My Citi Credit Card Strategy (2021)

Filed Under: Citi, Credit Cards
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Arguably I take maximizing credit cards to the extreme, given that I have over two dozen credit cards. In separate posts I shared my Amex card strategy and Chase card strategy, and in this post I wanted to share my Citi card strategy.

Citi has several valuable rewards cards, and personally I have a total of four Citi cards, which help me maximize ThankYou points and also get lounge access. Below I’ll share some general things to be aware of when applying for Citi cards, and then a summary of my Citi card strategy.

Restrictions On Applying For Citi Cards

There are a few major restrictions to be aware of when applying for Citi cards:

Citi 8/65 Day Rule

This is pretty straightforward. Citi will approve you for at most one card every eight days, and at most two cards every 65 days. If you are considering applying for multiple Citi cards, you’ll want to pay close attention to the timing.

Citi 24 Month Rule

With Citi’s 24 month rule, you are typically not eligible for the bonus on a particular card if you’ve closed that card or have received a new cardmember bonus on that card in the past 24 months.

Citi Family Card Rules

Citi cards earning ThankYou points (like the Premier, Prestige, and Rewards+) have family card rules. For these cards:

  • You’re not eligible for the welcome bonus on any of those cards if you’ve received a new cardmember bonus on any of the cards in the past 24 months
  • You’re not eligible for the welcome bonus on any of those cards if you’ve closed any of them in the past 24 months

Citi 48 Month AAdvantage Rule

American AAdvantage cards have different eligibility requirements than other Citi cards. Generally speaking with AAdvantage cards you’re not eligible for the bonus on a particular card if you’ve received a new cardmember bonus on that exact card in the past 48 months. In these situations there’s no family rule, but rather there’s an extended restriction for a specific card.

The Four Citi Credit Cards I Have

At the moment I have the following four Citi credit cards:

I have the first three cards in order to be able to maximize my Citi ThankYou points, while I have the last card for lounge access, so let me discuss that in a bit more detail.

The Perfect Citi ThankYou Card Trifecta

In general I like to earn transferable points currencies for my credit card spending, since they offer the most flexibility. Within each points currency “ecosystem” (whether it’s Amex Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards), there’s the possibility to build up a portfolio of cards so that you can maximize your points earning.

At this point I’d say I have a pretty close to perfect Citi ThankYou strategy (with one possible exception). Here are the three cards I have that are earning ThankYou points, and why I consider this combination to be so ideal:

Citi Prestige Card

The Citi Prestige Card is my “premium” card earning ThankYou points, as it’s essentially the Citi equivalent of the Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card (review). The card has a $495 annual fee, and here’s why I have it:

  • The card offers 5x ThankYou points on restaurant purchases, including takeout and delivery
  • The card offers a $250 annual travel credit, which helps offset the annual fee; in 2021 this can even be used towards supermarkets and restaurants
  • This is a card that I can use to pool ThankYou points that I earn on the two no annual fee cards below

The card has a lots of useful benefits that others might value, though the above are the reasons that I have the Citi Prestige. I am increasingly thinking that I should downgrade this card to the Citi Premier® Card (review), but I’ll get into that in a bit more detail below.

Read a full review of the Citi Prestige Card here.

The Citi Prestige offers a $250 annual travel credit

Citi Double Cash Card

The Citi Double Cash Card is my go-to credit card for everyday spending, and I think it’s more valuable than ever before. This no annual fee card offers 1% cash back when you make a purchase, and 1% cash back when you pay for that purchase.

While that’s a solid cash back return, what makes this card truly exceptional is that you can convert the cash back into ThankYou points at a rate of one ThankYou point per cent. That’s incredible, because personally I value ThankYou points at ~1.7 cents each, increasing the value of my rewards by 70%.

This card offers the equivalent of two ThankYou points per dollar, which by my valuation makes this the best credit card for everyday spending.

Read a full review of the Citi Double Cash Card here.

The Citi Double Cash is my go-to card for everyday spending

Citi Rewards+ Card

I picked up the Citi Rewards+ Card in 2020, and I actually acquired it by downgrading the Citi Premier Card. The Citi Rewards+ Card has no annual fee and:

  • Offers 2x ThankYou points at supermarkets and gas stations, for the first $6,000 spent per calendar year (and then 1x after that)
  • Rounds up purchases to the nearest 10 ThankYou points
  • Gets 10% of points back for the first 100,000 ThankYou points you redeem each year

This is an incredible complement to the other cards. While I won’t be using the Citi Rewards+ for supermarkets and gas stations (since there are better options out there in my card portfolio), I love this card for two reasons:

  • I can earn 10 ThankYou points even for a tiny purchase of a dollar
  • Having this card essentially scores me 10,000 ThankYou points per year, assuming I redeem at least 100,000 ThankYou points per year

Read a full review of the Citi Rewards+ Card here.

Having this card will earn me 10,000 ThankYou points per year

Should I Downgrade To The Citi Premier Card?

I have three Citi cards that can potentially earn me ThankYou points, and the way I view the value proposition:

  • I’m essentially paying about $245 per year for this combo, since one card has an annual fee, while the other two don’t; the Citi Prestige has a $495 annual fee, and I’m getting a $250 annual credit, which is more or less worth face value
  • The Citi Prestige is earning me 5x points on restaurant spending, which is the best return of any card for that category
  • The Citi Double Cash is the best card for everyday spending
  • If nothing else, the Citi Rewards+ is earning me 10,000 ThankYou points per year when I redeem at least 100,000 points, which is great for a no annual fee card (I value the 10,000 points at ~$170)

My only consideration is that I think I should downgrade my Citi Prestige Card to the Citi Premier Card (review), which is an excellent card as well. Why?

  • The Citi Premier has an annual fee of only $95, and it would still allow me to maximize the value of the Citi Double Cash and Citi Rewards+, which is what I care most about
  • I consider the Citi Prestige to really “cost” me $245 per year (after the $250 credit), though the only real incremental benefit I’m getting is 5x points on restaurants; maybe I’d be better off cutting that fee by $150 and forgoing some number of bonus points on dining
  • The Citi Premier even offers some incredible bonus categories, including 3x points on dining, gas, groceries, airfare, and hotels

I like earning ThankYou points for airline mileage transfers

Why I Have The Citi AAdvantage Executive Card

While not related to earning ThankYou points, I should mention the one other Citi credit card that I have. I’m talking about the $450 annual fee Citi AAdvantage Executive Card (review).

Under normal circumstances this is an incredible card:

While this is a card I might not be getting value from at this very moment, it’s still one that’s worth keeping, given the huge long-term value it has offered.

The Citi AAdvantage Executive is the best card for Admirals Club access

Bottom Line

I have four Citi credit cards, which allow me to maximize my Citi ThankYou points, and also get American Admirals Club access.

I’m maximizing my ThankYou points by having the Citi Prestige Card, and complementing that with the no annual fee Citi Double Cash Card and Citi Rewards+ Card.

Then I have the Citi AAdvantage Executive Card, which is ideal for Admirals Club lounge access. Admittedly that’s of limited value right now, but I’ve gotten outsized value in the past, and plan to continue to keep this card.

How does this compare to your Citi credit card strategy?

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  1. @lucky – thanks for the 3 guides; always good to see your strategy.
    One Q I did have is what do you choose to spend on if the return is equal?

    My broader question goes to the ecosystem for each card and, based on the redemption partners, as well as the ease of redeeming on the partner, what’s your preferred point currency both short and long-term?

    So, if you had to choose between Citi double cash or Amex biz blue+ for your monthly internet, which one is top of your list and why; similarly, if you get 3x on a purchase and have the choice between Chase Sapphire Reserve and Amex Green, which would you choose?

  2. You are basically paying $150 per year to get 1 5x TYP vs 4x MR (Amex Gold). Thats a lot of dining spend to break even

  3. @ tom — Except I don’t have the Amex Gold. My best return on dining otherwise is on the Amex Green and Chase Sapphire Reserve, both of which offer 3x points. A difference of 2x points is somewhat significant, as I value that at a 3.4% spread. This also gets at an Amex card strategy I’m considering, where I think it could make sense to dump the Amex Green and Amex EveryDay Preferred, and replace those just with the Amex Gold.

  4. @ khatl — That’s a great question! Indeed I value Amex, Chase, and Citi points equally, but others don’t. In situations where return on spend is equal, I typically decide based on which points currency I have the smallest balance of, and/or what my travel plans look like in the near future, and which points currency would be most useful for that.

    For example, if I’m low on Chase Ultimate Rewards points and value some Hyatt redemptions, then I would prioritize spending on a Chase card. If I wanted to book an award ticket through Aeroplan, then I would prioritize spending on an Amex card.

    Often the tiebreaker is which card offers better purchase protection, travel coverage, is better about disputing charges, etc.

  5. What kills me is that citi cant transfer to AA, like chase has UA card but you can also transfer UR to UA.

  6. @ Sung — I agree, I do wish that Citi ThankYou points could be transferred to American, that would be a great option. Regarding Chase Ultimate Rewards transfers to United, though, how often is that actually useful? In my experience other transfer partners typically have better Star Alliance award redemption pricing.

  7. Chase has the best travel protections, but I think it goes Amex > Citi > Chase in regards to the points actual value. Besides Amex having the best transfer partners, they also have the most consistent transfer bonuses. Chase is great for people who don’t want to think and just get 1.5 value from a point, but for most people who know how to optimize points, they’re the least valuable.

  8. I have the $495 Prestige and $95 Premier. I would like to cancel the Prestige but last year I tried and was told different things by different people who I spoke to on the phone on how not to lose my ThankYou Points. I ended up combining my ThankYou Points because the 1st person said if I did that, my points would not expire if I kept the Premier. The next time I spoke to someone, they said I had 60 days to use my points or else it would expire if I cancelled the Prestige. Since it was combined, I asked if I transferred my points out, would the points from my Prestige take precedence and the person said no. And yet another person told me there were limitations on which airline I could transfer to. I was super confused and frustrated since I combined my points based on the advice of the first person I talked to.

    Because I got such conflicting messages, I ended up not cancelling the Prestige for fear of losing my 300K ThankYou points.

    Does anyone have any advice?

  9. Ben,

    As I hinted at in the Amex guide, canceling EDP + Green + downgrading Prestige makes a lot of sense if you’re getting Gold (plus keeping Platinum + CSR). For a total annual fee of $345, you would get:

    -2X with Double Cash or 1.5X with CFU on non-bonus spend whenever you need (no fee and no need to make 30 transactions per month)
    -4X supermarkets and dining/delivery with Gold ($250 fee, minus the value you get from the Seamless/Uber Eats credits)
    -ability to combine/transfer Citi points with the Premier ($95 fee, minus the value you get from booking award tickets through transfers)

    Then you still have the general travel/airfare bonuses from CSR and Platinum, and you have been able to consistently offset those annual fees.

  10. @lorraine
    If you combine points and cancel a card you have 60 days to use the points from that came from the cancelled card.

  11. Lucky, I’m surprised you haven’t dumped the Amex EDP for the Amex Gold already. It’s a pretty obvious switch, especially with the new Amex Gold credits. Amex Green is superflous.

    Citi Prestige makes more sense if you are fully committed to Thank You points (i.e. you put flight, hotel, and dining charges on that card, with Double Cash elsewhere). In a multi ecosystem setup, not sure if the Prestige is worth it.

  12. Hi Ben, great guide on the “Citi” gang! I have one thing to add on the benefits of the Prestige card: Fourth night free. If used properly and twice a year, this could easily be worth average $ 300-400 per year. Combining this with other benefits you mentioned above, almost makes this card free for me and I still add on the ThankYou Points. Here is how this worked out in the past for me:

    Travel discount: 250
    Hotels stays two times: 350
    Total benefits: 600
    Annual Fee: 495

    Add to that the lounge stays via Priority pass and I easily get much more benefit from this card than the annual fee 🙂

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