As many of my friends know, one of my favorite cards is the Citi Forward Card. Despite it being targeted at college students who what to build credit, it’s a great card for people who consume a lot of entertainment. The Citi Forward card earns 5 points per dollar on restaurants (including fast food), music stores (do these still exist?), book stores (Amazon.com), video rental stores, and movie theaters. Every other purchase earns 1 point per dollar. With the Citi Forward alone, this card would earn you approximately 5% cash back (assuming you use it solely in the bonus categories), since the points can be redeemed at a rate of 1 point = 1 cent for Amazon gift cards. By going to the Thank You website you can redeem 5,000 points for a $50 Amazon.com gift card. If you prefer cash, the redemption is much less favorable at 8,000 points for a $50 statement credit.
Now, if you have the Citi Thank You Premier Card, which offers:
– 1.2 points per dollar at Supermarkets, Gas Stations, Drugstores, Parking, & Commuter Transportation
– 1 point for all other purchases
– No foreign transaction fees
– Free companion ticket per year
– Earn one flight point for every airline ticket purchased on the card and flown (note one flight point is converted into one Thank You point when matched with the equivalent amount of spend).
– 33% bonus when redeeming points for airfare
It would appear that the Citi Premier Card is not worth the $125 annual fee, especially when the most points you can earn are 2.4 per dollar at grocery stores assuming you have flight miles to match. However, if you redeem these points for airfare, you are actually getting 3.2 points per dollar or 3.2 cents per dollar with the 33% bonus, which isn’t bad, but it doesn’t compare to the Amex Blue Cash which can get you up to 6% cash back at grocery stores.
Now, here is where the card pairing synergy comes into play. Imagine you have BOTH cards, and most of your spend is on restaurants, bars, and Amazon.com (it qualifies as a bookstore, I promise!). You would be earning 5 points per dollar. If you redeem these points for airfare, you would get the 33% bonus, netting you a whopping 6.7% cash back! This is an incredible earning rate, and as far as I am aware, is unmatched in the industry. In fact, I recently used this strategy for getting a ridiculously cheap flight on Virgin America.
A couple of things to keep in mind. First, the Citi Thank You Card limits you to earning only 75,000 points per year. Assuming your spend is solely in 5x categories, that equates to $15,000 per year, which is a high number, but easily achievable for foodies or people with a lot of business travel. Also, the Citi Premier card is currently offering a 30K point sign up bonus and the annual fee is waived for the first year. After that paying the $125 fee is pretty steep and can negate most of the value of the synergy, however I’ve heard that many people have been able to reduce or waive the fee by threatening to cancel the card when their fee came due. Otherwise, I think this is an easy way to accumulate free travel in addition to credit card sign up bonuses.
Also, note that Citi has a Thank You Rewards app for the iPhone.