Updated since COVID

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Best Travel Credit Card

As of September 2020


Downgrade your Chase Sapphire Reserve to the Chase Sapphire Preferred if you are coming up for renewal. If you don’t have a travel card and have a credit score between 690-850, hold off on getting one for now and stick to our choice for the Best Cash Back Credit Card instead.


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what we like

  • Lower annual fee – $95 vs $450 or $550 for Chase Sapphire Reserve
  • 1 year DoorDash subscription with $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees for DoorDash orders over $12
  • Lets you keep your Ultimate Rewards points and use them on future travel/experiences
  • 2.5% cash back on travel and dining (including takeout) and no foreign transaction fee

keep in mind

  • $95 annual fee may not make sense if you do not end up traveling or eating out much this year


The Chase Sapphire Reserve has been The JOAT’s best travel card pick since the day the card launched in 2016. As Harvard Business Review said, “Chase Sapphire Made Credit Cool for Millennials“. The card has been wildly popular, and you probably have one in your wallet or have gone back and forth on when you should upgrade.


In January 2020, Chase announced some changes to the card, including increasing the annual fee from $450 to $550. We were debating whether the new benefits were worth the extra $100 and even began comparing with the other premier travel cards when COVID-19 swiftly cancelled all vacation plans we had for the rest of the year.


In response to COVID, Chase has cancelled the $100 fee increase they had planned for all of 2020. Cardholders who were charged a $550 annual fee were given a $100 statement credit – essentially making it a $450 renewal for them.  They also added some new ways to earn bonus points, such as 5x points on Instacart orders and at gas stations, and 10x points on streaming services like Netflix and Hulu.


The most important feature they rolled out was the Pay Yourself Back program. This is a new and limited time program they released on May 31st to boost Sapphire card benefits in a world of no/limited travel. Pay Yourself Back lets you redeem your Ultimate Rewards Points towards past purchases at the same rate as when you redeem it for travel. So basically, your points are redeemed for the 1.5x you would get if you bought a flight or hotel through Ultimate Rewards. To be honest, I kind of ignored this when the news came out, hoping to hoard my points and redeem it for a much needed 2020 vacation.


But, as I sat here on Labor Day Weekend looking at the $450 annual membership fee for a card I have barely touched in the last 6 months, I knew a downgrade was the only smart option.


It didn’t make sense for me to completely close this card because I still spend at restaurants, have travel expenses such as parking, tolls, Uber/Lyft, and AirBnb.  So, I decided to downgrade to the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which has been a staple Chase credit card for a number of years – long before the Reserve came around.


In case it’s been a while since you looked at the Preferred, here’s a high level summary: Chase Sapphire Preferred has a $95 annual fee and lets you earn 2X points on all travel and dining costs. If you redeem points through their Ultimate Rewards site, you get an extra 25%, which basically means you get 2.5% cash back on travel and dining. You also get no foreign transaction fees, a bonus 5X points on Lyft rides, and the same DoorDash benefit they introduced on the Chase Sapphire Reserve.


But, before downgrading, I redeemed nearly 100,000 points using the Pay Yourself Back program (a $1500 value). Doing it was easy enough – go to Ultimate Rewards, click the menu bar on the left, and click “Pay Yourself Back”. Chase automatically gives you a list of previous purchases that qualify you for the 50% bonus, and you simply click which ones you want to redeem.  Why did I do this?  Two main reasons: 1- I am sitting on over 100,000 points without a need to use them any time soon. And 2- more importantly, the second I downgrade my card, my points are worth 25% less. Basically, every 10,000 points I have is worth $25 less with Chase Sapphire Preferred vs Reserve. Within a few days, the total amount you redeem will end up as a statement credit to offset any charges or balance on your account. 


Bottom line – downgrading your Chase Sapphire Reserve to the Preferred allows you to keep your points, pay a lower annual fee, and get many of the same benefits you liked with the Reserve.  The downside is you don’t earn as many points and get fewer travel perks – but with COVID-19, you may not be able to take advantage of those perks any time soon.


Finally – if you do not have a travel card today, we suggest holding off and just using our Best Cash Back Card until we know what the world looks like on the other side of this pandemic.

Sizing Tips & FAQs

How do I downgrade my Chase Sapphire Reserve?

Call 1-800-432-3117 and ask them to downgrade your card to the Chase Sapphire Preferred. Downgrades are effective immediately, so if you want to redeem any points or perks of the Reserve, do it before calling to downgrade.


Is there a no annual fee card I can downgrade to?

Yes, we suggest you choose The Chase Freedom Flex card, which is newly released as of August 31st. The Freedom Flex offers 3% cash back for dining, delivery service, and drug stores, and 1% on everything else. They also offer a bonus 5% cash back on different categories of items each quarter and a 5% cash back on travel redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards. This is a good option so you keep your credit history active (by not closing your card) and can give you some options to earn meaningful cash back on many of your common purchases throughout the year. It is a little cumbersome to keep up with the different bonus categories, but is a solid partner to our Best Everyday Card.


Will I qualify for the bonus points offer associated with the Chase Sapphire Preferred?

Sadly, no – you will not earn bonus points if you are downgrading an existing Chase card. You can only earn bonus points for new cards that are approved and if you spend the minimum requirement after opening a new card.


Can I upgrade my Chase Sapphire Preferred back to a Reserve if I start traveling again?

You have to keep your Chase Sapphire Preferred for at least 13 months before being able to upgrade back to the Reserve.  Just like with the downgrade, if you upgrade your existing card, you will not earn any of the bonus sign-up points.  Your other option is to close the Chase Sapphire Preferred and open a new Chase Sapphire Reserve.  As long as it has been over 48 months since you last got your Chase Sapphire bonus points, you will qualify for the bonus points again if you apply for a new card.


Disclaimer: Applying for a credit card can impact your credit score. If you want to talk to us about your specific circumstances, drop us an email and we can talk it through one-on-one.

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Related Products & Links

Chase Sapphire Reserve

The original JOAT pick. This is still a great rewards-heavy card for people whose primary spending is on dining and travel. But if COVID has changed your expenses as much as ours, it just doesn’t make sense to pay such a high fee for perks you may not be using.


American Express Platinum Card

AMEX has added a few more temporary benefits compared to Chase. They are offering statement credit on streaming and telecom purchases on their card, such as Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, and all the major cell phone carriers. This allows you to use this card and earn cash back more than the Chase Sapphire, but either way, we wouldn’t recommend a premier travel card during this time and while there isn’t a COVID-19 vaccine widely available


Capital One Venture

Between April and June 2020, Capital One is letting cardholders redeem their miles for takeout, delivery, or streaming services at a rate of 1 cent per point. We originally didn’t like this card because all you earned was miles – versus points or dollars – and while this flexibility is nice, it still doesn’t make sense to have a card like this right now.

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