3X retail and travel, free $650 phone… My reactions to Citi’s new ThankYou card: AT&T Access More

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This card is no longer available to new applicants, but it may be possible to get this card by calling to product change from another Citibank card.  You won’t get the free phone signup bonus that way, but you’ll still earn 3X for online retail, AT&T, and online travel; and you can still qualify for 10K annual bonus when you spend $10,000 or more.


Last week Citibank and AT&T announced the new Access More credit card (you can find the press release here).  One of the things that makes this card particularly interesting is that it earns Citi ThankYou Rewards points.  ThankYou points can usually be used, at best, for 1 cent per point value towards gift cards, merchandise, and travel.  However, if you also have a ThankYou Premier or Prestige card, you can do better.  Both cards allow you to transfer ThankYou points to select airline and hotel programs, and both allow you to purchase airfare at better than 1 cent per point value.  With the Premier card, you get 1.25 cents per point value towards airfare, and with the Prestige card you get 1.6 cents per point value towards American Airlines airfare and 1.33 cents per point value towards all other airlines.

Let’s look at my evolving reactions to this new card…

First reaction… yawn

When I first heard about Citi’s AT&T branded ThankYou card, I was only mildly interested.  I remembered that PF Digest had written about this card before (found here), and I remembered not being too excited about the product.  Yes, the card earns Citi ThankYou points – that part was interesting (since ThankYou points can be very rewarding), but the card didn’t seem to offer much beyond what was already available from other Citi ThankYou cards.  It turned out, though, that there are two cards: AT&T Access and AT&T Access More.  PF Digest had written about the first, but not the second.

ATT_Access_Both

Second reaction… wow!

Once I realized that there really was something new here, I looked at the details of the new Access More card:

  • Free phone, up to $650, after making $2,000 in purchases within the first 3 months
  • 3 points per $1 on products and services that are purchased directly from AT&T
  • 3 points per $1 on all purchases at online retail and travel sites
  • 1 point per $1 on all other purchases
  • 10,000 anniversary bonus points after $10,000 in annual spending
  • $95 annual fee, not waived first year

Two items from this offer jumped out at me beyond the unusual free-phone signup offer:

  1. The ability to earn 3X at online retail sites
  2. 10,000 anniversary bonus points after $10K annual spend

My initial excitement regarding 3X at online retail sites was due to the fact that no other card offers bonus miles for general retail purchases.  There are a few cards that offer excellent cash back rates for online purchases when you start your shopping within certain portals (see Best Category Bonuses – Online Portal Purchases), but none offer points that can be redeemed for miles.  Similarly, there are a few cards that offer cash back for retail department store purchases (including in-store), but none that offer miles (see Best Category Bonuses – Department Stores).

I immediately began imagining triple dip opportunities… Could we use the Access More card to buy gift cards online, after going through a portal), then go through a portal again to use those gift cards?  That would definitely work in some situations.  For more details about double and triple dip shopping, please see: Stacking deals for fantastic points and savings.

The 10,000 point anniversary bonus looked exciting too.  You could think of it as paying you back for the annual fee, or think of it as increasing your rewards for your first $10K of annual spend: 4X for online retail and travel and 2X everywhere else.  Wow!

Third reaction… it’s a solid offer, but ongoing value depends upon how you use it

I need another $95 annual fee card like I need a hole in my head.  Is this card worth it?  Let’s look at each benefit one by one…

Free Phone: Pretty good!

Yep, this looks like an excellent signup bonus if you’re planning to buy a new phone anyway.  Or, if you’re into reselling, I imagine you could do pretty well that way.  Note, though, a few important terms (bolding is mine): “Only phones (smartphones or basic/feature phones) purchased from AT&T at full retail price (no annual contract) through the link provided are eligible. You must activate the phone with qualifying AT&T postpaid wireless service (including voice and data as applicable) and keep the phone, and remain active and in good-standing, for at least 15 days.”

3X AT&T: Meh

Given that Chase Ink business card products already give you 5X Ultimate Rewards points (which I value a bit more than ThankYou points) for phone, internet, and more, I don’t find this benefit exciting. I suppose, though, that people with AT&T service who do not have any kind of business would find value in this benefit.

3X online retail and travel: Depends upon your spend habits

The Citi Premier card earns 3X for gas and all travel expenses (and 2X for dining and entertainment).  So, there’s no advantage here to the Access More online travel site benefit (unless you do not have the Premier card).  3X for online retail sites could be very interesting if you make many such purchases.  In my case, most of my online retail purchases are with Amazon.com and I have an old (no longer available) Citi Forward card which earns 5X at, among other categories, bookstores, and this includes Amazon.com.  So, for me, I doubt I would earn many bonus points in this category unless we find an online retailer that sells valuable gift cards.  For example, in the extremely unlikely event that Citi would code Amex Gift Cards as an online retail purchase, it would be an incredible benefit to earn 3X plus cash back portal rewards when buying Amex gift cards!  I’m willing to bet that won’t happen though.  If we’re stuck buying merchant gift cards at 3X, then I see this as only a slight benefit.  Both the Chase Freedom and Discover It cards offer rotating 5X categories that frequently cover similar ground.

10,000 anniversary bonus points after $10,000 in annual spending: Depends upon your spend habits

Unless you find a way to spend big within the online retail category, this card’s $95 annual fee hardly seems worth paying beyond the first year.  It may, though, be worth spending $10K per year with this card to get the 10K anniversary bonus and lessen the sting of the annual fee.  Let’s compare $10K spend with this card to $10K spend with a no fee 2% cash back card (like Citi’s Double Cash card or the Fidelity Investment Rewards Amex):

2% no fee card:

  • $10K spend with 2% cash back = $200

Access More $10K spend within 1X categories:

  • $95 annual fee, not waived first year
  • At 1X, earn 10K points
  • Earn 10K anniversary points
  • With the Fair Trading Price of 1.25 cents per ThankYou point, 20K points x 1.25 cents = $250 value
  • Value after annual fee = $250 – $95 = $155

Access More $10K spend within 3X categories:

  • $95 annual fee, not waived first year
  • At 3X, earn 30K points
  • Earn 10K anniversary points
  • With the Fair Trading Price of 1.25 cents per ThankYou point, 40K points x 1.25 cents = $500 value
  • Value after annual fee = $500 – $95 = $405

Access More $3K spend within 3X categories, $7K spend at 1X:

  • $95 annual fee, not waived first year
  • $3000 x 3 = 9000 ThankYou points
  • $7000 x 1 = 7000 ThankYou points
  • Earn 10K anniversary points
  • Total ThankYou points = 26,000
  • With the Fair Trading Price of 1.25 cents per ThankYou point, 26K points x 1.25 cents = $325 value
  • Value after annual fee = $325 – $95 = $230

As you can see above, if you only earn 1 point per dollar with this card, you can do better putting the same $10K spend on a 2% cash back card.  With only $3K of the $10K at 3X, though, you’ll do significantly better with the Access More card even after accounting for the annual fee.

Conclusion

If you need a new phone (or think you will in the near future) and you don’t mind having AT&T service (at least for 15 days), then the Access More card offers a very lucrative signup bonus.  Whether it makes sense to keep the card beyond the first year, though, will depend entirely on your spending habits.  Will you spend enough to earn the 10,000 point bonus?  How much of your spend will be within the lucrative 3X categories?  And, will we find any good ways to “game” the 3X categories?

Personally, I plan to wait until I need a new phone or until I hear compelling 3X success stories (in unexpected places) from cardholders.  If / when I do get the card, I expect that I would shift all of my online travel purchases to this card.  The reason?  Sure, I would get the same 3X from the Premier or Prestige card (which offers 3X for airlines, hotels, and travel agencies), but with this card I would also make progress towards the $10K spend needed for the 10,000 point anniversary bonus.

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