Why I’m convinced the Chase Sapphire Preferred is one of the best starter cards to earn points and miles

The Chase Sapphire Reserve provides incredible value ... but the Preferred is nearly as good, at a cheaper price.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve provides incredible value … but the Preferred is nearly as good, at a cheaper price.
Shayanne Gal/Business Insider

  • While the Chase Sapphire Reserve ($450 a year) is superior in many ways, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card‘s lower annual fee ($95 a year) makes it a great entry-level card for people new to booking with points and miles.
  • It earns flexible points that are inherently more valuable than points or miles earned by similarly priced co-branded credit cards.
  • Because Chase allows account holders to pool points, the Chase Sapphire Preferred pairs well with other cards that earn Chase Ultimate Rewards.
  • The Sapphire Preferred offers a sign-up bonus of 60,000 Chase points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months. That’s worth at least $750 toward travel.

It may seem odd to attach the title of “best” to a card that is outperformed in virtually every meaningful way by product in the same family. But here I am, telling you that the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card is the best travel credit card for people new to points and miles.

Yes, its 2x points on travel and restaurant spend is dwarfed by the $450-a-year Chase Sapphire Reserve‘s 3x. Yes, its 1.25 cents per point of uplift when booking travel through Chase’s Ultimate Rewards portal, now powered by Expedia, can’t match the Reserve’s powerful 1.5 cents per point of uplift.

But the Chase Sapphire Preferred has one major thing going for it: It’s cheap. At $95 a year, the Sapphire Preferred is a premium card packed with tons of potential at an entry-level price. Plus, it’s actually offering a higher sign-up bonus than the Reserve. With the Sapphire Preferred, you can earn 60,000 Chase points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months. With the Reserve, the sign-up offer has the same minimum spending requirement in the first three months, but you’ll earn 50,000 points instead of 60,000.

That small fee grants access to a bevy of impressive perks for such an inexpensive card which includes, but is certainly not limited to, primary rental car collision coverage, trip cancellation insurance, and trip delay reimbursement.

Additionally, the card earns Ultimate Rewards points, which are one of the top currencies in the points and miles world. Their value, like most other bank points, are enhanced because of their flexibility – you can transfer the Ultimate Rewards points in your Chase Sapphire Preferred account to a number of travel partner loyalty programs. Or, as mentioned earlier, you can use those points to book travel reservations through Chase’s native booking portal. When doing so, your points are worth 1.25 cents per point, which provides a hefty discount compared to booking directly with cash.

The Sapphire Preferred provides flexible points, which can be hugely valuable

If you’re new to booking travel reservations with points and miles, you should know that flexible currencies like Chase Ultimate Rewards points are great because they are so fungible. Many newcomers to the points and miles world start their journey by identifying an airline or hotel program they frequently use, then applying for that specific airline or hotel’s co-branded credit card, thinking those cards would provide significant value. They’re not wrong, necessarily, but points earned through co-branded cards are generally less valuable than flexible points (although, as with most things to do with credit rewards, that measure is somewhat subjective).

Flexible points are more valuable because once you earn points and they are deposited into a specific program, like Southwest Rapid Rewards, for example, they typically can not be moved or redeemed elsewhere. There are, of course, a few exceptions to this. However, bank points, like those earned with the Chase Sapphire Preferred, offer much more flexibility, which makes them more valuable by nature.

For example, let’s say I earn 60,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points by signing up and using their credit card. I may find some great deals, redeeming those points for fares that would have otherwise costs quite a bit in cash. But, if I’m determined to only keep a few credit cards in my portfolio, those points can come at moderately high opportunity cost.

To contrast, let’s say I earn a similarly robust 60,000 points using the Chase Sapphire Preferred. If I need to fly on a route serviced by Southwest that costs, say, 15,000 Rapid Rewards points, I can transfer my points from Chase directly to Southwest to cover the cost. Now, I have 45,000 points left over to use as I wish. I could use my remaining points for different airline or hotel program transfers or bookings, depending on where my travels take me.

This is how I typically use my points, transferring between various travel partners as the need arises.

The Sapphire Preferred is easy to combine with other Chase cards

Another reason I like the Sapphire Preferred is because it plays along nicely with other Chase Ultimate Rewards point-earning cards. In addition to the Sapphire Preferred, I also have the Chase Freedom card, which offers 5% cash back (5x points) on quarterly rotated categories, up to $1,500 each quarter you activate, as well as the Chase Freedom Unlimited, which earns me 1.5% cash back (1.5x points) on all purchases. Chase allows cardholders to combine points from their accounts. So, when my points post to each of my accounts each month, I transfer them to my Sapphire Preferred account.

I’ll use my Sapphire Preferred for dining and travel purchases, my Freedom card for those specific, rotating categories, and my Freedom Unlimited for everything else. This ensure that, at minimum, I’ll always be earning 1.5x points on every purchase, sometimes more, and those points will be put to good use when they are finally moved to my Sapphire Preferred account.

One day, I’ll probably end up getting the Reserve

I will likely upgrade to the Reserve at some point in the future. Because Chase currently requires four years to pass before a cardholder is eligible for another Sapphire product sign-on bonus, I will simply upgrade to the Reserve instead of fully closing my Sapphire Preferred account.

Because of my travel habits, the Reserve would have likely given me more value than the Sapphire Preferred. But I didn’t know at the time. I didn’t know if I would figure out how to easily navigate points transfers and other loyalty intricacies. I didn’t know if I would travel enough to take full advantage of all of the Reserve perks. I know now that I have a decent handle on the broad strokes of the points and miles world.

I also know that because I opted to start with Sapphire Preferred, it was an inexpensive education. I’ll get the Chase Sapphire Preferred‘s premium sibling soon, cardholders have to wait at least 12 months to upgrade, but for now, I’ll enjoy and continue to get great value out of my Preferred card.

Learn more about the Chase Sapphire Preferred from our partner The Points Guy »