From travel rewards to balance transfers, here are our favorite Citi credit cards | CNN Underscored




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If you’re in the market for a new credit card, Citibank — or Citi for short — offers a number of enticing options, especially for those looking for a card with a low or even no annual fee. Whether your goal is to earn rewards for that next big trip, put some cash back in your pocket or help yourself get out of debt, there’s likely a card for your specific needs within Citi’s card portfolio.

But which Citi credit card should you get? With so many options available, we’ve put together a list of our favorites in every category to make it easier for you to decide what’s the best Citi credit card for you.

Citi Premier® Card: Best sign-up bonus
Citi® Double Cash Card: Best for flat-rate cash back
Citi Custom Cash℠ Card: Best for bonus categories
Citi Rewards+® Card: Best for small purchases
Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card: Best for balance transfers
Citi Simplicity® Card: Best for no late fees

Why did we choose these as our best Citi credit cards for 2021? Let’s dive into the details of each card and see how they compare to one another.

If you’re looking to earn points and miles for that next big trip, the Citi Premier should be your go-to card within the Citi family. And right now, the card is offering a record-high 80,000 bonus points to new card holders after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases within the first three months after opening the account.

The Citi Premier card earns Citi ThankYou Rewards points and features an impressive list 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 for all other purchases.

When it comes to using your Citi ThankYou points, you can redeem them in a variety of ways, including for cash back, gift cards, travel or even transferred to over a dozen airline partners. That last option is the most complicated, but it can also be the most valuable if you have the time and flexibility to dive into Citi’s transfer partners, which, for a limited time through November 13, includes American Airlines.

Citi ThankYou Rewards Transfer Partners
Aeromexico Club Premier Air France-KLM Flying Blue Avianca LifeMiles
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles Emirates Skywards Etihad Guest
EVA Air Infinity MileageLands JetBlue TrueBlue Malaysia Enrich
Qantas Frequent Flyer Qatar Airways Privilege Club Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
Thai Airways Royal Orchid Plus Turkish Airlines Miles&Smiles Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
American AAdvantage (through November 13, 2021)

While the ThankYou program primarily partners with international airlines such as Air France-KLM, Cathay Pacific and Etihad, many of these partners are also part of larger alliances that allow you to use your points on many other carriers. But if you’re looking for domestic travel, both JetBlue and American Airlines are easy transfer options.

If you redeem your Citi Premier points for gift cards or travel booked through the Citi travel portal, you’ll get 1 cent per point in value. But by transferring your points, you can gain access to even better values, especially when it comes to booking premium first and business class flights. That’s why frequent flyer website The Points Guy values Citi ThankYou points at 1.7 cents apiece.

Related: Earn 80,000 bonus points for your next American Airlines flight with the Citi Premier credit card

Unfortunately, the Citi Premier doesn’t offer much when it comes to protecting your trip, as it doesn’t offer any travel insurance coverage. This means you won’t have access to car rental insurance, trip cancellation and interruption protection, trip delay protection, baggage delay protection and more. These are common insurance benefits on many other comparable travel cards, so while the Citi Premier has some great features, it shouldn’t be your first choice when it comes to paying for a trip.

But even though the Citi Premier has a $95 annual fee — which is the highest fee of any of the Citi cards on our list — you’ll get an annual $100 credit on hotel reservations of $500 or more when you book through ThankYou.com, extended warranty protection, damage and theft protection, no foreign transaction fees, three free months of DoorDash’s DashPass food delivery membership and a $5 discount on three Lyft rides taken in a month.

Read CNN Underscored’s complete review of the Citi Premier Card.
Learn more and apply for the Citi Premier Card.

The no-annual-fee Citi Double Cash Card is hands down one of the best cards for earning cash back on everything you buy, which is why CNN Underscored uses it as our benchmark credit card. You don’t have to worry about bonus categories or rotating offers with the Citi Double Cash, as you’ll earn 2% cash back on every purchase you make — 1% when you buy, and 1% when you pay your statement.

And even though the Citi Double Cash technically earns cash back, if you have a premium Citi card that earns ThankYou Rewards — such as the Citi Premier — you can convert your cash back to ThankYou points at a 1-to-1 ratio and then transfer your points to a partner airline. You just need to make sure to use your card at least once every 12 months to prevent your existing cash back from expiring.

This makes pairing your Citi Double Cash with the Citi Premier an ideal combination, as you’ll earn 3 points per dollar in the Citi Premier bonus categories, and then 2% cash back (which can be turned into 2 points per dollar) on all other purchases with the Citi Double Cash.

Related: The best cash back credit card: Citi Double Cash with no annual fee.

On top of its ease of use, the Citi Double Cash offers a 0% APR for 18 months on balance transfers made within the first four months after opening the card (which rises to a variable 13.99%-23.99% afterward). But there’s no introductory APR for new purchases, so you’ll only find this feature useful if you have existing debt that you’re looking to consolidate at a low interest rate.

Unlike the Citi Premier, the Citi Double Cash doesn’t offer any sort of sign-up bonus, which means you won’t get an immediate rewards boost just for getting the card. And since this isn’t a travel credit card, you won’t find much in terms of travel or purchase protection. Plus, with a 3% foreign transaction fee, it isn’t a card that you’ll want to carry when you travel overseas.

Read CNN Underscored’s complete review of the Citi Double Cash Card.
Learn more and apply for the Citi Double Cash Card.

This relatively new addition to the Citi family became popular almost immediately after it was introduced, since it offers the opportunity to earn extra cash back on the purchases you make the most. With the Citi Custom Cash Card, you’ll earn 5% cash back in your top eligible categories on a monthly basis up to $500 spent per billing cycle, then 1% cash back.

Unlike competing credit cards such as the Chase Freedom Flex, you aren’t forced into set or rotating bonus categories with the Citi Custom Cash Card, and you don’t have to select your bonus categories in advance. Instead, each month Citi will automatically calculate which eligible category you spent the most in, and award you 5% cash back in that category up to the $500 monthly maximum.

And while not every possible category is eligible for the bonus cash back, with many common everyday categories on the list — including gas stations, restaurants, grocery stores, select travel, select transit, select streaming services, drugstores, home improvement, fitness clubs and live entertainment — it’s quite easy to max out your 5% bonus on a monthly basis.

Related: This new credit card automatically earns 5% cash back wherever you use it most.

Gas stations are one of the eligible 5% cash back categories on the Citi Custom Cash Card.

iStock

Gas stations are one of the eligible 5% cash back categories on the Citi Custom Cash Card.

Similar to the Citi Double Cash

, if you couple the Citi Custom Cash Card with another premium Citi card that earns ThankYou Rewards points such as the Citi Premier, your cash back can be converted into travel points with more potential value by opening up the option of transferring your points to Citi’s airline partners.

In fact, you can couple the Citi Custom Cash Card with both the Citi Premier and Citi Double Cash for the ultimate Citi trifecta that earns bonus points or cash back on practically every purchase you make. While this negates the simplicity of having just one credit card in your wallet, if you’re willing to put in the effort, you’ll earn even more points month after month.

And even though the Citi Custom Cash Card comes with no annual fee, new card holders can earn $200 in bonus cash back (or 20,000 ThankYou points) when you spend $750 on the card within the first three months of opening the account.

Read CNN Underscored’s complete review of the Citi Custom Cash Card.
Learn more and apply for the Citi Custom Cash Card.

Even if you don’t spend a lot on your credit card, you can still earn plenty of rewards with the Citi Rewards+ Card. That’s because the card has a unique feature: It rounds up all purchases to the nearest 10 points. While that might not sound like a lot of extra points — and it’s not for a large purchase — if you make many small purchases, the extra points you’ll earn can be quite significant.

For example, let’s say you buy a candy bar from your local corner store. Typically, that $1 purchase will earn you a measly 1 point on most credit cards. But, with the Citi Rewards+ “round-up” feature, you’ll instead earn 10 points — or a 10x return. Or, instead of earning 8 points on a $8 manicure, you’ll be bumped up to earning the same 10 points as you do on the $1 candy bar.

Of course, when you make more expensive purchases, the round-up bonus becomes less significant. But over time, those bonus points can eventually add up. And in addition to the extra “round-up” points, you’ll also earn 2 points for every dollar you spend on the Citi Rewards+ at supermarkets and gas stations up to the first $6,000 per year, then 1 point thereafter.

Related: Round up your rewards with the Citi Rewards+ credit card.

On the redemption side, even though the Citi Rewards+ technically earns ThankYou Rewards points, these are basic points earned and not premium points like the points you earn with the Citi Premier card. This means you can’t directly transfer them to partner airlines unless you also have a premium Citi card, so it’s worth considering pairing the Citi Rewards+ with a card like the Citi Premier.

But if you don’t have a premium Citi card, the best redemption option on the Citi Rewards+ alone is gift cards, where you’ll get 1 cent per point in value. Fortunately, as an added bonus, you’ll also get up to 10% of your points back as a rebate for the first 100,000 points redeemed per year.

For example, if you use 50,000 points to redeem for a $500 gift card, you’ll get 500 points back into your account shortly thereafter to redeem again at a future time. And this rebate applies even if you combine your rewards with another Citi card and redeem them for more valuable travel options.

This Citi Rewards+ card also offers a 0% APR on new purchases for 15 months starting from when you first open the account, as well as a 0% APR for 15 months on balance transfers made within the first four months after you open the account. Just be sure to pay off your debt before the intro periods end, because the APR rises to a variable 13.49% to 23.49% thereafter for both.

While you can get a longer introductory period on either the Citi Diamond Preferred or Citi Simplicity cards, the Citi Rewards+ is the only card of the three that offers a sign-up bonus of 15,000 points when you spend $1,000 in purchases with your card within three months of opening the account, as well as the opportunity to earn points on all your purchases.

Read CNN Underscored’s complete review of the Citi Rewards+ Card.
Learn more and apply for the Citi Rewards+ Card.

If you find yourself in a position where you’re having a hard time making ends meet, the Citi Diamond Preferred is a great option for consolidating debt. In fact, it’s CNN Underscored’s best balance transfer card of 2021.

New Citi Diamond Preferred card holders get access to an introductory 0% APR for 18 months on balance transfers made in the first four months after you open the card. While that’s a significant amount of time to get a handle on your debt, the APR jumps to a variable 13.74%-23.74% once the introductory rate expires, so you’ll want to make sure you pay off your debt in full before then.

And if you’re looking to make a large purchase on the Citi Diamond Preferred, the same introductory 0% APR also applies to new purchases made in the first 18 months after you get the card (though again, the APR rises to a variable 13.74%-23.74% once the intro offer expires).

Related: Tight on cash? These credit cards charge 0% interest on purchases.

If you need to make a major purchase, you can use the Citi Diamond Preferred card to pay for it with no interest over as long as 18 months.

iStock

If you need to make a major purchase, you can use the Citi Diamond Preferred card to pay for it with no interest over as long as 18 months.

The Citi Diamond Preferred also comes with a free FICO credit score online and allows you to pick your monthly payment due date, which is extremely helpful for people who prefer to pay their credit card bills based on their paycheck schedule.

However, the biggest disadvantage of the Citi Diamond Preferred is that it has no rewards program. This means you won’t earn points or cash back on any of your purchases, even if you’re able to pay your credit card on time on a monthly basis. There’s also no other significant card benefits aside from the introductory APRs and free FICO score.

With minimum perks, this is truly only a card to get if you’re looking for an introductory APR on balance transfers or new purchases. But those features may be extremely helpful to some people.

Read CNN Underscored’s complete review of the Citi Diamond Preferred Card.
Learn more and apply for the Citi Diamond Preferred Card.

The Citi Simplicity card is similar to the Citi Diamond Preferred card, with an identical introductory 0% interest rate on purchases and balance transfers for the first 18 months after you open the account. Once the intro period ends, the APR rises to a variable 14.74%-24.74% depending on your creditworthiness, so again, it’s important to get rid of your debt before the introductory rate expires.

Related: Here’s how to pay no interest on your debt until 2023 with a balance transfer credit card.

But the Citi Simplicity comes with one added bonus — it has no late fees, ever. That makes it potentially preferable to people who might not be able to pay their minimum statement balance on time every month.

One thing to keep in mind, however, is that you’ll still pay interest even if you’re late on paying your bill. Even worse, if you’re utilizing the introductory balance transfer feature and miss a payment, you’ll lose your introductory interest rate. So while you won’t be hit with a hefty late fee on the Citi Simplicity, it’ll still cost you a lot to miss a monthly payment.

And as with the Citi Diamond Preferred, you won’t earn any rewards on your purchases with the Citi Simplicity, so this is truly only a good choice if you’re in need of a card that doesn’t charge late fees or offers a favorable introductory interest rate on balance transfers or purchases.

Read CNN Underscored’s complete review of the Citi Simplicity Card.
Learn more and apply for the Citi Simplicity Card.

Like other major credit card issuers, Citi has some limitations when it comes to how often you can apply for a credit card. But the bank doesn’t limit the number of overall cards that you can have in your wallet at a given time.

When it comes to personal Citi credit cards, you can only apply for one card every eight days, and no more than two cards in a 65-day window. For business cards, you’re limited to being approved for one card every 95 days.

You also can’t earn a sign-up bonus on the same Citi card until 24 months from the date you last opened or closed that card. This means if you cancel a card, your eligibility resets at that date. This rule also applies to cards within the same “family” of Citi cards, such as cards that earn ThankYou Rewards.

As an example, if you open a Citi Rewards+ card, you won’t be able to get a Citi Premier card until at least 24 months later, because both cards earn ThankYou Rewards. But you also won’t want to close your Citi Rewards+ card before the 24 months are up, because that will reset the clock and you’ll have to wait another 24 months before you can open another Citi card from the ThankYou Rewards family.

For most Citi holders, these restrictions won’t be an issue. But they’re important to keep in mind if you’re looking to revamp your credit card strategy.

With so many Citi credit cards, it might be hard to choose the best one for you. Fortunately, they all have something unique to offer.

If you’re looking for a card that you can use to rack up points for travel, then the Citi Premier is your best bet — you’ll have access to Citi’s full list of transfer partners, as well as the ability to book flights and hotels through the Citi travel portal. However, this is the only card in the mix that charges an annual fee, so you’ll want to make sure that you’re getting enough value from it to make paying that fee worthwhile.

On the other hand, if you prefer a no-annual-fee card that offers cash back or the option to cash out for gift cards, the Citi Double Cash, Citi Custom Cash Card or Citi Rewards+ are great options. Just pick the best one of the three that matches your spending habits. Remember, you can always add the Citi Premier to your wallet in the future if you ultimately want to redeem your points via the transfer partners.

Finally, the Citi Diamond Preferred and Citi Simplicity are the go-to credit cards for people who need to carry debt or are looking to make a large purchase and can’t pay for the item in full immediately. The only downside is you won’t earn any rewards for your purchases, but if you’re currently buried in credit card debt, either of these cards are a great way to start getting your finances under control.

Looking for the best overall credit card? Find out which cards CNN Underscored chose as its best credit cards of 2021.

Get all the latest personal finance deals, news and advice at CNN Underscored Money.



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