some Googling to see whether that works on your airline of choice.
Assuming you take full advantage of both credits, the effective annual fee for the Amex Gold is just $30.
Rewards: The earning on both cards is substantial
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The Chase Sapphire Reserve earns 3 points per dollar spent on every dining or travel purchase (except for the first $300 of travel each year that is covered by the travel credit).
Both categories are broadly defined: Dining includes things like bars, cafes, restaurants, food trucks and booths, pubs, and in many cases, bakeries or ice cream shops. Travel, meanwhile includes everything from subways, taxis and Ubers, parking, and tolls, to flights, hotels, cruises, and more.
Travel website (and Business Insider e-commerce partner) The Points Guy subjectively values Chase Ultimate Rewards points at 2¢ each (more on that later), meaning you’d earn about 6% of value back on every dollar you spend.
The Amex Gold Card offers a higher 4 points per dollar spent at restaurants, as well as 4x points at US supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year – 1 point per dollar for anything beyond that) and 3 points per dollar on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel.
The Amex card’s restaurant category is similarly broad as the Sapphire Reserve’s – I’ve gotten the category bonus at restaurants, bars, pubs, and cafes. The supermarket category excludes big box stores where you might buy groceries, like Target or Walmart, but includes most dedicated US supermarkets.
The Points Guy also subjectively values Amex Membership Rewards points at 2¢ each, so going by that metric, you get a huge 8% of value back from the Gold Card – beating the Sapphire Reserve.
The travel category is much more restrictive. If your spending is more split between travel and dining, you may be better off with the Reserve. There may also be room in your wallet for both, especially considering that the Amex Gold’s effective annual fee is so low.
Welcome bonuses: Earn a lot of points right away.
- Phillip Capper / Wikimedia Commons
When you sign up for the Chase Sapphire Reserve you can get 50,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 in the first three months – assuming you haven’t opened a Sapphire-branded card in the past four years.
That bonus is worth $500 as cash back, $750 when used to purchase travel through Chase’s booking portal, or potentially more when you transfer it to airline partners to book flights – more on all of that in a moment. Using The Points Guy’s general valuation, which is a subjective aggregate of the realistic potential values you can get from points, it would be worth about $1,000.
The Amex Gold Card offers 35,000 points when you spend $2,000 in your first three months with your new card.
The Gold has a lower bonus, but also a lower spending requirement to earn it. The higher earning rate on restaurants, plus the rate at US supermarkets, might make up for that.
The value Amex offers when you use points for cash back is poor, although you can get around $350 toward flights if you book through Amex travel, but potentially more by transferring to airline partners. Based on The Points Guy’s valuation, that’s about $700 in value.
There are a ton of different ways to use your points
- David Slotnick/Business Insider
Chase offers a few different ways to use Ultimate Rewards points.
You can use them to make purchases at a handful of retailers like Amazon or Apple, or for gift cards, but since you usually get less than 1¢ per point of value, this isn’t advisable.
If you’re set on using them for purchases, a better option is to just redeem them for cash back. Each point is worth 1¢, so 1,000 points = $10.
A better option: Book travel through Chase using your points. Normally, each point is worth 1¢ towards travel booked through Chase, but Sapphire Reserve cardholders get a 50% bonus – that makes them worth 1.5¢ each. Redeeming them this way, the 50,000-point sign-up bonus is worth $750.
However, the best option – potentially – is to transfer them to airline frequent flyer partners and book flights that way. You might be able to get a dramatically higher value for points this way.
That’s because booking frequent flyer “award tickets” is different than buying reservations outright – you can read more about how it works here. In most cases, the cash price and the miles price of a ticket aren’t linked, so it’s possible to get exponentially increased value from your points by transferring them and booking an award ticket instead.
That means potentially being able to fly long-haul in first or business class with points, among other things.
For example, my wife and I recently flew first class to Japan and back by transferring credit card points to Virgin Atlantic, then booking flights on Virgin’s partner airline All Nippon Airways. You can read about exactly how we booked the flights here.
The only catch is that you may need to search for saver availability – which are lower-priced award tickets. This can be tricky, but there are a ton of helpful guides online. Once you have a flight in mind, if you’re having trouble figuring out how best to use your points, just do a Google search for that specific trip.
Chase partners with a few airlines (and hotels), including: Aer Lingus, Air France/KLM, British Airways, Iberia, JetBlue, Singapore Airlines, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, Hyatt, Marriott, and IHG. By taking advantage of airline partnerships, you can usually find a way to book any flight at the saver level, even if that airline isn’t listed.
Amex similarly offers a few ways to use Membership Rewards points.
Redeeming for anything aside from travel offers a poor value, usually 0.5-0.8¢ each, and is generally a poor use of points.
Like with Chase, you can get a better value by booking travel through AmEx Travel, either online or by phone. However, unlike with the Sapphire Reserve, there’s no bonus. Points are only worth 1¢ each towards flights, or 0.7¢ each towards anything else.
Another option is to use points to bid for upgrades on a flight. You’ll only get 1¢ per point, but it can be a decent redemption if you want to try for an upgrade but don’t want to pay cash.
The best use – like with Chase, again – is to transfer them to frequent flyer partners. AmEx has a different list of partners, although thanks to some overlapping partners you can pool points from each issuer’s cards into those airlines’ accounts.
AmEx’s partners include: Aer Lingus, AeroMexico, Air Canada, Air France/KLM, Alitalia, ANA, Cathay Pacific, Avianca, British Airways, Delta, El Al, Emirates, Etihad, Iberia, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue, Singapore Airlines, and Virgin Atlantic, as well as Choice Hotels, Hilton, and Marriott.
Click here to learn more about the Chase Sapphire Reserve from Business Insider’s partner: The Points Guy.
Click here to learn more about the American Express Gold Card from Business Insider’s partner: The Points Guy.
Other benefits and perks
Both cards come with a few other benefits, too.
The Sapphire Reserve comes with a complimentary Priority Pass Select membership, which gets you free access to more than 1,200 airport lounges around the world. While the Platinum Card® from American Express is the absolute best option for airport lounges within the US, the Sapphire Reserve is still incredibly useful.
It also offers a statement credit up to $100 every four years to cover your application fee for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, primary rental car insurance, trip and baggage delay coverage, travel insurance, and more. You can learn more about the other benefits here.
The Amex Gold Card features a few additional benefits as well, including baggage and travel insurance, secondary rental car insurance, roadside assistance, and shopping protections. You also get a complimentary membership with ShopRunner, a service that gives you free two-day shipping at a wide range of online retailers. It works like Amazon Prime in a lot of ways, but outside of Amazon. You can learn more about the card’s other benefits here.
Other cards to consider
- The Points Guy
By redeeming strategically for flights – whether in economy and in first or business class – you can get much more value from a transferable points credit card than you could from a cash back card.
However, if you’re not interested in points or travel and want to consider cash back instead, there are two stellar options for dining.
First is the Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card. The card offers unlimited 4% cash back on dining and entertainment, 2% at grocery stores, and 1% back on everything else. It also offers 8% back on tickets purchased at Vivid Seats through May 2020, and a monthly statement credit to cover a Postmates Unlimited membership through December of this year.
Plus, the card offers a massive $500 cash sign-up bonus when you spend $3,000 in the first three months. All of that is even more impressive considering that the card has an annual fee of just $95.
Next is the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card. The card earns 3x points – each worth 1¢, so effectively 3% cash back – on dining, most travel and transit, and 1x (or 1%) on everything else. It’s a bit less on the dining category than the Savor card, but the Wells Fargo Propel has no annual fee.
Plus, the Propel offers a welcome bonus of 30,000 points – worth $300 as cash back – when you spend $3,000 in the first three months. This is one of the best-available bonuses for a no-annual-fee card, and led us to argue that the Wells Fargo Propel is one of the best credit cards of 2019.
No matter which card you choose, both the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the American Express Gold Card offer valuable rewards on dining and flights, and a ton of value in benefits.