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The Citi ThankYou Rewards program isn’t generally considered to be as valuable as its transferable point brethren, Amex Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards. However, there are a couple of intriguing cards in Citi’s portfolio that provide a solid value proposition for certain travelers, especially if you’re into the program’s transfer partners. Today we’ll take a close look at the Citi Premier Card, including its benefits, redemption options and more to see if it’s worth adding to your wallet.
TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen has provided an in-depth review of the Citi Premier in the past, but let’s start by quickly reviewing the fundamental earning scheme and redemption options of the card before getting into detailed analysis of whether it would be a good fit for you.
The Citi Premier currently comes with a bonus of 50,000 ThankYou Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first three months of account opening. This haul is worth $850 based on TPG’s most recent valuations, which pegged ThankYou points at 1.7 cents apiece. However, it’s important to note that you won’t be able to earn the bonus if you’ve had a ThankYou Preferred, Citi Premier or Citi Prestige card opened or closed in the last 24 months.
In addition to the sign-up bonus, the Citi Premier includes bonus earning rates for certain categories of spending:
- Earn 3x points on travel, including gas
- Earn 2x points on dining out and entertainment
- Earn 1x points on all other purchases
The great thing is that Citi defines these purchases quite broadly. Here are the merchants included in the “travel” category:
“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.”
Here’s the same list for entertainment:
“2 ThankYou Points for each $1 spent on purchases at restaurants (including cafes, bars, lounges and fast food restaurants), and on select entertainment, including live entertainment, live theatrical productions, concerts, live sporting events, movie theaters, amusement parks (including zoos, aquariums, circuses and carnivals), tourist attractions (including museums and art galleries), record stores, video rental stores and on-demand internet streaming media.”
Earning a 5.1% return on all travel purchases is terrific, and then adding gas stations to the mix sweetens the deal even further, even though this no longer includes gas purchases at wholesale clubs. It also gives you a wide selection of entertainment purchases, including live concerts, amusement parks and many tourist attractions.
When it comes time to redeem your ThankYou points, you’ll have many options at your disposal. The Citi Premier allows redemptions for cash back, gift cards and merchandise from a variety of retailers at a rate of 1 cent per point. However, just like with the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, you can extend those points even further and get a 20% discount when redeeming for airfare through the ThankYou Travel Center. This means the sign-up bonus of 50,000 ThankYou Points can net you $625 toward your next trip, and those itineraries would be treated as a revenue ticket and thus still eligible to earn miles.
However, to extend the value of your ThankYou points even further, consider transferring them to one of the program’s transfer partners:
- Asia Miles (Cathay Pacific)
- Avianca LifeMiles
- Etihad Guest
- EVA Air Infinity MileageLands
- Flying Blue (Air France/KLM)
- Garuda Indonesia Frequent Flyer
- JetBlue TrueBlue
- JetPrivilege (Jet Airways)
- Malaysia Airlines Enrich
- Qantas Frequent Flyer
- Qatar Airways Privilege Club
- Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
- Thai Airways Royal Orchid Plus
- Turkish Airlines Miles & Smiles
- Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
While there’s no major legacy carrier based in North America, these options do cover all three major alliances. They also include a handful of more obscure airlines that were previously unavailable through Starwood Preferred Guest, Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards, though redeeming Garuda or Malaysia miles may not be the best option.
The Citi Premier comes with a variety of additional benefits, including:
- No foreign transaction fees plus EMV chip techology
- Citi Price Rewind, offering refunds if an item you purchase drops in price within 60 days (up to $200); up to a maximum of $1,000 per calendar year
- Extended warranty, adding an extra 24 months to the manufacturer’s warranty on most purchased items
- Purchase protection covering damage or theft within 90 days for eligible purchases, up to $10,000 per item
- Auto rental insurance, though this coverage is secondary in the US
- Lost luggage coverage, up to $3,000 per traveler
- Baggage delay protection if your bag is delayed for more than 6 hours, up to $100
- Trip cancellation/interruption coverage, up to $5,000
- Trip delay protection when your trip is delayed by at least 12 hours, up to $500
- Travel accident insurance
- Citi Private Pass, giving you access to VIP concerts and other events
- Personal concierge service, available 24/7
While these won’t help you earn additional points for booking your next trip, they are nevertheless quite useful when things go wrong.
So should the Citi Premier Card earn a spot in your wallet? As is the case with most analyses we do here at The Points Guy, there’s no single answer that’s universally applicable to all readers. However, here are some tips you can use if you’re considering this card.
Comparing to Sapphire Preferred
The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is probably the most comparable card to the Citi Premier, as the two have a number of very similar components:
- $95 annual fee (waived for the first 12 months with the Citi Premier but not waived by the Sapphire Preferred)
- Ability to book flights directly at a rate of 1.25 cents apiece
- Ability to transfer to numerous partners
- Various travel coverage/protection benefits
However, the two cards differ in two important areas: sign-up bonus and bonus earning rates.
The two card differ more substantially when it comes to bonus earning rates. As noted above, the Citi Premier earns 3 ThankYou Points per dollar spent on travel (including gas stations), 2 points per dollar spent on restaurants and entertainment and 1 point per dollar spent on all other categories. On the other hand, the Sapphire Preferred only offers 2 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on travel and restaurants and offers 1 point per dollar spent on all other categories. Depending on your typical spending pattern in a given year, this could make a big difference.
If you’re trying to decide between the Citi Premier and the Sapphire Preferred, here are some sample calculations to help. Let’s say you have the following monthly expenses over the course of a year:
- Travel: $500
- Dining out: $500
- Gas: $300
- Entertainment: $200
- All other purchases: $500
Using these assumptions, you’re spending a total of $2,000 per month on these cards, or $24,000 annually. However, the earning rates will play a large role in just how many points you’d earn. Here’s a table that breaks this down:
|Bonus Category||Citi Premier||Sapphire Preferred|
|Travel||$500 x 3 points/$ = 1,500 points||$500 x 2 points/$ = 1,000 points|
|Gas||$300 x 3 points/$ = 900 points||$300 x 1 point/$ = 300 points|
|Entertainment||$200 x 2 points/$ = 400 points||$200 x 1 point/$ = 200 points|
|Dining Out||$500 x 2 points/$ = 1,000 points||$500 x 2 points/$ = 1,000 points|
|Other||$500 x 1 point/$ = 500 points||$500 x 1 point/$ = 500 points|
|Monthly Totals||4,300 points||3,000 points|
When you extrapolate these out to yearly totals, you’d get the following value from these earnings (based on TPG’s most recent valuations):
- Citi Premier: 51,600 points x 1.7 cents/point = $877.20
- Sapphire Preferred: 36,000 points x 2.0 cents/point = $720
Of course, the above assumptions may not fit your personal spending patterns, so I’ve created an Excel spreadsheet for you to input your own data and determine which card is better. Simply adjust the monthly spending numbers, change the valuations (if desired) and Cell E18 will let you know which card is best for you.
Keep in mind that is only part of the equation, as there are many other factors that go into whether the Citi Premier Card should be added to your wallet. Here are a few other questions to as yourself as you decide whether to apply for the card:
1. Do you value an online shopping portal? One big drawback of the Citi Premier Card is that it doesn’t offer an online shopping portal. By starting at these sites (rather than going directly to a merchant’s site), you have the opportunity to earn bonus points or miles with a variety of programs. Chase does offer an Ultimate Rewards portal, but the ThankYou Rewards program does not. If that’s a critical perk to you, the Sapphire Preferred could be the better option. Of course, you’ll always be able to use airline shopping portals or cash-back sites like Ebates or Mr Rebates, but earning bonus transferable points could be much more lucrative.
2. Do you get value out of the ThankYou transfer partners? Another strike against the Citi Premier is the limited utility of the ThankYou Rewards program transfer partners. Even though the program has been adding additional airlines over the last couple of years (most recently adding Turkish Airlines Miles & Smiles), it still lacks a major US carrier, whereas Chase has United and Southwest while American Express has Delta. That being said, there is some definite value to be had through programs like Flying Blue and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club. And of course, you always have the “standard” option of redeeming points directly through the ThankYou Rewards travel portal, where each point is worth 1.25 cents apiece.
3. Do you have a non-premium ThankYou Rewards card? One scenario where the Citi Premier does offer great value is for current cardholders of another Citi card that accrues ThankYou points that are not transferable. When you have both a premium and non-premium card in the ThankYou Rewards program, you can combine points across accounts and thus turn your entire balance into more flexible, transferable points (just like Chase Freedom points turn from simple cash back to full Ultimate Rewards points when you have a premium Chase card).
4. Do you have friends or family members with ThankYou Rewards balances? One of the unique aspects of the ThankYou Rewards program is how easy it is to share points with other members. They don’t need to be family members or even authorized users; they just need to have an active ThankYou Rewards account. This gives you valuable flexibility with your points, as you can effectively pool your account balances to reach a desired award. Just bear in mind that when you do share, the transferred points must be used within 90 days or they’ll be forfeited.
5. Is your points and miles portfolio in need of diversification? Finally, the Citi Premier can be another way to diversify your points and miles balances. It’s essential to have pots of travel currencies in a variety of programs, and Citi ThankYou points do offer additional flexibility, both with unique transfer partners and the ability to redeem points for airfare at 1.25 cents apiece (especially since airfare purchases through the ThankYou Travel Center are treated as paid tickets, and are thus eligible to earn redeemable and elite-qualifying miles). If you happen to have a need for miles or points on any of the aforementioned airline/hotel partners, or if you want additional points to cover an upcoming flight, the Citi Premier could be a good option for you.
The ThankYou Rewards program has been slowly adding additional transfer partners that can offer some tremendous value when used strategically, and the Citi Premier Card is one of the best ways to quickly earn a bunch of ThankYou points both in the first year and beyond. If your considering adding this card to your wallet, I hope this post has helped you decide which way to go!
Featured photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy.
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- Earn 50,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
- Earn 3 points per $1 spent on travel including gas stations
- Earn 2 points per $1 spent at restaurants and on entertainment
- Earn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
- 50,000 Points are redeemable for $625 in airfare on any airline, anytime with no blackout dates when booked through the ThankYou® Travel Center, or $500 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
- No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
- Points Transfer allows you to transfer points to participating airline loyalty programs
- No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases