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When The Platinum Card® from American Express debuted in 1985, the pitch to potential cardholders was "prestige." This is an exclusive card with top-tier travel benefits and an annual fee fat enough to dissuade the riffraff. When Citi launched a competing credit card, it left no doubt that it, too, was appealing to prestige. Citi even put it in the name: the Citi Prestige® Card.
Which of these cards is right for you? Well, let's get this out of the way first: If the idea of paying an annual fee of several hundred dollars triggers your gag reflex, the answer is probably neither. (Looking for great travel rewards at a lower cost? Try these cards.) If you prefer to travel in comfort and are willing to pay for the privilege, though — now we can talk.
Although The Platinum Card® from American Express is probably the first name that jumps to mind when most people think of premium cards, the benefits of the Citi Prestige® Card have been matching it nearly point for point — and in some cases are even better. That said, Citi is making some significant changes to the benefits on the Citi Prestige® Card, which could affect whether it's suitable for you.
Citi Prestige® Card vs. The Platinum Card® from American Express: The basics
Credit vs. charge
Before we dig into the details, there's one fundamental difference between these cards that anyone considering them should take into account. The Citi Prestige® Card is a credit card. You make purchases with it, and you have the option of paying off those purchases over time. The Platinum Card® from American Express is a charge card. Your balance is due in full every month. If you spend $5,000 on a steakhouse dinner for you and the Chicago Bears, you'll be on the hook for the whole thing when your statement comes.
The Nerds generally recommend that you pay your bill in full every month to avoid paying interest. If that's how you operate, the credit-versus-charge distinction won't mean much to you. But if you expect to carry a balance, your choice is pretty much made: The Citi Prestige® Card.
Moving on, the benefits you get from a card can be divided into "rewards" and "perks." Rewards are what you get for making purchases with the card, and the more you spend, the greater your rewards. Perks are what you get just for carrying the card. Both of these cards offer rewards, but it's the perks that really define them. They're why you pay that big annual fee.
Rewards: Citi Prestige® Card has the edge
The Citi Prestige® Card has a better ongoing rewards structure. You get 3 ThankYou Points for every $1 you spend on airfare and hotels; 2 points per $1 on restaurants and entertainment; and 1 point per $1 on everything else. Citigold, Citi Private Bank and Citi Global Client banking customers are eligible for an annual relationship bonus of up to 25% more points.
You can use ThankYou Points to book travel through Citi, where they're worth 1.33 cents apiece for airline travel and 1 cent apiece for other travel expenses. (In mid-2017, however, the air travel redemption rate will drop to 1.25 cents per point, which is still good, but not as good.) You can transfer points to a number of airline frequent-flier program, although Virgin America and JetBlue are the only domestic carriers among them. You can also redeem points for cash back and gift cards.
The Platinum Card® from American Express gives you 5 Membership Rewards points per $1 spent on flights and hotels, but only if you book directly with the airline or through American Express Travel. Otherwise, you get 1 point per $1. You get 2 points per dollar on other travel booked through AmEx, and 1 point per dollar on everything else.
If you use Membership Rewards points to book travel through American Express, they're worth 1 cent apiece. You also can transfer them to several airline frequent-flier programs, usually at a 1:1 ratio. You can redeem points for gift cards, merchandise or statement credit; use them to pay for Uber rides or Amazon purchases; or even donate them to charity. Some options give you less than a penny a point.
To sum up: If you prefer to transfer points to another program rather than redeem them with your issuer, you'll get more options with The Platinum Card® from American Express. But you'll have greater opportunities to earn points with the Citi Prestige® Card, and you'll get more value for them when you redeem them for travel.
Perks: Who are you, and what do you want?
Rewards are dandy, but you can get great rewards without a jumbo annual fee. These premium cards earn their money with the travel perks they make available to cardholders. For starters, each offers hundreds of dollars worth of credits for common travel expenses. Each also offers free access to hundreds of airport lounges. Use these perks enough, and the card can pay for itself. Here's how their perks stack up:
For a hypothetical "average traveler," the edge on perks probably goes to the Citi Prestige® Card. But no one ever said you were average, so look at each perk individually and weigh how likely you are to use it and how important it is to you.
The airline reimbursement on the Citi Prestige® Card is not only bigger than that on The Platinum Card® from American Express, it's also more flexible. The AmEx card reimburses expenses on only one airline, which you choose, and its credits are limited to incidentals such as baggage fees or in-flight refreshments. The Citi package applies to any expenses charged by any airline, including tickets. Depending on where you're going and when, that could amount to a free round-trip ticket.
Both cards reimburse you once every five years for the application fee for either TSA PreCheck or Global Entry. TSA PreCheck gives you access to faster security screening at airports; Global Entry does the same for customs when entering the country.
If lounge access is a big selling point for you, the AmEx is the clear winner between these cards. First of all, both give you membership in Priority Pass Select, which grants access to hundreds of lounges worldwide. (A Priority Pass membership that grants the same privileges costs $399 a year.) Beyond Priority Pass:
The Platinum Card® from American Express gets you into over 1,000 airport lounges worldwide through a number of different networks — Delta Sky Clubs, Airspace Lounges as well as its own network of Centurion lounges; there are seven, at last count.
The Citi Prestige® Card used to get all cardmembers into American Airlines' airport lounges, known as Admirals Clubs. Now, only those who had the card before Sept. 1, 2016, have Admirals Club access. New cardmembers are out of luck on that score — but old cardmembers will be in the same boat soon, as Admirals Club access on the Citi Prestige® Card will disappear entirely in July 2017.
As far as hotel benefits, The Platinum Card® from American Express gives you automatic elite status at Hilton and Starwood properties, while the Citi Prestige® Card gives you your fourth night free at any hotel when you book a stay of four nights or longer through its concierge service. There's no limit to how often you can use the fourth-night-free benefit, although the specifics for that program are changing in mid-2017 as well. Currently, the benefit pays the actual cost of the fourth night, including taxes. After July 23, 2017, the benefit will cover the average nightly rate during your stay, and you'll have to pay the taxes.
Neither card charges a foreign transaction fee, but the AmEx won't be accepted in as many places overseas as the Citi Prestige® Card, a MasterCard.
Making the choice
Citi's premium card doesn't have the kind of brand recognition that The Platinum Card® from American Express enjoys. You don't hear a lot of rap lyrics about the Citi Prestige® Card. But if you're looking to squeeze maximum value from your $495-a-year card, then the Citi Prestige® Card is probably the better bet. That said, either card will pay for itself if you take full advantage of what it offers.