Citi’s new speed limit: 135,000 points per year from signup bonuses

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As reported by Doctor of Credit, Citibank has changed their signup bonus rules.  Previously, you had to wait 24 months after opening or closing a card in order to get the exact same card again (with the bonus).  Now, you have to wait 24 months after opening or closing a card in order to get a bonus on any card within the same brand.

Citi's new speed limit

This change has severe consequences for those who repeatedly sign up for cards for their signup bonuses.  With the new rule, for example, if you recently closed a Citi ThankYou Premier account, you’ll have to wait 24 months from the date of closure before signing up for the Citi Prestige card (which is also a ThankYou branded card).  Doctor of Credit posits that these new rules go into effect on August 28th (even though the new rules already appear in the applications).

You can always find signup rules like these on my Best Offers Page which shows App Tips for each major card issuer.  On the Best Offers page, look for the “Jump To” links, like this:

Jump to: Amex, BOA, Barclaycard, Capital One, Chase, Citi, Discover, TD Bank, US Bank, Wells,Other

If you click on Citi, for example, the Best Offers page will scroll to the top of the Citi offers section which (at the time of this writing) includes the following application tips:

Citi
App
Tips
To apply for a card within the same brand, must wait 24 months after opening or closing account Hard inquiries are NOT combined when approved same day Max 1 personal card per 8 days Max 2 personal cards per 65 days Max 1 business card per 95 days
Check application status here.
If denied, call reconsideration here:800-695-5171 (personal); 800-763-9795 (business)

A possible culprit for Citi’s new rules

Previously, you had to wait 24 months after opening or closing a particular card before getting the signup bonus again for the same card.  However, there was a known loophole: When you sign up for the Citi Platinum Select AAdvantage World MasterCard, Citi will automatically convert that card from a “World MasterCard” to a “World Elite MasterCard” within a few months.  After that conversion, the cardholder used to be able to get the signup bonus for the World MasterCard again without waiting 24 months.

While I never took advantage of this loophole myself, I believe that many people signed up for the World MasterCard every few months.  Some suspect that Citi’s new rules were at least partially motivated by the desire to fix this loophole.  Of course this “fix” goes far beyond the actual issue, but perhaps Citi wanted to ensure that they closed similar loopholes as well, if any existed.

Of course, there’s a simpler alternative theory: perhaps Citi simply wanted to crack down on the practice of “churning” credit cards.  In the end, it doesn’t really matter why they did it.  It’s simply the new reality.

A smidgen of hope?

The only potential good news I can see in this change is the possible return of Citi Premier signup bonuses.  The Premier card used to have a 50K signup bonus.  The bonus dropped to 40K and then disappeared altogether.  That has struck me as truly bizarre since Citi had recently turned the Premier card into an outstanding travel rewards card — one that in many ways is better than Chase’s Sapphire Preferred card.  Why wouldn’t they continue to aggressively attract new customers?

It’s possible that Citi had temporarily axed the Premier signup bonus because of card churners.  If so, the new signup bonus rules may be enough to convince Citi that it is safe to bring back the bonus.

Or, maybe this is just wishful thinking.  We’ll see.

My Citi Upgrade / Downgrade Theory

A key question regarding the new rules is whether product changes reset the 24 month clock.  After your first year with a new card, there are two primary options for eliminating ongoing annual fees: cancel or downgrade to a no-fee card.  Obviously cancelling a card will count as closing it and will reset the 24 month clock.  Downgrading, though, may be different.

Suppose you downgrade a ThankYou Premier card to the no-fee ThankYou Preferred card.  How long then would you have to wait before signing up for another ThankYou card?  24 months from the downgrade?  Or, 24 months from the last time you really opened or closed a ThankYou card?

Under the old rules, the general consensus has been that product changes did cause the clock to reset.  But, I’ve heard of several cases (including via a personal communication with Charlie, author of Running With Miles) in which people received signup bonuses shortly after a product change.  In my mind, the answer with respect to the old rules was unclear.  And, the answer with respect to the new rules is at this point just a guessing game.  So, I’m going to guess…

With no evidence whatsoever to go on, here’s my theory:

If you upgrade or downgrade, within a brand, the clock will not reset.  If you product change from one brand to another, the clock will reset (and this will affect both brands)

  • Example 1: Downgrade from Citi ThankYou Premier to Citi ThankYou Preferred
    If my theory is right, downgrading from one card to another within the ThankYou product line will not reset the clock. In other words, you won’t have to wait 24 months from the date of the downgrade to get a bonus when signing up for a new ThankYou card.
  • Example 2: Downgrade from Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard to Citi AAdvantage Gold MasterCard
    If my theory is right, downgrading from one card to another within the AAdvantage product line will not reset the clock. In other words, you won’t have to wait 24 months from the date of the downgrade to get a bonus when signing up for a new AAdvantage card.
  • Example 3: Product change from Citi Platinum Select AAdvantage World MasterCard to Citi ThankYou Preferred
    In this example, the product change crosses brands.  My theory is that this will be recorded as closing the AAdvantage card and opening the ThankYou Preferred account.  If true, this change will reset the clock on both brands.  In other words, you would have to wait 24 months after this product change to get a bonus when signing up for a new AAdvantage card or a new ThankYou card!

Please keep in mind that this is just a theory.  It will be quite a while before data points appear to support or contradict it.

A safer option

When an annual fee comes due, you could take a risk that my theory is right and downgrade to a no fee or lesser fee card within the same brand.  The risk, of course, is that I may be wrong and that action may reset the 24 month clock.  A safer approach is to just pay the annual fee and, optionally, call each year to see if any retention offers are available.  After 24 months, you can sign up for a new card (even the same card that you still have open, if you like) and then close or downgrade the old card.

270,000 points & miles available every two years

Based on current signup bonus options, there are still quite a few opportunities for points, miles, and free nights.  Since the 24 month clock works within each brand, it is possible to get one card from each brand as listed below every 24 months:

  • ThankYou Consumer Brand: Up to 40,000 points every two years (found here)
    • Citi Prestige: 40,000 points after $4K spend in 3 months
    • Citi ThankYou Preferred: 10,000 points after $1K spend in 3 months + $100 credit after $100 Live Nation purchase.
  • ThankYou Business Brand: Up to 20,000 points every two years (available in-branch only)
    • CitiBusiness ThankYou: 20,000 points after $3K spend
  • American Airlines Consumer: Up to 60,000 miles every two years (found here)
    • Citi® Platinum Select AAdvantage® World MasterCard: 50,000 miles after $3K spend in 3 months
    • Citi AAdvantage® Executive World Elite MasterCard®: 60K after $5K spend in 3 months
    • Citi® AAdvantage® Gold MasterCard®: 25K after $750 spend in 3 monthsCiti's new speed limit 135K
  • American Airlines Business: Up to 50,000 miles every two years (found here)
    • CitiBusiness® AAdvantage® World MasterCard: 50,000 miles after $3K spend in 3 months
  • Hilton: two free nights or 75,000 points every two years (found here)
    • Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card: 2 Free Nights + $100: 2 Weekend Nights after 2.5K spend in 4 months + $100 statement credit after $100 spend at Hilton in 6 months.
    • Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Visa Signature® Card: 75K after $2k spend in 3 months
  • Expedia: Up to 25,000 points every two years (found here)
    • Expedia+ Voyager: 25K Expedia+ points after $2K spend
    • Expedia+: 15K Expedia+ points after $1K spend

Citi’s new speed limit: 135,000 points & miles per year via signup bonuses

Well, it’s not great, but it’s better than nothing.  As shown above, given current signup bonus offers, it’s possible under the new rules to get 270,000 points & miles every 2 years with Citibank signup bonuses.  That averages to 135,000 points and miles per year.  Of course a couple could double-up and earn 270,000 points & miles per year.  That’s a far cry from what was previously possible, but it’s nothing to sneeze at.

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