Citi Prestige 5x earnings: How to get the most out of ‘dining’ and ‘airfare’ categories, and beyond

Dec 24, 2019

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Editor’s note: This post was originally published on Nov. 4, 2019.

Citi is a TPG advertising partner

September wasn’t a good month for Citi Prestige® Card holders. On Sept. 1, Citi devalued the fourth night free benefit, removed the 25% air travel bonus when you book through the ThankYou portal, removed 2x earnings on entertainment and increased the annual fee. Then, on Sept. 22, Citi discontinued almost all shopping and travel protections on the Citi Prestige and other cards. It’s no wonder many cardholders are abandoning their Citi Prestige Card when their annual fee comes due.

The information for the Citi Prestige has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Related: The dwindling appeal of the Citi Prestige Card: Why other premium cards are better

But, there are still some compelling aspects to the card. One of the most compelling benefits is 5x earning on purchases in select categories. So, in this guide we’ll consider all of the categories that earn 5 ThankYou points per dollar spent on the Citi Prestige Card. TPG’s valuations peg the value of Citi ThankYou points at 1.7 cents each, which means you’ll get about a 8.5% return on your spending in these 5x categories.

5x earning categories

The Citi Prestige advertises 5x earning on airfare and dining.

But, if you read the additional information about the card, you’ll see that you actually earn 5x points on purchases at airlines and travel agencies as well as on purchases at restaurants. To determine how Citi defines these categories for the Citi Prestige Card, I checked out Citi ThankYou’s help section for earning points. Here’s what I found:

  • Airlines are defined as businesses that provide air travel.
  • Travel agencies are defined as merchants that provide travel information and booking services. Travel aggregators and tour operators are included.
  • Restaurants range from fast food restaurants to fine dining establishments. They fall into the restaurant category if they primarily prepare food and drinks for immediate consumption on the premises or takeout. Restaurant merchants include bars, cocktail lounges, nightclubs, taverns and fast food restaurants. However, some merchants that sell food and drink but are located within larger establishments that sell other goods and services may not be included in the restaurant category. Likewise, purchases made at bakeries, caterers and through online dining delivery services are explicitly excluded from the restaurant category.

3x earning categories

(Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)
How you book your room at The Westin Langkawi Resort & Spa determines how many points you’ll earn on the Citi Prestige. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

While I was reading the Citi ThankYou help section for earning points, I also found the following definitions for the Prestige’s 3x earning categories:

  • Hotels are defined as businesses that provide sleeping or meeting room accommodations. Some goods and services that appear on a hotel bill are included. Often restaurants in hotels are categorized as a hotel purchase.
  • Cruise lines are defined as businesses that provide cruise line travel

So, if you pay for a hotel room or cruise directly with the hotel or cruise line, you’ll earn 3x points. But, if you pay for a hotel room or cruise though a travel agent, you’ll earn 5x points. If course, booking through a travel agent may mean that you forfeit elite earnings and benefits, so for some trips it may not be worth the additional points.

What’s the break-even point?

(Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)
Can you justify paying the Citi Prestige’s annual fee based on your spending? (Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)

The Citi Prestige provides a $250 travel credit each calendar year, so your effective annual fee drops from $495 to $245 assuming you’ll spend at least $250 on travel each year. Qualifying Citigold account holders are also eligible for a $145 statement credit each year that can bring their effective annual fee down to $100. However, for the purposes of this article, let’s assume you aren’t an eligible Citigold account holder.

To offset the effective $245 annual fee, let’s consider how much you’d need to spend in categories that earn 5x points, which all depends on how you plan to use your points. If you’ll transfer your points to airline partners for award flights, we can use TPG’s valuation of Citi ThankYou points at 1.7 cents each. At this valuation, you’d need to spend $2,883 per year or about $240 per month in categories that earn 5x points to earn $245 worth of Citi ThankYou points.

If you plan to redeem your points toward travel booked through the Citi ThankYou portal, your points will be worth 1 cent each. At this valuation, you’d need to spend $4,900 per year or about $409 per month in categories that earn 5x points to earn $245 worth of Citi ThankYou points.

However, these calculations assume that you wouldn’t be earning any points or cash back on the Prestige’s 5x categories if you didn’t have the Citi Prestige Card, which isn’t necessarily a fair assumption. If you’re considering a different card, here are a few guides to help you compare:

Bottom line

The Citi Prestige’s 5x earning categories are broader than just airfare and dining, which may be news to some cardholders. But, with most of the Citi Prestige’s benefits devalued, it’s a hard sell for many cardholders to continue to see value in this $495 annual fee card. But, if you are a high spender or can get significant value out of the fourth night free benefit — which isn’t a given, but is possible at mid-tier and luxury hotels — it may make sense to keep the Citi Prestige in your wallet.

Featured photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy.

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.

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