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Citi currently offers two premium credit cards that earn ThankYou Rewards points that can be transferred to 15 airline partners: the Citi Prestige Card and the Citi Premier Card. The Prestige reopened for sign-ups at the end of January, so this post provides a detailed comparison of the two cards to help you decide which would be a better fit for your spending and travel lifestyle.

Below is a table that summarizes the key differences across some important categories. With the recent refresh of the Prestige card, cardholders that opened their card before Sept. 1, 2018 have some additional benefits through the end of August. But, since this post is designed to help readers that are looking to sign-up for one of these cards, details provided in this post assume that you’re signing up for the card today.

Benefit Citi Prestige Citi Premier
Sign-up Bonus 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in the first three months 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in the first three months
Earning Rates 5x points on air travel and restaurants
3x points at hotels and cruise lines
1x point everywhere else
3x points on all travel (including gas)
2x points on dining and entertainment
1x point everywhere else
Additional Benefits No foreign transaction fees; $250 travel credit; 4th Night Free; Priority Pass membership; Global Entry / TSA PreCheck credit No foreign transaction fees
Annual Fee $495 $95 (waived for the first 12 months)

Let’s take a closer look at each one of these to help analyze which card would make a better addition to your wallet.

Sign-Up Bonus

Currently, each of these cards offers a sign-up bonus of 50,000 points after spending $4,000 in purchases within the first three months of account opening. This is sign-up bonus is worth $850 based on TPG’s latest valuations. If the minimum spending requirement seems a little higher than your normal credit card spend, here are some tips for reaching the minimum spending requirement.

Based on your recent activity, you may not be eligible for a sign-up bonus. The application page for each card notes:

Bonus ThankYou Points are not available if you received a new cardmember bonus for Citi Rewards+, Citi ThankYou Preferred, Citi ThankYou Premier/Citi Premier or Citi Prestige, or if you have closed any of these cards, in the past 24 months.

As is true with many credit cards, the annual fee for the Prestige doesn’t count toward the spending threshold and the clock starts ticking for both cards on the day you are approved for your new card — not when you activate it or first use it.

Earning Rates

One important distinction between the two cards is how you’ll earn points for purchases with various merchants:

  • On the Citi Prestige Card, you’ll earn 5 points per dollar spent on air travel and restaurants, 3 points per dollar spent on hotels and cruise lines and 1 point per dollar spent everywhere else.
  • On the Citi Premier Card, you’ll earn 3 points per dollar spent on all travel purchases (including gas stations), 2 points per dollar spent on restaurants and entertainment purchases and 1 point per dollar spent everywhere else.

The two cards are equal when it comes to hotels and cruise lines, as both cards will earn 3 points per dollar spent on these purchases. You’ll also earn 1 single point per dollar spent on all non-category spending with both cards. However, there’s a notable difference when it comes to purchases in the following categories: air travel, restaurants, gas stations, entertainment and travel that’s not air travel, hotel stays or cruise line travel.

You’ll earn 5x at restaurants with the Citi Prestige, while the Citi Premier only earns 2x.

If you apply (and are approved) for the Prestige card, you’ll earn 5 points per dollar spent on purchases at restaurants. Based on TPG’s valuations, this means you’ll get a 8.5% return on restaurant spend. This is much better than the 2x earning by the Premier and means the Prestige has replaced the Chase Sapphire Reserve as my go-to credit card for dining.

With the Prestige card you’ll also earn 5 points per dollar spent on purchases with airlines and 3 points per dollar spent on purchases at hotels and cruise lines — which is a relatively narrow slice of the travel industry. However, with the Premier, the 3x category extends a great deal wider. According to the card’s application page, here’s what’s included:

“3 ThankYou Points for each $1 spent on purchases at airlines, hotels, car rental agencies, travel agencies/travel aggregators/tour operators, gas stations, commuter transportation, ferries, commuter railways, subways, taxis/limousines/car services, passenger railways, cruise lines, bridge and road tolls, parking lots/garages, campgrounds and trailer parks, timeshares, bus lines, motor home/recreational vehicle rentals and boat leases and rentals.”

The Citi Premier earns 3x on all travel, including gas purchases at gas stations.

As you can see, there are a ton of added merchant types included here, making this bonus category comparable to that of the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. However, the Premier is even more generous than those two, as it defines purchases at gas stations as travel expenses. If you have a long commute or need to regularly fill up your car, the extra points earned on the Premier could be worth it. Likewise, if have substantial spending in the entertainment category, the Premier might be better for you.

Additional Benefits

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The Prestige’s additional benefits include the 4th Night Free, which I’ve used at hotels like the Andaz Maui.

In this third category, the Citi Prestige Card really shines, as it offers cardholders an array of additional perks to help make their travel more comfortable and rewarding. The only true “additional benefit” on the Premier is the fact that it doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees, which also happens to be a characteristic of the Prestige. Here’s a list of the other added perks that the Prestige offers:

  • $250 travel credit: Each year, you’ll be able to receive a $250 travel credit that will be automatically applied whenever you make purchases within the travel category. Since this is a calendar year benefit, if you apply now, you can utilize the credit now and then get another one after your December statement closes, giving you two $250 credits in the first year of cardmembership.
  • Priority Pass Select: Another great perk on the card is Priority Pass Select membership, gaining you access to over 1,200 lounges around the world including some restaurant lounges. You can also bring in two guests or your immediate family members at no charge.
  • 4th Night Free: This is possibly the most lucrative benefit on the card. When you pay for a hotel stay of four nights or longer using your Citi Prestige card, you’re eligible to get one night free (calculated based on the average daily rate, not including taxes and fees). But, starting in September cardholders will be restricted to no more than two complimentary Fourth Night benefits per card account per calendar year and bookings will only be able to be made online at thankyou.com or by phone at 1-800-THANKYOU. However, even once the restrictions are implemented, there should still be plenty of savings to be found as evidenced by when TPG himself saved over $1,500 at the Park Hyatt Maldives with this benefit.
  • Global Entry credit: Once every five years, you can get a $100 credit on your card to cover the application fee for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, both of which can save you serious time at the airport.

If you can utilize even some of these perks on a somewhat regular basis, the Citi Prestige would likely be a better option for you. Of course, these benefits do come with a price…

Annual Fee

The Citi Premier has a modest $95 annual fee that’s waived for your first year.

The fourth category for comparison is the annual fee, and based on simple numbers, the Citi Premier Card is the clear winner, with a $95 fee that’s even waived for the first 12 months. Since the Citi Prestige Card carries a $495 annual fee, you’re looking at a significantly higher out-of-pocket cost, especially in the first year.

However, keep in mind that this doesn’t take into account the credits included on the Citi Prestige. The $250 travel credit is applicable as soon as you’re approved for the card (and resets on January 1), so that drops it to an effective annual fee of $245. If you can then use the Global Entry credit, that brings it down to $145. Finally, if you’re able to take advantage of the fourth night free benefit, you should be able to wipe out the last $145 (and then some) with a single stay of four nights or longer or perhaps two stays of four nights or longer if you prefer to travel on a budget. And this is without considering the value you’ll get from Priority Pass Select membership. When you consider the credits, long-term the Prestige’s $495 annual fee may be easier for some travelers to justify than the Premier’s $95 annual fee.

Coverage

While the above categories of perks are the popular ones to discuss, it’s also important to consider what protections each card provides when you use it to book a common carrier trip or make a shopping purchase. Here’s a comparison table:

Benefit Citi Prestige Card
Citi Premier Card
Car Rental Coverage Yes (up to $75,000, secondary in US; primary in other countries) Yes (up to $50,000, secondary in US; primary in other countries)
Travel Assistance Yes Yes
Baggage Loss or Damage Yes (up to $3,000 per covered traveler; up to $10,000 for all travelers) Yes (up to $3,000 per covered traveler; up to $10,000 for all travelers)
Baggage Delay Yes (up to $500 per covered traveler per trip if bags are more than 6 hours late) Yes (up to $100 per covered traveler per trip if bags are more than 6 hours late)
Trip Delay Yes (up to $500 per covered traveler per trip while waiting out a delay for delays of 6+ hours) Yes (up to $500 per covered traveler per trip while waiting out a delay for delays of 12+ hours)
Trip Cancellation / Interruption Yes (up to $5,000 per trip) Yes (up to $5,000 per trip)
Travel Accident Insurance Yes (up to $1,000,000 per covered traveler) Yes (up to $500,000 per covered traveler)
Emergency Evacuation & Transportation Yes (up to $100,000 per covered traveler) No
Roadside Assistance Yes (at no cost for predefined services) Yes (for a pre-negotiated price per service call for predefined services)
Purchase Protection Yes (within 90 days, up to $10,000 per incident and $50,000 per year) Yes (within 90 days, up to $10,000 per incident and $50,000 per year)
Extended Warranty Yes (additional 24 months, up to 7 years total coverage, up to $10,000) Yes (additional 24 months, up to 7 years total coverage, up to $10,000)
Return Protection Yes (within 90 days, up to $500 per item and $1,500 per year) Yes (within 90 days, up to $300 per item and $1,000 per year)
Price Protection Yes (within 60 days, up to $200 per item and $1,000 per year) Yes (within 60 days, up to $200 per item and $1,000 per year)
Missed Event Ticket Protection Yes (up to $500 per ticket and $5,000 per year) No

As you can see, many of the perks are the same, including the baggage loss or damage protection, trip cancellation/interruption protection and price protection (otherwise known as Citi Price Rewind). However, there are some notable differences:

Ideally you’d rarely (or never) need to use these benefits, as they’re all designed for when things go wrong. Nevertheless, they can give you peace of mind with your trips and purchases. Just be sure you understand the full inclusions, exclusions and other restrictions on each by looking through your card’s guide to benefits.

So which one should you get?

Unless you spend a ton on travel purchases aside from airfare, hotels and cruises -- or make a lot of entertainment purchases -- the Prestige is likely a better option.
Unless you spend a ton on travel purchases aside from airfare, hotels and cruises — or make a lot of entertainment purchases — the Prestige is likely a better option.

Given all of these details, which card is better for your wallet? This is a very personal decision, but here are some guidelines:

  • If you frequent airports with Priority Pass lounges and don’t have another card that provides Priority Pass lounge access, go with the Prestige. The Priority Pass network has 12,000 lounge locations worldwide, including some popular lounge restaurant locations in the US. If you frequently travel to, from or through one or more airports with Priority pass lounges, this perk can be quite valuable and may give the Prestige the edge.
  • If you pay for at least a couple hotel stays of four nights or longer, go with the Prestige. Another element that could push you in the direction of the Prestige card involves hotel stays. If you frequently have paid stays of four nights or longer — especially where at least one or two features relatively high nightly rates, you could save a lot of money through the 4th Night Free benefit on the Citi Prestige even once it’s capped at two stays per calendar year.
  • If you spend a lot at restaurants and on airfare, go with the Prestige. 5x earning on restaurants and airfare equates to a 8.5% return based on TPG’s valuations. Coupled with the solid travel protections provided by the Prestige, the Prestige has won my restaurant and airfare spending away from the Chase Sapphire Reserve.
  • If you have significant gas or other travel expenses, go with the Premier. One reason you’d might consider the Premier over the Prestige is if you spend a lot on travel purchases other than airfare, hotels and cruise lines (including gas). You’ll earn 3 points per dollar spent on gas and other travel expenses, compared to just 1 point per dollar spent on the Prestige. With just $300 per month on these purchases, you’d take home an extra 7,200 ThankYou points, worth $122.
  • If you have significant entertainment expenses, consider the Premier. The Premier provides 2 points per dollar spent on entertainment, while the Prestige is only offering 1 point per dollar spent to new cardholders and is shifting all cardholders to 1 point per dollar spent on entertainment in September.

If none of these jump out to you, then I’d recommend going for the Citi Prestige Card. If you apply now and are accepted, you can use two $250 travel credits in the first year of cardmembership (one now and one after your December statement closes). If you can also use the Global Entry credit, you’ll get $600 worth of credits total for a single $495 annual fee. Then, when the card comes up for renewal, you can determine whether or not it makes sense to keep it, cancel it or even downgrade to the Premier Card.

Bottom Line

Citi’s two premium ThankYou Rewards credit cards provide solid earning potential as well as great shopping and travel protections. The Citi Premier Card has a modest annual fee and broadly defined travel bonus earning category. On the other hand, the Citi Prestige Card has a larger annual fee that many cardholders can more than offset by taking advantage of the card’s annual travel credit and fourth night free benefit — even once it’s limited to two uses per year.

If you don’t currently have the Prestige or Premier and are eligible to receive a sign-up bonus, now is a great time to add one to your wallet. Hopefully this analysis has highlighted the key differences between the cards to help you determine which is best!

Are you planning to get the Citi Prestige or the Citi Premier?

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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.