Chase Sapphire Changes Are a Big Snore, So Downgrading Is Easy
My overall boredom with Chase has lasted for years. Pay Yourself Back appearing a bit over a year ago was a nice touch, and I even awoke from my slumber to upgrade to the Reserve at that time. I went back into hibernation soon after, though. Mindlessly cashing out via Pay Yourself Back has been a lucrative, automatic decision, and Chase has done pretty much nothing to move the needle since. Of course, they probably don’t care much about cardholders like me. Regardless, I don’t think I’m alone in my (predictable) disappointment in the Chase Sapphire changes. Today, I’m sharing my take on Chase’s tweaks and my easy downgrade decision to a Freedom Flex.
Chase Sapphire Reserve
Let’s make this quick, as it’s not worth much time describing. The Sapphire Reserve will earn at the following updated rates.
- 10x on Chase Dining, hotel and car rental purchases through Chase Travel
- 5x on airline travel booked through Chase Travel
- 3x on all other travel and dining
- 1x on all other purchases
The availability of restaurants on Chase Dining is extremely limited. Earning 10x on hotel and car rental purchases via Chase Travel doesn’t mean much, either, as rates are predominantly better or comparable elsewhere. Combining this with the potential for messy changes or cancellations with Chase Travel, and I’m not interested here, either. Since I rarely spend cash on travel, that category doesn’t do much for me. I can do just as well or better than 3x on travel and dining with other cards, anyway. The biggest highlights here may be that the annual fee is staying at $550, and the $300 travel credit is unchanged. That says it all. Let’s move on.
Chase Sapphire Preferred
The Sapphire Preferred received more substantial changes than the Reserve, but that’s not saying much. While the changes here may be beneficial for many, they won’t be for me. I feel this card is full of asterisks now. Chase may advertise generally-appealing benefits and earning rates, but they are substantially degraded in the fine print. Here we go.
Annual $50 Hotel Credit
There’s no doubt this is a new, additional benefit to the Preferred. However, there’s also a substantial string attached. In order to receive the $50 hotel credit, a cardholder must book the reservation through Chase Travel. Again, the rates may not be competitive, and you may be setting yourself for future change/cancellation pain by booking this way. Also remember that you can receive other discounts, point promos, and elite benefits when booking elsewhere. This substantially does away with, or completely erases, the $50 “credit.” Although if it is at a non chain / points hotel that will add some value for you.
Earning Rates – Big Numbers in Limited Categories
I’m beginning to sound like a broken record, but it’s Chase’s fault. First off, the Sapphire Preferred will earn 5x on all Chase Travel purchases. Once again, this is mostly useless for the reasons I’ve mentioned twice above. Under the new earning structure, cardholders earn 3x on dining, streaming, and online grocery. Again, 3x on dining does nothing for me thanks to my superior options with other cards. I usually don’t pay for streaming, but if I did, I’d use my Ink Cash for 5X cash back instead. Earning 3x for online grocery purchases (excluding Walmart, Target, and wholesale clubs) may work for some. That won’t for me and probably many others who still prefer onsite grocery shopping (gasp).
Another on-paper benefit that sounds great but is mostly useless in practice is the 10% bonus points on spend after you renew and pay the annual fee. Plus, it’s only 10% bonus on the base earning amount (nothing extra for bonus categories). Regardless, the 10% bonus is useless for me, since I’d be putting very little spend on the card, if any. What’s a 10% bonus on nothing? Nice try, Chase.
One other thing regarding 3x on streaming. It’s just another hollow bonus category. Indeed, if people earn Ultimate Rewards in significant amounts here, I’d argue they have a bigger problem on their hands – out of control streaming expenses.
Again, the Annual Fee “Highlight”
Like the Reserve, the biggest Sapphire Preferred change highlight from my perspective is that the annual fee is staying at $95. If keeping an annual fee the same is what impresses me the most, that’s not saying much about the Preferred.
Why I’m Downgrading to the Freedom Flex
So, why am I not just keeping the Reserve? Because I’ve received the $300 travel credit for this year, my annual fee just hit, and most importantly, I don’t expect Pay Yourself Back to stick around. I’d love to be proven wrong on that last item. Regardless, I have no need to speculatively pay my Reserve annual fee. Why not? Because if we hear Pay Yourself Back is hanging around, we can simply upgrade one of my wife’s Freedom cards to the Preferred or Reserve.
I’ll be taking advantage of the following stellar earning rates from the Freedom Flex without an annual fee:
- 5% cash back in bonus quarterly rotating categories
- 3% cash back on drug store purchases
- The card also earns 5% cash back on Chase Travel bookings and 3% cash back on dining, but I won’t be using it there. A nice touch for no annual fee, nonetheless.
By downgrading, the only substantive benefit I’m giving up is the ability to transfer to travel partners. But I haven’t done that in years, anyway – our balances are all good with the Chase partners we care about. Instead, I’ve opted to cash out Ultimate Rewards even at 1 cent per point prior to Pay Yourself Back. I’m okay with that arrangement moving forward, presuming Pay Yourself Back isn’t around.
Despite these Chase Sapphire changes, my behavior will remain largely the same – focusing on 5% cash back categories on our multiple Ink Cash and Freedom cards. I may add a bit of drug store spend, but that’ll be minimal compared to the 5% categories. Again, Chase probably doesn’t care about customers like me, so my boredom with them doesn’t matter. I encourage you to examine your entire card portfolio and specific Chase spending to determine whether holding any of their annual fee cards makes sense. You may be surprised what you discover. How will the Chase Sapphire Preferred changes affect your spend with their cards?