Citi Premier: Should this be your next card?
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The Citi ThankYou Rewards program isn’t discussed as much as some of its transferable points competitors, 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 can maximize Citi’s transfer partners.
Today we’ll take a closer look at the Citi Premier® Card, specifically, including its benefits, redemption options and more, before considering whether it would be a good fit for you.
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Citi Premier basics
The Citi Premier is currently offering an intro bonus of 80,000 ThankYou Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first three months of account opening. TPG pegs the value of Citi ThankYou points at 1.7 cents apiece due to the value obtained when you transfer your points to select airline partners. That makes this bonus worth around $1,360. It’s also a full 20,000 more points than the Citi Premier typically offers.
However, if you prefer the simplicity of booking airfare directly through the ThankYou Travel Center, these points are worth 1 cent apiece. In that case, you’d still get $800 of value from this sign-up bonus (but please don’t do that!).
It’s important to note that you won’t be able to earn the bonus on this card if you’ve either received a new cardmember bonus for a Citi Rewards+® Card, Citi Premier or Citi Prestige® Card (not available to new applicants) in the last 24 months, or if you have closed one of those cards within that same time frame.
The card’s annual fee is $95.
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.
In addition to the sign-up bonus, the Citi Premier includes bonus earning rates for certain categories of spending:
- 3x points at restaurants and supermarkets
- 3x points at gas stations, on air travel, and hotels
- 1x points on all other purchases
Remember, we (conservatively) value these points at 1.7 cents each. So earning 3x points is like earning 5.1% back on common everyday purchases!
When it comes to redeeming Citi ThankYou points, you’ll have many options — but only one has the potential to surpass 1 cent of value per point: Transferring to partners. Citi Premier cardholders can transfer their points on a 1:1 basis to 16 airline frequent-flyer programs including:
- Aeromexico Club Premier
- Air France-KLM Flying Blue
- Avianca LifeMiles
- Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
- Emirates Skywards
- Etihad Guest
- EVA Air Infinity MileageLands
- Jet Airways JetPrivilege (now InterMiles; note that the airline currently isn’t flying)
- JetBlue TrueBlue
- 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
What’s more, now through Nov. 13, 2021, you can transfer Citi ThankYou points to American Airlines at a 1:1 ratio, making Citi points even more useful for U.S.-based travelers
Here are the highlights of the card’s benefits.
- No foreign transaction fees
- $100 annual hotel credit: $100 credit once per calendar year for single-stay hotel bookings of $500 or more (excluding taxes and fees) made through the Citi ThankYou Travel Center.
- Purchase protections: Extended warranty protection adding 24 months added to manufacturer warranty. Damage and theft protection for damaged or stolen items within 90 days of purchase (up to $10,000 per item and $50,000 per year).
- World Elite Mastercard benefits: The Citi Premier is a World Elite Mastercard, meaning it comes with perks such as $5 in monthly Lyft credit after taking three rides in a calendar month, cell phone protection and more.
Unfortunately the Citi Premier no longer extends delayed baggage insurance, trip delay protection, primary rental car insurance — none of the best benefits that draw TPG readers to cards such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and the Chase Sapphire Reserve. The Citi Premier’s main draws are its above-average points earning and redemption abilities.
Is the Citi Premier worth the annual fee?
As with any rewards credit card you carry, one of your main considerations should be whether you receive enough value from its benefits to justify paying the annual fee. So, how much would you have to spend on the Citi Premier to offset that yearly $95 charge? Let’s use TPG’s valuation of 1.7 cents per point to determine the break-even threshold, assuming you only use the card for travel expenses on which you’ll earn 3x ThankYou points. Here’s how the math works out:
$95 / ($0.017 * 3) = $1,863
The figure of $1,863 is the very least amount of money you’d have to spend each year to offset the $95 annual fee. It’s likely to be a bit higher unless you use this card exclusively for those 3x category charges. If that seems daunting just to offset an annual fee, keep in mind that it works out to $156 per month, which is very attainable. Remember, you’ll receive 3x points for restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels. You could probably hit the full amount by charging a few flights, hotel nights and meals per year to the card. You may even easily be able to reach this threshold in under two months if you put all your spending on the card.
Here’s a sample chart of yearly expenses to see what you may potentially earn with the Citi Premier.
|Expenses||Annual spending||Points earned annually|
|Restaurants||$3,600 ($300/month)||10,800 points|
|Supermarkets||$6,000 ($500/month)||18,000 points|
|Gas stations||$1,440 ($120/month)||4,320 points|
|Air travel||$0 (we don’t recommend buying airfare with this card because of its lack of travel insurance)||0 points|
|Hotels||$600 ($50/month) — remember, this card has that $100 annual hotel credit for one $500 stay per year booked through Citi||1,500 points (the points after that credit)|
If your budget mirrors this example, you’ll rake in 34,620 points per year. Deduct 5,589 points to offset the annual fee (as discussed above), and you’re left with 29,000+ points in extra value.
I want to quickly acknowledge “opportunity cost” here. The figure you need to spend to offset the annual fee could be spent using a card with no annual fee, such as the Citi® Double Cash Card. It earns 1% back when you make a purchase and 1% back when you pay off your bill — on all purchases. That’s effectively 2% back (or 2 ThankYou points) per dollar. Spending $1,863 could net you $37.26 (or $63.34 worth of ThankYou points). However, you would need either a Citi Premier or a Citi Prestige with which to combine your points balances so that you could transfer your rewards to airlines. So you’d be paying an annual fee in that case, anyway, if you were interested in maximizing your points through transfers.
Compared to the Chase Sapphire Preferred
The Chase Sapphire Preferred is probably the most comparable card to the Citi Premier, as the two have a few very similar components, namely:
- $95 annual fee
- Ability to transfer to numerous travel partners
However, the cards differ in two important areas: Bonus earning rates and travel protections. It’s also important to note that Chase’s transfer partners, which now include 11 airlines such as United and Southwest, as well as three hotel programs including Marriott Bonvoy and World of Hyatt, have TPG valuing Chase points at 2 cents apiece.
That said, the Chase Sapphire Preferred doesn’t have as many bonus categories as the Citi Premier. It only accrues 2 Chase points per dollar spent on travel and 2 points per dollar on dining. But it does come with fantastic travel insurance.
If you’re trying to decide between the Citi Premier and the Chase Sapphire Preferred, here are some sample calculations to help. Let’s use the same expense template as above to compare the rewards you’ll earn from these two cards annually:
|Expenses||Annual spending||Citi Premier||Chase Sapphire Preferred|
|Restaurants||$3,600||10,800 points||7,200 points|
|Supermarkets||$6,000||18,000 points||6,000 points|
|Gas stations||$1,440||4,320 points||1,440 points|
|Air travel||$3,000||9,000 points||6,000 points|
|Hotels||$500||1,500 points||1,000 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: 43,620 points x 1.7 cents/point = $741.54
- Sapphire Preferred: 21,640 points x 2.0 cents/point = $432.80
As you can see, you’re getting $300+ in additional value each year from spending on the Citi Premier when compared to the Chase Sapphire Preferred. This is largely thanks to the Citi Premier’s expansive bonus categories.
However, with Citi having slashed travel protections from the Citi Premier, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is the no-brainer when booking airfare, despite its inferior earning rate. The Chase Sapphire Preferred’s travel protections include trip interruption, cancellation and delay protection, lost and delayed baggage insurance, and primary collision and damage insurance on car rentals, all of which can be tremendously valuable when things go wrong.
One final consideration: Points earned with the Chase Sapphire Preferred are worth 1.25 cents apiece when redeemed for travel — including airfare and hotels, but also things like cruises, vacation packages, and other activities — through Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. So if you are the type of traveler who cashes in points for travel this way rather than going through transfer partners, you’re likely to get more use out of the Chase Sapphire Preferred and its points compared to the Citi Premier.
So, should the Citi Premier Card earn a spot in your wallet? The card currently offers an all-time high 80,000-point sign-up bonus that can offset the $95 annual fee for over a decade, depending on how you redeem your ThankYou points. Looking beyond the sign-up bonus, though, to keeping the card in the long term, here are a few questions to ask yourself.
1. Do you spend more than $1,863 each year in the card’s 3x bonus categories? If you don’t have another card that provides better earnings for supermarkets, gas stations and restaurants, the Citi Premier could be a good fit for your spending habits. You might also find the card worth hanging onto if you travel internationally, but don’t have another card that waives foreign transaction fees.
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 airline partners in all three major alliances, it still lacks a legacy U.S. carrier, whereas Chase has United and American Express has Delta. At the moment, you can transfer your points to American (which is a huge deal), but that’s a limited-time deal that ends in a few months.
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, such as the Citi Rewards+® Card. 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 if you have the Chase Freedom Flex, the rewards you earn can be converted from simple cash back to fully transferable Chase Ultimate Rewards points when you also carry the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve).
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 on your account. 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 Card can be another way to diversify your points and miles balances. Given recent airline and hotel award devaluations, it’s essential to have pots of travel rewards currencies in a variety of programs as a form of insulation, and Citi ThankYou points do offer this additional flexibility.
The ThankYou Rewards program can offer some tremendous value when used strategically, and the Citi Premier® Card is one of the best cards to earn a hoard of ThankYou points both in the first year and beyond. By leveraging its bonus categories and other benefits you can reap enough value from the card each year to more than offset its $95 annual fee.
Interested in applying? Here’s the link to apply now for the Citi Premier® Card with an 80,000 point bonus.
Additional reporting by Katie Genter, Mark Spivak and Joseph Hostetler.
Featured photo by John Gribben /The Points Guy.
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