There are lots of aspects to maximizing your credit card rewards, including taking advantage of the best welcome bonuses, spending categories, and card perks. Admittedly some of us take maximizing credit cards to the extreme, by having dozens of cards.
Sometimes I think it’s interesting to break down a card strategy by issuer, so in this post I wanted to share my Citi credit card strategy. Citi has several great credit cards, especially those that earn Citi ThankYou points.
Here’s a rundown of what you need to know to be approved for a Citi card, a summary of my strategy, and then which Citi cards I’m most interested in applying for. In separate posts I wrote about my Amex card strategy, Capital One card strategy, and Chase card strategy.
How many Citi cards can you have?
There’s no formal limit to how many Citi credit cards you can have. I “only” have three Citi credit cards, though I know plenty of people who have a lot more Citi cards than that. Typically the limiting factor with Citi is the total amount of credit you’ll be extended, rather than the number of cards.
The other big restrictions involve the application process, as I’ll explain below.
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. Note that this doesn’t factor in cards that you apply for with other issuers.
Citi 24 & 48 month rule
Citi has both 24 & 48 month rules for earning welcome bonuses, with the timeline depending on the card you’re applying for:
- With the 24 month rule, you’re not eligible for the bonus on a particular card if you’ve closed that card in the past 24 months, or have received a new cardmember bonus on that card in the past 24 months
- With the 48 month rule, you’re not eligible for the bonus on a particular card if you’ve closed that card in the past 48 months, or have received a new cardmember bonus on that card in the past 48 months
As you can tell, the timeline here refers specifically to when you earned the bonus on a card, rather than when you applied for the card. Furthermore, it also refers to when you actually closed a card — having a card open doesn’t necessarily make you ineligible to earn the bonus in the future.
Citi family card rules
Some Citi cards have family card rules. For those cards:
- You’re not eligible for the welcome bonus on any listed card if you’ve received a new cardmember bonus on any of the cards in that “family” in the past 24 months
- You’re not eligible for the welcome bonus on any listed card if you’ve closed any card in that “family” in the past 24 months
Which Citi cards do I have?
At the moment I have the following three Citi credit cards:
- The Citi® Double Cash Card (review)
- The Citi Prestige Card (review)
- The Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® (review)
I have the first two 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.
How do I use my Citi cards?
There are two main reasons that I have Citi credit cards:
- One I have for the ongoing perks that it offers
- Two I have for the return on spending that they offer
Let me explain why I have the three Citi cards that I do in a bit more detail.
The Citi AAdvantage Executive Card is about lounge access
The Citi AAdvantage Executive Card has a $450 annual fee, and is worth it for the incredible lounge access perks it offers:
- The primary cardmember receives a full Admirals Club membership, which would ordinarily cost significantly more than the card’s annual fee
- You can add up to 10 authorized user is able to bring up to two guests or their immediate family into Admirals Clubs when flying American or an eligible partner airline the same day
Getting Admirals Club access for up to 11 people (plus guests) is a pretty unbelievable deal. I consider this to be one of the best cards for authorized users, and this is also one of my favorite credit cards in terms of the value of perks.
The Citi Prestige & Citi Double Cash are about ThankYou points
In general I like to earn transferable points currencies for my credit card spending whenever possible, since they offer the most flexibility. Within each points currency “ecosystem” (whether it’s Amex Membership Rewards, Capital One, or Chase Ultimate Rewards), there’s the possibility to build up a portfolio of cards so that you can maximize your points earning.
When it comes to earning Citi ThankYou, I have the Citi Prestige Card and Citi Double Cash Card.
The Citi Prestige Card is no longer open to new applicants, but here are the basics of the card:
- The card has a $495 annual fee, but offers a $250 annual travel credit, which to me is more or less worth face value; that means the card is really costing me $245 per year
- The card offers 5x ThankYou points on restaurant purchases, making it one of the best cards for dining; I spend quite a bit on dining, so this is a big category for me
- Having this card allows you to unlock the full value of the Citi ThankYou program, as you can transfer all Citi ThankYou points to airline & hotel partners if you have this card
Then you have the no annual fee Citi Double Cash Card, which I consider to be one of the best cards for everyday spending. The card offers 1x ThankYou points when you make a purchase, and 1x ThankYou points when you pay for a purchase. Earning a total of 2x ThankYou points after paying your bill is an excellent return on spending, and makes this card a keeper.
Should I replace the Citi Prestige with the Citi Premier?
As mentioned above, the Citi Prestige Card is no longer open to new applicants. The other popular “premium” card earning Citi ThankYou points is the Citi Premier® Card (review). I keep going back and forth as to whether I’m better off with the Citi Premier or Citi Prestige.
For a bit of background on the $95 annual fee Citi Premier Card, which I consider to be incredibly well rounded:
- The Citi Premier has a massive welcome bonus
- The Citi Premier has great bonus categories, as it offers 3x points on dining, gas, groceries, airfare, and hotels
- The Citi Premier offers a $100 annual hotel credit, which in and of itself could cover the card’s annual fee
- The Citi Premier earns the same “premium” ThankYou points as the Citi Prestige, which can be transfered to airline & hotel partners
While the Citi Prestige has a $495 annual fee, it also offers a $250 annual travel credit, so I consider the card to really “cost” me $245 per year. That’s $150 more than I’d pay on the Citi Premier. Is that worth it to essentially earn 5x points on dining rather than 3x points? I’ll have to do some number crunching there…
Which Citi cards do I most want?
Admittedly I don’t have the most robust portfolio of Citi credit cards (at least compared to the Chase cards I have), but ultimately I can only have so many credit cards across all issuers. There are a couple more Citi credit cards that it would be nice to have:
- The no annual fee Citi Rewards+® Card (review) interests me because it has an innovative “rounding up” feature on spending, and the card also offers a 10% rebate on redemptions, which can net you up to 10,000 ThankYou bonus points per year
- The no annual fee Citi Custom Cash℠ Card (review) offers 5x points on your top eligible spending category each billing cycle, on up to $500 of spending per billing cycle; potential categories include drugstores, fitness centers, gas stations, grocery stores, home improvement stores, live entertainment, restaurants, select streaming services, select transit, and select travel
I actually had the Citi Rewards+ Card in 2020, but the account was closed on me due to lack of activity. Oops.
I currently have three Citi credit cards, which allow me to maximize my Citi ThankYou points and get American Admirals Club access.
I maximize my ThankYou points by having the Citi Prestige Card and Citi Double Cash Card — the former earns me 5x points at restaurants and the latter earns me 2x points on everyday spending.
Then I have the Citi AAdvantage Executive Card, which is ideal for Admirals Club lounge access. It not only offers an Admirals Club membership for the primary cardmember, but also offers Admirals Club access for up to 10 authorized users.
How does this compare to your Citi credit card strategy?
Ben if you sign up for Citi Private Client the AF for the Prestige will drop to $350 so your effective annual cost drops to $105. You also get a year of the AA card for free and pay $350 ($100 off) after that.
I product changed 3 (very) old Citi cards to Custom Cash & use all 3 towards 5x dining, no AFs. No AF on 2x DC, either. Use the Premier to transfer all TYP 2x to Choice for very nice Preferred Hotel bookings. Then 10% back with the no-fee Rewards+.
Just got the Custom Cash. It's a no-brainer for $500 (but not more) of monthly spending — just spend on one category and get 5x points plus the 20,000 points after spending $750. Then you've got the bonus after just 1-1/2 months of spending on this card. And then in subsequent months you continue to just put one category of spending on it — probably something like groceries. So in two months of grocery spending...
Just got the Custom Cash. It's a no-brainer for $500 (but not more) of monthly spending — just spend on one category and get 5x points plus the 20,000 points after spending $750. Then you've got the bonus after just 1-1/2 months of spending on this card. And then in subsequent months you continue to just put one category of spending on it — probably something like groceries. So in two months of grocery spending that's already 25,000 points and then focus on your other cards while maintaining the 5x points by spending on just one category each month.
I'm a big fan of custom cash. I just put groceries on it, so I don't need to keep track of categories, and I'm never worried about 1x point per dollar. It's impossible to find greater than 4x per dollar on groceries, especially on a no fee card.
Def use Premier + Double Cash combo when not making a SUB or spending towards elite status. TY points add up fast.
It's definitely not a travel card, but I have a Sears card from Citi from when I financed some appliance purchases years ago that will somewhat randomly have really large bonus earnings promotions (5x-20x) on certain categories. Sometimes it's even just for "eligible purchases" and doesn't really define it. I've been using it for most purchases and have calculated that I'm roughly earning 15 points/$ for the last six months. They're just the limited ThankYou...
It's definitely not a travel card, but I have a Sears card from Citi from when I financed some appliance purchases years ago that will somewhat randomly have really large bonus earnings promotions (5x-20x) on certain categories. Sometimes it's even just for "eligible purchases" and doesn't really define it. I've been using it for most purchases and have calculated that I'm roughly earning 15 points/$ for the last six months. They're just the limited ThankYou points for that card, but I'm looking to add the Premier and hopefully transfer the points. Has anyone else seen these types of promotions on a Citi card? Is transferring ThankYou points between cards an easy process?
Interesting BG, will you please specify what the categories & caps have been on your Sears card?
I’ve had a few offers on Custom Cash but very low caps. Latest is 10% back stmnt credits on dining up to $25 (which I was using for 5x TYP anyway).
@Ben - I am surprised that you keep a card for Admirals club access since you have all kinds of other cards that give you access to better lounges (Centurion or Capital One or even Plaza Premium lounges). And most importantly, you usually fly First/Business class, so a lounge access is included in your ticket anyway. All in all, it seems like a waste of $245 (and pocket/drawer space) to hold onto that card. It...
@Ben - I am surprised that you keep a card for Admirals club access since you have all kinds of other cards that give you access to better lounges (Centurion or Capital One or even Plaza Premium lounges). And most importantly, you usually fly First/Business class, so a lounge access is included in your ticket anyway. All in all, it seems like a waste of $245 (and pocket/drawer space) to hold onto that card. It makes me wonder if you keep it for Auth user privileges and have friends/family added to that card who do not have same traveling patterns and privileges like you and hence could benefit from the occasional Admirals Club access? At the end of the day, I am sure $245 isn't a huge amount for you or most others that are seriously in this game, but I'd save any penny I can!
If you fly a lot of domestic routes (which, to be fair, I am not sure Ben does), you need access to one of the three airline networks - Delta, United, American. None of Centurion, Capital One, Priority Pass, Plaza Premium cut it in that scenario, and you don't get access to most airline clubs on First Class tickets without some kind of membership.
I have the Premier, Double Cash, and Custom Cash, and that's been a great set up so far.
I switched from the Prestige to the Premier and added the Citi Custom cash as well (along with Double Cash) that I use that on dining up to $500 and then the Amex Gold. All for $95. The Premier is also best for non-chain hotels, and overall has the most categories for bonus spend of any card. I also have the Citi Mile up for topping off Loyalty Points as needed.
I've had the Citi Executive AA card for about a year, haven't accessed a single Admirals Club yet, how pathetic is that. I may have the opportunity to do so the next few months. Still a hard card to justify unless you are a committed AA Flyer, which I am not. On the other hand, AA Mileup and AA Platinum are very easy cards to justify for everyone.