Without a doubt, the biggest news in the credit card and points-and-miles world this week has been Chase’s announcement of an increased annual fee for the Chase Sapphire Reserve (CSR) card, along with the addition of some ancillary benefits on the card. We’ve been thinking about exactly how these changes impact us and what we’re going to do strategy-wise in response.
We thought Middle Age Miles readers would enjoy an article summarizing our thought processes and strategies. Everyone’s circumstances are different, so you’ll have to make your own assessment. But hopefully this will help you crystallize your own thoughts and formulate your own strategy with respect to the CSR card.
Summary of Changes to the CSR card
On January 12, 2020 (that is, this Sunday), the following changes will take effect with respect to the CSR card (Hat Tip to Doctor of Credit and others for information regarding the changes):
- Annual fee for new applicants will increase from $450 to $550
- CSR holders will receive a free DoorDash DashPass for 2 years
- CSR holders will receive an annual calendar-year credit of $60 for DoorDash, for 2020 and 2021
- We believe that this will work like the CSR travel credits – that is, the charge will show up on the card, and then a corresponding statement credit will appear a couple of days later
- CSR holders will receive a complementary Lyft Pink membership, which includes:
- 15% off all Lyft rides
- Priority airport pickups
- Lyft will cover three cancel fees per month if you rebook within 15 minutes
- Waived lost-and-found fees
- 3 free 30-minute bike or scooter rides per month (in select markets)
- “Surprise offers” for seasonal discounts and “exclusive savings”
- CSR holders will receive 10x Ultimate Reserve (UR) points on all Lyft rides
For existing cardholders, the CSR annual fee will increase from $450 to $550, starting with renewals in April 2020.
Initial Thoughts on the CSR Changes
It seems to us that there are a few people that can really benefit from the DoorDash and Lyft benefits, enough that those benefits are worth far more than the $100 annual fee increase. We suspect that those people are mostly urban-based – people who live in a city and perhaps don’t own a car. If you’re in this group, congratulations and enjoy the new sweet benefits!
We also suspect that there’s a larger group of people who are more like us, where we would never pay an extra $100 for this set of benefits (even setting aside the fact that the DoorDash benefits are time-limited).
- We’ve never used DoorDash. We almost never use food delivery services, and I’m almost certain we’ve never used Uber Eats, DoorDash or any similar service except when we’ve ordered Uber Eats so that our Amex Platinum card Uber credits wouldn’t go to waste during a particular month.
- We’ve actually never used Lyft either. We use Uber irregularly – once in a while to go between our house and the airport, and occasionally when we travel. Our most “usual” Uber usage is when we travel for Philly’s work. Those trips, of course, are reimbursed, so a Lyft discount doesn’t give us any direct benefits for those rides.
So, for our current, unaltered behavior, our return from these new benefits would be exactly zero. That said, though, we do eat food, and we do use ride-share, so presumably we can figure out a way to make some use of the DoorDash and Lyft benefits. I’ve seen a DoorDash sign at our usual Chick-Fil-A store, and surely it’s not too hard to shift some of our ride-share from Uber to Lyft (although we’ll still be aware of using our Amex Platinum monthly Uber credits).
Thoughts on Maximizing DoorDash and Lyft Benefits
We’ve been taking inventory of what we know about DoorDash and Lyft, to prepare to maximize those benefits:
- Each of us should be able to get a new user sign-up bonus for DoorDash. Top Cashback is offering a $15 bonus for new users.
- For additional DoorDash orders, we can earn 250 Wyndham Rewards for each order.
- At our baseline value of 0.7 cents per Wyndham Rewards point, that’s a points rebate of about $1.75 for each order.
- Each of us should also be able to get a new user sign-up bonus for Lyft. There are new user bonus codes available on the Lyft website, and there’s a $20 new user bonus ($10 for each of the first 2 rides) available through the Delta-Lyft partnership site. There may be better offers elsewhere.
- On an ongoing basis, we should be able to link our Delta SkyMiles and Lyft accounts to earn SkyMiles for our Lyft rides – 2 SkyMiles per dollar on rides to and from an airport, and 1 SkyMile per dollar on all other Lyft rides
- Also on an ongoing basis, we should be able to link our Hilton Honors (HH) and Lyft accounts to earn HH points for our Lyft rides – 2 HH points per dollar for all shared rides, and 3 HH points per dollar for all other Lyft rides
- It’s our understanding that the Delta and Hilton offers stack, so we can get both for each ride
- There are probably other credits that also stack when using Lyft. Our friend Harlan of Out & Out had an excellent article a few months ago on this topic. We’re not sure whether all these deals are still active, but we’ll be exploring to find out (or maybe we’ll just ask Harlan!)
- Out & Out: Earn Points + Cashback with Every Uber & Lyft Ride: The Complete List to Save the Most (May 23, 2019)
Our Personal Circumstances and CSR Usage
Philly got her CSR card in September 2016, and I got mine in November 2016. We’ve kept our cards open and active ever since. The dates are important because of Chase’s “48-month rule” with respect to Sapphire product sign-up bonuses – you aren’t eligible for a sign-up bonus on a Sapphire card (either CSR or Sapphire Preferred (CSP)) if (a) you currently hold a Sapphire card; and/or (b) you’ve received a sign-up bonus on a Sapphire card within the past 48 months.
This means that each of us would be eligible for a sign-up bonus on a Sapphire card sometime in late 2020 or early 2021, if we canceled our card or product-changed to a non-Sapphire card beforehand. This creates an opportunity for us (if Chase doesn’t change the rules). We suspect that a lot of people are in a similar boat, as Chase introduced the CSR card with its game-changing 100,000 UR point sign-up bonus on August 23, 2016, and many people rushed to apply.
Philly uses her CSR card for all work expenses that are reimbursed, including travel and dining expenses. She also uses her CSR to pay for rental cars, as she’s often the driver when we travel. The primary collision damage coverage on the CSR has proven to be extremely valuable to us (multiple times in Europe we’ve been charged by a rental company for damage that we did not do). She also uses her CSR to pay for tolls. Beyond that, we roll all of the UR points from her other Chase cards into her CSR’s UR account, where they can be redeemed at 1.5 cents per UR point through the Chase travel portal or transferred to Chase’s airline or hotel partners. We’ve never seriously considered canceling her card because of the way she uses it for work expenses.
I use my CSR card primarily on:
- Hotel stays where we don’t have a co-branded card (that is, when we’re not staying at a Hyatt, Hilton, Marriott or Radisson)
- Sometimes we use my CSR for Marriott stays, as the earning rate is arguably a little better than on a Marriott co-branded card
- We actually don’t have too many stays that aren’t with either Hyatt, Marriott or Hilton
- Some flights, when having trip delay and/or trip cancellation coverage has been important
- Rental cars when the rental is in my name
- Airport parking
- Restaurants in hotels (when I’m not sure if it will code as dining spend or hotel spend; if it’s a normal restaurant I use either my Citi Prestige for 5x TYPs or my Amex Gold for 4x MR points)
We also roll all of the UR points from my other Chase cards into my CSR’s UR account, and we’ve used my CSR account to help Middle Age Miles kids use their UR points make bookings through the travel portal at 1.5 cpp.
Honestly, it’s already been a close call as to whether to keep my CSR card. We’ve considered canceling it but have never done so. At the end of the day, the 1.5-cent redemptions have kept me on-board, plus I think there’s been some intangible value toward my long-term relationship with Chase to have kept the premium card and paid the annual fee.
One thing I notice is that most of my CSR spend/usage is pretty easily replaceable by another card I currently hold (and that I’m not going to cancel):
- Hotel stays that I’ve put on my CSR could just as easily be put on my USBank Altitude Reserve card
- Now that Amex premium cards have trip delay and cancellation coverages, we can use those cards (or pay with MR points) as needed on flights
- We can get the same rental car coverage by using our JPMorgan Chase Ritz-Carlton card (although we’ll earn a few less points)
- Tolls and airport parking can go on my Citi Premier
- And most restaurants in hotels end up coding as restaurants, so I can just use my Amex Gold (even if I end up canceling my Citi Prestige)
- We hold other Chase premium cards where we could move UR points for transfers, or for travel portal redemptions at a 1.25-cpp rate.
As you can see by now, it wouldn’t be terribly painful for us to cancel our CSR cards. Only the 1.5-cent redemptions materially move the bar for us. Those are very valuable to us. We accumulate a decent number of UR points, and we like to use them for airfare through the portal, since those tickets earn elite qualifying miles and dollars that help us re-qualify for AA status each year.
Our Current Thoughts on CSR-related Strategy Moving Forward
We’re going to break this section down into 4 distinct stages, and we’ll let you know our thoughts on each stage:
Stage 1 – Now until just before our 2020 annual fees post
For now, it’s business as usual. We will continue to use our CSR cards as we’ve been doing. We’ll make sure to use our 2020 travel credits (which will happen naturally without any effort). And in the meantime, we’ll figure out how to best use the DoorDash and Lyft benefits, as we set out above, and we’ll start using them.
Stage 2 – Just before our 2020 annual fees post
We’re thinking that, just before our 2020 annual fees post, we’ll product-change (PC) our CSR cards to Chase Freedom cards. That way, we won’t be paying the $550 annual fee at renewal.
PC-ing to Freedom will allow us to preserve all of our UR points. We will be unable to use the travel portal at 1.5 cpp when we do this, but we have other cards where we can move the UR points to transfer them to a partner or redeem at 1.25 cpp through the travel portal if needed (we should be able to plan around having to redeem at a lower rate). We’ll also gain the side benefit of getting an additional Freedom card we can use to maximize the 5x quarterly bonus.
This product change will also leave each of us without a Sapphire card. Once we pass the 48-month mark after we received our original CSR sign-up bonus, each of us will be eligible for another sign-up bonus on a Sapphire card.
Stage 3 – 48 months after our original CSR sign-up bonus posted
At this point, we can each apply for a new Sapphire card. Philly is way under 5/24, so she shouldn’t have any problem getting approved. Due to my long-term “get back under 5/24” strategy, I’ll fall under 5/24 in November 2020. So, I’ll be eligible for a sign-up bonus on a new Sapphire card too!
At that time, we’ll assess whether CSR or CSP is the better value for a new application and proceed accordingly. It’s impossible to know for now. We’ll probably lean toward the CSR for Philly (given her usage patterns, especially for work expenses) and be much more flexible for me depending on the bonus offers. With the increased annual fee, perhaps we’ll see a nicely-increased sign-up bonus on the CSR by then!
Stage 4 – 2021 and beyond
Looking longer term, for Philly’s new Sapphire card (probably a CSR), we’ll probably lean toward keeping it long-term, again based on her usage patterns. But if her situation changes, we may consider something like we’re about to discuss with respect to my card.
For me, in general, whatever new Sapphire card I get, we’ll loosely plan to keep it for 1 year and then downgrade (probably to Freedom again). This is subject to change, of course, depending on the landscape at that time.
After the downgrade, at some point each year – ideally, at a time when a high-value travel portal redemption is needed – we can upgrade back to a CSR. The idea would be to upgrade for a relatively short time period, just as long as is needed to use the CSR’s $300 annual travel credit and make whatever redemption we wanted to make. After that, we could downgrade again (also probably back to a Freedom). We would have to pay a $550 annual fee (perhaps pro-rated based on the timing with respect to our anniversary date?). But we’d get a pro-rated refund once we downgraded back to a lower-fee or no-fee card (assuming that Chase’s current rules remain in place). Our thought is that we could capture some key CSR benefits like the travel credit, while only paying about 2 months’ worth of annual fee.
It remains to be seen whether this strategy will even be possible when that time comes (a couple of years out), or whether it will seem like a very bad idea then. But it’s at least food for thought and a starting place for a long-term CSR strategy.
We hope these thoughts have been helpful in light of the CSR changes that hit all of us suddenly this week. It’s a lot to take in, and there’s a lot more to learn. And as always, everyone’s circumstances are different, so you have to weigh your own individual factors in coming up with your own strategy. Feel free to ping us with any strategy questions in the Comments!
What are your thoughts on the CSR changes? What about strategies to use the new benefits and to maximize the CSR going forward? Please share with us and other Middle Age Miles readers in the Comments!
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