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Many credit cards earn bonus points for purchases within a certain category, like dining or groceries. For other purchases, you’ll usually earn 1 point per dollar spent. But what if you could earn 2 to 5 points on every purchase you make? You can — and the trick is remembering which card is the best choice at the point of sale.
It’s worth it though, because you can pool all your points together in one place. When your cards are linked to a transferable points program, you can redeem your rewards for travel through the bank’s travel portal, cash or statement credits, gift cards, or transfer them to travel partners where they can be potentially much more valuable.
Citi ThankYou is one such program that’s often overlooked, but those who are willing to learn about Citi ThankYou airline transfer partners can access incredible sweet spots for award flights, and earn bonus points to book more of them.
Citi ThankYou doesn’t get as much attention as other transferable points programs, and that’s too bad because their cards are designed in such a way that it’s actually the easiest program to keep the points rolling in with everyday purchases. Citi ThankYou cards have bonus categories that others don’t — and offer higher earning rates for certain categories than other cards.
Citi ThankYou has lots of overlap with other points programs, but there are a couple of things holding it back. First, there are no domestic loyalty program partners other than JetBlue True Blue (which has a limited route network outside of their focus cities). Second, not all points transfers are instant — and can take up to a few days in some cases.
However, if you know about airline partnerships, you can access award seats on every major alliance to fly to virtually any major destination. So you can still fly to where you want to go, but it requires you to know more about the airline partners and their individual programs. And if you can book early, the transfer times shouldn’t be much of an issue, especially for routes that aren’t in high demand.
You can also use your points to book flights, hotels, rental cars, and more through the Citi ThankYou travel portal. Or you can redeem them for statement credits, cash, gift cards, or even student loan payments. You can also use points at checkout with certain store partners, like Amazon, although you won’t get the best value for your points.
I’ve personally gotten excellent returns from my Citi ThankYou points and find it’s easy to earn lots of them through regular purchases that happen to fall into bonus categories more often. Because of this, the points add up more quickly than with other points programs.
If you like the bonus categories, a similar strategy could work well for you, too.
Citi is generous — you’ll earn 2x, 3x, or 5x points when you combine the three cards that make up the Citi trifecta. They’re personal cards, which makes it easier to get them all.
However, in most cases you can only earn a bonus on a Citi ThankYou card if you haven’t opened a Citi ThankYou card and received a welcome bonus, or closed another Citi ThankYou card, in the past 24 months. Citi ThankYou cards also include the Citi Prestige® Card
, Citi Rewards+® Card
, and Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card (not available to new applicants). Because of this, it’s best to start with the card that offers the highest welcome offer.
Another thing to know is that Citi assigns a separate account number for every ThankYou card you open. To pool your points in one place, you must call Citi and have them combine your ThankYou accounts. Once they’re merged, there’s no way to separate them. I’ve always had mine combined and prefer the convenience of having all my points pooled automatically.
Citi Premier® Card: For air travel, hotel stays, supermarkets, restaurants, and gas stations
15.99% – 23.99% Variable
Good to Excellent
60,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first three months of account opening
The Citi Premier® Card is an absolute powerhouse that earns 3x Citi ThankYou points per dollar spent on air travel and hotels, and at supermarkets, restaurants, and gas stations — and there are no earning caps for any of these categories. For most households, these bonus categories will make up the lion’s share of typical monthly expenses. And in fact, this card easily stands on its own because of its strong earning potential.
There’s a $95 annual fee, but the bonus categories are so good that what you’ll earn can easily offset it. You’ll also earn 60,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first three months of account opening as a welcome bonus. That’s worth up to $600 toward travel booked through Citi, statement credits, or gift cards, and could be worth much more when you transfer points to airline partners.
And once per calendar year, you can get $100 off a hotel stay of $500 or more (before taxes and fees) when you book through the Citi ThankYou travel portal. You usually won’t earn bonus points or have your elite status recognized when you book this way, so it’s best to use this benefit for non-chain hotels, or for chains where you’re not concerned with earning tier credit or perks. This benefit more than covers the annual fee, if you’ll use it.
Here’s our full Citi Premier card review for the full list of features and benefits.
Because of Citi’s application rules, it’s best to get this card first because it has the highest welcome offer of any ThankYou card. If you open other ThankYou cards within 24 months of opening this one, you won’t qualify to earn another welcome bonus.
Read more: The best Citi credit cards
Because this card covers so many lucrative bonus categories, you won’t have many gaps to fill. Let’s continue the Citi trifecta.
13.99% – 23.99% Variable
Good to Excellent
$200 in cash back, fulfilled as 20,000 ThankYou® Points, after you spend $750 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening
0% intro APR for 15 months
With the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card card, you’ll earn 5% cash back (awarded as 5x Citi ThankYou points) on up to $500 of spending in your biggest category every billing cycle, then 1x after that. The categories include restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores, select travel, select transit, select streaming services, drugstores, home improvement stores, fitness clubs, and live entertainment.
Because of the bonus earning structure, you’ll want to make sure to stick to one category to earn the most points. For example, you might choose home improvement stores for a billing cycle when you need to make repairs or purchase appliances, and then switch to travel for another billing cycle when you want to book travel for a trip because this card provides the opportunity to earn 5x instead of the usual earning rates, up to its $500 limit per billing cycle.
It’s a versatile card with no annual fee that’s good for an extra 30,000 ThankYou points each year if you make the most of the bonus categories each billing cycle. It’ll take some planning ahead, but it’s worth it for that amount of points!
The Citi Custom Cash℠ Card also comes with $200 in cash back, fulfilled as 20,000 ThankYou® Points, after you spend $750 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening. That’s a decent bonus for such a useful card — and especially for one that has no annual fee. Here’s our full Citi Custom Cash card review with more details.
Read more: The best no-annual-fee credit cards
13.99% – 23.99% (Variable)
2% cash back on all purchases
0% intro APR on Balance Transfers for 18 months. After that, the variable APR will be 13.99% – 23.99%, based on your creditworthiness.
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
The Citi® Double Cash Card earns 1% cash back when you make purchases, and 1% cash back when you make payments. You can convert the cash back you receive to Citi ThankYou points at a 1:1 ratio, which means this card essentially earns 2x Citi ThankYou points on every purchase.
There’s no welcome offer, but there’s no annual fee, either — and the earning rate is uncapped, so you can earn as many points as you please. Here’s our Citi Double Cash Card review to learn more.
The Citi Premier® Card and Citi Custom Cash℠ Card cover a lot of bonus categories, and all your other spending can go on the Citi® Double Cash Card. That could include purchases like doctor and vet visits, car repairs, and clothing, as well as recurring expenses like your utility bills and lawn care. The “everything else” category might be more than you expect, so it’s a good idea to have and use this card when you’re unsure of which bonus category your purchase might fall into.
It’s rare to find a personal credit card with the ability to earn 2x transferable points in non-bonus categories, especially one that has no annual fee. This card is truly a gem and an excellent one to round out your powerful Citi trifecta of cards.
The Citi trifecta earns a baseline of 2 points per dollar on every purchase with the Citi® Double Cash Card, all the way up to 5x points on certain purchases with the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card. And having the Citi Premier® Card, with its multiple 3x bonus categories, is a great workhorse to complete the strong earning rates.
Between these cards, you’ll only pay one $95 annual fee for the Citi Premier® Card. That means you can earn extra points on virtually every purchase and boost your balance with a low cash outlay. Even better, you can pool your points together automatically so they all appear in the same account.
What I love about this card combination is the multitude of bonus categories with the Citi Premier® Card, the flexibility to earn extra points every billing cycle with the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card, and having the Citi® Double Cash Card for everything else without category restrictions. It may sound like a lot, but it becomes a habit the more you use your cards. And seeing how fast your points balance can grow is a big motivator, especially if you have an award booking in mind.
If the bonus categories on the cards and award travel opportunities through the points program appeal to you, the Citi trifecta of cards will supply you with plenty of points to travel almost anywhere.
Harlan Vaughn is a freelance writer who has written about credit card rewards, personal finance, points and miles, and travel loyalty programs for nearly a decade.
Good to Excellent
100,000 Bonus Points after spending $3,000 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening
Good to Excellent
$200 after spending $500 in the first three months from account opening
Good to Excellent