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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – Citi Prestige Card

Today, TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Jason Steele looks at one of the more uncommon benefits of the new and improved Citi Prestige to see how much value it offers cardholders.

In its quest to gain a larger share of the market for travel rewards credit cards, Citi has seemingly exhausted all of the standard benefits that we’ve come to expect. The Citi Prestige Card already offers a lucrative sign-up bonus, flexible ThankYou points, airport business lounge access, air travel fee credits, and much more. So to help set this premium card apart from its competitors, Citi has added an entirely new benefit not yet seen in credit cards: free rounds of golf.

How this benefit works

Citi Prestige cardholders are eligible to receive three free rounds of golf per calendar year. The benefit is offered by a company called Golf Switch, which serves as a reservations portal for over 2,000 public and private courses around the world — kind of like OpenTable for golf.

Unlike the Prestige card’s 4th night free hotel benefit, cardholders can make eligible reservations online (Courses in Asia must be reserved over the phone through the Citi Prestige Concierge). You can explore the list of eligible courses by visiting the Golf Switch website. Note that you don’t need to log in to use the menu at the top of the page, although you will need to select a “Golf Destination” first before viewing a list of individual courses. In addition, you can check available tee times without logging in.

Unfortunately, Citi only allows cardholders to book a single tee time at once, and any additional reservations must be made after you have played (or cancelled) your existing one. Also, reservations must be made at least three days in advance. Finally, you’ll have to reserve the rounds with your Citi Prestige card, and if you do not cancel according to the course’s policy, you’ll be charged the entire amount for the rounds.

Frankly, I’ve never understood why companies have these kinds of policies that force you to use the award or pay full price for it (as hotel loyalty programs often do with their award nights). It seems like golf courses and hotels alike could just have a “use it or lose it” policy that would simply forfeit the award if you didn’t cancel it in time.

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The dramatic views of the Ocean Course at Cabo Del Sol, where morning tee times can cost $365, or can be reserved free with Citi Prestige.

Maximizing this benefit

Like the Citi Prestige card’s $250 annual Air Travel Credit, cardholders can redeem their free rounds of golf each calendar year. This means that if you receive the Citi Prestige card now, you could enjoy three rounds of golf in 2015, and another three rounds in 2016, while paying the $450 annual fee just once in your first year as a cardmember.

Eligible golf courses that are part of the Golf Switch network range from municipal courses that might cost around $30 per round to prestigious greens at exotic resorts that can charge well over $100 for prime tee times. For instance, at the Ocean Course at Cabo del Sol near Los Cabos Mexico, where you might catch sight of grey whales just off shore, a morning tee time costs $365 from November to May. Other standouts include the Tournament Player’s Club (TPC) courses in Scottsdale, Arizona, and Myrtle Beach South Carolina, as well as the Fairmont Banff Springs in Alberta, Canada.

Perhaps the greatest limitation of this benefit is that each round of golf must be reserved in the name of the primary cardholder, so you can’t book tee times for anyone other than yourself. That’s too bad, since naturally many golfers prefer to play with someone else rather than alone. Still, this benefit adds even more value to a card that’s already offering plenty of it, especially in the first year.

Citi Prestige is currently offering a sign-up bonus of 50,000 ThankYou Points after you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months. According to TPG’s most recent monthly valuations, this sign-up bonus is worth $800 thanks to Citi’s airline transfer partners and the ability for cardholders to redeem points at 1.6 cents apiece for flights on American Airlines and US Airways. Factor in the $250 annual Air Travel Credit, 3 free rounds of golf, the 4th night free hotel benefit, lounge access, and more, and the Prestige Card clearly offers enough value to justify the annual fee. With that in mind, you might convince your golf buddies to sign up too.

You could even combine several of these benefits into a pretty inexpensive golf getaway. Use ThankYou points to book flights to your favorite golf destination (and perhaps use a portion of the Air Travel Credit to check your clubs). Find a nearby hotel where you can redeem your 4th night free benefit, and enjoy your free rounds of golf. Other than your first three hotel nights, your trip would be covered.

Final word

The golf benefit is another valuable perk for Citi Prestige cardmembers, and I’d like to see more of this kind of innovation among premium travel rewards cards. For those who love the sport, it’s just one more way that you can realize substantial value from this up and coming credit card.

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