A second look at Amex Green vs. Chase Sapphire Reserve

2

The American Express® Green Card has been completely revamped. Previously it was a nearly useless $95 per year card. Now, at a $150 per year, it is a serious Chase Sapphire Reserve competitor with 3X rewards for travel and dining. This post has been updated since the Sapphire Reserve card’s annual fee has increased but, in my opinion, the Green card still falls short in a head to head comparison.

Let’s compare the Green from Amex to the Chase Sapphire Reserve side by side:

Green from Amex Chase Sapphire Reserve

$150 Annual Fee

$550 Annual Fee – $300 Travel Reimbursement = $250 Net

Earns 3X travel & dining

Earns 3X travel & dining

$100 Annual Lounge Buddy Credit

Priority Pass Membership

$100 Annual CLEAR Credit

$100 Global Entry Credit every 4 years

N/A

Lyft & DoorDash Benefits

Minimal Travel Protections

Best In Class Travel Protections ( found here)

Let’s look at each of these in turn:

Annual Fee (Advantage: Amex)

Thanks to the Sapphire Reserve card’s awesome travel protections, I personally put most travel spend on this card. As a result, every year I automatically earn the $300 Travel Reimbursement in the same statement cycle as the annual fee. So, for me, the net annual fee for the Sapphire Reserve really is just $250 ($550 annual fee minus $300 travel credit). There is, though, a tiny loss due to the fact that I don’t earn rewards on the $300 of spend that was rebated.

All that said, the Green card has two big advantages: 1) it’s $100 cheaper; and 2) You don’t have to pay $550 up front. You don’t need to make sure to spend $300 on travel in order to bring the net annual fee down to $250.

Foreign Transactions (Advantage: Chase)

Both cards have no foreign transaction fees, but Visa cards are accepted in far more places worldwide than Amex.

Rewards (Advantage Depends on Circumstances)

Both cards earn 3X for travel and dining and 1X everywhere else. So the real difference in rewards value depends upon how much you value Amex Membership Rewards vs. Chase Ultimate Rewards. If you want to cash out your rewards, then Amex has the edge, but only if you have the Schwab Platinum card which lets you cash out points at 1.25 cents each. If you want to use points to pay for travel, then Chase has a big advantage with points worth 1.5 cents each towards travel booked through Chase. If you want to transfer points to airline partners, then Amex has the edge since they have more transfer partners and frequent transfer bonuses. If you want to transfer points to hotels, then Chase has the edge because they support transfers to Hyatt (which has a generous award chart).

See our guides for more information:

Airport Lounge Access (Advantage: Chase in a vacuum, Amex otherwise)

Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders get full Priority Pass membership. This allows you to freely visit any Priority Pass lounge or restaurant with up to 2 guests. The Green card, meanwhile, gives you only $100 per year of Lounge Buddy credit. Lounge Buddy is a very useful app for finding out about which lounges are available at every airport worldwide. Lounge Buddy also lets you pay for access to some airport lounges. Unfortunately, their selection is even more limited than Priority Pass. Here’s an example…

At Newark airport (EWR), Lounge Buddy offers only one lounge for sale. The Art & Lounge outside of security in Terminal B is available for $40. If you used the Green benefit to get yourself and one guest in to this lounge, you’d use up $80 of your annual $100 benefit with just one visit.

Priority Pass, meanwhile, offers access both to Art & Lounge and the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at Newark’s terminal B. It is important to note that access times are limited for Priority Pass cardholders at this lounge, but if the times meet your needs, this is a fantastic option. And, not only could you bring in 2 guests, but you could visit every time you travel without using up this benefit.

There are times where a Priority Pass lounge may turn you away for various reasons. They may have a rule about access being limited to 3 hours before you flight, or they may only allow access during certain hours, or they may turn you away if the lounge is full. The one advantage that I can think of to buying lounge access through Lounge Buddy is that it is a way to secure access to lounges that might otherwise turn you away.

In a vacuum, the Sapphire Reserve’s Priority Pass benefit is arguably much better than the Green card’s Lounge Buddy credit. However, if you already have a good version of Priority Pass from another card, there is more incremental value to the Lounge Buddy credit since there are times (although rare) where it is better than Priority Pass alone.

Airport Security Benefits (Advantage: Amex)

Thanks to my Delta Diamond status, I get CLEAR for free. CLEAR lets me skip the sometimes very long ID check lines at the airport (just before security). Instead, I look into the camera and CLEAR verifies my identity based on my eyes (you can use your fingerprints instead if you don’t mind touching the same germ infected touch pad that everyone else uses).

I also have Global Entry for free thanks to many cards that offer that perk. Global Entry gives you expedited clearance back into the country when traveling internationally. Even more valuable to many, Global Entry gives you TSA PreCheck. This lets you go through special PreCheck security lines at the airport and means that you don’t need to remove your shoes, laptops, or liquids.

The main difference between CLEAR and TSA PreCheck is that CLEAR lets you breeze past the first line at security: the place you line up to show your ID. TSA PreCheck then speeds up the second part where you put your bags through x-ray machines and you go through a metal detector or body scanner. The best is to have both so that you can zoom through both parts of security every time.

Global Entry costs $100 every 5 years. So, at best, the Global Entry fee reimbursement is worth $20 per year. Meanwhile, the Green card’s CLEAR benefit is worth up to $100 per year.

By default, CLEAR costs $179 per year, but there are easy ways to reduce the price. See: 5 ways to get CLEAR for less. If you were going to pay for CLEAR anyway, the CLEAR benefit brings the Green card’s net annual fee down to just $50.

Travel protections (Advantage: Chase)

The Chase Sapphire Reserve card offers awesome travel protections. Check out this post for a comparison with other ultra-premium cards. The Sapphire Reserve covers all of the following:

    t

  • Primary car rental collision damage waiver
  • t

  • Baggage insurance
  • t

  • Roadside assistance
  • t

  • Trip cancellation & interruption insurance
  • t

  • Trip delay insurance
  • t

  • Travel accident insurance
  • t

  • Emergency evacuation & transportation
  • t

  • Emergency medical & dental

Meanwhile, the Green card has minimal protections:

    t

  • Secondary car rental collision damage waiver
  • t

  • Baggage insurance

Summary

Green from Amex Chase Sapphire Reserve

$150 Annual Fee ( Advantage Amex)

$550 Annual Fee – $300 Travel Reimbursement = $250 Net

No FX fees

No FX fees ( Advantage Chase for worldwide acceptance)

Earns 3X travel & dining
( Advantage Amex for transfer partners)

Earns 3X travel & dining
( Advantage Chase for purchasing travel at 1.5 cents per point value)

$100 Annual Lounge Buddy Credit
( Advantage Amex for those with Priority Pass from other cards)

Priority Pass Membership
( Advantage Chase for those without Priority Pass)

$100 Annual CLEAR Credit ( Advantage Amex)

$100 Global Entry Credit every 4 years

N/A

Lyft & DoorDash Benefits ( Advantage Chase)

Minimal Travel Protections

Best In Class Travel Protections ( Advantage Chase)

Conclusion

In an earlier version of this post, I concluded that the Sapphire Reserve was the hands down winner. Since then, Chase has increased the annual fee from $450 to $550. I’ve also added consideration for the possibility of using the Amex card in conjunction with other cards. Now, I’m led to multiple conclusions:

Chase Sapphire Reserve is the clear winner in a vacuum. If you don’t have another card with no foreign transaction fees that is accepted worldwide, and if you don’t have another card that offers a good version of Priority Pass, and if you don’t have another card that offers great travel protections, then the Chase Sapphire Reserve is a much better option even with its higher annual fee.

Chase Sapphire Reserve is the winner if you want to use points to book paid travel. If you’re only interested in transferring points to travel partners, then Amex or Chase may be preferred depending upon which travel partners you’re most likely to transfer to. However, if you’re interested in booking paid travel with points, the Sapphire Reserve is far superior in that it offers 1.5 cents per point value for travel booked through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal. Amex only offers 1 cent per point value in most situations.

Amex is the winner as an “add on” card, especially if you pay for CLEAR anyway. If you subscribe to CLEAR (or plan to), then the Green card’s net annual fee is only $50. Depending upon what other cards you have, it may be well worth $50 to get 3X travel & dining and $100 Lounge Buddy credit each year.

Comparing to other cards

This post was specifically designed to compare the Amex Green Card to the Chase Sapphire Reserve. If you’re interested in looking more broadly at which cards are worth their annual fees, please see: Which Ultra Premium Cards are Keepers?