Lisbon, Portugal is my favorite of all the great places to which I've travelled for zero dollars by using ThankYou Points earned on my Citi Prestige credit card. Yes, I've been to plenty of other places using other types of points, but... there was a time when the Citi Prestige was my absolute favorite of the premium credit cards that give you a ton of value on travel. Citi announced changes last year that greatly devalued the card's benefits while leaving the hefty $450 annual fee in place. The last of those changes take effect in July 2017, and -- sadly -- I wonder if it is time to cancel this once-great card. Here's what you should consider if you're thinking of cancelling yours.
Citi has devalued the card in a number of ways, but I think the single greatest loss is that effective in July, card holders will no longer have access to the American Airlines Admirals Club airport lounges. Therefor, if you fly American often -- and value the peace, quiet, and complimentary wine (also snacks, beer, spirits) offered in the lounges -- you need to find an alternative. I've done so by signing up for the AAdvantage Executive World Elite card (also through Citi), which incidentally also carries a $450 annual fee, but offers much better Admirals Club benefits (another post for another time). I also am mourning the loss of the three free rounds of golf that the Citi Prestige provided each year... until now. That benefit alone saved me $225 annually.
Cost of Ownership
The Prestige card's annual fee is $450, but a $250 annual statement credit on travel expenses effectively brings that fee down to $200. This of course was really easy to justify when I was getting Admirals Club access that I'll value (more or less) at $450 per year on top of $225 worth of free golf. These benefits alone meant that I was paying a $450 annual fee to get $925 worth of value ($250 travel credit + $450 lounge + $225 golf) even before I used the points earned or the "fourth night free" free benefit (more on that in a moment). It was definitely a great value.
Fourth Night Free
One valuable benefit that is sticking around is that through which Citi refunds your fourth consecutive night on any hotel reservation booked through Citi travel. This has been really valuable to me on longer hotel stays, but I find that I am increasingly preferring Airbnb when staying longer, such that I am not even sure that I'll stay four consecutive hotel nights enough in a given year to make up the $200 cost of the annual fee after the travel credit is deducted ($450 - $250 = $200).
Beaten by the Competition
So what about the points, aren't they good for something? Well, yes, but the Citi Prestige earns 3x points on travel and hotels + 2x on dining. The Chase Sapphire Reserve earns 3x on all travel and all dining. There's no comparison, but I'll spell one out anyway:
- $100 spent on travel will get you $4.50 back to spend on travel with the Chase Sapphire Reserve, or $3.75 with the Citi Prestige.
- $100 spent on dining will get you $4.50 back to spend on travel with the Chase Sapphire Reserve, or $2.50 with the Citi Prestige.
- $100 spent on anything else will get you $1.50 back to spend on travel with the Chase Sapphire Reserve, or $1.25 with the Citi Prestige.
Citi loses every time, and doesn't really make up that ground on ancillary benefits such as such as $100 TSA/GlobalEntry credit, Priority Pass membership, concierge phone line, etc because that package of benefits has become (more or less) standard across the premium travel card issuers Chase, Citi, and American Express.
Further reading: How to fly for free using Chase credit cards
The Citi Prestige card really only makes sense (vs its competition) if you are the type that spends at least four consecutive nights in a hotel at least several times each year. True, you only need to get $200 worth of fourth nights each year to break even, but if breaking even is all you're doing, just skip the $450 annual fee and move on. It is highly likely that I'll cancel mine before my account anniversary later this year.