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Today, TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Jason Steele explains how you can boost your travel rewards earnings through your checking, savings, and investment accounts.
While credit card issuers are happy to earn your business by offering travel rewards, they’d all like to engage you in their full spectrum of banking and even investment products. In this post, I’ll explain how both Bank of America and Citi encourage customers to broaden their banking relationships by offering bonus points and other benefits to credit card holders.
Bank of America Preferred Rewards
BoA has an advanced three-tiered program that offers 25-75% additional rewards to many rewards credit card holders. The program is exclusive to Bank of America’s own rewards program, so it applies the BankAmericard Travel Rewards® Credit Card, the Bank Americard Cash RewardsTM Credit Card and other eligible cards, but unfortunately doesn’t include co-branded airline cards that offer miles with Alaska, Asiana or Virgin Atlantic.
How this program works
The entry-level Gold tier features a 25% rewards bonus, and is offered to those with at least $20,000 in combined balances over a three-month average. These balances can be in BoA accounts or in Merrill Lynch or Merrill Edge investment accounts. In addition to the 25% credit card rewards bonus, the Gold tier offers no-fee banking services, a $200 mortgage credit on closing, lower rates for home equity and auto loans and a 5% interest booster on Money Market accounts (an additional bonus of 5% of the original interest rate, not 5% of the investment).
The Preferred Rewards Platinum tier offers a 50% rewards bonus for those who have at least $50,000 in combined balances over a three-month average. In addition to the rewards bonus and the Gold tier benefits, you also get 12 free ATM withdrawals (at non-BoA machines), up to 30 free online equity and ETF trades per month, larger interest rate discounts on home equity and auto loans and a 10% interest rate booster.
Finally, BoA offers a Platinum Honors tier with a 75% rewards bonus for those with over $100,000 in combined balances over a three-month average. In addition to the benefits above, you get unlimited free ATM withdrawals, 100 free online trades per month, even greater loan rate discounts and a 20% interest rate booster.
How these bonuses can benefit you
Bank of America’s Travel Rewards card isn’t particularly compelling by itself. It offers 1.5 points per dollar spent, and each point is worth one cent as a statement credit toward travel. You can do better with the Capital One Venture Rewards credit card or the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard, both of which offer double miles that are also worth one cent apiece as statement credits toward travel expenses. Even at the Gold tier, the BoA Travel Rewards card only offers a return of 1.875%.
At the Platinum tier, the return jumps to 2.25%. That just barely exceeds the overall rate of return for the Barclaycard Arrival Plus, which equates to 2.22% when you factor in the 10% mileage rebate on redemptions (Barclaycard Arrival benefits are changing in November). Only when you reach the Platinum Honors level does the return become truly impressive, at 2.625%. That tier requires over $100,000 in combined deposits, but that’s not a crazy amount if you’ve been saving for retirement for a while.
This card currently offers a sign-up bonus of 20,000 points (worth $200) for new cardholders who make $1,000 in purchases within their first 90 days after account opening.
The Cash Rewards card offers 2% back at grocery stores and 3% at gas stations (as well as 1% cash back elsewhere). That means at the Platinum Honors tier you could earn 3.5% cash back on groceries and 5.25% on gas. Those rates are respectable, but the bonus categories are capped at $1,500 in combined purchases each quarter, so the potential net return isn’t very high.
Citi Prestige relationship bonus
The Citi Prestige Card is already one of the top premium travel rewards credit cards, but having a banking relationship with Citi can make this card even more exceptional. Cardholders currently earn 3 ThankYou points per dollar spent on air travel and hotels, 2 points on dining and entertainment and 1 point on all other purchases. This card has a $450 annual fee, but comes with a sign-up bonus of 40,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months.
In addition, this card comes with an array of other benefits, including a $250 annual air travel credit, a fourth night free hotel benefit and free rounds of golf. Cardholders receive access to the American Airlines Admiral’s Club and Priority Pass Select lounges. You also get a $100 credit toward the application fee for the Global Entry program, and the card has no foreign transaction fees.
CitiGold checking account bonus
CitiGold checking account holders receive a 15% bonus on ThankYou points earned from the Citi Prestige. In addition, CitiGold members can get a reduced annual fee of $350. There is a $30 monthly fee for these accounts, which can be waived if you have $50,000 of eligible linked deposit and retirement balances for the previous month, or $100,000 or more in eligible linked deposits, retirement balances, and investments for the prior calendar month.
According to TPG’s latest valuations, Citi ThankYou points are worth 1.6 cents each, so if you can’t waive the monthly fee, you would need to earn 12,500 points in a month (for a bonus of 1,875 points) to make it worthwhile. If you get the reduced annual fee, that number shrinks to a little over 9,000 points per month (for a bonus of about 1,350 points).
Other Citi ThankYou point bonuses
The 15% bonus is also available to Citi’s Global Client customers, which are those living overseas and doing business with Citi, although the nature of the required relationship isn’t very well defined. Citi also extends the 15% bonus to employees in a special offer. Finally, there’s a 25% bonus offered to Citi Private Bank clients, which is open to those with $25 million to invest.
Where these bonuses will take you
Assuming you’re not a Citi Private Bank client, the 15% bonus on ThankYou points is still pretty nice. With this bonus, Citi Prestige offers 3.45 points per dollar spent on air travel and hotels, 2.3 points at restaurants and on entertainment and 1.15 points on all other purchases.
Taking advantage of these programs
Both the Bank of America Preferred Rewards program and the CitiGold relationship bonus are worth looking into, especially if you’re seeking a new institution for banking and investment, and have enough funds to work with so you can avoid monthly fees. Bank of America’s program is the most attractive for those who prefer a card that offers statement credits, even if only to defray taxes, fuel surcharges and other expenses not covered by traditional rewards programs.
The CitiGold program is much more accessible, as some will find the combined benefits of a CitiGold account (in addition to the 15% points bonus) to be worth the monthly fee. With the ThankYou program continuing to add airline transfer partners, the extra 15% in points could be even more useful down the line. While Citi announced some negative changes to this card back in July — including a lower sign-up bonus, the elimination of Admirals Club access and the end of the free rounds of golf benefit — one of its most valuable perks still remains, which is the 4th Night Free perk. This benefit alone can save you thousands of dollars a year if you use it to its full advantage.
While Citi announced some negative changes to this card back in July — including a lower sign-up bonus, the elimination of Admirals Club access and the end of the free rounds of golf benefit — one of its most valuable perks still remains, which is the 4th Night Free perk. This benefit alone can save you thousands of dollars a year if you use it to its full advantage.