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While our choice for the best first travel rewards credit card has long been the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, if you’re already gotten that card or you’re unable to apply for Chase credit cards due to that issuer’s application rules, there’s currently a strong runner-up to consider: the Citi Premier® Card.
Not only is the Citi Premier a solid contender in its own right — especially right now for reasons that we’ll get to in a moment — but if you’re interested in travel rewards, it potentially should be the first Citi card you apply for before considering any other Citi credit card. Yes, even our benchmark Citi® Double Cash Card.
Why? Let’s dive into the Citi Premier and the application rules related to it so you can see firsthand why we think it should be at the top of your list when looking for a new Citi credit card.
The Citi Premier is offering a record-high 80,000 bonus points
Right now new Citi Premier card holders can earn 80,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first three months after opening the account. Not only is that the highest bonus offer we’ve ever seen on this card, but it’s the highest bonus you can currently get on any Citi credit card.
Exactly how much are those 80,000 points worth? Well, the Citi Premier earns points known as Citi ThankYou Rewards, which can be easily redeemed for gift cards or for any flight booked through Citi’s travel portal at a rate of 1 cent per point. That makes the card’s sign-up bonus worth $800 at a bare minimum, which is a great haul for a card that only has a $95 annual fee.
However, with a little bit of effort, you can get even more value for your points than that. That’s because Citi also allows you to transfer your ThankYou points to any of its 16 partner airline loyalty programs, which temporarily includes American Airlines’ AAdvantage frequent flyer program, through Nov. 13.
While using your points this way requires some extra effort and flexibility, you can potentially get much more value for your rewards, especially if you redeem them for first or business class flights. That’s why frequent flyer website The Points Guy values Citi ThankYou points at 1.7 cents apiece. At that rate, the 80,000 bonus points on the Citi Premier are worth a whopping $1,360 toward travel.
Granted, there are some credit cards outside of Citi offering 100,000-point bonus offers or more, it’s important to keep in mind that not all points are created equal, and 100,000 points on some cards are worth less than the 80,000 points on the Citi Premier.
Also, some cards require a ridiculous amount of spending to earn the entire sign-up bonus — as much as $15,000 in some cases. But the $4,000 spending requirement on the Citi Premier breaks down to just $1,333 a month for each of the first three months you have the card.
Citi has many complex rules for credit cards approvals
Similar to most major banks, Citi has rules on how often a customer can be approved for a credit card. Although Citi doesn’t limit the number of cards you can open, it does have restrictions on how many cards you can apply for within a given time.
Overall, you can only apply for one Citi credit card every eight days, and a maximum of two Citi cards every 65 days. That policy covers all of the issuer’s credit cards, including airline, travel rewards and cash back options.
Seems pretty straightforward and easy to understand, right? Except that Citi also has a 24-month “card family” rule. This means if you’ve opened or closed any card within specific families of Citi cards in the past 24 months, you won’t be able to receive a sign-up bonus when applying for a new card from that same family.
That rule is a little more complicated, so let’s look at it using the Citi Premier as an example. The Citi Premier earns Citi ThankYou points, making it part of the family of Citi cards that also earn ThankYou points, which includes the Citi Rewards+® Card and the no-longer-available Citi Prestige Card.
So if you open a Citi Rewards+ card, you won’t be able to also get the sign-up bonus on the Citi Premier card until 24 months have elapsed. And since the Citi Premier offers a much higher sign-up bonus — four times as high as the Citi Rewards+ card — and better rewards, you’ll want to make sure to apply for the Citi Premier card first.
The good news is our benchmark Citi Double Cash Card isn’t part of any Citi card family, and also has no sign-up bonus of its own. So you can safely apply for it after you get the Citi Premier — as soon as eight days after if you want it that fast. And these two cards actually pair together very well, because if you have both, you can convert the cash back earned on your Citi Double Cash into points, and combine them with the points you earn on the Citi Premier, giving you one big pot of travel rewards.
Citi ThankYou points are easy to earn and redeem
Compared to all of the other Citi credit cards, the Citi Premier has the most robust set of bonus categories. You’ll earn 3 points for every dollar you spend on air travel, hotels, gas stations, supermarkets and restaurants (including takeout), and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases. Plus, there’s no limit to the number of points you can earn.
This also brings up a second reason that the Citi Premier pairs well with the Citi Double Cash Card. Since the Citi Double Cash earns 2% cash back on everything you buy — 1% when you make a purchase, and another 1% when you pay it off — and you can convert your cash back to ThankYou points when you also have the Citi Premier, you can effectively maximize the rewards you’re earning on all your purchases by having both cards.
How? Well, if you have both cards in your purse or wallet, you’d pull out the Citi Premier whenever you’re making a purchase in one of its bonus categories in order to earn 3 points per dollar, and then you’d pull out the Citi Double Cash Card for everything else to earn 2% cash back, which is effectively 2 points per dollar when you convert the cash back into ThankYou points. That way you’re always earning at least twice as much as the basic 1 point per dollar on everything you buy.
The Citi Premier is also the only Citi card you can currently get that, on its own, allows you to transfer points to any of Citi’s 16 partner airlines, potentially increasing the value of your points. All of the other Citi cards earn cash back or “basic” ThankYou points that can only be redeemed for gift cards or used through the Citi travel portal at 1 cent apiece.
Citi ThankYou points transfer at a 1-to-1 ratio to all partners, which means the 80,000 points from the Citi Premier sign-up offer equals 80,000 points or miles in any of these 16 airline programs:
Additionally, at times, Citi runs promotions for transfer bonuses of 10% to 30% when transferring your points to certain partners during certain time periods, which means you can get even more bang for your buck. The only rule when it comes to transferring points is that they must be transferred in blocks of 1,000, and no more than 50,000 points can be transferred at a given time.
Citi also makes it incredibly easy to transfer points from one person’s ThankYou Rewards account to another. This is a great feature if you’re looking to combine points among friends or family members. But you need to make sure you’re ready to use your ThankYou points before you combine them with someone else, because points shared with another person expire 90 days from the date they’re received, and you can transfer a maximum of 100,000 ThankYou points in a calendar year.
Comparing the Citi Premier and Chase Sapphire Preferred
Both the Citi Premier and the Chase Sapphire Preferred have $95 annual fees, so they’re comparable in cost. With the Sapphire Preferred, you’ll earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which transfer to a different set of partners than Citi ThankYou points. Chase offers three hotel partners in addition to 11 airline partners, while Citi only has airline partnerships available.
Chase also offers more domestic partner opportunities, such as United Airlines and Hyatt hotels, while Citi focuses on international carriers. But Citi partners with many airlines that don’t partner with anyone else, and it’s currently the only one of the major banks that has a transfer partnership with American Airlines. That partnership is scheduled to end on Nov. 13, but it could be extended.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred also offers many shopping and travel protection benefits. For example, if your flight is delayed overnight, causing you to have to fly out the following morning, the Sapphire Preferred will reimburse you for any unexpected out-of-pocket costs — such as a night at a hotel, food and taxis — up to $500 per passenger.
While the Citi Premier no longer offers these nice-to-have perks, it does have more bonus categories, and in some cases at a higher rate. For instance, the Citi Premier earns 3 points per dollar on travel purchases, whereas the Chase Sapphire Preferred earns only 2 points per dollar unless you book through Ultimate Rewards.
At the end of the day, they are both great credit cards that you’ll want to consider if you’re thinking about earning travel rewards for the first time. While the Chase Sapphire Preferred remains our favorite first travel credit card, the Citi Premier is an underrated contender, and should definitely be the first Citi card on your list. You can even apply for both and diversify your points — the ultimate way to ensure you have the right points when looking to go on your next much-needed vacation.
Find out which cards CNN Underscored chose as our best travel credit cards of 2021.