How much spend justifies that 25% ThankYou bonus?

Citi is out with what looks like an interesting targeted offer: bundle select Citi credit cards with a Citi Priority Banking Package and get a 25% bonus on ThankYou points or cash back earned on your credit card each billing period through 1/31/21. Note that this offer isn’t available to everyone (Greg tried to call and request the deal, but was told that it was not targeted to his account). That said, we’ve heard from a number of readers who received the offer and want to know: is it worth it? Personally, I’d recommend that most readers give this one a hard pass because it would require a lot of spend in the right categories to make this deal worthwhile. That said, for some it will be a great deal.

Note that similar offers have gone out paired with the Citi Prestige, ThankYou Preferred, and Double Cash.

The Offer

A quick summary of the deal and its key terms:

  • Citi is sending out targeted offers to earn 25% bonus ThankYou points or cash back when you bundle select Citi credit cards with a Citi Priority Banking package
  • Email subject line says, “Exclusive offer for you, [Name]. Earn 25% more ThankYou(R) Points through 1/31/21”

Key Terms

  • “Eligible Customers” are [Citi ThankYou Preferred, Citi Prestige Citi Premier, or Citi Double Cash – see your offer] cardmembers who (1) have a residential address for their Eligible Deposit Accounts in AL, AK, AZ, AR, CO, DE, GA, HI, ID, IN, IA, KS, KY, LA, OK, ME, MA, MI, MN, MO, MS, MT, NE, NH, NM, NC, ND, OH, OR, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VT, WA, WV, WI, WY, AA, AE, AP, AS, GU, MP, PR or VI, (2) have received a direct communication or advertisement from Citibank inviting them to participate in this Offer, (3) are at least eighteen (18) years of age, and (4) who provide required U.S. tax certification when opening new deposit accounts as further described below.
  • Between 4/18/2019 and 06/30/2019 (“Offer Period”), Eligible Customers must open a new consumer regular or interest checking account and a new consumer Citi Accelerate Savings account as an owner in The Citi Priority Account Package (“Eligible Deposit Accounts”) by clicking the “Apply Now” button on the promotional offer page for the Offer, and proceeding to open the Eligible Deposit Accounts on the linked account opening page.
  • To remain eligible for the ThankYou Points Booster, both your Card Account and at least one of your new Eligible Deposit Accounts must remain open, current, and in good standing from the time of your enrollment in the Offer throughout the term of this Offer. If you convert your Card Account to another card product during the term of this Offer, you will no longer be eligible for this Offer and will no longer receive the ThankYou Points Booster. PLEASE NOTE: Eligible Deposit Accounts which have a zero balance for ninety (90) days are subject to closure.
  • A monthly service fee of $30 applies to the checking account in the Citi Priority Account Package if you do not maintain a combined average monthly balance of $50,000 or more in eligible linked deposit, retirement and investment accounts

Analysis

First: to deposit or not deposit $50K?

It’s important to keep in mind that this deal requires a Citi Priority Account Package. If you do not maintain an average monthly balance of $50K or more in eligible linked deposit, retirement, and investment accounts, you’ll pay $30 per month.

If you don’t deposit $50K

If you intend to just pay the monthly fee (i.e. you do not intend to put $50K of new funds into Citi), it would cost you about $600 in monthly fees over the course of the promo period if you opened the accounts today (there are actually 21 months from today through 1/31/21, though in the past Citi has waived the fee for the first month or two on new Priority accounts, so the $600 figure is a guestimate).

If you plan to deposit $50K

If you have $50K to deposit in order to waive the $30/mo fee, you could forgo this bonus offer altogether in favor of a $600 bonus for opening a Citi Priority account and depositing $50K. See this post from Doctor of Credit for more on that account bonus, but know this: if you choose to go after the 25% bonus points offer, and you’re depositing $50K into Citi, you’re accepting the bonus points offer at a cost of $600.

Opportunity cost bottom line: It’s costing you about six hundred bucks to accept this offer whether or not you deposit the $50K (and without even considering the other cards on which you could spend / earn new cardmember bonuses) — so the additional 25% in rewards you earn from this offer have to be worth more than $600 at a bare minimum or else it’s not worth considering this deal.

The math: Citi Double Cash

Doctor of Credit analyzed this one the other day from the perspective of the Citi Double Cash. With the 25% bonus bonus, you’d earn 2.5% cash back on that card. As he rightly pointed out, in order to earn enough extra cash back on the Citi Double Cash card to justify this deal, you’d need to spend $120,000 during the bonus time period. That’s because you’d ordinarily earn 2% on the Double Cash, so the extra 0.5% cash back on $120K spend = $600).

Without the bonus offer: Spend $120,000 at 2%, get $2,400 cash back
vs
With the 25% bonus offer: Spend $120,000 at 2.5%, get $3,000 cash back.

As you can clearly see, you’ll earn $600 in extra cash back once you’ve spent $120,000 on the Double Cash card. That means you would need to spend $6,000 per month for the next 20 months on this card just to break even with what you could alternatively earn via a new Citi Priority account package with a $50K deposit or save in monthly fees if you skip this deal altogether.

I think it would be crazy to do this deal with the Double Cash card and tie up all that spend just to break even with what you could do if you pick the much easier path of not doing this deal. I think it’s further crazy to consider if you could instead get the Alliant Cashback Visa, which offers 3% back for the first year, or the Discover IT Miles, which offers an effective 3% back after the first year. If you get one of those for the first 12 months of this deal and the other for the next 8 months after that, you could effectively earn 3% back over the same time period — which would be $3,600 if you intend to spend $120K.

Again, I wouldn’t consider this deal with the Double Cash card.

The math gets more interesting with the Premier or Prestige cards.

The math: Citi Premier

The Citi Premier ordinarily card earns 3x on travel (including gas stations). With a 25% bonus, you’d earn 3.75 ThankYou points per dollar spent on this category.

According to our Reasonable Redemption Values, we value transferable currencies like ThankYou points at 1.82c each. Using that valuation, we can peg the value of an extra 0.75 ThankYou points at 1.365 cents:

0.75 bonus ThankYou points * 1.82c = 1.365 cents

At that rate, in order to earn enough ThankYou points to exceed $600 in value (based on our 1.82c RRV), one would have to spend $43,956.04. Here’s how that works out:

Without the bonus offer: Spend $43,956.04 at 3x, get 131,868.12 ThankYou points.
vs
With the 25% bonus offer: Spend $43,956.04 at 3.75x, get 164,835.15 ThankYou points

With the 25% bonus, you’ll earn 32,967.03 more points than you would without the bonus. At a value of 1.82 cents per ThankYou point, those additional ~33K points are worth $600.

32,967.03 bonus points earned x 1.82c each = $600

In other words, $43,956.04 in “travel” spend is your break-even point — if you spend less than that on travel (or on lesser bonus categories), you’d be better off not bothering with this offer and just taking the $600 cash bonus on a new Citi Priority account (or saving your $600 in monthly fees). Over the course of 20 months, that means you’d need to spend on average $2,197.80 per month on travel (every month for 20 straight months) to make this offer worth more than $600. For those with a friendly gas station and/or who book a lot of reimbursable travel, that’s not necessarily difficult to do. Of course, I’d personally want to do much better than breaking even in order to commit so much spend to one card.

Furthermore, while it is certainly possible to get far more than $600 in value from the extra 33,000 ThankYou points earned with this offer, would I pay $600 cash for 33K ThankYou points? Unless I had a specific immediate use in mind, I wouldn’t. Yet that’s exactly what I’d be doing if I took this offer just to break even — trading the chance to earn $600 in easy money (or save $600 cash in monthly fees) for the opportunity to spend a bunch of time MSing each month. Personally, I’d need to intend to do quite a bit more spend to be enticed with a Premier card. The additional return on dining (normally a 2x category improved to 2.5x with the offer) does not appeal to me at all since there are a litany of cards offering better return on dining spend. Realistically, I’d want to be spending about double the above numbers or more if I were going after this deal.

The math: Citi Prestige

The Citi Prestige card is perhaps more interesting (but only perhaps). That’s because this card ordinarily earns 5x at restaurants and on airfare / travel agencies. With a 25% bonus, you would earn 6.25x ThankYou points with the Prestige card in those bonus categories. That’s an additional return of 1.25 points per dollar. Keeping our RRV of 1.82c per point, that’s an additional return of 2.275 cents per dollar.

1.25 bonus ThankYou points * 1.82c each = 2.275 cents

That bonus significantly reduces the required spend to “break even”, with $26,373.63 in restaurant / airfare / travel agency spend required to earn $600 worth of points (taken at our RRV).

Without the bonus offer: Spend $26,373.63 at 5x, get 131,868.15 ThankYou points
vs
With the 25% bonus offer: Spend $26,373.63 at 6.25x, get 164,835.19 ThankYou points

The difference is basically the same as with the Premier — 32,967.04 ThankYou points, which equal $600 when valued at 1.82c per point.

With the Prestige card, it is much easier to break even on this offer in terms of required spend — you’ll need to spend just over half what you would on travel on the Premier card to break even ($1,318.68 per month in the 5x bonus categories if you sign up right away and have 20 months). Unfortunately, unlike the Premier card, the Prestige card does not bonus gas stations. With restaurants and airfare / travel agencies as bonus categories, the opportunities for MS appear slim. Of course, if you travel often for work and your employer reimburses you for airfare and dining spend, you may very well come out nicely ahead. On the other hand, you never know when your company might issue a corporate no-travel decree.

Still, I’d bet that there are some readers who spend in the neighborhood of $1,316.18 per month on dining if averaged out over the course of a year. When you also consider airfare and travel agency spend, it’s really not that inconceivable to hit these numbers over 20 months. For example, if you spend $3,000 per year on airfare / travel agencies, that works out to $250 per month on average. That begins to drop the dining spend into the realm of reasonable for some people. Situations of course vary here, but my point is that it’s not inconceivable to break even.

On the other hand, the potential to do way more than break even is much more limited with the Prestige card unless you’re booking a lot of travel or paying for very expensive meals. Of course, if you have a wedding coming up or other catered event (and you’ve tested to make sure your caterer codes at 5x), this deal could quickly become a no-brainer. My wedding caterer coded as a restaurant back when Chase used to offer 3x at restaurants on the CSP on the first Friday of every month (I’m sure my caterer thought it was weird when I was on the phone insisting that she charge me on the first Friday of the month).

The Math: ThankYou Preferred

Note that the fine print of the offer also states that the ThankYou Preferred, which I do not believe is still available for new applicants, is also eligible for this offer. Since that card’s only bonus categories are 2x dining and entertainment, I don’t think it’s even worth considering. A 25% bonus on this card would mean earning 2.5 points per dollar on dining and entertainment. You would have to spend $65,934.07 on dining and entertainment in order for your extra points to be worth $600. Furthermore, there are just a lot of cards on the market that bonus dining at better than 2.5x, so I think the opportunity cost of all that dining spend (unless you spend a lot on entertainment) over other cards on the market seems steep to me. I wouldn’t consider this combo.

Bottom line

Psychologically, earning an additional 25% bonus on ThankYou points earned each month sounds pretty exciting. However, when you consider the $600 it would cost to go after this deal, the spend required to make it worthwhile is quite high. When you further consider your alternatives for that spend (whether a 2.5% or 3% cash back card or working on new card welcome bonuses), I think the value proposition here becomes even more questionable. I don’t know of any way to become targeted for the offer apart from receiving the email, but I wouldn’t personally wait on pins and needles for this offer unless you’re able to spend a large amount of money in one of the bonus categories. While this deal may work out very well for those doing significant volume in MS, it doesn’t seem worthwhile to a casual MSer who would do better splitting that spend over many new cardmember bonuses. In short, this deal sounds cool but is mostly good marketing.

About Nick Reyes

Nick Reyes is a (fairly) regular guy with an animalistic passion for maximizing the value of miles and money to travel the world in comfort and style. There is little in life that he loves more than finding a fantastic deal and helping you shop smarter & harder to achieve your travel dreams.

More articles by Nick Reyes »

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CaveDweller
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CaveDweller

1/31/2019 ?

Greg The Frequent Miler
Admin

I fixed that date as soon as I read it this morning, but it was too late to stop it from going out that way in the email newsletter.

CaveDweller
Guest
CaveDweller

Greg
Doesn’t matter to me But others !!!!!!!!
Have a Nice (Fr.) Day and keep up the Good Work.
CHEERs

pssteve
Guest
pssteve

Can anyone explain why California residents are not on the eligible list of states?

CaveDweller
Guest
CaveDweller

pssteve
It’s All targeted by a computer . Don’t feel bad @ ORD and hotels too I got ONE offer since 2009 I could’ve used and I missed it ..
Riots in Venezuela maybe a Cheap 5* Trip Folks been there never been Safe !!
CHEERs

JC1
Guest
JC1

The reason California is not eligible along with Florida, New Jersey, New York, and select other states is that the promotion is targeting customers outside of Citibank’s physical footprint. All of the states excluded have at least 1 Citibank branch in the state. This is also a result of the fact that the 2.36% savings account is only targeted to customers in states without physical Citibank branch.

I believe this is a pilot program that Citibank is testing to see if it increases the cross sales of deposit relationships for customer’s with credit cards. Likely, if this pilot works then this will be Citibank’s new relationship offer similar to Chase’s Sapphire Banking program or Bank of America’s Preferred Rewards program and will be available to customers in all states.

ktc
Guest
ktc

“$600 bonus for opening a Citi Priority account and depositing $50K”

1. i’d prefer points
2. some citi bank accounts earn equivalent of 60k pts, but thsse point cannot be transferred to airlines. — is this correct?

Snorklez
Guest
Snorklez

Finally found a way to MS this bad boy in a 5x category! Or should I say… now a 6.25x category 🙂

Tom
Guest
Tom

I appreciated you doing the math in this column when the bonus got announced, with my reasonably high spending in air travel and restaurants I felt I could benefit even with the $30 month fee. Well to my surprise and delight after two monthly statements I have still not been charged anything! There is a clear spot on the Citi Priority statements for the amount and the note about having $50K on deposit to get it waived (which I do not have), but it just shows $0 for me. So the new math of 6.25 TYP with no fee is fantastic! Not sure why or how long it will last, but I love it.

KenAgain
Guest
KenAgain

One thing I think is missing is that with the 25% Thankyou points bonus offer, you can put the $50K in the Accelerated Savings account, which provides an APR of 2.36%. For the $600 bonus, you don’t get the Accelerated Savings, so virtually no interest (0.07% I think). I presently have money in AMEX Online savings at 2.10%, pretty good, but not 2.36%. Just not sure it is worth the hassle of changing banks for checking. As you have shown, the 25% is nothing great (although you do get points for various banking activities, like direct deposit).