Devalued, but still decent: A review of the Citi Prestige card
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Citi Prestige® Card Overview
Despite the devaluation this card underwent in 2019, it’s still a strong contender in the premium travel credit card market. With its valuable earning rates, solid sign-up bonus, numerous perks and lower-than-normal annual fee (compared to other top-tier travel cards), the Citi Prestige remains a great luxury travel credit card option. Card Rating*: ⭐⭐⭐1/2
*Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG’s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
Citi’s credit card lineup went through massive changes in 2019. New cards were added, existing ones were devalued and many card benefits were changed. 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.
The Citi Prestige® Card, the issuer’s most-premium travel credit card, was not immune to these changes. The card received expanded bonus-category earning early in 2019, but later in the year there were massive devaluations in the form of a raised annual fee, stripped protections and caps on benefit usage.
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Citi also made tweaks to cardholder benefits during the coronavirus pandemic.
Through all the ups and downs and ups, I still believe the Citi Prestige is worth considering. For the right traveler, its benefits continue to outweigh the cost of the annual fee — especially as other premium cards such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve increase their annual fees (but also offer a credit to select members).
Who is this card for?
Frequent travelers will get the most out of the earning rates and benefits of the Citi Prestige. With a high $495 annual fee, this card is only worth it if you know you’ll take full advantage of its benefits — which include two fourth-night-free awards a year, an annual travel credit of up to $250, Priority Pass Select membership and a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck enrollment fee credit.
If you don’t travel often enough to use what the Citi Prestige offers, you’d be better off with a mid-tier travel card such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or American Express® Green Card. And those who are looking for top-tier luxury benefits should also consider The Platinum Card® from American Express or the Chase Sapphire Reserve.
The information for the Amex Green 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.
Something else to think about is whether Citi ThankYou points give you the best bang for your buck. With the Citi Prestige, you can transfer points to 15 airline partners, some of which overlap with the lists of Amex and Chase while others are unique to Citi.
Families take note: You can also use ThankYou for a points-fueled trip to Disney, which you can’t do with Chase Ultimate Rewards. We’ll walk through specific transfer partner options later on, but you’ll want to make sure your travel plans and habits align with the available redemption options and transfer partners offered by Citi.
Finally, make sure you are eligible for this card’s sign-up bonus before you apply.
According to Citi’s website, “Bonus ThankYou® Points are not available if you received a new cardmember bonus for Citi Rewards+℠, Citi ThankYou® Preferred, Citi ThankYou® Premier/ Citi Premier® Card or Citi Prestige®, or if you have closed any of these accounts, in the past 24 months.” If you can’t earn the bonus, you’re likely better off looking at other cards.
Right now, you’ll earn 50,000 ThankYou points after spending $4,000 with the card within the first three months.
TPG values this bonus at $850. That’s not the best bonus on the market, but it is solid. However, some mid-tier cards have higher bonuses or bonuses with a higher value. For example, both the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Amex Platinum come out ahead in terms of bonus value.
The Platinum Card® from American Express is offering a 75,000-point bonus (after you use your new card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first six months) that we value at $1,500. Some cardholders can even get up to 100,000 points with the CardMatch tool (offer is subject to change at any time).
Still, you can get some very nice redemptions out of 50,000 ThankYou points, especially if you know your way around Citi’s transfer-partner program. For example, you can book excellent Delta redemptions using Virgin Atlantic Flying Club. We’ve seen Delta One Suites from Detroit (DTW) to Tokyo Narita (NRT) for just 60,000 Flying Club miles, which is totally doable between the bonus itself and the points you could earn while hitting the spending requirement.
Overall, the sign-up bonus completely wipes out the first year’s annual fee (almost twice over). I would say this bonus deserves a solid B as a grade.
Main perks and benefits
Citi eliminated most of its travel and shopping protections and devalued certain perks in 2019, but there is still a lot to love about the card’s offerings.
Fourth night free: This has long been considered the most valuable perk of the Prestige card, and it can still be extremely valuable if used optimally. The fourth-night-free benefit currently works like this: Citi will pay for the fourth night of your stay at virtually any hotel when booking through ThankYou.com.
The rate is based on your average nightly rate and doesn’t include taxes and fees. Keep in mind that because bookings must be made through the Citi ThankYou travel portal, you generally won’t earn hotel loyalty points or receive guaranteed elite benefits.
Up to $250 travel credit: Citi will reimburse you up to $250 every calendar year for travel-related purchases. You can apply it to any purchases made within the travel category, including purchases from airlines, hotels, car rental agencies, travel agencies, travel aggregators, tour operators, commuter transportation, ferries, commuter railways, subways, taxis, limousines, car services, passenger railways, cruise lines, bridge and road tolls, parking lots, garages and bus lines.
Citi Prestige cardholders recently got good news: Citi is temporarily expanding which purchases qualify for the $250 travel credit. If you haven’t already used your travel credit this year, you’ll now be able to use it on supermarkets and restaurants through the end of 2020. The supermarket category should include online grocery delivery services such as Instacart, but superstores and wholesale clubs will not be included. Restaurant purchases will cover delivery services including Grubhub and DoorDash, since they code as dining on a statement credit.
This credit effectively lowers the $495 annual fee to $245, since everyone with the Prestige card should be able to use the travel credit easily. Additionally, some new cardholders will be able to receive the credit twice in their first year as cardmembers. The credit resets every calendar year, so depending on what time of year you sign up, you’d be able to receive a $250 credit before Dec. 31, 2020, and another $250 on Jan. 1, 2021.
That’s $500 in free travel in the first year of holding the card.
Global Entry: I love having Global Entry — it’s saved me from standing in countless hours of security and customs lines. Citi Prestige cardmembers get a $100 credit (every five years) that can be applied toward purchasing Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. A few other premium cards offer this, but what’s nice is that even if you already have enrolled in either of the two programs, you can use the credit for a family member or friend’s application.
Priority Pass lounge access: With the Prestige, you’ll also get access to the Priority Pass lounge network, which includes more than 1,200 airport lounges worldwide. You’ll receive a Priority Pass Select membership that gives complimentary lounge access for the cardholder and immediate family members or up to two guests. The Priority Pass network has some great lounges, and unlike Amex-issued Priority Pass memberships, Citi-issued memberships still offer the Priority Pass restaurant benefit.
Cellphone protection: Citi added cellphone protection to the Citi Prestige in 2019. You’ll be covered for up to $1,500 per year in total benefits for up to five phones if you pay your monthly bill with your card. Although the City Prestige doesn’t offer bonus rewards for cellphone services like some other credit cards, the card’s protection may still be worth having — even if you’re only earning 1x on your monthly bill.
An important part of evaluating a card is how easily you can earn points with your spend.
Earning is an area where the Prestige actually increased in value last year. You’ll earn 5x points on all air travel and restaurant purchases, 3x on hotel and cruise line purchases and 1 point per dollar on everything else. Citi also lists travel agencies as part of the 5x earning categories, which includes travel information and booking services such as travel aggregators and tour operators.
Based on TPG’s valuation of Citi ThankYou points at 1.7 cents each, you’ll get an 8.5% return on airfare and restaurant purchases.
You can transfer your Citi ThankYou points to 15 airline partners:
- Aeromexico Club Premier
- Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
- Avianca LifeMiles
- Etihad Guest
- EVA Air
- Flying Blue
- Jet Airways JetPrivilege
- Malaysia Airlines Enrich
- Qantas Frequent Flyer
- Qatar Privilege Club
- Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
- Thai Royal Orchid Plus
- Turkish Airlines Miles & Smiles
- Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
You can also use your ThankYou points to redeem for airfare and hotels through Citi’s travel portal. This won’t always make the most sense, but there are times (like when visiting Disney) when it might be the best course of action.
Related reading: Redeeming Citi ThankYou points for maximum value
What cards compete with the Citi Prestige
The Chase Sapphire Reserve charges a $550 annual fee in exchange for a 50,000-point sign-up bonus (worth $1,000 according to our valuations), 3x on dining and travel, excellent travel protections and a nice set of benefits that includes a $300 flexible travel credit, a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credit, Priority Pass Select membership, DoorDash food delivery perks and Lyft Pink membership.
The Amex Platinum also charges a $550 annual fee (see rates and fees). It offers a 75,000-point welcome offer (worth $1,500 according to our valuations) and a suite of luxury benefits — unparalleled lounge access, an airline fee credit of up to $200, Uber credits of up to $200, a $100 Saks credit, a Global Entry application-fee credit, elite status with Marriott and Hilton and more. However, you should also check the CardMatch Tool to see if you’re targeted for a 100,000-point Platinum Card welcome offer (offers are subject to change at any time).
Amex has also added up to $320 in statement credits on select streaming and wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers (up to $20 per month) from May through December 2020.
The Prestige’s earning categories are effectively a compromise between the Amex Platinum and Chase Sapphire Reserve. You’re getting more broad categories than the Platinum and some higher earning rates than the Reserve. The range of benefits, earning structure and annual fee all place the Prestige in the premium cards category, but it still sits just a half step below the Reserve and Platinum.
So which of the three is right for you? It all comes down to what perks you’ll use and how much you’re willing to pay for the annual fee. The Chase Sapphire Reserve and Amex Platinum both offer more in the sheer volume of their benefits, but that doesn’t really matter if those cards come with benefits you won’t use — especially since both cards now charge a high $550 annual fee (see Amex Platinum rates and fees).
Of course, if you don’t travel enough to use the travel perks across any of those cards, mid-tier options such as the Citi Premier® Card, Chase Sapphire Preferred, American Express Green Card and American Express® Gold Card might be better choices. With annual fees on those cards ranging from $95 to $250, they all offer a more manageable yearly cost. And they all come with their own set of appropriate benefits.
With so many options out there, is the Citi Prestige worth such a high annual fee?
For those who will use the full lineup of the card’s benefits, it most certainly can be worth the cost. The fourth-night-free benefit is still easily worth hundreds of dollars when used strategically, especially on luxury properties that may not belong to a larger hotel brand like Hilton or Marriott. That, on top of the $250 annual travel credit, more than wipes out the annual fee for strategic card users, especially now that you can use it for supermarkets and restaurants. And that’s not even including the sign-up bonus and potential bonus category earnings.
Even with the devaluation of the fourth-night-free benefit, the Prestige retains a spot in my wallet. If you stay at a hotel twice a year for four consecutive nights or more at room rates of $150+ and use the $250 annual travel credit, you’re going to come out ahead even if you ignore the earning and other benefits provided by the Prestige.
Featured image by The Points Guy.
For rates & fees of the Amex Platinum, click here.
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CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners
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- Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
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