The sign up bonus that currently comes with the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card when you apply online, 100,000 Ultimate Rewards after spending $4,000 on the card within three months of opening it, will drop to 50,000 Ultimate Rewards for the same spending requirement this coming Thursday, January 12. If you want the 100k bonus, apply by Wednesday, January 11!
Chase, Citi, and American Express all offer premium credit cards with $450 annual fees and major benefits like airport lounge access and statement credits to offset airline fees and the cost of Global Entry or TSA Precheck.
Credit card links have been removed from posts and added to the menu bar at the top of every page of MileValue under the heading Top Travel Credit Cards.
The banks designed the cards to compete with each other, so it’s only fair to line up the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Citi Prestige, and American Express Platinum side-by-side and see which one is the best.
I’ll break down the comparison by:
- value of points
- sign-up bonus
- category bonuses
- lounge access
- statement credits
- other benefits
- annual fee
I’ll foreshadow a little bit by saying that right now the Chase Sapphire Reserve is the clear best card for most people. If its sign up bonus comes down, though, the race will be a lot closer. Although many of the benefits of the three cards are similar, there are subtle differences in the programs that could make a huge difference to you, so the better card depends heavily on your travel habits and preferences.
Note: I am using the standard personal American Express Platinum Card as “the Platinum Card,” since the other two cards are personal cards. There is also a Business Platinum Card with a 100,000 point sign up bonus at the moment.
Value of Points
The American Express Platinum earns Membership Rewards, which I value at 2 cents each. The Citi Prestige Card earns ThankYou Points, which I value at 1.8 cents each. The Chase Sapphire Reserve earns Ultimate Rewards, which I value at 2 cents each.
Membership Rewards can be transferred to 4 hotels and 18 airlines, those pictured below plus Etihad.
There are frequent transfer bonuses especially to Virgin Atlantic, Virgin America, and British Airways Avios.
Citi ThankYou Points transfer to 13 airlines and one hotel:
- Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
- EVA Air Infinity MileageLands
- Etihad Guest
- Garuda Indonesia Frequent Flyer
- Qatar Privilege Club
- Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
- Thai Airways Royal Orchard Plus
- Air France/KLM Flying Blue
- Malaysia Airlines Enrich
- Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
- Qantas miles
- Virgin America Elevate
- JetBlue TrueBlue
Citi has offered transfer bonuses to Etihad, Virgin Atlantic, and Virgin America.
Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer to seven airlines plus Hyatt, Marriott, IHG, and Ritz-Carlton points, all at 1:1 ratios.
The 38 total airline transfer partners (27 unique) are way too many to analyze in this post, but generally most people would prefer Chase’s because of United, which offers a very strong program for redemptions worldwide in economy and Business Class. The other strongest Chase partners are Korean and British Airways.
Amex’s partners are the second best and strong options include Aeroplan, Singapore, Delta, and during transfer bonuses, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic.
Citi’s are clearly a half-step behind the others. In fact, my favorite Citi transfer partners are Singapore, Virgin Atlantic, and Air France, all three of which are also transfer partners of Chase and Amex.
Sign Up Bonus
- Chase Sapphire Reserve: 100,000 Ultimate Rewards after spending $4,000 in the first three months
- Amex Platinum: 40,000 Membership Rewards after spending $3,000 in the first three months (although the Mercedes Benz version of the Platinum card consistently offers 50,000 Membership Rewards for spending $3,000 in the first three months, and has pretty much the same benefits package)
- Citi Prestige Card: There are two public offers at the moment:
- 40,000 ThankYou Points after spending $4,000 in the first three months.
- 50,000 bonus ThankYou Points for spending $5,000 in three months. If you don’t see this offer automatically when you pull up the application page, try opening it in an incognito window or a different browser. I have seen both the 40k and 50k offer via this method.
Multiply the points by your value of the points to figure out how much more valuable the sign up bonus on the Chase Sapphire Reserve is than the other cards’ bonuses. The bonus on the Sapphire Reserve is worth $2,000 after spending $4,000 to me. The bonus on the Amex Platinum is worth $800 after spending $3,000 to me. The bonus on the Citi Prestige Card is worth $950 after spending $5,000 to me.
This is a huge win for the Chase Sapphire Reserve.
- Chase Sapphire Reserve: 3x on dining and travel, 1x on everything else
- Amex Platinum: 5x on airfare directly from the airline or through American Express Travel, 1x on everything else
- Citi Prestige Card: 3x on Air Travel and Hotels, 2x on Dining at Restaurants and Entertainment, 1x on everything else
Which card’s category bonuses are best for your spending depends on how much you spend in each category and how much you value each type of points.
- Look up your spending for the last year.
- Run that spending through the category bonuses listed above to figure out how many points you’d get with each card.
- Multiply the number of points times your valuation of each point.
- The card with the biggest number (which is the dollar value of the points it earns) wins.
- Chase Sapphire Preferred: Priority Pass Select
- Amex Platinum: Priority Pass Select + American Express Centurion Lounges + Delta SkyClubs (with same day Delta flight)
- Citi Prestige Card: Priority Pass Select
- Guest Policy for Priority Pass Lounges:
- Chase: unlimited free guests
- Amex: no free guests
- Citi: your spouse and children or any two people as free guests
Each of the cards gives identical access to the cardholder at 900+ Priority Pass Select lounges around the world, but guest access differs dramatically.
- Chase allows unlimited free guests.
- Citi allows you to bring in your family (spouse, domestic partner, children under 18) or up to two guests for free.
- American Express makes you pay $27 for guests into Priority Pass clubs.
Beyond Priority Pass, the Platinum card offers free access to Delta SkyClubs when you have a same day Delta flight, but you can’t bring in any free guests.
The Platinum Card also allows access to seven Centurion Lounges in the United States, which are some of my favorite domestic lounges and several steps above the typical Priority Pass lounge. You do get free guests at Centurion Lounges (spouse, domestic partner, children under 18 OR up to two guests).
Which lounge benefits you like more completely depends on your travel style. If you fly where there is a Centurion Lounge or fly Delta a lot, you’ll like the AMEX Platinum.
If you travel with your family or co-workers a lot, you’ll love the free access they get to lounges with the Prestige or Sapphire Reserve.
Most people who are paying the $450+ annual fee year after year for one of these cards are primarily doing it for the lounge access, so think carefully about which set of lounge access works better for you.
- Chase Sapphire Reserve: $300 per calendar year for travel. $100 once every four years for Global Entry
- Amex Platinum: $200 per calendar year for airline fees (shouldn’t but often does work for airline gift cards). $100 once every five years for Global Entry.
- Citi Prestige Card: $250 per calendar year for airline fees or airline tickets. $100 once every five years for Global Entry
The Chase Sapphire Reserve is the clear winner in the statement credit contest. Its travel credit is larger and much more flexible. Your first $300 in travel purchases each calendar year are automatically offset by statement credits. Travel includes flights, hotels, car rentals, cruises, tolls, parking, taxis, and so much more.
The Citi Prestige’s credit is the next best. You get $250 that can be used toward airfare or any other charge that shows up as being from an airline.
The worst credit is from the AMEX Platinum, which makes you designate one airline on which to receive fee credits. You can also buy gift cards with the credit, which is specifically disallowed in the terms but totally works.
Most importantly, all three benefits reset after your December credit card statements. So if you get one of the cards in October, you can max out the first credit in two months and get a new credit to max out for 10 months before your next annual fee is due.
These statement credits make all three cards a great idea for at least one year, since you can get two calendar year credits in the first year of cardmembership plus the Global Entry credit. You’ve already more than offset the big annual fees on the cards.
All three cards offer tons of other benefits like purchase protection, trip insurance, and concierge services. They are highly similar in these areas, and I don’t use these benefits much. Read the terms and conditions on either card for full lists.
There is some differentiation though. The Amex Platinum offers free Hilton Gold, free SPG Gold (and thus free Marriott Gold) elite statuses while you hold a Platinum card. The Citi Prestige Card offers the 4th night free on hotel stays booked through its travel provider.
Which benefits you more depends–again–on your travel style.
The annual fee on all three cards is $450; you pay it with your first statement, and again 12 months later if you don’t cancel the card.
All three cards are clearly worth paying the annual fee in year 1 because of their sign up bonuses and the ability to get their fee credits twice in the first year of having a card. Whether either card is worth holding past year 1 depends on your travel habits and how much you use the card for spending and its benefits.
To get the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you must have opened fewer than five credit cards in the last 24 months. Remember that most business cards don’t count towards that limit.
To get the Amex Platinum’s bonus, you must have never had the Amex Platinum before. (The Business Platinum and other personal Platinums like the Mercedes-Benz version are all separate products, and you can get the bonus on each one once.) The only exception is if you received a targeted offer for the Platinum and it is totally free of any language in the terms and conditions about never having had the Platinum card in order to be eligible.
To get the Citi Prestige’s bonus, you must not have had a ThankYou Preferred, ThankYou Premier, or Citi Prestige card opened or closed in the past 24 months.
Which Card is Better?
The clear winner is the Sapphire Reserve for its bigger bonus and better statement credits. If all three bonuses were closer, it would come down to your spending patterns (which category bonuses maximize them?), which transfer partners you preferred, and whether you’d use the Centurion Lounges or other benefits Prestige’s fourth night free of the Platinum’s SPG Gold status.
Hopefully I’ve laid out how to think about each card’s benefits, but the actual thinking is left to you.
DON’T FORGET that the sign up bonus for the Chase Sapphire Reserve, 100,000 Ultimate Rewards, is dropping to just 50,000 Ultimate Rewards for the same $4k minimum spending requirement this coming Thursday, January 12. If you want the 100,000 Ultimate Rewards bonus, sign up by January 11!