Are you looking for access to one of the big rewards programs, but you aren’t sure which credit card to get? I was in the same situation recently.
I first narrowed my search down to two of the most popular rewards programs: American Express Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou.
I was interested in Citi ThankYou because it offers a bonus for travel purchases made through its travel center website. And I liked Membership Rewards because it has a lot of good airline transfer partners. So I took a look at the cards offered in each program.
I didn’t want to break the bank with a hefty annual fee, particularly since I’m not likely to take full advantage of the added perks that come with a top-of-the-line card. I travel fairly often, but not enough to justify a $450 annual fee. And because I wanted some benefits and a reasonable sign-up bonus, I needed to avoid the barebones cards.
That left me with the Citi ThankYou Premier and the Premier Rewards Gold American Express cards. They both offer some nice cardholder perks, decent sign-up bonuses and an annual fee of less than $200, which is waived the first year.
What the Citi ThankYou Premier and Premier Rewards Gold Amex cards have to offer
Let’s take a closer look at what you get with these cards:
The ThankYou Premier card’s 40,000-point sign-up bonus makes the 25,000 points you get with the American Express Premier Rewards Gold card seem a bit meager.
Some cards that offer bigger sign-up bonuses, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, have sizable minimum spends. You need to spend $4,000 in three months with that one. Thankfully, with the Citi ThankYou card you have to make only $3,000 in purchases in the first three months to get the bonus. At only $2,000, the Amex Premier Gold card requires you to spend even less. If you break that down by month, it’s $1,000 for Citi and $666 for Amex.
I know that difference will be important to some, but I suspect for most of us spending $334 more a month is worth the extra 15,000 ThankYou points.
If you plan to transfer your points to a frequent flyer program, there’s no doubt that the Membership Rewards program is the way to go. Not only does it have more options, but its transfer partners are better. Among its 16 partners, you have Delta, British Airways, ANA, Air France, KLM, JetBlue and Virgin America, not to mention luxurious Emirates and Singapore Airlines. You’ll have access to all three of the major alliances: SkyTeam, the Star Alliance and oneworld.
ThankYou, on the other hand, is not a transfer partner with any of the three major domestic airlines. Most of its partners are foreign carriers, such as Cathay Pacific, Qatar, Qantas, Eva Air and Etihad. In fact, its only U.S.-based partner is Virgin America. You still have access to the three major alliances, but you’ll have to book them through smaller foreign carriers. This could result in poorer redemption rates and/or less award availability.
The ThankYou program shines, though, when you book travel through its website. You’ll get a 25 percent bonus on all airfare, hotels, cruises and car rentals made through the ThankYou Travel Center. That means you’ll get 1.25 cents, instead of the standard 1 cent, for every point you spend. If you’re a savvy player in the points and miles game, you’ll probably get more value for your points by transferring them to a frequent flyer program. But if you like the ease and flexibility of purchasing through a major rewards program, ThankYou will get you more for your points than Membership Rewards.
Both cards offer a generous three points per dollar spent on airfare, but the ThankYou Premier card also gives you triple points on other travel expenses, including gas, hotels, cruises, car rentals, train tickets, tolls, taxis and more.
Amex offers double points on gas, but that’s it for travel. With ThankYou, then, you can get more points for everyday commuting expenses, and that can add up fast. You’ll get double points at restaurants with both cards, but Citi offers double points for entertainment and Amex gives double points at supermarkets. Everything else earns the standard one point per dollar.
I’d give the overall edge to the ThankYou earning scheme because of the triple miles offered on all travel, including some commuting expenses. Depending on how you use your card, though, the double points on groceries might tip the tables towards Amex.
|Citi ThankYou Premier||Amex Premier Rewards Gold Card|
|Sign-Up Bonus||40,000 ThankYou points||25,000 Membership Rewards points|
|Earning Potential||3x on all travel; 2x for dining out and entertainment; 1x all other purchases||3x on airfare; 2x at restaurants, gas stations and supermarkets; 1x all other purchases|
|Airline Transfer Partners||12||16|
|Annual Fee||$95, waived for the first year||$95, waived for the first year|
|Other Perks||25% bonus on travel purchased through the ThankYou website||$100 annual statement credit for airline fees|
What Else Do You Get?
The Amex Premier Gold card comes with a useful airline fee credit. Every year, you’ll get up to a $100 statement credit covering any airline fees you might incur. With this perk, you won’t need to have a co-branded airline card to get out of paying for checked bags or other incidental fees. It will also offset the annual fee if you keep the card for more than a year
Obviously, with these cards you’ll get access to their respective rewards programs. Both offer the ability to pay for part or all of your tickets with points, plus there are no blackout dates since you’ll be paying the cash price. Still, the advantage here goes to ThankYou due to its 25 percent bonus on travel purchased through its site.
These cards come with many of the same mid-level travel card perks. Neither charges foreign transaction fees, plus they both offer trip cancellation protection, travel accident insurance, car rental insurance, emergency assistance and lost baggage protection. Citi offers a personal concierge service, and Amex has personalized travel service and a global assist hotline. One perk only American Express offers is a $75 hotel credit for two-night stays booked through the Hotel Collection.
At $195, the Amex Premier Gold card has a higher annual fee. The Premier ThankYou card charges $95 a year. Both cards waive the fee for the first year.
Which Card Should You Get?
With its larger sign-up bonus and lower annual fee, the Citi ThankYou Premier card has a few obvious advantages over the Premier Rewards Gold Amex. Plus, with its broad definition of travel-related expenses, you can earn triple points on a lot of different kinds of purchases with the ThankYou card. Amex offers triple points on airfare only.
But, unlike Amex, ThankYou doesn’t offer any bonus for supermarket purchases. As far as their respective rewards programs go, Amex not only has more airline transfer partners, but those partners are generally better since they include more major carriers, such as Delta and British Airways, plus more North American-based airlines, including JetBlue, Hawaiian Airlines and Air Canada. ThankYou’s only major frequent flyer player, Air France KLM Flying Blue, and only U.S.-based partner, Virgin America, are both also part of the Membership Rewards program. The big advantage of the ThankYou program is that you get a 25 percent bonus on all travel purchased through the website. That means the 40,000-point sign-up bonus can buy $500 worth of airfare, instead of $400.
You’ll have to decide which card is better for you, but for me the bigger sign-up bonus, better earning scheme and 25 percent bonus on ThankYou Travel Center purchases made the Citi ThankYou Premier card my choice.