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Citi ThankYou Preferred vs. Citi Double Cash

September 15, 2016
Cash Back Credit Cards, Credit Cards, Rewards Credit Cards
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Few financial decisions are cut and dried, black and white, right or wrong. But for most people, there’s a clear winner when considering two rewards cards from Citi, the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer and the Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card.

In short, the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer is the card to get. It has winning features where it counts for rewards cards — namely, reward value.

The Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card is a niche product. You could call it a “night on the town” card, as it offers unlimited double points on dining out and the quirky category of entertainment.

But wouldn’t you rather get unlimited double rewards on all purchases? That essentially describes the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer, which gives you 1% cash back on all your purchases, then another 1% back when you pay them off.

The sister cards pay rewards in different currencies — cash versus ThankYou points — and have other subtle differences. But most people will find this Citi showdown an easy choice.

Here’s how these cards stack up side by side:

 Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offerCiti ThankYou® Preferred Card
Rewards1% cash back on all your purchases, then another 1% back when you pay them off2 Citi ThankYou points per $1 spent on restaurants and entertainment and 1 point per $1 on everything else
APR0% on Balance Transfers for 18 months, and then the ongoing APR of 15.24% - 25.24% Variable APR0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 15 months, and then the ongoing APR of 15.24% - 25.24% Variable APR
Credit requiredGoodExcellent
Annual fee$0$0
Sign-up bonusNoneNone

Earning rewards

The Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card earns an unlimited 2 Citi ThankYou points per $1 spent on restaurants and entertainment and 1 point per $1 on everything else. Points don’t expire. NerdWallet values them at 1 cent apiece.

The “restaurants” category includes full-service restaurants and fast-food joints, as well as bars, lounges and cafes. The somewhat unusual bonus category of “entertainment” is broad and includes concerts, sporting events, theaters, zoos and even on-demand internet streaming media.

Rewards for the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer are easier to remember. It offers unlimited 1% cash back on all your purchases, then another 1% back when you pay them off. That gives it one of the best flat rewards rates available. You’re bound to earn more with the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer because essentially everything is a bonus category.

The competition might be closer if Citi ThankYou points were more valuable than a penny each when you redeem them. But they aren’t.

Using rewards

When it comes to spending your rewards, the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer is easy. Get your double cash back in the form of a statement credit, gift card or check in the mail. The only fly in the ointment: The minimum redemption is $25 — the equivalent of $1,250 in purchases made and paid off.

With the Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card, you have multiple options for using ThankYou points, including travel, merchandise and Amazon purchases. The problem is, the most value you will get is a penny a point, and you’ll get far less for many redemptions. And for cash back, it’s lousy, because ThankYou Points are worth a measly half-cent each.

In sum, the Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card occasionally gives you what the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer gives you every day for every purchase.

Costs of carrying the cards

The interest rates and annual fees on the two cards are comparable, with a key difference in the 0% interest periods:

Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card: Annual percentage rate of 0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 15 months, and then the ongoing APR of 15.24% - 25.24% Variable APR. Annual fee of $0.

Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer: APR of 0% on Balance Transfers for 18 months, and then the ongoing APR of 15.24% - 25.24% Variable APR. Annual fee is $0.

Note that the first card includes both purchases and balance transfers in its promotional period, while the second covers only balance transfers, albeit for a few months longer. Which is better? It depends on what’s important to you. Both charge a balance transfer fee of 3% of the amount transferred, with a $5 minimum.

Other considerations

  • Neither card currently offers a sign-up bonus.
  • You’ll need excellent credit to qualify for the Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card and just good credit to qualify for its in-house competitor.
  • You won’t get charged a late fee the first time you’re late paying the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer. Its sister card offers no such free pass. But it offers a concierge service to help you spend your ThankYou points.

How to choose

The Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card isn’t a bad card. But in this face-off, it has stiff competition from one of the best low-hassle cash-back cards we’ve seen. Unless Citi beefs up the features of its “night on the town” card or adds a good sign-up bonus, the clear winner is the lucrative everyday card, the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer.

Gregory Karp is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: gkarp@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @spendingsmart.