Citi Prestige: 30,000 ThankYou Points, $250 Credit, & More

Nov 10, 2014

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A few weeks ago Citi updated the benefits on its premium card in the ThankYou Rewards program, the Citi Prestige. While the card lost some valuable benefits like a worldwide coach companion ticket and 15% discount on airfare, it gained others that are equally lucrative, like an annual $250 air travel credit and a 4th hotel night free.

TPG Contributor Nick Ewen recently wrote a comparison of several premium rewards cards, and Citi Prestige came out on top. It’s fair to say that this card has my attention, but given the hefty $450 annual fee, I wanted to analyze each benefit before I apply, and figure out just how much value cardholders can expect to get out of it. Read on to see what I found.

Here are the new official benefits:

Citi Prestige Card

  • $250 Air Travel Credit each year
  • Complimentary 4th Night for any hotel stay
  • Earn 30,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after $2,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open.
  • Earn 3x points on Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 2x points on Dining at Restaurants and Entertainment
  • 1 ThankYou® Point per $1 spent on other purchases
  • Travel with ease and enjoy chip based technology

Several important and valuable benefits are not included on this list, such as Priority Pass and Admirals Club lounge access, the $100 statement credit for Global Entry, the bonus for redeeming ThankYou points on American Airlines and US Airways flights, the Citi banking relationship bonus, or the lack of foreign transaction fees. Here’s a rundown of the most important benefits, and how much value I think they offer to cardholders.

Citi ThankYou transfer
ThankYou Rewards have become more valuable since Citi added airline transfer partners.

Sign-up Bonus: 30,000 ThankYou Points
In my latest monthly valuations, I list Citi ThankYou Points at 1.6 cents apiece, so I value the sign-up bonus for Citi Prestige at $480 in award travel.  You can use these points with any of Citi’s 10 transfer partners, or you can redeem them directly for travel on American Airlines or US Airways at 1.6 cents apiece (or 1.33 cents apiece on other airlines). Those direct redemptions have added value, since they count as paid fares, and are eligible to earn frequent flyer miles and count toward elite status.

$250 Air Travel Credit
Citi Prestige used to offer a $200 annual airline fee credit, which covered incidental costs like checked bag fees or in-flight purchases. The current benefit is much more valuable since it can be used to cover airfare. Furthermore, this benefit is offered once per calendar year, so you should be able to use it twice in your first year of cardmembership for a total credit of $500. If you’re not sure Citi Prestige is a good fit for you and are wary of the annual fee, this benefit alone should be able to cover it at the outset.

A guest room at the Hotel Santa Teresa.
Your 4th hotel night is free when you use your Citi Prestige with the designated travel advisor.

Complimentary 4th Hotel Night
Citi Prestige cardholders receive a free 4th night at any hotel booked through Citi’s designated travel advisor, Carlson Wagonlit Travel. While the restriction of having to book through CWT is annoying, they generally price out about the same as (or often better than) the major online travel agencies, and the terms of benefits actually state that “Rates provided will be equal to or lower than the lowest publicly-available fare at the hotel’s official website.”

This benefit comes at the expense of booking directly with the hotel, so your stay will likely be ineligible to earn points or elite status credit. That’s worth considering if you’re staying at a property with a solid loyalty program, especially if you have a co-branded hotel credit card, though I think it’s unlikely the value of any points you earn would match getting the fourth night completely free.

You can only receive the benefit once per reservation, so you can’t get two statement credits for an eight night stay. However, there are no blackout dates, and no limit on how many times you can use this benefit.  That means that in theory you could book an eight night stay as two separate four night reservations, and earn two statement credits that way.

The statement credit is calculated based on the actual rate of the free fourth night, even if that rate differs from the other nights. That means you could book a four night stay starting on Wednesday night, and get Saturday night free even though it might be the most expensive of the four nights. Thus, the free night benefit could save you more than 25% off your hotel stay in the right circumstances.

I think most cardholders will be able to make use of the free hotel night at least twice a year, and assuming an average hotel room costs around $125, I think you should be able to get at least $250 in value out of this benefit annually.

Seriously, though - what are you waiting for?
Global Entry can be a huge time saver for international travelers.

Global Entry $100 Credit
If you travel internationally, Global Entry can make re-entering the United States much easier. Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection program that expedites clearance for pre-approved, low-risk international travelers upon arrival in the United States. Citi Prestige offers a $100 statement credit to cover the cost of applying for primary cardholders. I think Global Entry is well worth the price if you travel outside the U.S. with any regularity, but when the fee is covered it’s a no-brainer.

Your Global Entry status lasts for 5 years, and accordingly Citi Prestige allows you to use this benefit once every 5 years. That means this benefit is worth $100 in the first year, or $20 per year if you plan to keep the card for the long-term.

Admirals Club lounge American Airlines
Citi Prestige gives you access to Admirals Clubs and Priority Pass lounges.

Lounge Access
This benefit is a bit tougher to value, since lounge access is much more useful to some travelers than to others. Lately I’ve been down on the importance of lounge access; I appreciate truly quality lounges like the slowly expanding network of Amex Centurion Lounges, or the first class Lufthansa lounge in Munich, among others. However, if you do prize lounge access, I think getting it as a credit card benefit makes way more sense than paying for it outright.

In a poll I took a while back, the majority of readers valued lounge access around $25 per visit. Using that as a benchmark, the value of this benefit depends on how often you need lounge access, as well as whether you travel alone or with other people (since Citi Prestige offers access for the cardholder and family or up to two guests). If you’re a heavy traveler, 10 visits or more per year is plausible. If you travel infrequently, 2-4 visits is more realistic. I’ll be somewhat conservative and value the lounge access from Citi Prestige at $125 annually.

While the other Citi Prestige benefits are useful, they’re mostly available elsewhere.

Other benefits
The remaining card benefits have value, but they’re either general enough that you probably already have similar benefits from another card, or they’re only useful to an overwhelming minority of cardholders. For example, avoiding foreign transaction fees can save you a substantial amount if you travel internationally, but enough cards now offer this benefit that it no longer sets them apart.

The same goes for benefits like luggage protection, or the bonus spending categories like 3x on air travel and hotels, and 2x on restaurants and entertainment. These benefits carry more weight if you plan to make Citi Prestige your primary card, but if it’s just going to be one of several in your wallet, they don’t add much. I’ll leave it to you to determine how much these second-tier benefits are worth based on your needs.

At a minimum, I think you should get the following value out of the Citi Prestige card in the first year of cardmembership:

  • Sign-up Bonus: $480
  • Air Travel Credit: $500 ($250 x 2)
  • 4th Hotel Night Free: $250
  • Global Entry Credit: $100
  • Lounge Access: $125

That totals $1,455 in value I expect you to get from this card in the first year. Once you factor in the $450 annual fee, I think the Citi Prestige should provide you with at least $1,000 in value in the first year. I do think that number is a bit conservative; if you travel often, you could easily get double or triple the value out of the free hotel nights and lounge access, pushing the value to the $1,500-2,000 range.

If you’re looking beyond the first year of cardmembership, the benefits are less lucrative, but still substantial:

  • Air Travel Credit: $250
  • 4th Hotel Night Free: $250
  • Global Entry Credit: $20
  • Lounge Access: $125

That adds up to $645 in value, or just under $200 after you factor in the annual fee. That amount isn’t earth-shattering, but again it depends on how much use you get out of each benefit. Personally I’d expect to use the free hotel nights quite a bit, so I estimate I’d get closer to $1,000 in value year over year.

Overall, the value proposition for Citi Prestige seems strong enough in the first year that it’s worth trying out. Even if you end up not using many of the benefits, the sign-up bonus and air travel credit alone will more than cover the annual fee.

I’m glad to see Citi offering another card with premium benefits. Along with the recent improvements to ThankYou Rewards, they seem to be stepping up their game and creating more competition in the credit card and award travel markets, which can only benefit points and miles enthusiasts in the end.

How would you value the Citi Prestige benefits? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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