Our detailed analyses of the Citi ThankYou Premier and Chase Sapphire cards helps you make the choice by two of the top mid-tier travel cards.
Even as travel is scaled back during the pandemic, savvy cardholders are building out their wallets with competitive travel credit cards to rack up points for when the world reopens.
Enter two of the best mid-tier travel credit cards right now: the Citi Premier® Card and the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. Both are tremendously valuable for the average traveler – someone who flies often, but not in excess. In other words: If you’re staying in a hotel every week, neither of these cards is the one you’re looking for.
On the other hand, if you’re traveling as frequently as once a month or as infrequently as just a few times a year, both of these cards are right in your wheelhouse. Utilize their bonus spending categories, take advantage of their perks, and use their shopping portals; you’ll soon find that travel has grown on you.
Citi Premier Card vs. Chase Sapphire Preferred
Citi Premier® Card
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
|Sign-up bonus||60,000 points if you spend $4,000 in first 3 months|
60,000 points if you spend $4,000 in first 3 months
|Estimated yearly rewards value ($15,900 spend)||$413||$397|
|Who should get this card?|
A closer look
What makes a travel card mid-tier? It starts with their rewards, which are usually very good, though not exceptional. In turn, their annual fees rarely eclipse $100. Both of these cards have $95 annual fees and rewards that come close to being more than just “very good.”
Citi Premier Card
The Citi Premier Card is an intriguing product considering the many types of cardholders it’s marketed to. First, look at the earning structure:
- 3 ThankYou points (Citi’s transferable rewards points) per dollar on air travel
- 3 ThankYou points per dollar on restaurants and supermarkets
- 1 ThankYou point per dollar on all other purchases
Earning 3 points per dollar in any category is atypical for a mid-tier rewards card, so Citi wins big by offering it on air travel, gas stations, and hotels. Currently, this card is also offering 3X points at restaurants and supermarkets, which are amazing everyday categories to accumulate points. The fact that Citi is including gas station purchases in the travel category is another winning feature. Most cards, regardless of their annual fee, do not lump gas and air travel together. This makes the card a particularly valuable choice for road trip enthusiasts, as you can earn just as many points from a trip by car as you can by air.
As is the case with most other transferable currencies, the value of ThankYou Points fluctuates. Note that Citi incentivizes the redemption of points for airfare through its ThankYou Travel Center by bumping up their value to 1.25 cents apiece – for other redemptions, they’re worth 1 cent. You can also transfer points to any of Citi’s partners; among them are 15 airlines, only one of which (JetBlue) is based in the US. The value of transferred points is contingent on the airline’s rewards program.
Now we ask again: Who is this card for? It offers 3X points on gas station purchases, which is indicative of a card made for families. However, the point bonus for airfare redemptions in the ThankYou portal makes it a good option for those who fly at least a few times per year. In addition, Citi’s transfer partners are almost completely based outside of the US, which means it’s a fit for world travelers. The card carries a manageable $95 annual fee, which means it’s a wise choice for someone new to travel cards. The simple answer: It’s for a great many people.
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card has carved out a segment of the credit card market for itself by charging only a small annual fee and offering top-notch travel perks. Its earning structure is as follows:
- 2 points per dollar on travel and dining worldwide (points are transferable and accumulated in Chase Ultimate Rewards)
- 2 points on grocery store purchases, on up to $1,000 per month (through April 30, 2021)
- 1 point per dollar on all other purchases
The Sapphire Preferred doesn’t offer a bonus on gas like the Citi Premier, but it has a broad definition of travel, including tolls and parking, and offers a 25% value boost when you redeem points through Chase Ultimate Rewards for travel. So, effectively, points are worth 1.25 cents apiece if you use them with Chase. The kicker here is that the value boost counts on any travel bookings made – airfare, hotels, rental cars and cruises included. Citi only boosts value on airfare, but Chase boosts it on all travel.
Like Citi, Chase has travel partners whose reward programs you can transfer your rewards points to. This is where Chase has a clear advantage – they partner with nine airlines, three of which are US-based (Southwest, United, JetBlue) and all of which are members of airline alliances. This means that although you can’t directly transfer Chase points to American Airlines, you can transfer them from Chase to British Airways to American. Chase also has hotel partners (World of Hyatt, Marriott Bonvoy, IHG Rewards Club).
In summary, the Citi Premier Card has the potential to earn more points, but the Chase Sapphire Preferred enables you to redeem the points you in earn in more ways.
Best for people with multiple credit cards: Chase Sapphire Preferred
One of the greatest benefits of the Chase Sapphire Preferred is that its 25% value boost to travel redemptions can essentially be applied to every other Chase card you have. Chase allows you to move points between cards.
If you happen to have the Chase Freedom Flex℠ (which earns 5% cash back on rotating quarterly categories on up to $1,500 in spend), you can slide your Freedom points into your Sapphire Preferred account. Once points have been moved to your Sapphire Preferred account, they are eligible for the 25% bonus. This means that instead of using your Freedom Card to earn 5% back on bonus categories, you can effectively earn 6.25X points on bonus categories.
The same method can be applied to purchases made with the Freedom Unlimited or any of the Chase Ink Business cards. For this reason, it makes complete sense for card-jugglers to go with the Sapphire Preferred, but only if your goal is to travel.
Best for families and those who want simple rewards: Citi Premier Card
Citi’s broad bonus categories make it easy to earn lots of points in lots of ways. 3X on air travel includes gas stations, hotels, restaurants and supermarkets, encompassing all the typical spending on a family trip and the dining charges you’d expect to get rewarded for.
Unfortunately, new cardholders won’t get the 2X on entertainment the card used to offer, but those who applied before April 10, 2020, will still get rewards on things like concerts, sporting events, trips to the zoo and even on-demand internet streaming media until April 2021.
Since it’s so easy to earn bonus points, the Citi Premier Card is a fantastic bet for people who’d like to simplify their credit card strategy without sacrificing rewards. For this reason, the Citi Premier Card is a better bet for folks who want a true go-to card.
Which card should you choose?
What matters more to you?
- Number of points (Citi Premier Card) or number of redemption options (Chase Sapphire Preferred)
- Simplicity of your overall credit card strategy (Citi Premier Card) or potential to get more value by juggling multiple cards (Chase Sapphire Preferred)
Both cards are popular for a reason. They both offer great rewards and a bunch of perks without asking too much in the form of an annual fee. Consider your own financial outlook before choosing one, but remember that each card offers a big upside to most people.