With Their New Transfer Rule, Citibank May Now Offer the Best Credit Card Combo
For most people, the Chase "Unlimited Combination" has been the best credit card option for everyday spending.
As of September 2019, Citibank has made a change to its Double Cash card. Rather than earning a straight 2% cashback, you now have the option of earning 2x ThankYou points per dollar instead. If you have the Citi Prestige and/or Premier card, you will then be able to transfer the points you earned with the Double Cash card to whichever of a dozen different frequent flyer programs would be the most useful, or redeem them for 1.25 cents each through the Citi travel portal.
With this change, a Citibank Double Cash combo earns your choice of the equivalent of 2.5-2.8% cashback or 2 flexible airline miles per dollar. Most people are likely to still prefer the Chase Unlimited combo (or the Amex Blue Business Plus card). But, the Double Cash combo is a very competitive option for your credit card spending.
Combining the Double Cash with other ThankYou credit cards
If you don't have a Citi Premier and/or Prestige card, the new ability to convert cash rewards from the Double Cash card into ThankYou points isn't that valuable. The only new opportunity that it opens up is the ability to essentially buy JetBlue points at 1.25 cents each (which is a little less than they are worth).
But, if you do have a Premier and/or Prestige card, you are now able to transfer your Double Cash points into a wide range of frequent flyer programs at a 1 cent to 1 point ratio, potentially making your points much more valuable. At our current valuation of 1.4 cents per dollar, the Double Cash card would be earning the equivalent of 2.8% on every purchase.
Each of Citibank's ThankYou cards offers different benefits when used in conjunction with the Double Cash card:
The Citi Premier card is the cheapest way to add value to your Double Cash points and also adds the ability for more valuable "cash" redemptions. It costs $95 per year, earns 3x points on Travel and Gas, and 2x points on Restaurants and Entertainment. It also unlocks the ability to purchase airfare through Citibank at 1.25 cents per point, giving you extra value if you don't want to hassle with frequent flyer programs. ThankYou Rewards Guide.
The Citi Prestige card costs a lot more, but provides premium travel benefits and some very high bonus reward rates. The Citi Prestige card costs $495 per year, but a $250 travel credit drops the effective annual fee to $245 per year. If you have Citigold status, the effective annual fee drops to $100 per year. For the higher fee, you get Priority Pass lounge access (with unlimited guests), your 4th night free on any hotel booked through Citibank, free premium cell phone protection, and 5x points on Restaurants and Air Travel.
While the Prestige card earns 3x points on hotels and cruises, unlike the Citi Premier card, you don't earn bonus points on other types of travel (or on gas or entertainment). The Citi Prestige card also doesn't provide the higher 1.25 cent rate for cashing out your points on airfare purchases. However, if you have the Premier card, you gain this ability across all your cards, including points earned via the Prestige card.
The RewardPlus can add a 10% points rebate across all your ThankYou redemptions (up to 100,000 points per year). It has no annual fee, but if you combine it with your other ThankYou credit cards, you'll get a 10% points rebate when you transfer points to other programs or redeem your points for travel purchases (or mortgage payments) through Citibank. Combined with the Citi Premier card, it gives you the equivalent of 1.39 cents per points when you purchase airfare (effective Double Cash earning rate of 2.78%) or 1.11 miles when you transfer your points.
Comparing to the Ultimate Rewards Combination
We still think an Ultimate Rewards point is more valuable than a ThankYou point. They transfer to a generally better collection of frequent flyer programs, they can be redeemed for travel purchases at 1.5 cents each (rather than 1 or 1.25 cents each), and perhaps most importantly, you can easily get good value when using them for Hyatt award stays. Introduction to 'Transferable' Reward Points.
But, now you have the option of earning 2x ThankYou points per dollar versus 1.5x Ultimate Rewards points. And with the 10% rebate from the Rewards+ card, it is really 2.22 points versus 1.5x points (subject to the rebate cap). At our normal point values, this is a reward rate of 3.11% versus 2.55%, but the real value difference depends on how you expect to spend your points.
- If you are planning to transfer your points to frequent flyer programs, and have the flexibility and skills to get good value from your frequent flyer miles, 2.22 ThankYou points is almost certainly better than 1.5 Ultimate Rewards points. The only exceptions would be for people who might get outsized benefits from a particular frequent flyer program that only partners with Chase.
- If there is a good chance that you will cash out your points on travel purchases, the Double Cash card earns the equivalent of 2.78% (with the Premier card) or 2.22% (if you don't), compared to the 2.25% with the Chase Unlimited card. But, you only use the higher cash out rate on airfare purchases with Citibank, while you can use it on a wide variety of travel purchases through Chase.
- While the Citibank combination provides a higher base earning rate for frequent flyer miles and airfare purchases, Chase has a good option for hotel point redemptions and Citibank does not. The easiest high-value use of Ultimate Rewards points is transferring them to Hyatt for award stays. This is much easier than getting good value from frequent flyer miles and is usually more valuable than simply cashing out your points. At a value of at least 1.7 cents per Hyatt point, the Chase Unlimited card earns the equivalent of 2.6%, and sometimes much more.
Based on everyday reward rates, the Double Cash combination is better. But the Chase Unlimited combination comes with a better combination of bonus category reward benefits, travel benefits, and annual fees, making the decision more complicated. Since different combinations of Citibank cards have different advantages and disadvantages, we need to compare them separately.
For all three combinations, we assume you get the no-annual-fee Rewards+ card for the 10% rebate.
Double Cash plus Premier card
You get a higher rate from Chase on Restaurants, probably a little more on Travel, and a higher rate from Citibank on all other purchases.
|Double Cash||Chase Unlimited|
|Effective Annual Fee||$95||$150|
But, the Citi Premier card doesn't provide any travel benefits. With the Chase Unlimited combo, you get free Priority Pass airport lounge access and the best travel insurance of any card.
Double Cash plus Prestige card
If you want lounge access, you could get the Prestige card, instead of the Premier card. You'd also get the the Prestige card's free premium cell phone coverage and unique 4th night free benefit, but you won't get the travel insurance benefits of the Sapphire Reserve card, you'll pay a much higher fee, and you won't receive the Premier card's higher rate when you cash out by purchasing airfare.
If you are transferring to airline miles, the Citi combination earns higher rewards than the Chase combo, but if you are cashing out or using on hotel points, the Chase card earns higher rewards. Citibank earns better rewards on Airfare and Restaurants. Chase is better for other types of travel.
|Double Cash||Chase Unlimited|
|Effective Annual Fee||$245||$150|
|Hotels and Cruises||3.33||3.3c||3.0||4.5c||>5.2c|
Double Cash plus both Premier and Prestige
To maximize your ThankYou points, you need to get both the Premier and Prestige cards, which increases the effective annual fee. Because of Citibank's rules, you'll need to wait 24 months after applying for the first of these cards to be eligible for the signup bonus on the other card.
|Double Cash||Chase Unlimited|
|Effective Annual Fee||$340||$150|
- If you want to keep things simple, we still recommend the Chase Unlimited combination, rather than the any of the Citibank combinations. The extra travel benefits of the Sapphire Reserve card are useful to almost everyone. And since most people are likely to redeem their points for travel purchases or hotel points, they are likely to receive close to, or more than, the same reward value. Getting BOTH the Premier and Prestige card would airport lounge access and boost the value of non-frequent-flyer redemptions to provide a more valuable combination than the Unlimited combo, but it is hard to justify the extra $190 per year in annual fees.
- However, if you are likely to redeem your points for frequent flyer miles and/or you get the extra $145 off the Prestige card's annual fee from being a Citigold customers, the Citibank combo is almost certainly a better option. You'll earn much higher rewards, but you'll miss out on Chase's free travel insurance benefits.
In addition, Citibank's rules make it very difficult to keep your points if you decide to switch up your credit card strategy.
Comparing to the Amex Blue Business Plus
Amex already offers a no-annual-fee card that earns 2x transferable points per dollar, Amex's Membership Rewards points are transferable to many more airline partners, and it is easier to earn and manage Membership Rewards points.
Why would you earn 2x ThankYou points with the Double Cash card, when you could earn 2x Membership Rewards points with the Amex Blue Business Plus card? There are potentially four reasons. You might not be willing and able to get a business card. Because it is an Amex card, the Blue Business Plus card is accepted by fewer merchants (and can be used for fewer transactions with Plastiq). The 2x rate on Blue Business Plus is capped at $50,000 in purchases per year (and you may spend more than that). The Blue Business Plus takes up one of your five Amex credit card slots and some more extreme travel hackers may want to use their slots for both Delta status and Hilton certificates.
If you don't want to lock yourself into frequent flyer miles, the Double Cash combo provides much better rewards than the Blue Business Plus card, but if you weren't planning to redeem for miles, you wouldn't consider the Blue Business Plus card in the first place. Citibank also offers better bonus category options than Amex, but there is no reason you couldn't earn a combination of ThankYou and Membership Rewards points.
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