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Battle of the Premium Credit Cards: Earn and Burn Showdown

March 02, 2017
9 min read
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Chase, American Express and Citibank have all made changes to their ultra-premium credit cards in the last several months, so it's a great time to compare the bonus categories and direct redemption options amongst all three.

To be clear, a credit card isn't only about points. Although that's often the primary focus, there are tons of additional benefits that come with each of these cards, such as the broad $300 travel credit on the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Centurion lounge access on The Platinum Card from American Express and the 4th Night Free perk of the Citi Prestige Card. But this particular showdown is about points, so we're going to focus entirely on that particular perk.

Of course, the value that comes from using each card will depend on two factors — what purchases you make and how you redeem your points. So we've set up a series of showdowns with different scenarios on both the earning side and the burning side so you can pick the option that's closest to your own personal patterns and habits.

The Earning Side

First, let's take a look at the bonus categories across all three cards. Although the Citi Prestige will have new bonus categories when it relaunches in Jan. 2019, this guide uses the bonus categories currently available to cardholders.

 Chase Sapphire ReserveAmerican Express PlatinumCiti Prestige
Airfare + Hotels3x5x3x
Everyday Spend1x1x1x

Keep in mind that for the Amex Platinum, you have to buy airline tickets directly with the airlines or through the American Express Travel portal to get 5x points, and only prepaid hotels purchased at count for 5x at hotels. Both the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Citi Prestige are significantly less restrictive, since you can book directly with airlines or hotels, or at an online travel agency such as Orbitz or Expedia and still get the bonus multiplier.

Let's also examine the redemption options for airfare and hotels on each card's travel portal, taking a look at how many cents in value you'll get per point and also taking a look at TPG's valuation of each currency. Note that the Citi Prestige changed the amount you can get for direct redemption on July 23, 2017.

Chase Sapphire ReserveAmerican Express PlatinumCiti Prestige
Airline Tickets1.51.01.25
Hotel Rooms1.50.71.0
TPG Valuations2.21.91.6

Now, the first question is "how do you spend your money?" Two people might both spend $20,000 annually on their credit card, but the person who spends the majority of that on airfare is going to want to use a different card than the one who spends the majority on dining.

So let's take a look at several different spending mixes. In our first scenario, our premium credit card is in the hands of a busy traveler, so half of the $20,000 annual spend is on airfare and hotels (in the Amex Platinum's case, we'll assume the purchases are made directly with airlines or at Amex Travel). Another $5,000 is spent on dining, and the rest gets divided equally between entertainment and everyday spend. How many bonus points does that get us on each card?

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Chase Sapphire ReserveAmerican Express PlatinumCiti Prestige
Airfare + Hotels30,00050,00030,000
Everyday Spend2,5002,5002,500
TOTAL POINTS50,00060,00047,500

In this case, the Amex Platinum is the winner by at least 10,000 points. But now let's hand our premium credit card to a foodie who spends half of his or her $20,000 each year at restaurants, with half of the remaining purchases in everyday spend ($5,000) and the rest on airfare and hotels with nothing at all spent on entertainment...

Chase Sapphire ReserveAmerican Express PlatinumCiti Prestige
Airfare + Hotels15,00025,00015,000
Everyday Spend5,0005,0005,000
TOTAL POINTS50,00040,00040,000

All of a sudden, the Chase Sapphire Reserve takes the gold, and the Citi Prestige ties with the Amex Platinum. But what if now we give our card to someone who neither travels nor dines out a great deal, and spends an equal $5,000 in spending across all four categories...

Chase Sapphire ReserveAmerican Express PlatinumCiti Prestige
Airfare + Hotels15,00025,00015,000
Everyday Spend5,0005,0005,000
TOTAL POINTS40,00040,00040,000

So in this case, all the cards are equivalent, right? Nope. Because earning is only half the story — more points don't always equal more value.

The Burning Side

The Citi Prestige was once hard to beat for American Airlines redemptions, but now you'll get a flat 1.25 cents per point across all carriers.

Take that last example where all three cards tied. What happens if we redeem all 40,000 points we earned on each card directly for flights at each card's travel portal?

Chase Sapphire ReserveAmerican Express PlatinumCiti Prestige
Airline Tickets$600$400$500

The 40,000 points earned on the Citi Prestige were once the most valuable of the three cards when redeeming them that way for American flights — but as of July 23, you can no longer redeem ThankYou points for 1.6 cents apiece toward AA flights and for 1.33 cents per point on all other flights. Instead, your points will be worth 1.25 cents apiece across all carriers. So now, the Chase Sapphire Reserve is the best choice for redeeming points across all airlines.

Interestingly, the Amex Platinum is far behind both cards, but in these scenarios we're not considering the possibility that you might also have The Business Platinum Card® from American Express. With that card, you'd get a 35% rebate on all points redeemed directly for first and business-class airfare and on any ticket with the one airline of your choice (reduced from a 50% rebate, though you may still be eligible for the higher rate depending on when you signed up). So in that case, the value of the Amex points would be higher and it would be the winner with $616.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve comes out on top for airline redemptions across all carriers.

But the real question is what does a mix of all these redemption options look like? So let's see what happens when we redeem our 40,000 points in 10,000-point batches across all four categories (keep AA tickets as a category even though the numbers are now the same so we can divide 40,000 points evenly)...

Chase Sapphire ReserveAmerican Express PlatinumCiti Prestige
AA Tickets$150$100$125
Non-AA Airline Tickets$150$100$125
Hotel Rooms$150$70$100
TPG Valuations$220$190$160
TOTAL VALUE$670$460$510

This broad mix scenario has the Chase Sapphire Reserve winning with a ~24% advantage over the Citi Prestige and even more over the Amex Platinum.

Bottom Line

When it comes to picking a premium card, consider your spending habits along with how you want to use your points.

As you can see, the way you earn and burn your points makes an enormous difference when it comes to the value of each of these cards, so it's important to consider your spending patterns and your redemption methods when deciding which card to put in your wallet. But it's certainly great to have so many valuable options to choose from, which makes it much easier to find the premium card that's exactly right for you.

Which of these premium cards offers the best earning and burning options best on your spending habits?

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How we chose these cards

Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
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