CNN Underscored reviews financial products such as credit cards and bank accounts based on their overall value. We may receive a commission through the LendingTree affiliate network if you apply and are approved for a card, but our reporting is always independent and objective.
Our quick take: The Citi Premier® Card is a top mid-tier credit card that comes with a sizable sign-up bonus and earns Citi ThankYou Rewards points, which can be redeemed for cash back or travel, transferred to the program’s airline partners or, for a limited time now through Nov. 13, converted into American Airlines AAdvantage miles at a 1-to-1 ratio.
- Earn 3 points for every dollar you spend on air travel, hotels, gas stations, supermarkets and restaurants (including takeout).
- Points can be redeemed for travel through the Citi ThankYou Rewards travel portal at a rate of 1 cent per point with no blackout dates or restrictions on award availability.
- Points can also be transferred to any of Citi’s 16 airline partners at a 1-to-1 ratio.
- For a limited time through Nov. 13, 2021, points can also be transferred to American AAdvantage at a 1-to-1 ratio.
- Access to World Elite Mastercard benefits.
- Other credit cards may earn more rewards on everyday purchases.
- Limited travel insurance and shopping protections.
- New card holders can’t earn the sign-up bonus if you’ve opened or closed other select Citi credit cards within the past 24 months.
- $95 annual fee.
Current sign-up bonus: Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases within the first three months after opening the account.
Best for: People looking for a credit card that earns flexible rewards that can be used for domestic American Airlines flights, and those who are knowledgeable about the process of booking award travel using the loyalty programs of international airlines.
Digging into the Citi Premier card
The Citi Premier credit card comes with all of the perks of Citi’s ThankYou Rewards program, but doesn’t cost a fortune from year to year. While you won’t get all the travel benefits of a high-end ultra-premium travel credit card, you’ll earn bonus points in many popular categories, and can redeem them for cash or a number of useful travel options.
One of the best aspects of the Citi Premier is its many different international loyalty program partnerships. Those who are well versed in redeeming points and miles will enjoy the plethora of options, although beginners who are just starting out with travel rewards might find the choices overwhelming. Fortunately, you can always redeem your ThankYou points using the Citi travel portal at a rate of 1 cent apiece and not have to worry about the complexities of partner programs.
However, thanks to an unprecedented new partnership, Citi Premier card holders can also currently transfer their ThankYou points to American Airlines’ AAdvantage frequent flyer program, opening up many simpler ways to redeem the card’s points for domestic flights. Unfortunately, there’s only a limited window for this option, but it’s possible the partnership could be extended beyond its current Nov. 13 end date.
This is also an excellent credit card to pair with the Citi® Double Cash Card. When you have both the Citi Premier and the Citi Double Cash cards, you can convert the cash back earned on your Citi Double Cash into points that can be utilized by the Citi Premier card. Since the Citi Double Cash card earns 2% cash back on every purchase you make — 1% when you buy, and 1% when you pay it off — you can strategically use the Citi Premier card when you make purchases in its bonus categories, and then use the Citi Double Cash card on everything else.
And there’s never been a better time to get the Citi Premier. That’s because right now new card holders can earn 80,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in the first three months after opening the account. That’s the highest sign-up bonus we’ve ever seen on this card, and you can easily get $800 in travel value with that bonus — and potentially even more.
Advantages of the Citi Premier card
For a card with a low annual fee, the Citi Premier has some great bonus categories. You’ll earn 3 points for every dollar you spend on air travel, hotels, gas stations, supermarkets and restaurants (including takeout), and then 1 point per dollar on all other purchases. The points don’t expire as long as you keep the card open and there’s no limit to the number of points you can earn.
Unfortunately, you won’t earn bonus points on all travel-related spending — just air travel and hotels. But, the list of bonus categories includes so many everyday staples that it should be easy to quickly start racking up points, making this card a top earning contender.
When it comes to redeeming your rewards, one of the easiest methods is to “cash in” your ThankYou points for cash back or a statement credit. However, you’ll only get 0.5 cent per point when you redeem this way, which isn’t a good value. Another option is to redeem your points for gift cards — when you go this route, your points are worth a much better 1 cent apiece.
But if you’re ready to hit the road, you can also redeem your Citi Premier points for travel in two ways. The first is by using the Citi ThankYou travel portal, which is identical to booking through an online travel agency like Expedia or Orbitz, except that you can pay for your flight or hotel using points instead of cash. You’ll get the same 1 cent per point when you redeem this way, and you can even mix cash and points together if you don’t want to pay entirely with one or the other.
And if you’re an expert when it comes to travel rewards, transferring your points to one of Citi’s 16 different airline partners will most likely bring the best value, especially if you’re looking to travel internationally in first or business class. It takes some time and effort to learn how these partner loyalty programs work, but it’s the best way to get maximum value for your points, as well as fly in style.
Until the recent Citi/American partnership was announced, JetBlue’s TrueBlue loyalty program was the Citi Premier’s only domestic transfer option. But now with the ability to transfer ThankYou points to American AAdvantage as well, Citi Premier card holders have two great straightforward choices when it comes to transferring ThankYou points to book flights on US carriers.
Other benefits of the Citi Premier include an annual $100 hotel credit on reservations of $500 or more when you book through ThankYou.com, extended warranty protection, damage and theft protection and no foreign transaction fees.
Additionally, since the Citi Premier is a World Elite Mastercard, you’ll be entitled to World Elite benefits as well, which include a $5 discount on three Lyft rides taken in a month, three free months of DoorDash’s DashPass food delivery membership and access to Mastercard Luxury Hotels and Resorts.
Disadvantages of the Citi Premier
While the Citi Premier card is a solid performer on the travel rewards side, it lacks in the travel and purchase protections department. In the last two years, Citi has dropped most of the protection benefits you’d expect to see on a travel rewards credit card, especially on one that carries an annual fee.
In fact, there’s no travel insurance coverage of any kind offered on the Citi Premier. This means you won’t have access to car rental insurance, trip cancellation and interruption protection, trip delay protection, baggage delay protection and more. Many comparable cards, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, offer all of these coverages, making the Citi Premier — and many other Citi cards — undesirable when it comes to booking vacations with them.
On the shopping side, you’ll also no longer have access to Citi’s Price Rewind feature or return protection with the Citi Premier. To be fair, these once-common perks have been wiped away from many credit cards in recent years — not just Citi’s — but it’s still an unfortunate loss. There are also no luxury travel benefits on the Citi Premier, such as lounge access or travel statement credits, but that isn’t something we’d expect to see on a mid-tier card that only costs $95 per year.
Lastly, Citi has some interesting terms when it comes to the sign-up bonus on the Citi Premier. The issuer determines your eligibility for the bonus based on whether or not you’ve opened or closed certain Citi cards in the past. Specifically, in the past 24 months, if you’ve received a bonus for the Citi Rewards+®, Citi ThankYou® Preferred, Citi ThankYou® Premier/Citi Premier® or Citi Prestige®, or if you have closed any of these accounts in the past 24 months, you won’t be eligible for the 80,000-point bonus.
Stacking up the Citi Premier card against our benchmark
CNN Underscored has chosen the Citi Double Cash Card as our “benchmark” credit card. That doesn’t mean it’s the best credit card on the market — rather, it means we use it as a basic standard to compare other credit cards and see where they score better, and where they’re worse.
Here’s how the Citi Premier scores against our benchmark. The features of each card in the below chart are colored in green, red or white. Green indicates a card feature that is better than our benchmark. Red indicates the feature is worse than our benchmark, and white indicates the feature is either equivalent or cannot be directly compared to our benchmark.
When reviewing other credit cards, we use this format and these criteria to compare them with our benchmark. You can read our credit card methodology for more details on what we take into account when it comes to perks, protections and redemption value.
Other credit cards similar to the Citi Premier
There are four major types of flexible credit card travel rewards — Citi ThankYou Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards and Capital One miles. While they’re all great in their own ways, the big difference is in their various airline and hotel partnerships — and based on your personal travel habits, that might easily draw you into one program over another. But if you’re “program agnostic,” here are some other credit cards that are similar to the Citi Premier.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is Chase’s mid-tier credit card, with the exact same $95 annual fee, but you’ll earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points that can transfer to 14 airline and hotel partners, some of which are the same as Citi’s and some of which are different. Where this card shines over the Citi Premier is that there are three hotel partners included as well, and you can redeem your Sapphire Preferred points for any flight via the Chase travel portal and get 1.25 cents per point in value.
You’ll also get many shopping and travel protection benefits with the Chase Sapphire Preferred. For example, if you have to cancel a trip because you get sick or injured, the Sapphire Preferred will reimburse you for your prepaid and nonrefundable travel purchases, while the Citi Premier could leave you with many sunk costs.
That being said, the Citi Premier has both many more bonus categories, and you’ll even earn 3 points per dollar spent on travel — whereas the Chase Sapphire Preferred only earns 2 points in this category (unless purchased through Ultimate Rewards and you’ll earn 5 points per dollar). So you’ll need to consider whether earning more points or having better travel and purchase protections is a higher priority for you.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for an American Express card, the American Express® Gold Card is a comparable mid-tier option. The card earns Amex Membership Rewards points which can be transferred to a roster of 21 airline and hotel partners, or redeemed for flights and hotels through Amex Travel.
The Amex Gold also has the highest bonus categories of all three of these mid-tier card options. The card earns 4 points per dollar on dining worldwide and at U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 in purchases per calendar year, then 1x). It also earns the same 3 points per dollar on flights as the Citi Premier (though flights must be booked directly with the airline in order to get bonus points on the Amex Gold) and 1 point per dollar on everything else.
You’ll also find many travel benefits and monthly credits on the Amex Gold, as well as travel insurance. The big difference, however, is that the Amex Gold comes with a $250 annual fee (see rates and fees), which is significantly higher than the $95 annual fee of the the Citi Premier. So you’ll have to consider if the additional points and perks are worth the cost.
Should you get the Citi Premier credit card?
If you’re looking for a credit card that comes with travel benefits or annual credits, the Citi Premier is probably not the best card for you. Instead, you’d be better off with the Chase Sapphire Preferred or the Amex Gold. Alternatively, if you’re looking for a higher-end card with VIP perks, you’ll want to consider options like the Chase Sapphire Reserve® or The Platinum Card® from American Express.
But if your prime focus is getting a mid-tier travel credit card and diversifying your points, then the Citi Premier is a solid choice. It earns lots of valuable ThankYou Rewards points at a low annual fee, and Citi’s transfer partners open up many opportunities to book travel on many international airlines, as well as American Airlines through Nov. 13. And if you decide the Citi Premier is right for you, make sure you get it now and score the 80,000-point sign-up bonus while it’s around.
Find out which cards CNN Underscored chose as our best credit cards of 2021.