Citi Rewards+ Card: “Rounding Up” Real Talk

Filed Under: Citi, Credit Cards
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Yesterday I wrote about the new Citi Rewards+ Card, which will become available as of January 10, 2019. This is a new no annual fee card, that offers some unique bonuses on purchases. Check the post yesterday for all the details of the new card, because in this post I want to focus on the one thing I (and probably many others) find the most interesting.

The Citi Rewards+ Card “rounds up” your purchases

Arguably the coolest feature of this new card is Citi will round up your purchase to the nearest 10 ThankYou points. Make a $1 purchase? You’ll earn 10 ThankYou points. Make an $11 purchase? You’ll earn 20 ThankYou points.

I love this perk mainly because of how creative it is. We’ve seen a never-ending race between card issuers to offer bigger and better bonus categories, and there’s only so far they can go. So to see an issuer add something unique like this is cool.

Understandably this benefit has raised a lot of questions.

“Can I set up automatic payments online somehow for $0.01 each?”

“So, like, can I just do self check-out at a grocery store and scan every item individually?”

I wanted to look at those points a bit more closely in this post.

Those looking to game the system

Let me first address those people who may be thinking to themselves “hmmm, I wonder if I can automate payments online somehow so that I can keep running my credit card for one cent per transaction.”

Sure, if you could run your credit card for $0.01 and earn 10 ThankYou points, that would be awesome. That would be the equivalent of 1,000 ThankYou points per dollar.

But don’t even think about it. If you even try to scale this at all, you’re likely to get shut down on two fronts:

  • Whatever company you’re processing the purchase with will lose money on every transaction, and if you’re doing thousands of transactions (which would be needed to scale this), they’re almost definitely going to shut you down
  • Surely Citi will similarly be tracking any sort of suspicious behavior, and will shut down those who are making thousands of small purchases

So usually I don’t even address the gaming aspect of this stuff, but in my opinion it’s not even worth considering doing that. Citi isn’t dumb, and they know what they’re doing. At least that’s my take.

Doing the math on “normal” purchases

Like I said, I really like the creativity of this card, and that it offers a different kind of bonus category. I plan on getting the card, and am excited to use it mainly because it will make me think even more about each transaction when I’m at the register.

But for those thinking of splitting up purchases into many transactions to earn 10 points per dollar, I think it’s important to look at the actual numbers at play here.

Let’s say you’re making a $1 purchase (though what even costs a dollar anymore nowadays?). At the absolute most, you’re looking at earning an incremental 8.5 points, since there are several cards that offer 1.5 transferrable points per dollar spent, like the Chase Freedom Unlimited® and The Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express.

If you’re like me and value all those points currencies at ~1.5 cents each, you’re looking at an incremental 8.5 points per purchase. At a value of 1.7 cents per point, you’re looking at an incremental return of under 15 cents per transaction.

And that’s the absolute best case scenario, since it assumes you’re making a purchase not otherwise eligible for a bonus category. Buying a cup of coffee? You could otherwise earn up to 5x points on that purchase, so even a $2 purchase would be better placed on another card. At the supermarket? You can earn up to 4.5x points on that purchase.

Bottom line

With a maximum incremental return of 15 cents per transaction, it’s really not worth trying to play any “games” here. I like this new card and plan to get it because miles & points are a big mental exercise for me, and I love thinking about which card to use every time I make a purchase. It keeps my basic math skills sharp.

But I’m absolutely not going to try to play any games here by splitting up purchases, etc., in order to maximize this.

You’re looking at an absolute maximum incremental return of under 15 cents per purchase. If an extra transaction takes just 30 seconds, for example, you’re looking at the equivalent of earning $18 per hour by doing that (15 cents times 120). That’s not accounting for everyone you’re annoying, that’s assuming you’re making $1 purchases, and that assumes that purchase wouldn’t otherwise be eligible for a bonus category. It’s just not worth it.

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  1. Does this card affect if you can get a signup bonus on the citi ThankYou cards within 24 months? In other words, does the 24 month ‘clock’ on whether you can earn a sign up bonus of thank you points reset when you get this card?

  2. if you dont have any other Citi cards (thus making TY points worth less than 1.7cents because you can’t transfer to airlines), is it worth getting?

  3. Can you transfer these TYP to a spouse who has a Citi Prestige card and then use the points to transfer to their poor airline partners?

  4. I’ve made 25 purchases of $0.15 via Amazon gift cards before on an Amex card and another issuer’s cards for a different offer. I’m not sure what Citi’s fraud detection is like, but I had no issues with my card (doing 1-2 transactions each day). It was a pain so I probably wouldn’t consider doing it with a Citi card for such a small return.

  5. There’s a debit card in Australia that earns 5 Qantas points per transaction – no matter the amount. Of course, people abused it and had their account closed for running macros that processed multiple transactions at $0.01 each. I expect that Citi will crack down hard the same way.

  6. For “real” in person purchases, you’re right, the hassle >>> the gain, but as AussieSteve notes, automated tiny online purchases make this crazy lucrative and would certainly be disallowed.
    Ex. Amazon $1 account reloads, yielding ~0.15 of benefits, and there’s got to be many better opportunities.
    Without exploiting, this card seems meh.

  7. Let’s get real. No blogger who earns tens/hundreds of thousands from shilling and pimping credit cards for “free” travel is ever going to advise gaming the system – heck, their affiliate card referral game is beyond ridiculously good as it is – the few points earned thru spend are just chump change by comparison. No way are they about to kill the golden goose and risk losing affiliate links.

    Never, ever click thru a link from a blogger.

  8. Wow, I just figured something out! I loved it when they got the new soda machines at Wal-Mart that takes credit cards. Mostly cause I have lost money so many times in the older machines, and won’t make the effort to get my 50 cents back. Sometimes I lose it twice in a row, still won’t make the effort. Too long of lines to wait at customer service. But I have even lost my money on the credit cards, getting billed, hearing the soda fall, but it gets stuck somehow and doesn’t fall all the way down, so when I try again, I hoped it would knock down the 1st one stuck in there, but it didn’t. Anyways, not the point, getting off topic. All I know is when I tried to use my Citi TY card, the machine would lock up on “authorizing” word, then it doesn’t work for at least several minutes, so I have to walk to the other machine, does the same thing. I’m like “what?” My other credit cards always worked fast and easy, just not the Citi TY, and then they put out a “fraud alert” for me to call in and verify that it was me. For a 50 cent soda? Well I was a bit annoyed by this. I messed up and tried to use it again, but I learned my lesson to never use the Citi TY card at the soda machines, but it never dawned on me it was cause they thought I was “gaming the reward points”… Why would they block the entire transaction and have me call in for a 1st time soda buy for 50 cents? It’s not like I did it over and over or often at that. Usually I get a soda about every 3 weeks, but I might grab 2 or 3 in that same trip, depending if I brought drinks or intended on eating out, etc. I remember being quite frustrated when calling in over a 50 soda transaction, but now I think it was cause of the points round up. Instead of blocking the transaction, why not just not give me the points? I don’t got the time to think about how to game the reward points, but to make it to where we can’t even use the card just cause of the rewards kinda defeats the whole purpose of rewards, which is suppose to make the customer happy, but if we can’t even use the card, we are certainly NOT happy! Anyways, after a couple times, I never tried to use the Citi TY card on the soda machine, but I just use my Citi Double card, and it’s never given me any problems or asked me to call in. Not once, and I’ve used it probably 20 times over the past year or so. Anyways, I would encourage Citi TY to allow the transaction, but just dock the points if you have concerns. Now if it was doing it over and over for multiple times, day after day, then it might actually be someone “gaming the points.” I just would say that anyone that goes through all that work for so little return must be a very needy person, who I would donate a few bucks to them to help them out so they wouldn’t have to try so hard for a few points. Sounds crazy that people would do this, sad actually that they would feel the need. Sorry, it just blows my mind, cause that was months ago when that happened and it just never dawned on me that it was cause of my points. I have a couple other credit cards that I’ve also use at the soda machines at various times without any issues, so I wondered at the time why Citi TY was blocking and flagging the purchase. What pissed me off the most was that it would lock of the machine, so I couldn’t even use another card cause it was frozen up.

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