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The new Citi application rules (discussed below) make it a bit more difficult to accumulate enough miles to splurge on top business class and first class cabins than was previously possible. However, it’s still obtainable to do so but you just have to know which cards to go after and how to supplement those earnings with offers from other cards. Here are some things to consider when pursuing business class and first class awards with Citibank cards.
Consider Chase and Amex first
If your goal is to book premium cabins then I suggest you go with Chase and Amex cards first. The reason is that I always recommend you to go for Chase cards first due to 5/24. But beyond that strategy, it’s a lot easier to rack up high balances of points with Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express as they offer many more options than Citi.
With that said, you may want to give your applications from Chase and American Express a break at some point and at that point Citi might prove to be a good option. If that’s the case, the first thing you want to consider are the Citi application rules.
The application rules
The new Citibank bonus rules significantly changed things for applying for Citibank credit cards. It now forces you to wait a grueling 24 months after opening or closing a card in order to earn the sign-up bonus for that same brand.
So, for example, the Citi Premier is a ThankYou Points earning card. So if you’ve opened or closed other ThankYou Points earning cards in the last 24 months, such as the Citi Prestige or the Citi ThankYou Preferred, then you will likely be excluded from being able to earn this sign up bonus.
In addition to that rule, there’s also the 8/65/95 rule, which states that you can’t open more than one Citi card in 8 days, more than 2 Citi cards in 65 days, and more than one Citi business card in 95 days.
With these rules in mind, let’s explore the possibilities for applying for Citi cards. We’ll start off by looking at the Citi ThankYou earning cards and see if there’s some decent potential there.
ThankYou Point earning cards
Citi offers three ThankYou Point earning credit cards:
- The Citi Preferred
- The Citi Premier
- The Citi Prestige
The Citi Preferred
There have been sign-up bonuses for 30,000 points in the past but right now many of the application links don’t have a sign-up bonus or if they do it’s for a much lower amount like 10,000 ThankYou Points. The biggest drawback to this card is that you’ll need the Prestige or the Premier in order to transfer points out to airlines, so for travel purposes, your points will have very limited use. Due to the low bonus and no transfer availability, this card is all but useless.
The Citi Premier
The 40,000 offer for this card just came back, albeit with no annual fee waived. This card earns 3X on travel including gas and 2X on dining and entertainment, making it one of the most equipped credit cards for earning bonus points. Although, the 40,000 offer is nice there have been higher offers of 50,000 (with the annual fee waived) in the past, so I’d probably want to wait out on this offer.
The Citi Prestige
The Prestige comes with a 50,000 sign-up bonus after spending $5,000 within the first three months. This offer has been as high as 100,000 in the past, although I question if and when that offer will return. The Prestige is one of the best premium cards and it known for its benefits which include:
- $250 airline credit (essentially reducing the annual fee to $200)
- Priority Pass Select airport lounge access for you and up to two guests for free
- Complimentary night at any hotel of your choice after a minimum 4-consecutive-night booking
- $100 Global Entry credit
- 3 free rounds of golf (set to expire July 23, 2017)
- Rental car benefits with National Car Rental, Avis, Budget, and Sixt.
- Add authorized users for $50 each.
- Concierge service
- Mastercard luxury hotel and resorts
- 3X on air travel and hotels
- 2X on dining and entertainment
With the $250 airline credit, it’s not hard to reduce the $450 annual fee down to $200, making the Prestige the card of choice for many looking for a solid way to rack up ThankYou Points while taking advantage of benefits. However, $200 is still a lot for others and for only 50,000 ThankYou Points, many might pass on it.
The problem with ThankYou Points earning cards
The problem with going after ThankYou Points earning cards right now is that you’re more limited now than you were before. A year or two ago you could take advantage of multiple large sign-up bonuses like a 100,000 offer for the Prestige, 30,000 for the Preferred, and 50,000 for the Premier. So within a few months you could amass close to 190,000 ThankYou Points.
Now things are much different. Now that you’re limited to one bonus per 24 months, the best you could do is gain 50,000 (or maybe 60,000) ThankYou Points and then wait another 24 months to pick up another 50,000 or so and then restart the waiting process for another 24 months. Thus, there’s not a lot of high earning potential for ThankYou Points with Citi and that means they’re not usually a great option for chasing after redemptions on premium cabins.
However, if you’re planning on racking up balances to transfer to partners Singapore Airlines or Flying Blue then the 50,000 bonus could probably help you. That’s because those airlines also partner with Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards, so getting an extra 50,000 from a Citi card could help you supplement your earnings from other programs and help you meet your goal if you’re trying to book a premium cabin, such as the coveted Singapore Suites.
Citi AAdvantage cards
I think the best opportunity for getting value from Citi cards right now is to hit the American Airlines AAdavtange credit cards. American Airlines partners with some of the best airlines like Etihad, Qatar, and Cathay Pacific, so if you can accumulate a large amount of AA miles, you can book yourself a premium experience on some these cabins.
Right now you can earn as much as 50,000 to 60,000 miles from the sign-up bonus. The higher offer for 100,000 miles hasn’t been around for a while, so I’m not sure if it’s worth waiting around for. The Executive card comes with lounge access to Admirals Club (with 2 guests included) and a lots of other American Airlines benefits like free checked bags and priority check-in and boarding as well. While those benefits are great for those who use them, the $450 annual fee (not waived) is a huge turn off for those just looking to score some points from a sign-up bonus.
Citi Platinum Select
The Platinum Select offers a sign-up bonus for 50,000 miles after spending $3,000. This card also offers some benefits like free checked luggage and priority check-in and boarding. The $95 annual is waived the first year so it’s possible to avoid the fee altogether by downgrading or product changing your credit card after one year. For people who don’t care about Admirals Club access and don’t want to pay the high annual fee of the Executive, this is a great option. Also, sometimes you can send in a request to be matched to higher offers for 60,000 miles and sometimes get those requests granted!
CitiBusiness Platinum Select
This card currently comes with a 50,000 miles sign-up bonus after spending $3,000 and the annual fee is waived the first year. The great thing about this business card is that you’re still allowed to pick up the sign-up bonus even if you’ve received the bonus from the personal Platinum Select in the past 24 months.
This means that it’s still possible to pick up 100,000 American Airlines miles with only two credit card sign-up bonuses. While that wouldn’t be nearly as exciting to hear a year or two ago, considering how things stand with Citi application rules and sign-up offers right now, that’s pretty great.
100,000 miles (plus the 6,000 miles you’d earn from meeting the minimum spend) can get you one way redemptions on many of the top first class cabins between different regions. You’d need to earn around 10,000 more miles to be able to redeem on first class on the first class ultra-long hauls but you’d be in great position to book business class and first class on many airlines. For people trying to put together a round the world itinerary with a lot of one way business or first class segments on different airlines,100,000 AA miles can be a nice asset.
Supplementing your earnings
If you’re interested in booking roundtrips with some of these top cabins you’ll need to supplement your AA miles. You can supplement your American Airlines miles with earnings from both the SPG and SPG business cards (both of which waive the annual fees the first year). If you timed it right, you might be able to earn as much as 60,000 from those two sign-up offers, which when transferred to American Airlines would come out to 75,000 points.
If you really wanted to earn more American Airline miles you could even apply for the Chase Marriott credit cards (personal and/or business) and then use the SPG points and Marriott points to redeem for a Marriott travel package.
By using two SPG cards with 30,000 offers and 1 Marriott card with an 80,000+7,500 you could redeem a 7 night package (7 nights free at a Marriott category 1 to 5) and net 120,000 AAdvantage miles. (You can do this same package for many other airlines, such as Southwest so always consider if you’d rather earn points with a different airline.)
So with five credit cards you could rack up over 225,000 American Airlines miles plus 7 free hotel nights and probably only have to pay one annual fee while doing so. With that many miles you could book or be in range to book round trips on some of the top airlines in first class.
For example, from North America you could book or be close to booking:
- Cathay Pacific round trip in first class to Hong Kong (220,000)
- Round trip in first class to Australia (220,000)
- Round trip in business class to Australia (160,000).
- Round trip in first class to Europe (170,000)
- Round trip in business class to Europe (115,000)
- Etihad or Qatar round trip in business class to Middle East (140,000)
- Etihad or Qatar round trip in first class to Middle East (230,000)
Note: Keep in mind these redemptions aren’t exactly “sweet spot redemptions.” For example, you could use Alaskan Airline miles for the Cathay Pacific first class trip to Hong Kong and save many miles. The point is just to show how Citi cards can be used to book premium cabins.
Overall, Citi would usually be at best my third choice (after Chase and Amex) to pursue when trying to earn enough points for business class and first class awards. However, if you feel like you’re “due up” for Citi cards, going for the personal and business AAdvantage credit cards can be a smart move, especially if you’re trying to just book one way awards on airlines like Etihad and Qatar. Hopefully, we’ll see higher sign-up bonuses return and a dismantling of the 24 month rule, but at least there are still different ways to rack up lots AAdvantage miles depending on your goals.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, and CNBC. Read my bio.