Best credit card combos: ThankYou Rewards

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Best credit card comboThis is part 3 of a multi-part series of “best credit card combos”. The goal is to find the combination of 2 or 3 credit cards that, together, offer the best rewards for day to day spend. The full series (not yet completed) will likely be as follows:

I’ve written before about which one credit card is best for spend (found here). The options listed there are great for the person who wants to keep things simple. If you’re willing to juggle a few cards, though, you can do quite a bit better by using the right card for the right situation. Note that it is always possible to earn more points through credit card signup offers. This post is not about that. This post is for those who prefer to get a few cards and stick with them over time.

Analysis

I used my Credit Card Analysis Spreadsheet to estimate the number of points per dollar one could earn with various combinations of cards that earn ThankYou Rewards points. I also took into account the “cost per point” of using this combination of cards (and paying the annual fees, if any) by comparing to a no-fee 2% cash back card. In other words, annual fees plus the earnings you would have had with a 2% cash back card are accounted for as your “cost”. I evaluated the following individual cards and card combinations:

  • Citi ThankYou Preferred
  • Citi ThankYou Premier
  • Citi Prestige
  • Citi AT&T Access More
  • Citi AT&T Access More + Preferred
  • Citi AT&T Access More + Premier
  • Citi AT&T Access More + Prestige

I did not look at cards that are no longer available to new applicants such as the Citi Forward card.  Also, while I modeled the possibility of getting a 15% annual relationship bonus with the Prestige card, those results are not presented here.  Also not shown are any combinations of Preferred, Prestige, and Premier cards because their bonus categories overlap.  When it comes to point earning, the Prestige always does as well or better than the Preferred and the Premier always does as well or better than the Prestige (except when the Prestige card earns an annual relationship bonus).

Assumptions

In evaluating various combinations of cards, I made the following assumptions about spend:

  1. Total annual spend: $30,000
  2. Spend would be divided into the following categories:
    • Travel: 15%
    • Dining: 20%
    • Gas: 15%
    • Grocery: 25%
    • Other bonus categories: 5%
    • All other: 20%
  3. The cardholder would always use the card that earns the most at any given location.
  4. While it is often possible to increase rewards by buying gift cards at a store that offers a category bonus, this analysis does not take that into account

Results

Card / Card Combo Avg Points Per $ Annual Fee Total Cost Per Point vs. 2% Card
ThankYou Preferred 1.25 $0 1.60
Prestige 1.52 $100 (assuming $350 annual fee minus $250 airline fee credit) 1.54
ThankYou Premier 1.85 $95 1.25
AT&T Access More 1.70 $95 1.36
AT&T Access More + Preferred 1.90 $95 1.22
AT&T Access More + Prestige 1.90 $195 1.39
AT&T Access More + Premier 2.23 $190 1.18

As you can see in the table above, the combination that earns the most points per dollar (2.23), given my spend assumptions, is the AT&T Access More + ThankYou Premier. Even with combined $190 annual fees taken into account, this combination does better on a cost per point basis (1.18 cents per point) than any other combo. That said, other cards and card combos come very close to the same cost per point:

  • ThankYou Premier: 1.25 cents per point
  • AT&T Access More + Preferred: 1.22 cents per point

Point Redemptions

In order to be able to transfer ThankYou points to airline and hotel programs, you will need either the Premier or the Prestige card.  If you want to use points to pay for airfare, then the Prestige card has an edge over the Premier card.  The Premier offers 1.25 cents value per point towards airfare.  The Prestige offers 1.6 cents per point value towards American Airlines airfare and 1.33 cents per point value everywhere else.  I don’t think the difference between 1.25 and 1.33 cents value is worth worrying about, but if you plan to use points often to buy American Airlines airfare, you’ll want the Prestige card.  Or… you’ll need a friend with a Prestige card.  Citi lets you share points with anyone, so you could share your points with that friend who could then buy the airfare for you at a value of 1.6 cents per point.

Recommendations

If you’re interested in doubling down on ThankYou Rewards cards, the first thing to do is to add your own spending assumptions to the Google Docs spreadsheet (make a copy first so that you can edit cells). If the results come out similar to those presented above, then consider getting the AT&T Access More and ThankYou Premier combination unless you plan to use points to buy American Airlines airfare.  If you’re a regular AA flyer, look for the best combination, for you, that includes the Prestige card.  Then, if you don’t have CitiGold checking, sign up for the card in-branch in order to secure the $350 annual fee.  Otherwise, you’ll pay $450.

It’s worth noting that the ThankYou Premier card is extremely strong for travel and gas (3X categories) whereas the AT&T card is best for online purchases (3X).  If you tend to spend a lot on travel or gas, you might find that the Premier card is all you need.  Or, if you spend a lot online, the AT&T card may be the single best solution for you.

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