Even though the Citi Prestige has lost a lot of benefits, I'm still keeping mine (for now); Here's why
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It’s been a roller coaster couple of years for the Citi Prestige® Card.
In the first half of 2019, Citi introduced some very positive changes: The earning rate on airfare and dining increased to 5 points per dollar spent, the card’s annual $250 credit was expanded to include all travel purchases (previously, it only covered airfare) and cellphone insurance was added. Then, in September 2019, Citi stripped the card of most of its signature benefits, including travel and purchase protections -- and raised the card's annual fee to $495.
The information for the Citi Prestige Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
These changes led many to question whether the Prestige is worth keeping. For me, the answer to that question is yes. Here’s why I won’t be getting rid of this card – at least for now.
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Unmatched return on restaurant spend
Dining is one of my largest spending categories. So, at 5x Citi ThankYou Rewards points per dollar spent, the Citi Prestige Card offers the best rewards for restaurant spending of any card on the market. Based on TPG’s valuations, that’s a whopping 8.5% return on restaurant spending. Citi defines restaurants as including “cafes, bars, lounges and fast-food restaurants.” In practice, you’ll usually also get 5x points for food delivery services.
The American Express® Gold Card's 4x Membership Rewards points per dollar spent on dining at restaurants worldwide is worth nearly as much (an 8% return, since Membership Rewards are more valuable than ThankYou Points based on TPG's valuations). But, Mastercard is much more widely accepted than American Express, especially when traveling abroad. For this reason, the Citi Prestige is more attractive to me than the American Express Gold Card ($250 annual fee, see rates and fees).
Other cards that offer bonus points for dining have a much lower rate of return. The next best dining card I have compared to the Citi Prestige is the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which earns 3x Chase Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent in this category.
Despite devaluation, the fourth-night free perk is still valuable
There’s no question that the Citi Prestige fourth night free benefit has taken a significant beating:
- It’s gone from unlimited to only two uses per year
- It only applies to the room rate (previously, it also covered taxes and fees for the free night)
- It only applies to reservations made through the Citi ThankYou travel portal. That means you generally won’t earn points or receive elite benefits at the hotel. And, now you also can’t take advantage of special discounts for AAA cardholders, loyalty program members or companies with negotiated rates.
While these changes make the Citi Prestige fourth night free benefit significantly less valuable, it’s still a great deal in many cases. There are many independent hotels that don’t offer loyalty programs and many more where a 25% discount on a four-night stay is worth more than the points you might earn from your stay – especially if it’s a hotel chain you’re unlikely to stay with again.
There are also times Citi may offer a better room type or a lower price than other booking options. While you have to do some calculations before deciding that using your fourth-night free perk is the best deal, I’m confident I’ll still be able to get significant value from this benefit twice per year.
5x points at travel agencies, including tours
I make most of my travel bookings directly with the airline or hotel, since that usually guarantees I’m getting the lowest prices and all of my elite benefits. My flight bookings always go on a card that offers trip cancellation and interruption coverage, such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve, whether I’m booking direct or through a third party.
But if I’m booking an independent hotel or taking advantage of a promotion through an online travel agency such as Orbitz or Expedia, I can use my Citi Prestige Card to earn 5x points on those purchases. This is also a great way to get 5x points on tours and activities, which you can often book through agencies like Expedia and Viator.
Temporary perks due to coronavirus concerns
Like most people, I haven't been traveling as much this year. So, the following temporary perks provided to Citi Prestige cardholders have helped me justify keeping the card:
- $250 annual travel credit can be used at supermarkets and restaurants through the end of 2020
- 5x points on online, cable and streaming purchases through Dec. 31, 2020, up to a maximum of 7,500 points
To maximize the temporary 5x points on online, cable and streaming purchases, I'll strive to spend $1,500 in these categories before the end of 2020. Based on TPG's valuations, the 7,500 points I'll earn on these purchases are worth about $127.
Mastercard benefits help tip the scales
While not specific to Citi, benefits introduced by Mastercard for World Elite cards – including the Citi Prestige – help tip the scales in favor of keeping the card.
These benefits include:
- A $10 Lyft credit whenever you take five eligible rides in a calendar month (valid once a month).
- Double VIP+ points on Fandango purchases: For every two tickets purchased, earn enough for a $5 reward toward future movie tickets or at-home purchases
- Free two-day shipping, plus free return shipping, on eligible items at over 100 online retailers with ShopRunner
- Earn 5% Boxed Cash Rewards for future orders on wholesale pantry items, snacks and more
I'm able to use the $10 monthly Lyft credit almost every month, so this perk alone could add about $120 of value each year.
There’s no question that the negative changes Citi has made to the Citi Prestige Card make it much harder to justify keeping in the long term. But for now, since I spend so much on dining (especially internationally, where American Express acceptance is low) and can still get reasonable value from the fourth-night free benefit, this card still has a place in my wallet. That being said, I’ll definitely be looking closely at whether to keep it when it comes time to pay the annual fee again next year.
For rates and fees of the Amex Gold Card, please click here.
Additional reporting by Katie Genter.
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