Don’t get me wrong, the sign-up bonus is great and worth the inquiry. You can read more about it in my “Best credit card deals for family” page. Full disclosure: Both Chase Sapphire Preferred and Amex Starwood Preferred Guest cards pay me commission when you apply through my site.
I hear very often how CSP is absolutely worth renewing and paying 95 dollars each year. And I just saw it mentioned again in “View from the wing” post HERE how it is overall best choice for most people if you just want one card. Since the site got 1 million unique visitors last year, I’m sure some of them were average Joes and Janes like myself.
I said before that I welcome a good challenge! So, let’s ignore the fact that over 50 percent of US population will do better with Amex Blue Cash Preferred and Sallie Mae Barclaycard and assume the author was talking about those, who are after flexible points instead of cash back.
I simply have to disagree that the notion of Chase Sapphire Preferred being the “one” holds true for low spenders. The annual fee is the giant elephant in the room and there is no way of ignoring it. Last week I mentioned how sometimes it makes sense to collect flexible points instead of cash back. So, once again, let’s make a comparison to Amex SPG:
1) How widely is the card accepted? CSP wins hands down. Amex is still not accepted in few places.
2) How do the annual fees compare? Amex has 65 dollar fee while CSP has 95 dollars. Amex wins.
3) Which card offers better protection and benefits? Amex wins. Occasionally they offer extra transfer bonus on your miles on top of the one you get on 20000 points. Plus Amex runs promotions constantly which can potentially make up for the fee. CSP offers travel insurance but its not comprehensive IMO to make it all that worthwhile.
4) How easy is it to redeem the points? SPG partners with many airlines but none guarantee availability. Plus, transfers are not instant. But you can redeem for hotels if needed. CSP Ultimate Rewards transfer to Southwest where you are guaranteed to be able to use the points. So, this one IMO is a tie.
5) How much value does one point get? I already declared Amex SPG a winner over Southwest point in my prior comparison. So that leaves British Airways Avios program. Because of 5000 miles bonus with every 20000 miles transfer SPG card provides better value. Also, CSP does not have any hotel programs that would even come close to SPG lowest categories(2000 and 3000 points per night on weekends). Amex wins.
6) How easy is it to earn the points? Ultimate Rewards can be earned from Chase INK or Bold cards. SPG point can only be earned from Amex SPG cards other than staying in their hotels. SPG point is harder to acquire= more valuable. IMO it also makes SPG point less likely to devalue. Amex wins.
7) Can the points transfer to cash? You can redeem 15000 Ultimate Rewards for 150 dollar credit. 14000 SPG points convert to 150 dollar Amazon gift card. Since the best discount you can find for that retailer is 5 percent off, IMO SPG wins here as well.
8) How do the fees compare when making airline redemptions? CSP wins because of Southwest option. Currently that airline does not charge for checked bags and you cancel tickets close to departure and get your points back.
9) When it comes to family friendly redemption options, how many choices are there? This one is probably a tie. For CSP it would be Avios, Southwest, and for some Amtrak and United. For Amex it would be Avios, AAdvantage, low category hotels and possibly Lufthansa for 12000 one-way redemptions on United.
10) How much does the point cost? Ultimate Rewards point costs 2.75 cents each and SPG point 3.5 cents. SPG point is more expensive, which means CSP wins.
Originally, I pegged Amex as the winner but Gary Leff made a good argument so I changed it. See my explanation in the comments below on why. I have decided to remove that point from my previous comparisons because most of the time buying points is not a good value proposition.
11) How does the earning structure compare? That’s where CSP shines. It give 2 points for dining and travel purchases and has no Forex fee. Plus it gives 7 percent dividend on your yearly spending. Amex only gives 1 point on everything but SPG hotels and charges Forex fee. CSP wins.
Amex SPG is the overall winner, beating CSP 5 to 4. Here is my final conclusion. Yes, Ultimate Rewards are valuable as well as flexible. But it’s very hard for me to justify paying 95 dollars per year for the privilege of having flexibility. Especially for low spenders. While transfers are instant, you don’t get any bonus. Unlike Amex, Chase does not run any promotions like the recent discounts on Amazon purchases and Small Business Saturday.
If you are mostly after Avios miles, Amex IMO may be a better choice. Even though the transfers are not instant, you get a bonus on each 20000 points plus an ability to redeem for low category hotels. And if you are mostly after Rapid Rewards, you would be better off to go with Chase Southwest Visa, which gives 6000 points upon renewal. Since they just announced devaluation, your points should be fine for the next few years. Or better yet, go with Fidelity Amex that earns 2 percent on everything, which would beat Southwest Visa any day.
There are a few instances where CSP might make sense. That is if you have to fly certain United or American(bookable with Avios) routes, which are very expensive with cash but affordable with miles. Or if you regularly use Amtrak, where point redemptions provide good value. If your plans are not flexible and you insist on instant transfers that can make an argument for CSP.
Also, you may consider CSP if you spend a good amount on dining and travel which I would argue does not describe most regular families. But that would offset the annual fee significantly. Though overall, if you are after flexible points in this game, IMO Amex SPG is the winner. For my family CSP is simply NOT the best thing since sliced bread.
P.S. You may also want to read this post on the newly introduced Amex cards and how they stack up compared to CSP card.
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Picture credit goes to adityaviyer.com