I was going about my appointed rounds the other day enjoying the latest episode of the Saverocity Observation Deck podcast when I was suddenly felled by a violent attack of chagrin: here was Matt, the Fearless Leader(TM) over at Saverocity, defending the Chase Sapphire Preferred!
I'm not about to let all my hard work tearing that card to shreds be undone by a careless podcaster, no matter how dulcet his tones. So here's a refresher course on why almost no one should get the Sapphire Preferred (except for the signup bonus), put any spend on the Sapphire Preferred (after meeting the minimum spend requirement), or keep the Sapphire Preferred after the first year.
Everyday spend should be a rounding error in your miles and points strategy
Matt's first point was that on a trip into the city to meet some colleagues, he needed to buy a train ticket, catch a cab, pay for lunch, and do the whole thing in reverse. If he didn't want to bring a bulky wallet, he could grab the Chase Sapphire Preferred on his way out the door and use it for all his expenses, merrily earning bonus points all along the way.
A $100 roundtrip train ticket, $30 cab, and $400 lunch (Manhattan's expensive!) paid for with the Sapphire Preferred would earn Matt 1,060 Ultimate Rewards points. Valuing those points at a conservative 10 cents each means Matt has scored $106 in value, just from making purchases he was planning to make anyway!
But Matt knows perfectly well how to buy 1,060 Ultimate Rewards points for less than a penny each all day, every day. Using your actual purchases to decide which cards to get and keep is a surefire way to trick yourself into making bad — and expensive — decisions.
A Sapphire Preferred is a Freedom that hasn't hatched yet
Keeping a Sapphire Preferred after the first year for the bonus categories makes particularly little sense since the Sapphire Preferred can be product changed to a Chase Freedom. While great for manufacturing spend, the Chase Freedom has also bonused restaurants in one quarter for at least the last 4 years. So for 3 months of the year Matt shouldn't be putting his $400 lunches on the Sapphire Preferred anyway!
Likewise, in the current quarter Freedom is bonusing local commuter transportation, so if Matt's inclined to earn Ultimate Rewards points for his train tickets (Amtrak excepted), he can buy a whole year's worth of rail passes and earn 5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar rather than the measly 2 points offered by Sapphire Preferred!
As Twitter user @BoonDR concisely put it, "a CSP is a Freedom that hasn't hatched yet." Keeping a Sapphire Preferred out of regard for its bonus earning categories is leaving literally tens of thousands of Ultimate Rewards points on the table every year you persist.
The value of flexibility depends entirely on your earning ability
Now let's get to the core issue: if you don't have or want a Chase Ink Plus small business credit card, you have no choice but to carry a Sapphire Preferred if you want your Ultimate Rewards points to be transferrable to Chase's travel partners (or redeemable for 1.25 cents towards travel booked through the Ultimate Rewards portal).
The problem is that without a Chase Ink Plus (and as many Freedoms as you can talk Chase into), you aren't going to be able to cheaply earn the kind of Ultimate Rewards balances that let you maximize the value of Ultimate Rewards' flexibility: the most valuable Ultimate Rewards redemptions give you a high redemption value per point (the appeal of Ultimate Rewards), but individually require large numbers of points.
Drawing on some examples I've used before, a 15.6-cent-per-point redemption at the Park Hyatt Milan is a great redemption — that costs 30,000 Gold Passport points per night ($30,000 in unbonused Sapphire Preferred spend). A 10-cent-per-point Lufthansa First Class redemption is a great value, but costs 110,000 United MileagePlus miles ($110,000 in unbonused spend).
The transferability of Ultimate Rewards points, whether it comes from a Sapphire Preferred or Ink Plus card, is valuable precisely to the extent that you are able to easily and cheaply manufacture Ultimate Rewards points. A combination of Ink Plus and Freedom gives that earning ability in a way that a Sapphire Preferred alone doesn't, which makes the Sapphire Preferred radically less valuable than the other two.
It's even worse if you're cannibalizing bonused spend
If you have limited liquidation bandwidth, as most of us do, then a dollar of unbonused spend put on the Sapphire Preferred might actually be displacing a dollar of bonused manufactured spend. And that's virtually never a good idea.
Ultimate Rewards points can be transferred to Hyatt at a 1-to-1 rate, which is a great deal if you're earning 2 or 5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar. But if an unbonused dollar of Sapphire Preferred spend is displacing a dollar of bonused Hilton HHonors Surpass spend, you're exchanging 6 HHonors points for a single Hyatt Gold Passport point.
While Gold Passport points are worth more than HHonors points, they aren't worth 6 times more — Hilton's award chart tops out at 95,000 HHonors points, while Hyatt's ends at 30,000 Gold Passport points.
If you have a lot of reimbursed business travel expenses, fine, go for it
Since the Chase Ink Plus also gives 2 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent at hotels (up to $50,000 per year), it's still a strong choice for a lot of business travelers. But if you travel very regularly for business and are reimbursed by your employer for plane tickets, car rentals, and meals, you may have tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in travel expenses each year to charge to the Sapphire Preferred. In that case, be my guest: keep Sapphire Preferred and you won't hear a peep out of me.
But if you're just charging the occasional taxes and fees on award tickets, and domestic economy tickets when you can't find award availability, we're likely talking about a few thousand bonus Ultimate Rewards points per year.
So do yourself a favor: call Chase and ask nicely for a product change to Freedom. You can thank me later.