Is Citi ThankYou Rewards the most underappreciated and misunderstood program?

Feb 23, 2020

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We’re all looking for the right combination of credit cards for earnings, benefits and redemption options. However, there’s no silver bullet — meaning that everyone has his/her own strategy for creating an optimal wallet. The perfect combination will vary based on many factors, including our spending habits, travel goals and other preferences.

With this in mind, I was intrigued when I saw a comment and email from reader Scott H. that presented some interesting ideas regarding one major transferable point program. Today let’s take a closer look at his ideas so you can decide if a similar strategy might work well for you.

Scott H. started his comment and email as follows:

Citi ThankYou is the most underappreciated and misunderstood program out there. I have a strategy that gives you the BEST return in every bonus category with the LEAST hassle and LOWEST net annual fees. And you only need 2 credits cards in your wallet (with one more in your sock drawer) to achieve this! Plus, the benefits come with no hassles! (Saks? Lyft? DoorDash? Airline Fee Credits? (enrollment required for select benefits). No thank you…. Just show me the money!)

Intrigued yet? Scott H. continues by noting that he can enjoy the following for an effective annual fee of $100 using his strategy:

  • 5.5 Citi ThankYou points per dollar spent on airfare and dining (9.35% return based on TPG’s valuations)
  • 3.3 points per dollar spent on hotels and cruises (5.6% return)
  • 2.2 points per dollar spent on everything else (3.74% return)
  • 975 points per month as a Citigold banking relationship bonus (worth about $16.57/month)
  • $200 in annual credits for subscription services (if targeted, Scott H. uses these credits for Amazon Prime and Costco memberships)
  • Priority Pass Select membership that includes restaurant lounges  (enrollment required for select benefits).
  • Two fourth-night-free hotel stays each year
  • Premium service and fee-free banking
  • Free admission to numerous museums, priority access to tickets and events

Let’s consider how this strategy works for Scott H. — and how it could work for you.

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Optional: Open a CitiGold account

Save up to pay loans back to the bank on time. (Photo by @rawpixel/Unsplash)
(Photo by @rawpixel/Unsplash)

This step is optional since it requires a large investment and isn’t critical to the strategy — though it certainly can help. To be eligible and remain eligible for a CitiGold account, you must maintain a minimum combined average monthly balance of $200,000 in eligible linked deposit, retirement and investment accounts. This is a lot of money to park with Citi, but it might be worth it if you’re going all-in with the Citi ThankYou program and have the funds to do so.

Scott H. says that his CitiGold account nets him 975 ThankYou points per month simply due to his banking relationships. Based on TPG’s valuations, these points are worth about $16.57 per month. However, Scott H. doesn’t specify how he earns 975 points per month.

CitiGold customers can earn 650 points during any statement period when a qualifying direct deposit is credited to, and a qualifying bill payment is debited from, their Citibank checking account. And, CitiGold customers can earn between 50 and 200 bonus points for various activities such as linking a CitiBank mortgage to your CitiBank checking account. So, it’s fair to assume you could earn around 975 points per month like Scott H. if you utilized a CitiGold account.

CitiGold offers various other benefits including:

  • Lower annual fees on some Citi cards
  • Unlimited refunds of non-Citi ATM fees
  • A waived annual fee on linked Citi Personal Wealth Management accounts
  • Access to CitiGold lounges
  • Access to the CitiGold concierge
  • $200 annual credits on subscription services (only for select CitiGold customers)
  • Citigold Culture Pass, which offers free admission and discounts to a curated group of cultural institutions

Related reading: The best national banks — and the perks of banking with one of them

Open a Citi Prestige® Card

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

Now, open a Citi Prestige Card. The Citi Prestige currently offers a sign-up bonus of 50,000 points after spending $4,000 within three months of account opening.

As long as you remain a CitiGold customer, you’ll receive a $145 statement credit automatically each year that effectively reduces the $495 annual fee to $350. Plus, you’ll also receive a $25 statement credit on your card each year for each authorized user to effectively reduce each authorized user’s annual fee to $50.

The Citi Prestige Card includes an easy-to-use $250 travel credit each calendar year, so your effective annual fee on this card is only $100. And, the following benefits can make it easy to get more than $100 of value out of the card each year:

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 reading:

Open a Citi® Double Cash Card

(Photo by Josh Gribben for The Points Guy)
(Photo by Josh Gribben for The Points Guy)

Next, open a Citi® Double Cash Card to earn 2% cash back (1% when you buy, plus 1% as you pay). Although this card is marketed as a cash-back card, you can now transfer your Double Cash rewards to ThankYou Points. This card has no annual fee, so there’s no cost for adding it to your wallet.

The Citi Double Cash Card doesn’t currently have an advertised sign-up bonus.

Related reading:

Open a Citi Rewards+® Card

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

Finally, open the no-annual-fee Citi Rewards+® Card. The Citi Rewards+ Card offers 2 ThankYou points per dollar on the first $6,000 per year that you spend at gas stations and supermarkets. After that, and on all other purchases, you’ll earn 1 ThankYou point per dollar spent. However, Citi rounds up the points you earn on every purchase to the nearest ten.

The Citi Rewards+ Card doesn’t have an annual fee but does offer 10% back on the first 100,000 points that you redeem each year. You’ll gather the points earned by all three cards in one account, so 10% back on redemptions effectively increases the rate at which you earn points. So, the 5x for airfare and dining on your Citi Prestige is effectively 5.5x and the 2x on your Citi Double Cash Card is effectively 2.2x.

The Citi Rewards+ Card currently offers a limited-time offer of 20,000 ThankYou bonus points after spending $1,500 in purchases within the first three months of account opening.

Related reading:

Analysis

This strategy is working for Scott H. and I could see it working well for others who value the simplicity of using one program and just a few cards, especially if they can maintain an average monthly balance of $200,000 in eligible CitiGold accounts. However, before going all-in on this strategy — and the Citi ThankYou program — I’d recommend considering a few aspects.

Earning gaps

Scott H. promised “the BEST return in every bonus category” yet spending in common bonus categories like groceries, gas and general travel would only earn a 3.74% return using his strategy. There are certainly better returns possible with other cards for spending in these categories:

As a result, if you spend heavily in any categories not covered by this strategy, you may want to consider adding another card to your wallet. Scott H. mentioned that he does carry the American Express® Gold Card for grocery expenses, Amex offers and the monthly dining credit. Enrollment required for select benefits.

The opportunity cost of CitiGold

Even if you have the financial ability to qualify for CitiGold, using your money in that manner may not be in your best interests if you have better opportunities for earning and growing your funds. Luckily, you’ll only miss out on the following aspects of Scott H.’s strategy if you don’t have a CitiGold account:

  • Points from monthly Citigold banking relationship bonus
  • $200 in annual credits for subscription services
  • Premium service, fee-free banking
  • Free admission to numerous museums, priority access to tickets and events
  • Statement credit to reduce Citi Prestige annual fee by $145 (and authorized user annual fee by $25 per authorized user)

Diversification

The Citi ThankYou program’s transfer partners provide ample ways to redeem your points. However, one benefit of earning points in multiple flexible currencies is that you unlock additional transfer partners. Before you go all-in on earning only Citi ThankYou points, check out the following resources and make sure you feel the Citi ThankYou transfer partners and travel portal will be adequate for your needs:

Other notes

The Citi Double Cash Card and the Citi Rewards+ Card both have a 3% foreign transaction fee, so you’ll want to use your Citi Prestige Card exclusively when traveling overseas.

The Citi Rewards+ Card and Citi Double Cash Card both earn 2x points on the first $6,000 you spend at gas stations and supermarkets each year (then 1x), after which the Citi Double Cash continues earning 2% cash back; 1% when you buy, plus 1% as you pay (or 2x points) while the Citi Rewards+ Card drops to 1x. But, the Citi Rewards+ Card rounds the earning on all purchases up to the nearest ten points, so you’ll want to use the Citi Rewards+ Card for the first $6,000 you spend at gas stations and supermarkets each year. Then, for spending over $6,000 in these categories each year, you should use the Citi Double Cash Card.

None of these three cards provide any travel insurance protections. As a result, you may need to purchase independent travel insurance as needed when planning your trips if you pay with your Citi cards.

Related guides

Featured image by JT Genter/The Points Guy.

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Annual Fee
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Balance Transfer Fee
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Recommended Credit
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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.