Middle Age Miles

What Do We Think of the New Citi Prestige Card Offer? Honestly, Citi, We Thought You Would Do Better.

Citi Prestige Mastercard

After taking this card off the market for several months, Citi has finally re-opened its premium Prestige card to new applications. With all of the hype about refreshing the card, we were hoping for a blow-us-out-of-the-water new sign-up offer for its re-introduction – maybe as high as 100,000 ThankYou Points (TYPs), or at least a 75,000 TYP sign-up bonus to match its historic high.

But, alas, the new Citi Prestige sign-up bonus offer is quite ordinary:

  • 50,000 TYPs after $4,000 spend in the first 3 months

It’s ok, we suppose. And if you’re eligible for the bonus and can use the 4th-night-free (4NF) hotel benefit, we can see reasons to go ahead and get the card. But truly, Citi, we’re underwhelmed.

Let’s analyze the Citi Prestige card in terms of the new offer, and at the end of this analysis, offer some thoughts and recommendations:

Features and Benefits of the Citi Prestige Card

As the premium entry in Citi’s line of personal cards, the Prestige carries substantial benefits, but they come at a steep price. For new applicants, the annual fee on the Citi Prestige card is $495.

We’ll talk more about many of the benefits of the Prestige card later, but let’s start off by just listing out the benefits for new applicants:

  • Sign-up bonus = 50,000 TYPs / $4k spend / 3 months
  • Bonus category earning
    • 5x on air travel
    • 5x on restaurants
    • 3x on cruise lines
    • 3x on hotels
    • 1x on everything else
  • $250 annual travel credit, every calendar year – includes:
    • Air fare
    • Hotels
    • Car rentals
    • Travel agencies & tour operators
    • Commuter transportation, including ferries, railways & subways
    • Taxis, limousines & car services
    • Passenger railways & bus lines
    • Cruise lines
    • Parking
    • Tolls
  • 4th Night Free hotel benefit
  • Citi Price Rewind price protection (subject to limitations)
  • Global Entry or TSA Pre-Check application fee credit – once every 5 years
  • Priority Pass lounge access, with 2 guests or immediate family members
  • Trip delay insurance
  • Missed event protection
  • Ability to transfer TYPs to Citi’s airline partners (all 1:1)
    • Avianca LifeMiles
    • Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
    • Etihad Guest
    • EVA Air
    • Flying Blue (Air France & KLM)
    • Garuda Indonesia
    • Jet Airways JetPrivileges
    • JetBlue TrueBlue
    • Malaysia Airlines Enrich
    • Qantas Frequent Flyer
    • Qatar Privilege Club
    • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
    • Thai Airways Royal Orchid Plus
    • Turkish Airlines Miles & Smiles (current 1:1.25 promotion)
    • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
  • No foreign transaction fees

In addition, as of 5/1/2019, all Prestige cardholders are scheduled to begin receiving a cell phone protection benefit – “support for damage or theft of a cellular phone when you pay your monthly cellular bill with your card.” Citi has not provided further details about cell phone protection at this time.

Note that there are some differences in benefits between pre-existing Prestige cardholders and new applicants, at least between now and 8/31/2019:

  • Pre-existing cardholders receive 1.25 cents per TYP when redeeming for travel through the ThankYou Travel Center until 8/31/2019; whereas it appears that new applicants will only receive 1 cent per TYP even now
    • This is based on language on the new Prestige landing page, which says, “Your 50,000 bonus ThankYou Points are redeemable for $500 in travel, anytime, with no blackout dates when booked through the ThankYou Travel Center.”
  • Pre-existing cardholders receive 2x TYPs for purchases in the Entertainment category through 8/31/2019, then 1x thereafter; whereas it appears that Entertainment is not a bonus category for new applicants at all, and thus they will only receive 1x

We also have a question about how redemptions of TYPs for Cash Rewards (checks for $50 or $100 mailed to the cardholder) will work going forward. Right now, as a pre-existing Prestige cardholder, we have the ability to redeem TYPs for cash at 1 cent per TYP – that is, we can redeem 5,000 TYPs for a $50 check or 10,000 TYPs for a $100 check. The new Prestige landing page says that new applicants will be able to redeem TYPs for cash. However, we have scoured the new Prestige terms and conditions, and we can’t find any language that tells us if new applicants will also be able to redeem for cash at 1 cent per TYP, or if the redemption rate will be different.

Our Thoughts on the Citi Prestige Card Benefits

1. Redeeming TYPs Through the Citi ThankYou Travel Center

A new applicant who receives the Citi Prestige card will only be able to redeem TYPs (including the sign-up bonus) for 1 cent per TYP for travel through the ThankYou Travel Center (unless the new applicant also holds the Citi Premier card; more on that later). To us, this seriously diminishes the value of the TYPs earned with a new Prestige card.

Although TYPs can be transferred to several airline loyalty programs, where they can be redeemed for mileage award flights, we redeem most of our TYPs for airfare purchased through the ThankYou Travel Center, at 1.25 cents per point. By doing so, we can earn redeemable miles as well as elite qualifying miles and dollars on our flights – critical for us as we try to maintain elite airline status.

This feature is critical to our baseline value of 1.25 cents per TYP. If we lost the ability to redeem for airfare at 1.25 cents per point, we’d no longer be able to *readily* get 1.25 cents per TYP, and our baseline valuation would have to decrease toward 1 cent per TYP. We’d still have the ability to transfer to airline partners and receive outsized value. But for our own travel and airfare purchase patterns, this would really hurt.

The good news on this front is that, for now at least, the mid-range Citi Premier card ($0 annual fee first year / $95 annual fee thereafter) still has the benefit to redeem TYPs at 1.25 cents per TYP through the Travel Center. But for new applicants who would be eligible for the Prestige 50k sign-up bonus, it’s unlikely that they hold a Premier card. (They would have had to have gotten the Premier card more than 2 years ago to be eligible for the Prestige sign-up bonus.)

Thus, for new Prestige applicants, I think we have to assess the baseline value of the 50,000 TYP sign-up bonus at more like $500 (rather than the $625 we would assess at our normal baseline value of 1.25 cents per TYP).

2. Bonus Categories & Priority Pass

On one hand, the bonus categories on the Citi Prestige card are great. Who can complain about 5x points earning on air travel and restaurants, right? But let’s take a closer look at how these categories stack up against other card options, even if we continue to give TYPs a baseline value of 1.25 cents:

  • On air travel, we can also earn 5x Amex Membership Rewards (MR) points by using our personal Platinum card. At 1.5 cents per MR point, using the Amex Platinum card returns 7.5%, which beats 6.25% on the Prestige. That said, the Prestige does come with travel delay coverage whereas the Amex Platinum does not, which results in us striking a balance by generally using the Prestige for connecting and international flights, but the Amex Platinum for non-stop domestic flights.
  • On US restaurants, do 5x TYPs (6.25%) on the Prestige beat 4x MR points (6%) on our Amex Gold card? Probably so, especially considering that there have been some issues with restaurant purchases on the Amex Gold not always coding at 4x. However, for us, we’re probably earning more like 1.6 to 1.7 cents per MR point for flights “paid” with MR points. And for new applicants, 5x TYPs may be worth more like 5% than 6.25%. This is a close call domestically.
  • For international restaurants, 5x TYPs with no foreign transaction fees is best-in-class.
  • We don’t have any cruise line travel in our plans, but if we did, the Chase Sapphire Reserve (3x Ultimate Rewards (UR); 4.5%) would beat the Prestige (3x TYP; 3.75%).
  • Similarly with hotels (where we’re not using co-branded cards that earn more than either of these), the Sapphire Reserve (3x UR; 4.5%) beats the Prestige (3x TYP; 3.75%).
  • For domestic unbonused spend, the Prestige (1x TYP; 1.25%) doesn’t come close to the Amex Blue Business Plus (2x MR; 3.0%).
  • For international unbonused spend, we can usually use Apple Pay with our US Bank Altitude Reserve card to earn 3x US Bank points (4.5%), which again beats the Prestige.
  • The Priority Pass benefit is fine if you can use it, but you can get the same benefit through the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, and if you happen to hold the Chase Ritz-Carlton Visa card, your Priority Pass benefit is even better (unlimited guesting; Priority Pass for AUs with no extra annual fee).

All this to say, it’s certainly not hard to have a small portfolio of cards that easily surpasses the Prestige in virtually every category of spend, even the Prestige’s enhanced bonus categories.

3. Fourth Night Free Hotel Benefit

For the past few years, the “killer” benefit of the Prestige card has been its 4th-night-free (4NF) hotel benefit. 4NF has its limitations, but it’s always allowed us to easily justify paying the annual fee for the Prestige.

For the years 2016 through 2018, we used the Prestige 4NF benefit to receive the following credits on our hotel stays:

  • $517 / $326 / $518 / $184 / $629 / $93 / $132

And we’ve already used 4NF once in 2019, which should generate a credit of about $180. That’s 8 uses in just over 3 years, for total benefits of $2,579 and an average benefit per use of about $322.

Middle Age Miles’ highest-dollar 4th-night-free redemption was at the Covo Dei Saraceni, Positano (Amalfi Coast), Italy

From now through 8/31/2019, the 4NF benefit will continue, for both pre-existing cardholders and new applicants. This definitely helps the first-year value proposition of the Prestige card, if you can use 4NF.

But, from 9/1/2019 forward, the 4NF benefit is gutted, making it almost completely useless to us:

  • The benefit will be limited to 2 uses per year; and
  • Bookings must be made through the ThankYou program (online or by calling), and will no longer be able to be made through the Citi Aspire Concierge. Currently, booking through the Aspire Concierge allows cardholders to obtain many (although not all) discounted rates, and reservations made through the Aspire Concierge remain eligible for points-earning and all elite benefits and stay/night credits. Conversely, ThankYou bookings must be made at the Citi-provided rate (almost always higher than what we can otherwise get, and sometimes significantly so), and they are not eligible for elite benefits or stay-night credits. This is a wicked change.

Our Recommendation

We say that for most people, the new Prestige sign-up bonus is a no-go.

Unless you have something else going for you, the sign-up bonus proposition may be as little as 50,000 TYPs worth only $500, plus a $250 annual travel credit, which you could do once in 2019 and again in 2020 if you cancel after the card after one year. You’d also be freezing yourself out of any other Citi ThankYou card sign-up bonus for 2 years, and even longer if you cancel the card after a year. And you’ll have to pay an annual fee of $495 for this. It’s just not worth it.

The only people for whom we could truly recommend the Prestige card right now with the 50k TYP sign-up bonus are:

  • People who can take advantage of the 4NF benefit multiple times between now and the end of 2019 (in the extreme case, you’d be a brand-new employee of a consulting firm that travels almost every week, can put the spend on a personal card and be reimbursed, and can stay at high-end hotels; although, note that the fine print of the 4NF benefit says that it’s intended only for personal use and not business travel); and/or
  • People who already have a Citi Premier card (yet have had it long enough to be eligible for the Prestige sign-up bonus), who thereby (a) can get 1.25 cents per TYP (at least for now); and (b) don’t have to worry about being frozen out of a new Citi ThankYou sign-up bonus for a while.

We suspect that the exceptions here – the people who can truly benefit from the new Prestige card sign-up bonus – are few and far between.

Links to More Information on the Citi Prestige Card

Here are a few links that may be useful to you if you’d like to learn more about the Citi Prestige card and its benefits:

What do you think about the new Prestige card sign-up bonus and its benefits? Will you be applying for the card? Please share with us and other Middle Age Miles readers in the Comments!

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