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Citi Bonus Cash Center: Sleepy and Subpar

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The Citi Bonus Cash Center is an undercaffeinated version of ShopDiscover. The portal gives solid cash rebates, but still consistently lags behind the 5% minimum of Discover’s shopping site. Below are the relevant stats, current as of 9/18/12:

  • Average rewards rate: 3.21% (check out our calculation here. Citi’s portal partners with 33 of the 40 merchants we examined).
  • # of stores: 544
  • Cash back posts: within 45 days of purchase, will appear on billing statement within 1 – 3 statement cycles.

Top 3 Things to Know about the Bonus Cash Center

  1. Only Citi cards with cash rewards are eligible.
  2. The portal advertises 5% average cash back, but your average will probably be lower.
  3. In-store and gift card offers as well.

Insider’s Tips

  • Use a non-Citi card at checkout. The Citi website states you must use a Citi card to be eligible for cash back bonuses. This isn’t entirely correct – merchants don’t report your card information to Cartera Commerce, the third-party mall provider, so you might be able to get away with using a different card. Do this if you have another piece of plastic that will get you a better base rewards rate.

Let’s compare some other rewards credit cards to the Citi Dividend Platinum Visa, which has a 1% base rewards rate (we’ll exclude the Dividend Platinum rotating cash back categories for simplicity’s sake):

When You Might Use a Non-Citi Card at Checkout Rewards Rate Citi Dividend Platinum Visa
Chase Ink 5% at Office Supply Stores 1%
Chase Freedom 5% at Best Buy and Kohl’s, Oct-Dec 2012 1%
Capital One Cash Rewards 1.5% on all purchases 1%
Capital One VentureOne Rewards 1.25% on all purchases 1%

 

Try this tactic with small purchases first to see if it works at certain merchants. Remember that if your cash doesn’t post, you probably won’t be able to successfully argue for it.

  • Handle third party coupons with care. Like many rewards malls, the Citi Bonus Cash Center lists approved coupons at each individual store. Entering a non-sponsored coupon when checking out online might negate your cash back bonus, so proceed with caution.
  • Check out the gift card offers. Gift cards offer intriguing churn possibilities, so check the left sidebar for the best current offers. If you’ve recently opened a new credit card, buying gift cards through portals is also a great way to meet any minimum spending required for signup bonuses.

The Good

Straight cash back. Never worry about how much your points or miles are worth. Like ShopDiscover, eBates and FatWallet, the Citi Bonus Center pays out in cash, which is just as good as money.

Decent rewards rates. Our most recent rewards mall comparison put the portal in 9th place. That’s better than average.

The Bad

Average 5% isn’t minimum 5%. The Citi Bonus Cash Center claims to give an average rewards rate of 5%, but that doesn’t mean a 5% minimum like Upromise and ShopDiscover. There’s no reason to shop for less with Citi’s site, especially when there’s no cardholding requirements for the Upromise portal.

Cartera’s automated form. After 45 days, use the site’s “Contact Us” form if you have missing cash. You’ll have to provide the date of transaction, store name, order number and amount of purchase (before taxes and shipping). After 180 days from the purchase date, Cartera will no longer research your transaction, making your window to dispute missing cash 45 – 180 days after purchase.

How We Calculated the 3.21% Average Rewards Rate

For our calculations of average rewards rate, we checked the Bonus Cash Center’s rate at the 40 major retailers listed below. Citi’s shopping site, however, only partners with 33 of our 40 popular retailers, so we had to exclude those 7 non-affiliated stores from our average.

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Retailer Citi Bonus Cash Center Rewards Rate
1-800-Flowers.com 9%
Aeropostale 3%
Apple Store 2%
Avon 4%
Bath and Body Works 2%
Bed Bath and Beyond
Best Buy 1%
Buy.com 2%
Crate and Barrel
Dell Home 2%
Foot Locker 3%
Game Stop 3%
GAP 3%
Home Depot 3%
HP 3%
HSN 4%
J.Crew 3%
JCPenney 4%
Kmart 3%
Kohl’s
L.L. Bean 2%
Lowe’s 3%
Macy’s 3%
Newegg.com 2%
Office Depot 3%
OfficeMax
Overstock.com 3%
PetSmart 4%
RadioShack 3%
Sears
Shoebuy.com 10%
Sony 3%
Sports Authority 3%
Staples 2%
Starbucks Store 4%
Target
Toys ‘R’ Us
Urban Outfitters 3%
Victoria’s Secret 2%
Wal-Mart 2%
3.21%