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The Citi Premier card, which currently has a sign-up bonus of 50,000 points after $3,000 spent within the first 3 months, offers 3 points per dollar spent on “travel,” but what exactly does Citi consider to be travel? TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Jason Steele digs deep into Citi’s earnings structure to explain which transactions will earn you bonus points.
Citi is working hard to make its ThankYou Premier card as competitive as possible in the highly contested market for mid-range travel reward credit cards, which are those with an annual fee of around $100. So in April, it added gas-station purchases to its 3x bonus categories, and promoted other travel purchases from 2x to 3x, while widening the definition of what it considered to be travel spend. Unfortunately, it also demoted dining and entertainment charges from 3x to 2x.
So today, I want to take a look at how Citi defines these bonus categories, so that you can maximize the potential of this valuable card.
Earning 3x on Travel
Up until April 18 of this year, the Citi Premier card offered 2x ThankYou points for purchases of airfare and hotel reservations directly from the travel provider, as well as all purchases from travel agencies. Yet starting on April 19, when travel purchases went from 2x to 3x, Citi also adopted a much more expansive definition of travel purchases, which now includes:
- Car rental agencies
- Travel agencies
- Gas stations
- Commuter transportation
- Passenger railways
- Cruise lines
- Bridge and toll road purchases
- Parking lots/garages
- Campgrounds and trailer parks
- Bus tickets
- Motor home rental
- Boat rental
Maximizing Travel Purchases
Most of these travel categories are obvious fits for personal and business travel (airfare, hotel, rental car, etc.), but there are some that you can also take advantage of on a daily basis while at home. This is especially true of common expenses that you incur when commuting to work. For those who take public transportation, it’s helpful to know that this category includes commuter transportation, bus services and subway passes. In fact, these bonuses even apply to ferry services. And for those who drive to work, remember that tolls for bridges, tunnels and other highways are included, as well as charges at parking lots and garages.
The biggest target for earning 3x rewards is at gas stations, which are defined as any merchant that sells fuel. But in addition to fuel, these merchants often sell all sorts of other things, including maintenance, tires and convenience store items
It’s also interesting to note that there are many types of unconventional travel services included in the travel bonus category, not just the typical airfare, hotels and rental cars. For example, those who enjoy renting a motor boat or RV can earn 3x from these purchases, including both the rental price and the cost of parking an RV overnight at a campground or trailer park. Even tourist attractions such as horse-drawn carriages, bicycle taxis and cable cars somehow fall under Citi’s definition of taxis and limousines, and should qualify for 3x bonus points, depending on how these transactions are processed.
Maximizing the Dining and Entertainment Category Bonuses
While it might have stung a little when these categories went from 3x to 2x, it can still help to know where you can get this bonus. Restaurants are defined as pretty much any place that sells food for immediate consumption, be it dine-in or take-out, yet this category also includes bars, lounges, nightclubs and “discotheques” (which I presume was a word once used to describe dance clubs).
The entertainment category is even more inclusive, covering the following:
- Sports promoters, which may include stadiums.
- Theatrical promoters, including concerts, live productions, and ticketing agencies.
- Movie theaters.
- Amusement parks, including zoos, circuses, aquariums and any other live animal shows.
- Tourist attractions.
- Museums, including art galleries.
- Record stores, including online record stores.
- Video Rental stores, including game rental and online video rental.
Figuring Out What Qualifies and What Doesn’t
Just like all other credit card issuers, Citi warns you in its fine print that it doesn’t determine how merchants are classified; the merchants and the payment networks do. So some savvy reward credit card users have learned that merchants are occasionally misclassified, sometimes to their advantage, and sometimes not.
Most of the time, these errors are not significant, and whether or not you get 2x at a particular food market that may not be classified as an “eating establishment” is not going to make or break your award-travel dreams. But if you are anticipating a large purchase, and you want to be sure that you’ll earn the bonus points for it, there is a resource that will help you.
Visa.com offers a Supplier Locator tool that allows you to search your local area in order to find individual retailers that use qualifying merchant category codes. These merchant category codes are the four-digit numbers that credit card issuers use to classify charges and apply bonus offers. This tool can also be used to determine the merchant category code of a particular merchant, so that you can be sure it is eligible for bonus points. For more information, see our article on Using Merchant Category Codes to Maximize Bonuses.
ThankYou Premier Bonus Categories vs. Competitors
The two biggest rivals of the Citi Premier card are the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the American Express Premier Rewards Gold.
Although the Sapphire Preferred offers just 2x on travel, its definition of travel is almost as inclusive as Citi’s. Chase’s bonus offer applies to charges from airlines, hotels, motels, timeshares, campgrounds, car rental agencies, cruise lines, travel agencies, discount travel sites, operators of passenger trains, buses, taxis, limousines, ferries, toll bridges and highways and parking lots and garages. Compared to Citi Premier, it appears to leave out just motor home and boat rentals, and, most importantly, gas purchases. However, Chase’s Ink Plus Card does offer 2x rewards on gas purchases.
On the other hand, the Amex Premier Rewards Gold has a far narrower list of bonus categories, which only includes 3x points on flights directly booked with airlines and 2x at US gas stations and US supermarkets. Nevertheless, many travel rewards enthusiasts will find both Amex Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards points to be a bit more valuable than Citi’s ThankYou points, which so far doesn’t even have a US-based airline as a transfer partner. According to TPG’s latest monthly valuations, Amex points are worth 2 cents each, and Chase’s are at 2.1 cents, while Citi ThankYou points are still at just 1.6 cents each.
There are many ways to earn 3x and 2x points with Citi’s ThankYou Premier card, and by understanding exactly which kinds of charges are eligible for this bonus, you can use this card to its fullest potential.
Know before you go.
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