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By Martha C. White
January 8, 2020
Courtesy of Chase

The Chase Sapphire Reserve is pushing the envelope on what credit card customers can get from — and are willing to pay for — a super-premium rewards credit card, with an annual fee hike and a couple of trendy new perks.

The Sapphire Reserve is one of the most popular — and pricey — credit cards on the market today. When it debuted in 2016, its $450 annual fee raised plenty of eyebrows, but it didn’t stop the card from being so popular that Chase actually ran out of the original metal cards it issued to Sapphire Reserve cardholders.

At the time, Chase took a big gamble that consumers would be willing to pay that kind of money for a credit card. But the gamble paid off: The Sapphire Reserve’s rich perks and generous rewards structure attracted borrowers who liked the benefits and appreciated the flexibility of not being limited to earning extra perks from a single airline or hotel brand. (It also didn’t hurt that airlines were simultaneously moving away from frequent flier program rewards structures that emphasized miles flown to ones that confer rewards based more on spending, perhaps inadvertently creating a better apples-to-apples comparison between their co-branded credit cards and this new crop of carrier-agnostic rewards cards.)

A little more than three years into this experiment, Chase is once again rolling the dice, betting that Sapphire Reserve customers won’t mind coughing up an additional $100 a year. Starting on January 12, 2020, new cardholders will pay an annual fee of $550, an increase that brings the Sapphire Reserve on par with the American Express Platinum card, the priciest offering in the travel rewards category. Existing customers will see the new annual fee show up on their cardholder anniversary as of this April.

Many publications that cover credit cards (including this one) had vouched for the Sapphire Reserve in spite of its hefty annual fee. In fact, Money named it our best travel rewards credit card last year. We said it was especially good for people who travel a lot and who aren’t tied to any particular airline. The $300 annual travel credit, $100 credit towards a TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application, plus Priority Pass lounge access and triple points for travel and dining purchases combined to cancel out that annual fee.

Chase is attempting to strike a balance here and appeal to cardholders’ sense of value with a pair of new perks: Sapphire Reserve cardholders will get free membership in food delivery platform DoorDash’s subscription “DashPass: service, which offers free delivery for orders over $12 and normally costs $9.99 a month. Cardholders also get a statement credit of up to $60 a year towards DoorDash purchases this year and next year. We’ll note that Chase stipulates the free DashPass is “for at least 12 months when the subscription is activated by 12/31/21,” but the fine print also notes that you’ll be signed up for the service at the regular monthly price after that unless you choose to cancel.

The second new perk is a one-year enrollment in Lyft’s new Lyft Pink program, an ordinarily $19.99 monthly membership that offers 15% off car rides, up to three waived cancellations a month if you rebook within 15 minutes, priority airport pickups and three free bike and scooter rides a month of 30 minutes or less. Sapphire Reserve cardholders also get 10x rewards points for Lyft rides booked through March 2022.

Does all this make up for — or add up to — another $100 a year? That’s a question Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders will have to calculate for themselves. But given how wrong the skeptics were that people would eagerly pay $450 for a credit card, we wouldn’t count Chase out just yet. That said, both of the new perks are reliant on not-yet-profitable technology platforms that have seen their independent-contractor business model come under fire from California regulators this year. If the gig economy as we know it is radically reshaped by blue-state legislators, the value propositions and the feasibility of offering these perks could turn on a dime.