Why I’m rarely using my Citi Executive card despite its $10K spend requirement

As you may know, I recently signed up for the Citi Executive AAdvantage World Elite MasterCard because of its current 100,000 mile signup offer.  The offer requires paying a $450 annual fee and completing $10,000 spend in 3 months in exchange for 100,000 AA miles and a $200 statement credit.  Initially there was confusion about whether the statement credit was to offset spend with American Airlines specifically, or to offset all spend.  Recently, though, a number of people have reported receiving their statement credit without having made any AA purchases.  So, the total first year cost of ownership for this card is really $250, not $450.

In my recent post, “Tips for spending $10K to get 110,000 miles” I listed a few ideas for what to do and what not to do to reach $10K of spend.  What I didn’t address, though, was the topic of everyday spend.  To help meet the card’s minimum spend requirements, should you use this card for regular everyday purchases at grocery stores, restaurants, and so on?  In my case, the answer is no.

I carry cards in my wallet that currently give me 5 points per dollar for almost all of my day to day spend:

  • Citi Forward: Unfortunately, Citi no longer offers this deal, but I was lucky enough to get this card when they still advertised 5 points per dollar at restaurants, bookstores, movie theaters, and other entertainment venues.
  • Citi ThankYou: This is another offer no longer available, but for the next month I’ll continue to earn 5 points per dollar at grocery stores, gas stations, and drug stores.  After that, I’ll replace this card in my wallet with my old Amex Blue Cash card that offers 5% cash back in the same categories, but only after $6500 in spend per calendar year.
  • Chase Freedom: The Freedom card offers rotating 5X categories.  This quarter it is gas stations, movie theaters, and Starbucks.  I can earn 5X Citi ThankYou points instead for these same categories, but I value Ultimate Rewards more highly so I like to max out my $1500 5X Freedom spend each quarter when possible.  Plus, because I have a Chase checking account, the Freedom card awards me with a 10% bonus each year on all points earned.
  • Chase Ink: Chase Ink cards offer 5 points per dollar at office supply stores and for telecom, internet, and cable purchases.  I can use my new Ink Plus Visa card at Staples to buy gift cards to earn 5X and additionally get 1% cash back if I spend $200 or more (thanks to the Visa Savings Edge program), and I can earn Plink points for additional savings!  See “Staples Rocks” for more details.

For more examples of cards that offer 5% cash back (or more), please see “Cashing in.”

Why not Citi Executive 11X?

With the current 100K offer, your first $10K of spend earns 11 miles per dollar (since you’ll end up with at least 110,000 miles).  So, isn’t 11X better than 5X for day to day spend?

Not really.  The key is that the Citi card earns 11X on any spend at all (for the first $10K of spend), whereas the cards I listed above earn 5X only for specific spend.  The fact is, I am better off paying a fee to reach $10K of spend than to give up 5X.  Let’s look at an extreme example.  Imagine I had $10K of actual spend that I could make in the above listed categories.  If I use my Citi Executive card for that spend, I would earn 110,000 points.  If I used, instead, my 5X cards, I would earn only 50,000 points.  However, it’s possible to buy the spend on the Citi Executive card.  Worst case, I could use a service like Google Wallet to send $9,719 to my wife for a 2.9% fee ($281) in order to spend a total of $10K.  Let’s now imagine that the 50,000 points I earned were worth only $500 in cash (they’re actually worth more than that to me, but let’s go with $500 for the sake of argument here).  In that case, I would still earn 110,000 AA miles and I would earn $219 profit ($500 – $281).

To be clear, I’m not recommending paying 2.9% to meet the $10K spend requirement.  The above was an extreme example to prove a point.  Instead, my real approach is to use the Citi card for all day to day spend in which I do not already earn a category bonus.  Next, I turn to manufactured spend techniques in which I do not earn a category bonus.  A great option, for example, is to send $1,000 per month to a friend via Amazon Payments.  This month I was able to send $2K by creating a virtual account number for my wife to use (Citi has an online mechanism for creating these).  If these free techniques don’t end up being enough, I can then look to paid options such as paying taxes (1.87% fee) or even using Google Wallet as described above.  I don’t really think that I’ll have to resort to paid options, but they are better than giving up 5X, at least in situations where 5X is worth more than the paid option fees.

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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Comments

  1. Been struggling with my own version of “loss” as a much-used HSBC Platinum MC card, one that had been paying me 5X on groceries and gas for many (5)years, drops the 5X rewards coem this April. This was precipitated by the card’s new owner, Capital One, who took over the card from HSBC about a year ago. Just got their letter announcing “customer enhancements” one of which is the replacement of its 5X Rewards with 1X beginning in April.

    I did find a replacement for 5X on gas, via my Penfed VISA — I just called them and did a product change back to the old “Cash Rewards” card. This only required opening a MM Savings account, with the min $25 deposit, to waive the card’s Annual Fee.

    So I have about a month left to come up with a replacement for 5X on groceries. Apart from the AMEX Blue (which requires $6K spend b/f I start earning the 5X), ther really doesn’t seem to be anything out there. So I have an alternate solution — let me hear what you think. I started buying GCs using my existing HSBC cc. I figure I spend about $400+/mo on Groceries. So I’m looking to collect approx $4-5K total of GC’s. Bot $1K of my local grocery store card; no fee, and earn the 5X right away. Also bot some AMEX GCs; small fee ($9), and earn 6X thru my Barclay Arrival CC.

    That should do it and keep me in 5X Rewards thru Dec. After that, who knows??

    Any suggestions?
    — Scott

      • @Dave: Do you have to currently have student loans to get the Sallie Mae card. I used to have loans with them. 🙂 I wonder if that is enuf.

        • Nope, anyone can apply. If you have reasonable credit you shouldn’t have a problem getting approved. My 25 year old sister in college recently got approved.

          Another little known fact is that the 5% back on bookstores counts on Amazon purchases (not all non-Amazon sellers count, but you can buy gift cards at Amazon and then buy from non-Amazon sellers with your gift card balance and get 5% back).

        • The 5% back on Amazon makes the Citi Forward absolutely ridiculous. Since I already get 20% off my subscribe and save items, putting it on the Citi Forward just adds to the gravy train.

        • I also have a grandfathered Citi Forward, but it is not available for new applications. Even so, I still prefer the cash back from the Sallie Mae card to the TY points from Citi Forward.

  2. @Scott – my only suggestion is that if you are going to buy a large amount of grocery store gift card, check whether yours gives a discount. I know of a couple of supermarkets who will give, I think, a 5% discount on purchases of their own gift cards totaling several thousand dollars.

  3. Good post – the opportunity cost of diverting our spend is about 55,000 to 60,000 UR points. That’s why we are putting some of our federal taxes or finish off one card, and property taxes on the other. Yes our taxes are huge! Not doing manufactured spend as it’s difficult to do some of the usual go-tos where we live, plus we can’t invest a lot of time beyond the MS we now do.

  4. I’m not sure I follow the virtual account comment for your wife. Why didn’t you just get her an authorized user card for the City Exec? Maybe you meant for the other cards.

  5. I think the only issue with the method described above is appearance to Citibank. It looks weird to have $10,000 strictly at CVS. I’m willing to put a large majority of it on manufactured spend ($9500), but I’ll throw Citi a few bones by using it for everyday spend for the last few hundred.

  6. I think you are missing something. To calculate the true cost of your Citi Exec Card spend, you need to include the card’s fee. So using your example: $500-$250-$281 yields a net loss of $31.

  7. I just confirmed today that Cit had gotten my fax requesting the 100k offer after I had signed up the day before its’ start with the 75k offer………so they were very Chase-like…..and I have almost completed the 10k max thru DrSifu manufactured spend approach…….then the UPS came with my wife’s 100k card so I will need to start again……your approach to making sure everything is 5k is spot on………one nuance to the Freedom is that when in Florida I bought a couple of VR cards at Circle K (EXTREME PATIENCE REQUIRED) and then returned home to buying gas cards at Staples for 5X……Net net is that I shifted $1500 this month to 5X in manufactured spend that would normally be 1X or 1.25X……….I don’t see anyway around the 1X manufactured spend at Charlie Victor Sierra to hit minimum spend targets? My cost for 220k in AA miles is $658 to equal .3 cents a piece? What am I missing?

  8. The question is would one have done $10k at the drugstore at 5x typically, or just need to do it for Citi MC. If just for Citi MC, it’s cheaper than other methods of MS. Agree you could put $10k of drustore at 5x AND $10k of MS for Citi, but that’s really $20k which is a different analysis to me (but I understand the point about the 5x).

  9. AP is not a good example of how you can meet 10k spend without foregoing 5X rewards on everyday spend. Because you could be using your TYP5X card to purchase Amex gift cards at CVS, and then unload those Amex cards via AP. So by using your Executive card on Amazon, you ARE foregoing 5X.

    To take this even further, you’re foregoing 5X pretty much anywhere you use the Executive card, because as you know, there are many “5X everywhere” tricks.

    • Well, look at it this way. If you had $10K of AP available (just pretend), then you can earn 110K points with the Citi card, or 50K points with 5X everywhere tricks. Id prefer the former

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