If you’re trying to figure out whether or not you should apply for a Citi ThankYou card, the answer is probably not. If you know what you’re doing with credit card rewards, you can do pretty well with these cards, but the rest of you would be better off with a simple 2% cashback card (i.e. Citi DoubleCash or Fidelity Amex). Allow me to explain.
As credit card loyalty programs go, Thank You Points have long been a distant third to Chase’s Ultimate Rewards and Amex’s Membership Rewards. After some recent changes, Citi remains in third, but they’ve narrowed the gap. You can get some value here, but you need to know what you’re doing.
There are three TYP cards: ranked in order from least to most prestigious, they are the Preferred, the Premier, and the Prestige. (If you sometimes get these three names mixed up, don’t feel bad because I do as well.) The more typical redemption options for TYPs are not particularly enticing–you can get one cent per point by getting gift cards, less than that if you’re redeeming for statement credits.
Where it gets interesting is with air travel, and I’m drawing here from an excellent Devil’s Advocate piece at Travel Codex which you should read if you’re interested in more details. If you have the no-annual fee Preferred, you can redeem TYPs for one cent each on airfare. If you have the Premier ($125 annual fee, supposedly going to be reduced to $95, waived the first year), you can get 1.25 cents per point. If you have the Prestige ($450 annual fee, though that includes statement credits and other benefits), you can get 1.6 points for AA/USAir flights. All the cards earn 2X points on dining. And starting April 19, the Premier will offer 3X points on gas, so you’d effectively be getting almost 5% back on gas purchases if you redeem for an AA ticket, plus you get the miles on top of that.
The other air travel angle is transfers to airline programs. Travel is Free has a great rundown of the options, though note that Citi has added Virgin Atlantic since that post was written.
Finally: note that there is a fourth TYP-earning card, the AT&T Access Card (which I wrote about here), which you can probably ignore as it has a weak sign-up bonus and weak earning power. Its only distinction is 2X TYPs for online spending.
In conclusion: there is potentially some good value in the Thank You Points ecosystem, but you have to know what you’re doing or else be willing to put in the time to understand the nuances.