Chase Sapphire Preferred vs. Citi Premier: Which mid-tier travel card is better?

Apr 6, 2021

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As premium credit cards have raised annual fees over the years, many are turning to mid-tier cards for earning travel rewards — especially while travel has been on a break for many of us. Two issuers who offer strong contenders in the mid-tier card space are Chase and Citi. The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is one of the most popular credit cards on the market for both rewards beginners and seasoned travelers. Citi, on the other hand, offers a comparable option in its Citi Premier® Card.

Both cards offer rewards in similar categories and a comparable sign-up bonus for a $95 annual fee — but which is better for your wallet?

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In This Post

Comparison overview

Card details Chase Sapphire Preferred Citi Premier
Annual fee $95 $95
Sign-up bonus 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months from account opening.

Up to $50 in statement credits towards grocery store purchases within your first year from account opening

60,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months
Earning structure 5x points on Lyft (through March 2022)

2x on travel and dining (including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out)

1x on everything else

3x points per dollar on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels

1x on everything else

 

Other benefits 25% redemption bonus when you book travel through the Chase portal

Complimentary DashPass membership through DoorDash

Get up to $60 back on Peloton membership (through Dec. 31, 2021)

Robust travel protections

$100 off a single hotel stay of $500 or more when booked through the ThankYou travel site directly (available once per calendar year)

Personal concierge service

Citi Entertainment access

25% bonus when using your points through the the ThankYou travel center

As you can see, both cards offer a similar rewards structure, sign-up bonus and comparable benefits options — meaning they’re geared toward the same type of traveler. But there are a few differences to consider before applying for one over the other. Let’s dig into the details of both of these great mid-tier travel cards.

Sign-up bonus

The Citi Premier offers 60,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months. However, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is currently offering an elevated sign-up bonus of 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months from account opening. Plus, earn a one-time $50 statement credit on grocery purchases in the first year of account opening.

TPG values Ultimate Rewards points at 2 cents each, making the Sapphire Preferred sign-up bonus worth $1,650 ($1,600 from the points earned, plus the $50 statement credit). After subtracting the $95 annual fee, you’ll walk away with a net value of $1,555. In contrast, TPG values ThankYou points at 1.7 cents each, making the Premier’s bonus worth $1,020. After accounting for the $95 annual fee, your bonus value is $925.

While the sign-up bonus certainly isn’t the only factor you should consider when choosing a credit card, it is important — especially when comparing two cards as similar as the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Citi Premier. Both cards offer sign-up bonuses with extraordinary value for only charging $95 annual fees. However, the Sapphire Preferred wins here as you’ll enjoy a whopping $630 more in value alone.

Winner: Chase Sapphire Preferred

(Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)

Earning

Sign-up bonuses come and go, so it’s important to pick a card with strong bonus categories that deliver long-term value. This is where the Citi Premier and Chase Sapphire Preferred start to differ.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred offers a standard 2x points on all dining and travel purchases, and Chase defines both categories broadly. Travel includes a wide range of expenses, such as airlines, hotels, campgrounds, car rentals, home-sharing platforms like Airbnb, transit like rideshares and ferries, cruise lines and more. Dining includes standard restaurants, bars, breweries, coffee shops, vending machines and even many restaurant delivery services.

Chase also recently added an additional bonus category to the Preferred in the wake of the issuer’s partnership with Lyft. Cardholders will earn 5x total (2x on travel plus an additional 3x on Lyft) on all Lyft rides through March 2022.

Related: How to maximize points and miles through Lyft partnerships

Considering the 2-cents-per-point valuation for Chase Ultimate Rewards points, that means you’re getting a 4% return on dining and travel and a 10% return on Lyft expenses.

The Citi Premier offers the opportunity to earn a significantly higher 3x points at restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels. Despite TPG only valuing Citi ThankYou points at 1.7 cents each, you’re still getting a 5.1% return on these category bonus purchases. Not only are you earning more on restaurant and travel-related purchases, but you’re also earning a significantly higher number of points on your groceries or when filling up your gas tank — which may align better with everyday spenders.

Winner: Citi Premier

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

Redeeming

While the Chase Ultimate Rewards program doesn’t have as many transfer partners, it stacks its roster deep with a number of high-value options. Points transfer 1:1 (and in most cases, instantly) to Chase’s three hotel and 10 airline partners. Familiar programs such as United MileagePlus and British Airways Executive Club can be great options for redeeming award flights domestically and internationally. Still, you can also find incredible value with some lesser-known programs such as Virgin Atlantic Flying Club. On the hotel side, you can transfer your Chase points to Hyatt for some truly incredible redemptions.

Related: How to maximize your Chase Ultimate Rewards points

Transferable points are valued for their flexibility. While you’ll usually get the best value by transferring to one of the aforementioned partners, you sometimes need to be on a specific flight and there’s no award availability. In this case — or if you find a cheap cash fare — you can consider booking directly through the Chase portal instead. Sapphire Preferred cardholders get a 25% bonus when booking airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal, giving your points a value of 1.25 cents each. Better yet, these redemptions code as cash tickets, so you’ll continue to earn miles and credit toward elite status on your flights booked in this way (though not on most hotels).

Citi ThankYou Rewards offers 16 airline transfer partners. However, JetBlue is the only domestic carrier on the list, and you generally won’t get outsized value from JetBlue TrueBlue points due to its limited international footprint. You can also transfer your points at a 1:1 ratio, although Citi will offer transfer bonuses from time to time.

There are plenty of ways to find value here, especially with programs including Avianca LifeMiles, Virgin Atlantic, Singapore KrisFlyer and Etihad Guest. Just bear in mind that none of these valuable partners are unique to Citi (in the way that Hyatt is to Chase). All of the programs I mentioned are also transfer partners of other major programs such as American Express Membership Rewards or Capital One miles.

Related: Redeeming Citi ThankYou Points for maximum value

This is a close call, but Ultimate Rewards rank higher in TPG’s valuation series for a reason. While Citi has valuable transfer partners and more of them, it offers no unique value that can’t be replicated with another program. The 25% bonus for booking travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal is also a nice advantage.

Winner: Chase Sapphire Preferred

delta-wing-airplane-view-mountains-window-landscape
Both of these cards offer access to transfer partners that can help you redeem for flights worldwide. (Photo by Darren Murph/The Points Guy)

Perks and protections

You’re not going to get as many perks or the same level of protections on a $95-a-year card as you will with a premium card that costs $450 or more, but both of these cards offer some great travel benefits that are worth keeping in mind.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred offers cardholders at least one year of complimentary DashPass membership through Chase’s partnership with on-demand food platform DoorDash. The membership gives you free delivery on orders over $12 at eligible restaurants, reduced service fees and more.

Also, the Chase Sapphire Preferred offers the following:

  • Primary rental car insurance: May provide reimbursement up to the actual cash value of the vehicle in the event of theft or collision damage
  • Trip cancellation/interruption insurance: May reimburse up to $5,000 per covered trip and a maximum limit of $10,000 per occurrence and a maximum benefit amount per 12-month period of $20,000
  • Trip delay protection: May reimburse up to $500 per ticket for delays of 12 hours or more or overnight
  • Lost luggage protection: May reimburse up to $3,000 per passenger if your baggage is lost, stolen or damaged
  • Baggage delay protection: May reimburse up to $100 per day for up to five days when baggage is delayed more than six hours
  • Purchase protection: Covers your purchases for 120 days against damage or theft, up to $500 per claim and $50,000 per account
  • Extended warranty protection: May extend the manufacturer’s warranty by an additional year on warranties of three years or less

Related: 5 Chase Sapphire Preferred benefits you might not know about

(Photo by asiandelight/Getty Images)
If travel protection such as luggage delay insurance is a priority for you, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is the better option. (Photo by asiandelight/Getty Images)

On the flip side, the Citi Premier no longer offers travel and shopping protections. However, Citi does offer some other benefits, such as Citi Entertainment, offering cardholders access to presale tickets and exclusive events. This is an often-overlooked benefit that can be incredibly valuable — in a normal, non-pandemic year — when you live in a city where popular concerts and other events tend to sell out quickly if you do not have access to presale tickets.

Related: Best credit cards for entertainment

It’s also worth noting that Citi is a World Elite Mastercard and therefore receives Mastercard-issued benefits, including savings with the following partners:

  • Lyft: Take five rides in a month and receive a monthly $10 Lyft credit
  • DoorDash: Mastercard World and World Elite cardholders receive a Dashpass subscription for three months, with complimentary unlimited free delivery fees and reduced service fees on orders over $12.
  • ShopRunner: Enjoy a free ShopRunner membership, offering free 2-day shipping and return shipping at hundreds of online retailers
  • Fandango: For every two movie tickets purchased, enjoy $5 off future movie tickets or at-home Fandango purchases
  • Priceless Golf: Enjoy exclusive golf offers and experiences with PGA TOUR, or contact Golf Concierge Services to access various golf benefits

While Mastercard advertises cellphone protection as a benefit, multiple Citi Premier cardholders have reported that their card was not eligible for these benefits when they called Citi and Mastercard to file a claim. Although the Citi Premier card is a World Elite Mastercard, it’s ultimately up to the issuer to decide which benefits Citi wants to provide to its cardholders.

Both cards offer a concierge service through Visa and Mastercard to help cardholders make dinner reservations, find tickets for entertainment events and more. At the end of the day, the Chase Sapphire Preferred wins in this category due to its sheer number of travel and shopping protections that can come handy in many situations.

Winner: Chase Sapphire Preferred

Which card should you get?

There is a lot of value to be found with both of these mid-tier cards. As is the case with most cards that share similar benefits, the right card for you depends on your spending and travel habits.

On paper, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is the more valuable card. You’re getting a higher sign-up bonus, unique transfer partners, flexible redemption options and a host of travel protection benefits that Citi does not offer. And for many beginner travelers, the Chase Sapphire Preferred does make more sense — there’s a reason it’s won best travel rewards credit card for the third straight year at the 2020 TPG Awards. However, Citi does offer a higher return on spending on several more bonus categories.

Something else to note is which cards you already have in your wallet. The Citi Premier pairs well with other Citi credit cards, while the Chase Sapphire Preferred pairs well with other Chase cards. If you have a Citi® Double Cash Card, for example, you’ll be able to convert your Double Cash rewards to ThankYou points by having the Citi Premier, which increases the overall value. Chase Freedom Flex and Chase Freedom Unlimited cardholders, on the other hand, can pair each with the Chase Sapphire Preferred to turn those rewards into Ultimate Rewards points.

Related: Pairing the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Freedom Unlimited

Bottom line

The Citi Premier and Chase Sapphire Preferred are the clear leaders when it comes to affordable, mid-level cards that earn valuable transferable bank points. Each card wins in different categories in our analysis, so the best card for you will depend on the other cards currently in your wallet and the benefits you value most.

Related: The best credit cards with annual fees under $100

Additional reporting by Jennifer Yellin and Stella Shon. 

Feature photo by The Points Guy staff.

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.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.