The Custom Cash doesn’t charge an annual fee but the Blue Cash Preferred has a more well-rounded slate of cash back categories.
At first glance, 6% cash back on $6,000 in annual spending sounds much better than 5% cash back on $500 in monthly spending, but it’s actually a closer call than you might think.The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express gives 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 in annual spending, then 1% cash back after that). The Citi Custom Cash℠ Card gives 5% cash back on your top spending category each billing cycle (up to $500) and 1% cash back on everything else. Of course, $500 times 12 months is also $6,000 per year, but it sounds like a lot more when you describe it as $6,000 per year.
The Custom Cash does not charge an annual fee and the Blue Cash Preferred does ($0 intro fee for the first year, then $95 per year). If you spend exactly $6,000 per year at U.S. supermarkets with the Blue Cash Preferred, you’ll earn an effective 4.4% cash back on that spending if you assume that $95 of your $360 in cash back will offset the annual fee. If you use the Custom Cash exclusively for groceries and maximize the monthly spending limits, you would come out $35 ahead (in that category, at least).
But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a better all-around option.
Additional cash back categories
The Blue Cash Preferred also gives 6% cash back on select U.S. streaming services and 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations and on transit, while all other purchases earn 1% cash back. The Custom Cash gives 1% cash back on everything except the top monthly spending category.
It’s almost impossible to top the Blue Cash Preferred’s streaming rewards (the main contender I can think of is The Platinum Card® from American Express, which has a $20 monthly streaming credit, but many fewer services qualify). The Blue Cash Preferred’s 3% gas and transit category is tough to beat, too.
The best way to use the Custom Cash would be to put exactly $500 of monthly spending on the card in a single category. Any additional spending would earn only the baseline 1% cash back. This is also a reason why a $6,000 annual cap could be viewed more favorably than a $500 monthly cap, because the monthly cap requires a lot more vigilance.
The Blue Cash Preferred has a more well-rounded slate of cash back categories. It also comes with other benefits that the Custom Cash does not have, such as extended warranty coverage (which adds a year onto a manufacturer’s warranty of five years or less), purchase protection (which provides up to $1,000 per purchase if something is damaged or stolen soon after you bought it), return protection (Amex can refund up to $300 per eligible item if a merchant won’t take it back) and Amex Offers (special digital coupons for Amex cardholders).
The Blue Cash Preferred’s welcome bonus is a $150 statement credit after spending $3,000 in your first six months with the card. New card members also get 20% back on Amazon.com purchases during their first six months (up to $200 back). The Custom Cash gives new cardholders $200 after they spend $750 in their first three months.
This is another close call because while the Blue Cash Preferred’s welcome bonus is potentially higher, it requires more spending, and you have to lay out $1,000 at Amazon.com in your first six months to max out that part of the promotion.
When the Custom Cash makes sense
Because of its broader list of elevated cash back categories and its deeper set of buyer protections, I believe the Blue Cash Preferred is the better card for most people; but the Custom Cash can still be valuable. You’re not limited to just one card, of course. While the Custom Cash isn’t a great workhorse card, it can be a very useful niche option, too.
You could potentially even make good use of the Custom Cash for groceries if you already have the Blue Cash Preferred. My family of four spends about $1,000 per month on groceries, which is typical, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If you have the Blue Cash Preferred, as I do, there’s a good chance you’ll hit the $6,000 annual limit on 6% grocery rewards around mid-year.
You could switch your grocery spending over to the Custom Cash after that and earn 5% (again, on up to $500 in purchases each billing cycle) rather than 1%. During the other half of the year, you could use the Custom Cash for other categories – maybe travel one month, dining in another, then home improvements and so on.
I can definitely see the benefits of incorporating the Custom Cash into your cash back strategy, I just don’t recommend making it your only card. If I had to pick just one, I’d go with the Blue Cash Preferred because of its broader list of bonus categories and other benefits, such as extended warranties and purchase protection.
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