The Citi Custom Cash and the American Express Blue Cash Preferred are among the top cash back credit cards. The Blue Cash Preferred is ideal for those who spend the most at U.S. supermarkets and on streaming services while the Citi Custom Cash is best suited for those who make a wide variety of purchases.
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Few businesses are more competitive than credit card issuers. And among all the different kinds of cards offered, the competition may be most fierce among cash back credit cards. Citi recently introduced its new Citi Custom Cash℠ Card, which breaks new ground in this field. Let’s see how it compares to the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, which is an older favorite that’s been updated for contemporary cardholders.
Citi Custom Cash vs. American Express Blue Cash Preferred
|Rewards rate||5% cash back on up to $500 spent each billing cycle in your top spending category, then 1%|
1% on other purchases
|6% cash back on up to $6,000 spent each year at U.S. supermarkets, then 1%|
6% cash back on select U.S. streaming services
3% cash back on transit and U.S. gas stations
1% cash back on other purchases
|Introductory bonus||$200 cash back after you spend $750 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening (fulfilled as 20,000 ThankYou Points, which can be redeemed for $200 cash back)|
|Annual fee||$0||$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95|
|Estimated yearly rewards value ($1,325 monthly spend)||$303, based on an estimated $300 a month of spending in your top category||$405, based on:|
|Cons||5% cash back limited to $500 per billing cycle||Ongoing $95 annual fee|
|Who should get this card?||Modest spenders who enjoy the flexibility of earning bonus rewards on a variety of purchases||Households that spend significantly at U.S. supermarkets, streaming, gas and transit|
With the Citi Custom Cash, you’ll start off by earning $200 cash back by spending just $750 on new purchases within three months of account opening. You’ll also earn 5% cash back on up to $500 spent in the eligible category that you spent the most on during the billing period. Eligible categories include restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores, select travel, select transit, select streaming services, drugstores, home improvement stores, fitness clubs and live entertainment.
This means that, for example, if you buy an expensive vacation one month and travel becomes your top spending category, then you’ll receive 5% cash back on up to $500 spent on travel expenses. And if the next month you make a large purchase from a home improvement store, it would be eligible for the 5% cash back if it’s your top spending category. There’s no need to register in advance, as Citi will do the math and automatically award you the bonus cash back for up to $500 spent each billing cycle within your top spending category.
With the American Express Blue Cash Preferred, you’ll earn $150 back after you spend $3,000 in purchases within the first six months of account opening. You’ll also receive a hefty 20% cash back on up to $1,000 spent at Amazon.com during your account’s first six months. Combined, you can receive up to $350 cash back from these new account bonuses.
This card also offers 6% cash back on up to $6,000 spent each year at U.S. supermarkets (1% after that) and unlimited 6% cash back on purchases from select U.S. streaming services. You’ll also receive 3% cash back on transit and U.S. gas station charges and 1% cash back on other purchases.
The Citi Custom Cash offers ThankYou reward points that can be redeemed in several ways. You have the option to redeem these points for 1 cent per point as a statement credit, direct deposit or check. You can also redeem your points for other options such as gift cards, travel reservations and Amazon purchases. And if you also hold a card like the Citi Premier® Card or Citi Prestige® Card, then your reward points will combine and you can transfer your points to airline miles.
With the Amex Blue Cash Preferred, you can redeem your reward dollars for statement credits whenever your available reward dollars balance is $25 or more.
While the Citi Custom Cash has no annual fee, American Express’ Blue Cash Preferred has an annual fee of $95 ($0 intro annual fee for the first year).
Other perks and benefits
The Citi Custom Cash doesn’t offer any purchase protection or travel insurance policies that were once common on Citi cards. However, it does offer some basic account features, such as automatic alerts, a mobile app and the ability to choose your payment date. Other benefits include Mastercard ID theft protection, fraud early warning and free access to your FICO score.
In contrast, the Amex Blue Cash Preferred offers a much more robust slate of benefits. When traveling, you have access to a Global Assist Hotline, and, when renting a car, you can use the car rental loss and damage insurance. Additionally, your purchases are covered by a return protection policy that offers a benefit up to $300 ($1,000 per year) if the merchant doesn’t take a product back.
Other account services for the Blue Cash Preferred include fraud protection, online account management and a year-end summary of your charges.
Citi Custom Cash Card: Best for those with varying spending habits
As its name implies, the Citi Custom Cash is ideal for those who like their cash back bonuses customized to their spending habits. If you might buy an annual membership at a fitness club one month, splurge on concert tickets another month and buy a lot of gas during a road trip over the summer, then this card will automatically reward you the most for purchases in the eligible category that you spent the most on during each billing cycle. It’s also low maintenance in that you don’t have to choose or activate your bonus category ahead of time.
This card is also great for those who are fans of the Citi ThankYou rewards program and enjoy taking advantage of the ability to transfer points to frequent flyer miles, so long as you also have a Citi Premier or Prestige card.
But the disadvantage of the Citi Custom Cash card is that the 5% cash back is limited to just $500 in spending per billing cycle. For example, if you make $1,000 in purchases from a home improvement store, and it’s your largest spending category during that billing cycle, then you’ll earn $25 in cash back for the first $500 spent and just $5 in cash back on the remaining $500. In effect, the more you spend, the smaller the percentage of cash back you’ll receive. That’s why this card is probably better suited to modest spenders than high spenders.
Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express: Best for those who spend heavily to cook and watch shows at home
Americans’ spending habits have shifted significantly since the coronavirus pandemic changed how we live. And even as the crisis ends, it’s likely that some habits will stick. The American Express Blue Cash Preferred seems ideally suited for many of our new spending priorities, including an amazing 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 spent each year, then 1%) and on unlimited purchases from select U.S. streaming services.
This card also works well for those who are commuting to work by offering a generous 3% cash back on both U.S. gas station and transit purchases, such as parking, tolls, buses, trains, taxis and ride-shares.
Those who have somewhat predictable spending patterns that match these bonus categories will have a much greater opportunity to earn cash back with the Blue Cash Preferred. But this card won’t work as well for more modest spenders, who may not earn enough rewards to justify this card’s ongoing $95 annual fee ($0 intro annual fee for the first year).
The Citi Custom Cash and the American Express Blue Cash Preferred are both among the top cash back credit cards offered, but each one is ideally suited to different needs. By examining the strengths and weaknesses of both products, you can choose the one that will offer you the most cash back.